A review of BBCs new hit drama, Vigil.
Years ago my Mum and I watched Series 1 of the BBC’s wildly popular crime cop show Luther. I think I made it to Nicola Walker throwing up graphically everywhere and hitting someone with a hammer before I called it quits. It was just so…
Jamie Mathieson! Maisie Williams! Female Who writer! Moniker name titles! Must be a new Moffat style Doctor Who two parter. I enjoyed the first half better than the second half, just as I did last two parter, but there was a lot of interesting stuff to unpick this time around.
Ashildr joins the show as an ordinary Viking girl: plucky, outspoken, foolish and stubburn. Again, the Moffat theme of power in story also re-surfaced, with Ashildr using her puppets to save her Viking town from alien annihilation.
Ashildr: I’ve always been different. All my life I’ve known that. The girls all thought I was a boy. The boys all said I was just a girl. My head is always full of stories. I know I’m strange. Everyone knows I’m strange. But here I’m loved. You tell me to run, to save my life. I tell you that leaving this place would be death itself.
But Ashildr is more than a repeat of the Amelia Pond prototype. The girl who died became the woman who lived forever and forgot how to feel (just as The Doctor does without a human companion to remind him why emotions matter). Maisie Williams is a brilliant young actress and I enjoyed seeing her have to stretch herself by playing a character who has seen thousands of years pass filled with pain, death and sadness, even if the audience only got the benefit of seven days passing between episodes. Though Maisie didn’t always manage to convince, I think this was mainly down to the script jumping so far ahead and telling us about Ashildr’s immortal life rather than showing it to us across multiple episodes (which wouldn’t have worked as Doctor Who anyway). This was an ambitious two-parter and Ashildr’s gradual loss of humanity could have merited an entire spin-off all on its own.
Where Clara performs The Doctor role, Ashildr is a mirror to The Doctor. They both live untold years and leave too many people behind. Ashildr has lived long enough to know that The Doctor runs away from responsibility (“You left me.” “You seemed fine”) and has casualties he can’t escape the memory of no matter how hard he tries to forget (“How many people have you lost? How many Clara’s?”) Ashildr knows that The Doctor doesn’t like endings, that he leaves people like open pages in books (I wish River could have met Ashildr. Maybe she has?) And The Doctor knows why he can’t travel with Ashildr, despite their similarities in experience.
The Doctor: People like us, we go on too long, we forget what matters… the last thing we need is each other.
It is humanity, those like Sam Swift who faced the hangman’s noose with bad puns and a ready smile, who remind people like Ashildr and The Doctor to care.
The Doctor: People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other. We need the mayflies. You see the mayflies, they know more than we do. They know how beautiful and precious life is because it’s fleeting.
Both The Doctor and Ashildr need to be reminded how to feel, how to let the heart bleed, and it is humanity in its messiness which does this. Finally, Ashildr after thinking she doesn’t care, falls off the wagon and wants earth saved, but that doesn’t mean Ashildr is suddenly pro-Doctor. I quite liked this end of episode impasse:
Me: Someone has to look out for the people you abandon. Who better than me? I’ll be the patron saint of the Doctor’s leftovers. While you’re busy protecting this world, I’ll get busy protecting it from you.
The Doctor: So are we enemies now?
Me: 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.
(This line reminded me of Ros Myers in Spooks actually, and to be honest, Ashildr has pale shadows of Ros.
Ros: Lovers leave, friends annoy and family mess with your head, colleagues are OK.
Damn I miss Ros on my TV. She was fucking bad ass.)
Anyway, small Ashildr questions remain, who told her that The Doctor comes for a battle and runs from the fall-out? Missy or someone else altogether? Will she meet Captain Jack? Will she return to the show as friend or foe?
Aside from The Doctor being reflected in Ashildr, there were a lot of Doctor character moments this two-parter. The first might seem a minor thing, but I enjoyed the little touch. All of The Doctor’s hate violence on principle (except for when it is them using it). Twelve goes a step further by selectively ignoring it. People try to use violence to get him to do something and he simply doesn’t respond. At the start of The Woman Who Lived, he’s more interested in his own theories than he is in the heist. His brain simply doesn’t process words accompanied by violence in this episode.
