Time to remember how to log into my WordPress again folks because it’s time for Moffat’s final Christmas special. Capaldi’s too. And we all know what that means, right? An Inkashlings Who review. So what did I think of Twice Upon A Time? It was…
Tag: Peter Capaldi
So I had to leave some processing time between initial watch and the rewatch of this episode and the finale to be able to review. Though I wouldn’t go as far as the Radio Times, who labelled World Enough and Time as the best episode of New Who, I can see how it came close. I wish the BBC hadn’t spoiled the return of the Mondasian cybermen and John Simm Master, because this episode would have been Earthshock level of drama bomb, without those pre-episode spoilers. Still, I’m pretty confident when I say this is the best episode of the series to date and the first 10/10 episode since last year’s Heaven Sent (also last year’s penultimate episode interestingly).
This week we have the full blown return of Missy with The Doctor testing Missy’s redemption arc by asking her to fill his role in the story (much like Clara did in the series 8 finale) with Bill and Nardole as her reluctant companions. She seems true to her word. The trio land on a ship getting sucked into a blackhole after The TARDIS intercepts a distress call and Missy, albeit with some sly digs, does try to get to the bottom of the problem. And then things go horribly wrong…
The End is My Beginning (and vice versa)
Surprisingly for me, the shock start to this episode was one of its least interesting aspects. The Doctor begins regeneration in a winter wonderland and then before we know it we’re into the opening credits and the story goes back in time. Presumably, it will be the Christmas special which sheds light on this opening sequence so little can be judged about it or its place in the story arc till then.
Two Good Friends
I am one of those people who didn’t like Capaldi till the end of series 8. He was too extreme in his curmudgeonly nature, a little too harsh and cold and cruel to poor Clara. For me, it was the clash of belief systems in The Doctor and Missy in the series 8 finale which sold me Twelve. It was in Dark Water where he told Clara, ‘did you think I’d care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?’ and when he said to Missy in the Death in Heaven, ‘Thank you. Thank you for reminding me…’ speech that Capaldi became The Doctor to me. For me, then, Missy is key to Twelve and her stories with Twelve and the stories of Twelve which she impacts upon (such as the series 9 finale two parter) are the most interesting. They cut to the heart of the difference between The Master and The Doctor.
This Doctor yearns with all of his two hearts to have his friend back. Why? Not because he likes and cares for his human and other species companions any less (lest we forget that they remind him why he needs more than the Time Lords to fulfil the promise implied in his name), but because The Master was one of his oldest friends.
The Doctor: She’s the only person I’ve ever met who’s even remotely like me… she was my first friend. From my first day at the academy…
They are almost the same, but for one key difference which Capaldi told Clara in the series 8 finale and he repeats it again to Bill in this episode:
The Doctor: We had a pact, me and him. Every star in the universe. We were going to see them all… she never saw them. Too busy burning them…’
But like The Doctor and Missy called and responded to each other in Extremis (I upped my star rating on that one to 9/10 it got that much better with a re-watch), ‘without hope, without witness, without reward,’ The Doctor believes that Missy can change. She can learn to be a true friend.
Bill is afraid of Missy and with good reason and she cannot possibly understand why The Doctor would want to give Missy more chances. Just as Clara didn’t understand. The Doctor tries to argue that morality and ethics aren’t so simple. That the pig who made the bacon on Bill’s sandwich might see her eating that bacon as murder. That the ethics and morals of Time Lord actions are somehow relative and different. ‘Different how?’ Bill demands and The Doctor cannot answer her.
But we as viewers already know the answer gifted to us via River Song:
River’s Diary: Only in darkness are we revealed. […] Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.
More on this next week…
Capaldi has had quite a few complex and dark episodes which would have confused and terrified me if I had been viewing them through a child’s eyes. World Enough and Time is no different. It is genuinely one of the most alarming stories New Who has ever done. The Doctor admits, as he sits on the rooftop with Bill, that he can’t make promises about her safety, that he can merely keep her safe within reason. Travel with The Doctor is wonderful and glorious and life changing, but it is mortally dangerous too. Rose is separated from The Doctor in a parallel universe, Martha is psychologically scarred by her encounters with The Master and the impact he had on her family, Donna forgets everything of her travels. Only Amy and Rory and Clara live happily ever after, and Clara only because she has lost all normal earth ties.
I suspected something terrible would happen to Bill. I didn’t suspect that she would be shot in the chest by an ally in the opening fifteen minutes. But deaths are meaningless in drama without consequence. So Moffat showed us the world Bill inhabited whilst, like Amy, she waited (the blackhole explanation for the difference in time between above and below made perfect sense too which was a nice change for a show which often does a lot of hand waving to get emotional beats to work). The combination of ‘asylum’ stereotypes in Matron and Razor as well as the body horror of the bandaged people was both Gaimanesque and genuinely unsettling. Indeed, the echoes of the people beneath the bandages was the most unsettling and upsetting thing Doctor Who has done since ‘don’t cremate me’ in Dark Water (another story about The Master, cybermen and contorting humanity, but then again with Moffat, my end is my beginning). The cliff hanger ending is truly heart breaking as a cyberman says to The Doctor, ‘I waited… I waited… I waited for you.’ Would Doctor Who really turn such a beloved companion into a cyberman and then follow through by showing the consequences of that conversion in the series finale episode? It certainly seemed that way.
