Tag: BBC

Doctor Who Re-watch: The Caretaker Review

Doctor Who Re-watch: The Caretaker Review

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…

Doctor Who Re-Watch: Time Heist Review

Doctor Who Re-Watch: Time Heist Review

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…

Doctor Who Re-watch: Listen Review

Doctor Who Re-watch: Listen Review

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.

This is the sort of episode that reminds me why Moffat is showrunner and deserves to be. This is the sort of episode that makes me think that 50 years from now, Who fans will look back on his work on Who as maverick and genius. Listen is that good. Listen is that brilliant. The story is a return to familiar Moffat territory – the monster hidden in the corner of our eye, blink and you’re gone, turn around and the mystery vanishes – this time though, Moffat spoofs himself whilst waxing philosophical on the nature of fear and why humanity harnesses it. The episode follows two story trajectories: that of The Doctor trying to find the unfindable monster and Clara and Danny trying to move forward in their relationship. It’s hard to summarise the episode without giving everything away for those who haven’t seen it, so be warned, here be entirely meta and spoilers.

The episode begins with meditative Doctor, thinking atop the TARDIS in one scene, studying the animal kingdom in another, using his trademark white chalk to make conjectures and propositions to the audience. There are perfect hunters and perfect defenders, but why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? The Doctor tells us, sending shivers down the spine, that we’d never know if there was a perfect hider because evolution would make it so we’d never see them. With one final piece of logic he asks the audience and ‘the perfect hider’ ‘what would you do?’ as the chalk rolls on the TARDIS floor and the words LISTEN appear. This opening was the moment I decided I ‘got’ Twelve and not only did I ‘get’ him, I damn well liked him a lot. High praise indeed given how much I loved Eleven. Twelve is a thinker and a philosophizer and prizes logic and reason over emotion. It is important to note this. It matters later. For Listen is ultimately two parallel stories that play into each other: the story of The Doctor and his fear of an unsee-able alien and Clara and Danny’s fear of embarrassment and awkwardness in advancing a relationship. Ultimately, the episode claims that both fears are unfounded, but not that those fears are unimportant. Instead, both The Doctor and Clara needed to listen to their hearts rather than their heads.

Then there are seeds of themes which continue throughout Series 8. The soldier thing rears its head again, but this time, it is both Clara and Danny who make assumptions about the other: Clara about Danny’s need to assert to her that he dug 23 wells (as though telling her washes out his guilt) and Danny judging Clara as the lofty, left-wing teacher predisposed to see a violent soldier. The soldier theme ruins their first date and Clara leaves in a huff after harsh words are exchanged. Luckily, The Doctor has called Clara to the TARDIS to deal with his own monsters (presumed to be more than figurative at this stage) because he realises all humanity has the dream of a hand grabbing a foot from under the bed and he can use TARDIS technology to get to that point. This in turn seeds another series 8 plot point, again for Dark Water. Some people criticised Dark Water for the sheer out of character-ness of The Doctor believing that there was a heaven that could be reached by his TARDIS. I never thought he believed it and Listen proves why. The Doctor grins manically when the TARDIS lands after Clara is linked telepathically and says, ‘that’s good. It worked.’ This Doctor suggests mad things not expecting anything to come of them. He’s surprised when fairy stories come true. The final seeded theme for series 8 is the return of Clara Who as the audience and Doctor’s teacher. It is she who tells a frightened Rupert that dreams are called dreams because they are not real. It is she who tells Rupert that clever people can hear dreams. It is she who tells Rupert that an injured soldier can be the best kind of soldier.

Listen is a unique episode in the history of Doctor Who: a story where there is no alien, there is no monster of the week. The only monster is fear itself and Clara, The Doctor and Rupert turn their backs on it (the boy under the covers) even as The Doctor reminds us why fear matters:

Lovely dark… you’d never see the stars without it.

You need to be afraid to be really brave just like you need to be sad to understand happiness.

The gang haven’t quite learnt the lesson yet. Clara tells Rupert a bedtime story about a plastic soldier so brave he doesn’t need a gun to keep the whole world safe, which makes her realize that Danny deserves a second chance. She begs The Doctor for a second chance, but on the date with Danny, she’s too afraid to tell Danny the truth about her time travelling ways and this time it’s him that walks off in a huff. There is no common language. Fear is winning.