In more meatier meta, I liked the reminder that The Doctor doesn’t interfere with people or planets unless there are children crying (say what you like about The Beast Below, that was a lovely Amy/Eleven moment). Twelve tells Clara he can’t interfere, can’t make ripples.
The Doctor: I applaud your courage but I deplore your stupidity. And I will mourn your deaths. Which will be terrifying, painful and… without honor.
Ashildr: Stay. You could help us, I know you could.
The Doctor: I told you to run. That’s all the help you’ll need. That’s all the help you’re getting.
The Doctor: Suppose I saved it—by some miracle. No TARDIS, no sonic. Just one village defeats the Mire. What then? Word gets around. Earth becomes a target of strategic value and the Mire come back. And god knows what else. Ripples into tidal waves until everybody dies.
But then in a nice throwback to Stormageddon, Twelve can understand baby talk and knows that the baby is deathly afraid. He can’t help himself, he has to stay behind and help the Viking village.
Clara: What’s it saying?
The Doctor: She. She’s afraid. Babies sense danger, they have to.
Clara: Tell me.
The Doctor: “Mother, I hear thunder. Mother, I hear shouting. You’re my world but I hear other worlds now. Beyond the unfolding of your smile, is there other kindness? I’m afraid. Will they be kind? The sky is crying now, the fire in the water.” Fire in the water…
Clara: You just decided to stay. The baby stopped crying.
The Doctor refuses to interfere at first because he knows he will make mistakes, cause discrepancies which will cause further misery and land back at his door. The irony is that when The Doctor chooses to ‘save’ Ashildr by granting her immortality, he creates a tidal wave which he cannot control and he runs away, rather than facing his actions (a theme that has surfaced again and again in Moffat Who).
By granting Ashildr immortality, The Doctor does more than create a tidal ripple, he also creates a woman in his own image without initially thinking things through. There are some great scenes and lines in The Woman Who Lived which remind us why no man lives forever/why dead men rise up never/why even the weariest river/winds somewhere close to sea. Ashildr’s diaries parallel River’s in the library, but are made sadder by the deaths Ashildr has witnessed and the tears she has shed (the ghost lover got me). The saddest part of all was the plague when Ashildr lost her babies and vowed she would have no more (I cannot suffer the heartache).
The consequence of The Doctor’s interference is immortality, but the cause begins with him. If he had not interfered in people or planets Ashildr would have died peacefully, and not had the pain of living forever. The problem with The Doctor has always been that he doesn’t think.
Me: Do you ever think or care what happens after you’ve flown away? I live in the world you leave behind. Because you abandoned me to it.
The Doctor: Why should I be responsible for you?
Me: You made me immortal.
The Doctor: I saved your life. I didn’t know that your heart would rust because I kept it beating. I didn’t think that your conscience would need renewing, that the well of human kindness would run dry. I just wanted to save a terrified young woman’s life.
Me: You didn’t save my life, Doctor. You trapped me inside it.
Amy and Rory showed us the way it was impossible to adjust to ordinary life after running with The Doctor, River showed us that The Doctor doesn’t do endings, even when he loves someone deeply and Ashildr shows us that The Doctor doesn’t put much thought until it is too late into the people he touches and leaves behind. He is focused on the future. The next horizon and sight to see. The next adventure. Because the past is too painful.
The Doctor: Oh, I like a nice view as much as anyone.
The Doctor: Can’t wait for the next one.
Ashildr: I pity you.
The Doctor: I will mourn for you. I know which one I prefer.
By the end of this rich two-parter, so do we.
The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived: 8/10 inky stars
Do you know what I like about this series? Two parters all series because I can review episodes back to back. Otherwise I get too behind with my reviews like last year. But gimme a break guys. This is what happens when I re-write 27…
This review is very delayed, largely because I thought this episode was the worst of the season by far and I was putting off having to re-watch and partly because my family and I recently discovered the excellent (if depressing) crime drama, Line of Duty. I couldn’t…
This is Jamie Mathieson’s second episode, and it is also enormously fun, adventurous and inventive. Flatline sees the TARDIS, with The Doctor trapped inside, shrink and Clara take up The Doctor mantle. There are some suitably nasty aliens, and one suitable nasty human, and some great throwbacks to classic Who style stories and other popular culture references. The episode asks us what happens when the 2D tries to infiltrate the land of the 3D – read on to find out…
Alien of the week presence
This is one of the few Series 8 episodes which deals with a proper alien invasion. The episode opens in creepy classic Who style with a man sucked into a house wall. It is also very Eleventh Hour with the cracks in the wall. I liked the clever touch of the people on The Estate disappearing and re-appearing as wall mural art. I also liked that the episode entertained the notion of friendly or naïve aliens for all of five seconds with The Doctor saying, “Maybe the aliens don’t know we need to live in 3D… innocent aliens a first?” Later he amends his wishful thinking. “I tried to reach out… to understand you… but you don’t want to understand, you don’t care.”
The Doctor takes a back seat this episode, though he has a few good moments, from his Addam’s Family spoof moment as his hand made like Thing to get The TARDIS off the rail line, (“I’m on a train line and there’s a train coming, of course”) to his mean comments about the episode’s companion who never was, ‘pudding face’ Brigsy.
I also enjoyed his comment to Clara early on as she muses about the shrunk TARDIS:
The Doctor: Could you not just let me enjoy this moment of not knowing something? It happens so rarely.
Twelve fights back with a vengeance at episode’s end when he tells the aliens that “this planet is protected” (Hello Matt Smith reference) and he introduces himself as “the man who stops the monsters.” His sombre statement that, “a lot of people died and maybe the wrong people survived,” (like Ashes to Ashes guest star douche bag) is poignant and sad and reminds the audience that this is a much darker Doctor.
Danny and Clara
It doesn’t matter how many times I re-watch Series 8, I don’t care about Danny until Dark Water, especially in the middle of the series when he acts like he owns Clara. Why is Danny so insecure that he can’t have Clara leave her personal things on the TARDIS? Why does Clara feel that she has to lie to Danny about having adventures with The Doctor? (though the contrast between Clara’s phone conversation and the events unfolding around her was quite entertaining). I just find Danny/Clara a little uncomfortable, especially when compared to Rory/Amy.
This episode is perhaps most important for its exploration of Clara Who? This series has been all about companions becoming The Doctor and the human cost that entails. With The Doctor out of action in Flatline, it falls to Clara to ‘act’ the role which makes for interesting viewing.
“I’m The Doctor. Doctor Oswald. You can call me Clara… I think I call myself The Doctor because it makes me sound important.”
Not only does Clara perform The Doctor role, she also questions it and his relationship to companions. I liked the implication that companions were either people in the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time and how that linked to Clara’s lies to Danny.
The Doctor: Excellent lying, Doctor Oswald… lying is a vital survival skill and a terrible habit.
Clara: Does it count as lying if it’s for someone’s own good?
The Doctor: What’s next, Doctor Clara?
Clara: Lie to them… give them hope.
Lying is depicted as a key part of The Doctor’s role to people, as is wild, last minute ideas. When Clara uses a hair band to keep the train gear on it was both as mad and as clever and as simple as the best laid Doctor plans.
This episode, too, Clara is truly alone in her decision-making.
Clara: Doctor, what would you do now? No, what would I do now?
Clara has never been my favourite companion, but in series 8 her level of agency has increased threefold and her place of power in the story could become very interesting.
Who doesn’t love Missy? Who? I actually got shivers down my spine at the denouement to this episode when this exchange happened:
Clara: Just say it. Why can’t you just say it? Why can’t you just say I did good?
The Doctor: Talk to soldier-boy.
Clara: It’s not him. Come on, why can’t you say it? I was the Doctor and I was good.
The Doctor: You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara…
Clara: Thank you!
The Doctor: ..goodness had nothing to do with it.