And now we get to the reason why, as great as this episode is, it can’t be named as the greatest of all time because the rest of the story relies on two things:

1. The appearance of Orson Pink requires people to watch the whole series and invest in characters beyond a stand alone episode. It is still unanswered who Orson Pink is – is he a descendant of Clara’s child by Danny, is he a descendant of the Afghani boy who presumably was adopted by Clara post Death in Heaven or is he an indication that Danny isn’t definitively dead? The answers could affect the way we view Listen in the future.
2. The final scenes with references to John Hurt’s Doctor, the end of The Time War and The Doctor’s early life have more emotional resonance if you’ve see the 50th and/or know something about The Doctor in classic Who.

I think you could, however, make a case for this episode being one of the greatest Who episodes for fans of the show ever written. This part is why:

The Doctor: What’s that in the mirror? In the corner of your eye? What’s that footstep following? But never passing by? Perhaps they’re all just waiting, Perhaps when we’re all dead. Out they’ll come a slithering, From underneath your bed.
Clara: Did we come to the end of the universe because of a nursery rhyme?

Yes, Clara, yes you did. And later:

What if there was nothing? What if there was never anything? Nothing under the bed, nothing at the door. What if the big bad Time Lord doesn’t want to admit he’s just afraid of the dark.

The Doctor cried as a child and was told he’d never make a soldier or the Time Lord academy. He proves his people wrong because he uses fear, even if only subconsciously, to drive himself forward. This story isn’t about aliens and monsters. It’s about fear: fear of committing emotionally to another person, fear of the dark and of dreams, fear of soldiers and of death, fear of the past, fear of listening to the heart because when you do listen, uncomfortable truths may well be found. And that’s OK, Moffat tells us, in frankly, one of his most touching and beautiful moves yet. It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing under the bed and nothing in the dark, as long as you know it’s OK to be afraid of it. Listen becomes philosophical in a way that Doctor Who seldom is.

Clara’s end speech overlaid by images of people finally learning to listen (The Doctor to Clara, Danny and Clara to each other) is one of the most beautiful endings to any Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen. I can’t have been the only one who had tears down the cheeks by the time Clara said:

Fear can make you faster, and cleverer, and stronger. And one day, you’re gonna come back to this barn, and on that day, you’re going to be very afraid indeed. But that’s okay. Because if you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind…

There was something moving and beautiful about Clara moving towards Danny to kiss as she said in voice over that fear was a constant companion. In fact, I’m out of words for just how profoundly moving the final moments of Listen are. I’ll leave you with the final lines instead, words to perhaps live by beyond a TV show:

So listen. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this: you’re always going to be afraid, even if you learn to hide it. Fear is like… a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that’s okay. Because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home. I’m gonna leave you something just so you’ll always remember. Fear makes companions of us all.

Listen: 11/10 inky stars

Doctor Who Rewatch: Robots of Sherwood

Doctor Who Rewatch: Robots of Sherwood

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…

Re-watch: Doctor Who Into The Dalek Review

Re-watch: Doctor Who Into The Dalek Review

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…

Re-watch: Doctor Who Deep Breath Review

Re-watch: Doctor Who Deep Breath Review

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.

Deep Breath served as Peter Capaldi’s debut episode (The Day of The Doctor and The Time of the Doctor don’t count) much as The Eleventh Hour was Matt’s. This time around the pressure was less intense. Moffat had to sell a new Doctor, companion and head writer team in The Eleventh Hour after essentially being sabotaged by RTD in The End of Time. Indeed, so great was the pressure on Moffat, last year he revealed in interviews that the BBC would have cancelled the show if Matt had not been a success after the enormous success of Tennant. Luckily, Moffat succeeded enormously and The Eleventh Hour is still one of the best debut episodes for a Doctor ever in my opinion, possibly even the very best. Deep Breath and by extension Capaldi at least had the advantage of a stable companion in Clara and a stable writing and production team. Still, selling a new Doctor is always a challenge (even if true fans end up loving each and every one anyway) and on top of that, Moffat was dealing with criticisms of his ‘impossible girl’ in the previous season which meant that he wanted to improve on characterization in the new series. He also still had to contend with a growing international and new to Who audience, not all of whom were familiar with regeneration.