That exchange of dialogue followed by Missy’s, “Clara, my Clara, I’ve chosen you well” is chilling and horrifying. The Twelfth Doctor is darker and more cynical. He reminds us that there is a dangerous side to The Doctor, the one that is good at making split second decisions to save the majority, even as he buries his guilt over the fallen minority. This is much more Le Carre territory than fairy story, even if Eleven did have similar ‘darker’ moments, they never felt this brutal. As a continuation of Rory’s comment about fearing what The Doctor does to people, how he changes them, this is a very interesting place to go. More next series thanks!
Flatline: 9/10 inky stars
Next week: In the Forest of the Night
This episode sees the debut of newcomer writer, Jamie Mathieson, who wrote two of the most fun and most original episodes of Series 8. Mummy on the Orient Express sees The Doctor and Clara on board Christie’s famous train in space, even down to the…
Disclaimer: In 2013 I reviewed the second half of Series 7 for The Hairy Housewife and fully intended to do the same for Series 8 last year. Unfortunately, it proved impossible. Life and work and caring responsibilities called and at my lowest point, I was about five episodes behind everyone else. After speaking recently with Gemma, she thought it would be cool for me to do a re-tread of Series 8 to tide blog readers over until Series 9 airs. So that’s what’s happening. Every week I’ll re-watch and review an episode for this blog. Feel free to join me! Oh, and there will be spoilers.
The Doctor, Clara and Courtney are taken by the TARDIS to the moon of the future. They find dead astronauts, giant spiders with neon stripes and an alien about to hatch… When I first heard about this episode, I was pretty excited, for the same reason I was excited about Time Heist, namely, yay for that Brit drama actress turning up who I like a lot (one day I will write a TV blog post on why Hermione Norris is the sort of quietly feminist actress everyone should take note of, particularly in Wire in the Blood and Spooks. I actually laughed at The Doctor when he goaded Lundvik because it was Hermione he was speaking to). Unfortunately, the premise, as many will have read about by now, became an unfortunate abortion metaphor (whether intended or otherwise it was kind of hard to read the main theme of the episode as anything else), the return of Courtney irritated and the budget simply didn’t allow for the kind of frightening ecodisaster meets arachnids (Shelob and Aragog style) the story was trying to sell us.
Clara as Teacher
The episode opens with Clara talking to two audiences: the population of earth in the episode and the viewing public outside of the episode. Her speech also marks a return to experimenting with an episode story unfolding for the audience in real time as Clara says, ‘an innocent life vs. all humankind. We have 45 minutes to decide.’ This sort of moral dilemma isn’t new to Doctor Who, but it is normally an interesting premise. Unfortunately, Kill The Moon cops out in the final 15 minutes with the either/or choice never debated philosophically, though Lundvik (Queen H) does her best to bring a dose of reality to proceedings which is hastily ignored by both Clara and The Doctor. Clara’s more nuanced role this series is excellent, but she isn’t used to great effect in this episode, her final choice turning out fine steering her dangerously close to Mary Sue territory.
The Doctor and Courtney
Courtney was still inconsistent this episode. However, she has improved since her last few appearances. I even cracked a smile when Clara claimed that she’d used psychic paper to purchase alchopops. I also laughed at The Doctor’s TARDIS rule for companions and part time travelers (no sickness and no hanky-panky) with the second rule especially amusing in light of how long Amy and Rory Pond traveled in the TARDIS as full time companions. Courtney’s quick thinking in killing a giant spider with germ killer spray was also pretty hard core in an old fashioned companion style action similar to Ace. I also thought that there was real possibility in this (and maybe later?) episodes to contrast Courtney’s reaction to The Doctor against Clara’s, especially given Danny’s comments last week. It would have been potentially interesting to explore Courtney’s disintegration at the introduction of the horrors of travelling with The Doctor, particularly given she is a child, as a counterpoint against Clara feeling fine when she should be feeling terrified or horrified.