To meet this challenge, Moffat settles for telling two stories in one on an extended run time. The story of the week follows The Doctor, Clara and Paternoster Row’s adventures as they try to understand why dinosaurs and humans alike are being disintegrated in London and why a restaurant is filled with clockwork people. At the same time, Clara tries to come to grips with her young looking Doctor wearing an ancient face and learns some lessons about appearance courtesy of Jenny and Vastra. Deep Breath also sets the series up to be a series about relationships, particularly the friendship between Clara and The Doctor (they describe each other this episode as ‘ego-maniac, needy, game-player’ types)

Perhaps because so much is going on, and because of the slightly extended run-time, the episode never quite hangs together. It also suffers from Moffat excess along the lines of Let’s Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song, especially initially with the first arrival of Twelve via a dinosaur’s mouth. The episode only really starts to work when Clara and The Doctor meet in the restaurant after each thinking the other has left a message in the paper for the other. However, thanks to the presence of Vastra, Jenny and Strax and Moffat’s talent for dialogue, there are some beautifully quiet dramatic moments which set the tone for the rest of the series. I especially liked Vastra’s assertion of, ‘Well then. Here we go again,’ as a manic Doctor exhausts them all and the scene where Clara speaks with Vastra in her private boudoir intercut with The Doctor linking with the dinosaur’s thoughts (I am alone – a statement true of both the dinosaur and The Doctor at this point).

I have always said that Moffat enjoys post modern literary conceits, and this is especially obvious in Deep Breath’s early scenes, where Moffat uses his characters (predominantly Vastra) to try and win the audience over to Twelve. When Vastra says, ‘he looked young for everyone, wore a face like I wear a veil…’ as a reminder to the audience that The Doctor’s face (or actor) changes, but the inner personality remains the same. Vastra reminds us here that though the audience accepted a younger Doctor, romance and play time is over. The Doctor has travelled for untold centuries. It is time he looked like it. This post modern conceit led to one of the best moment’s of the whole episode:

Vastra: I wear a veil as he wore a face, for the same reason. … I do not wear it as a courtesy to such people, but as a judgment on the quality of their hearts.

Vastra is saying this ostensibly to Clara, but also to the audience. That’s also the case with Eleven’s final message at the tail end of the episode. He tells Clara to accept The Doctor for his sake, but he is asking the audience to do the same. It is a conceit which is sweet, if slightly over done.

In contrast, when ‘the game is afoot’ and Mancinni’s restaurant enters the story, everything becomes much more interesting. It turns out the robots are stealing parts to keep on keeping on and are members of a sister ship to Madame de Pompadour’s from The Girl in the Fireplace. The return of these aliens allows us to see how Twelve works (by asking the right intellectual questions), fight scenes, Clara’s faith in The Doctor despite her fears (he’ll have my back), Clara’s personality (I particularly liked the way she remembered her first day teaching at school and applied her teaching experience to outsmarting the clockwork robot) even a kiss between Vastra and Jenny (I never get enough of these two!) and finally confirmation that this Doctor is made of morally tougher stuff. Eleven had dark and frightening edges that came out when he was mad. This Doctor is full of righteous rage and moral ambiguity. This time we can’t be sure that he is indeed a hero and a good man. Didn’t he push a robot man to his death after all?

Finally, the episode introduces us to ‘Paradise’ or ‘Heaven’ and Michelle Gomez’ deliciously sharp Mary Poppins turn as Missy. When I initially saw this episode, Twelve still wasn’t quite gelling for me and I’d never been sold on Clara as companion, but I was fascinated by Missy and I knew I’d be back for more solely out of curiosity. My end reaction was, ‘damn it Moffat. Why are you so good at pulling viewers in even when they aren’t particularly emotionally invested in your two main characters?’ On re-watches, I enjoy both Clara and The Doctor a whole lot more now that I know where the series goes. I especially enjoy their budding friendship. I still think the story is overcrowded though.

What did you think?

Deep Breath: 7/10 inky stars

Feminist and Loving Moffat Who: Why I am Done (Re)Explaining Part 2

Feminist and Loving Moffat Who: Why I am Done (Re)Explaining Part 2

Midway through last year I began a long essay which was intended to be my definitive stance on Steven Moffat, Doctor Who, female characters and feminism. However, the post soon turned mammoth and I decided to cut my post in half. Besides, enough time has…

Doctor Who Series Six Soundtrack Review

Doctor Who Series Six Soundtrack Review

Doctor Who Series 6, Murry Gold (The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, directed by Ben Foster), BBC and Silvascreen USA, Jan 2012, $29.99 Aust RRP. Wow- nearlly a month since I last posted! Now that I have some more time on my hands, I will…