On the negative end of things, I mentally told Courtney to grow up when Courtney complained that The Doctor didn’t call her special. When I first re-watched this episode, I thought that the point of The Doctor making Clara, Lundvik and Courtney (the astronaut, the teacher and the child) decide earth and the moon’s fate was to make Courtney special (there is actually a poem about this called ‘The Most Important Rap’ and it ended on the stanza ‘I am a child and the future I see and there would be no future if it wasn’t for me). Then I realised that The Doctor hadn’t known there was anything wrong with the moon till he got there and nor did he know what the outcome of the decision would be, not really. He could have been wrong about the alien young not destroying its moon nest and then where would Courtney have been? Courtney also flip flopped between fear, instagramming and wanting to make ‘pro life’ decisions. I get that she’s a teenager, but I just found the character kind of irritating overall.
Great Doctor Moments
I loved the return of The Doctor and his yoyo, the reinforcement of his belief that it is the little human moments which decide the big moments and his Geronimo style leap into a crater of amniotic fluid armed only with germ killer.
A Confused Moral Debate
For the first half hour, this episode isn’t half bad and feels like a classic alien of the week Who story. Unfortunately, once the moral debate set up by Clara at the start of the episode begins in earnest, the story and its themes becomes unstuck. Lundvik believes that humanity should blow up aliens (in the context of this episode, I don’t blame her) whilst The Doctor, Clara and Courtney are pacifist. When The Doctor’s reaction is “something living, something growing…. the moon is hatching,” surely Clara’s reaction of “huh” is most people’s. The plot is already bonkers at this point, but then the story gets awkward with its unfortunate abortion metaphor – kill the creature inside the moon or let the alien hatch, crack the moon open like an egg and have the moon fall to earth and destroy life on earth as we know it?
The Doctor: There’s only one of its kind, utterly beautiful…
Lundvik: How do we kill it?
I can’t have been the only person who thought that Lundvik had the absolute right idea. In the absence of real evidence that the hatching alien wouldn’t destroy the moon and thus earth who wouldn’t destroy the alien? Really now? Lundvik only said it like it is when she said, “some things are just bad… it’s not a chicken, it’s an exo-parasite.” (As an aside, I quite liked the return of snarky, almost Ros Myers like, Hermione when she said things like “I can tell [you are ground control] from your hair cut” and when she calls The Doctor a “prat” with devastating cool.) She cuttingly tells it to Clara and Courtney like is is for a second time when she says bitterly that she is about to witness:
The day life on earth stopped because you couldn’t make an unfair decision… we can’t risk it all just to be nice.
In true democratic fashion, the three women (Note: women making core decisions and a female President) take the vote to earth. Lights off means kill the alien, lights on means take the risk. Unsurprisingly, earth doesn’t want to take the risk. Clara aborts the kill button at the eleventh hour (idiot!). Conveniently, this turns out to be the right decision because the alien hatches without destroying its ‘shell’ aka the moon, but it clearly happens as a convenient plot point, not because there is any real evidence that Clara made a logical or particularly moral decision. I especially hated that Lundvik lost her usual Hermione Norris spine and thanked Clara for stopping her from destroying the alien. When The Doctor claims that he guessed what would happen because young don’t destroy their nests I wanted to punch my TV in. This is so blatantly false from what we know of the animal kingdom that it pulled me completely out of the story. Though the sentiment of humanity changing its own history by letting an alien fly free is a nice one (humanity sees a creature and wants to see it, not destroy it) is a nice one, it doesn’t really feel earnt without the nuanced moral debate to hold up the episode premise.
The Doctor and Clara Show Down
Now this was one of the strongest aspects of the episode. Too bad later episodes never followed through. Clara loses her temper with The Doctor for patronizing humanity and making her make a hard choice which could have been wrong. It almost feels like another Clara companion exit, especially when she tells The Doctor, ‘You go a long way away.” There is a beautiful scene at the end of the episode where Danny speaks to an angry Clara about finishing running with The Doctor. He says of her rage, “you’re never finished with anyone when you’re angry’ which frankly, feels truthful. I hope that they somehow revisit this idea in series 9.
Kill The Moon: 3/10 inky stars
The next two weeks are utterly excellent from newcomer, Jamie Mathieson. I. am. excited.