Surprisingly, I didn’t recognise John Simm’s voice as Razor under all of the prosthetics. I was deeply upset by his interactions with Bill. I knew there was something horribly wrong about him as a character, but it wasn’t till episode’s end in his show down with Missy that I realised who Razor was. But then… The Master did so love disguises in classic Who.
This version of The Master especially, doesn’t understand how to ‘do’ human companions right. He got it wrong with Lucy Saxon, and he gets it wrong a second time with Bill.
Razor: You are dear to me. You are dearest person. Like a mother. When you hug me, it hurts my heart.
Bill: Aww sweet.
Razor: No. Your chest. It digs right in.
This version of The Master only knows how to self-destruct, bringing down everyone else in his wake. He only knows how to hurt and frighten and to act the callous wolf in sheep’s clothing. He wins Bill’s trust over years and then leads her to the upgrade chamber to ensure she will stop caring about pain because Bill is loved by The Doctor. This Master thinks that converting a companion into a cyberman will see The Doctor wallow in self-pity Ten style. He thinks that his success in fooling Bill is a form of oneupmanship. But he doesn’t know just how much the rules between him and The Doctor have changed through Amy and Rory, through River, through Clara, and finally through Missy. Hence:
The Master: Hello Missy. I’m very worried about my future.
Though the literal meaning of this episode’s title is about the difference in time between those closest to the black hole on the ship and those furthest away, it is really an application of the poem ‘To his coy mistress’ by Andrew Marvell:
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
By episode’s end, the poem refers to more than simply Bill waiting for The Doctor. It is a terrible tragedy not just about Bill or about The Doctor strangely, but also first and foremost about The Master. The Master does not have world enough and time to decide how he wants to express his relationship with The Doctor. His coy acts of teasing The Doctor with false hope cannot go on forever, and eventually you have to choose what you really want and what ideals you really believe in. But can a villain ever really change his or her spots? Should we believe it’s possible and why does it matter to believe? Next week’s finale held the show runner’s answers in the strongest finale since series 5…
World Enough and Time: 10/10 inky stars
This week is a Toby Whithouse oddity. I mostly enjoy his work on Who. I’ve enjoyed every episode he’s written with the exception of Under the Lake/Before the Flood, and even then I thought they were average Who episodes rather than terrible ones. I had high hopes he’d end the monks trilogy with a bang. Alas, it was not to be…
So what happens? The story kicks off a little after we left off last week, with Bill and Nardole trying to find The Doctor to end the monks totalitarian rule of earth. The opening fifteen to twenty minutes reminded me of a combination of the superior Turn Left (one of the best episodes in Donna Noble’s run) and The Last of The Time Lords with Martha’s quest to stop a mad Master plot. The monks show humanity over and over via ‘truth’ sound bites aided by a captured Doctor who speaks live into people’s minds about the benevolence of the monks who have aided human development and history so altruistically. Up until his companions find The Doctor, I really dug the episode.
The Doctor and his Companion
What went wrong? The Doctor’s explanation of why he’d choose to help the monks makes sense, but it felt off that a) Bill shot The Doctor and that b) The Doctor would devise such a cruel test to check in on Bill’s independance from the monk’s. It’s not that it’s a bad idea on Whithouse’s part, it’s that it doesn’t really have enough character basis from previous episode’s or this one to help the audience to agree that both Bill and The Doctor’s actions are reasonable.
And what’s worse, the script makes the mistake of not giving people consequences for their actions. True: this is something New Who has never been good at (Look no further than the selective forgetting that was Ten from Waters of Mars to End of Time or Kill The Moon Clara to Mummy on the Orient Express Clara). In general, I find that script writers for drama shows are terrible at committing to character consequences they themselves have set up. And this sort of shoddy writing was just as annoying in this week’s episode of Who as it is when I find it elsewhere in drama. Surely Bill should be proper traumatised by The Doctor’s actions. Surely she should be pretty angry at him, if not immediately given the monk invasion problem, by episode’s end. She’d be feeling betrayed, a lack of trust, rage, hurt, confusion. Shed be questioning the morality of the Time Lord she finds herself travelling with.
And then we get to the second annoying writer trope I always see in TV drama, which annoys me every time I see it: raise the stakes by claiming someone important to the viewer has to die, and then come up with hand wavey nonsense to justify why said person makes it to live to another broadcast date. Sometimes narratively a character has to say goodbye, and if, as a writer, you don’t want that character to die, don’t set up a story scenario which relies on the character dying for full emotional and dramatic satisfaction. Missy is truly wonderful when she tells Bill, Nardole and The Doctor that Bill needs to die to stop the monks, but it all feels wasted in the end.
The Power of Love
The ability for love to conquer evil has long been a preferred Moffat theme. As a viewer, I am generally in the group of people who doesn’t have much of a problem with this particular theme, especially in the Smith era, which was told through the prism of a fairy story structure anyway making the love theme easier to swallow. However, I don’t think it has as much place in Twelve’s era. It came up in the series 8 finale with Danny and Clara, and was mildly annoying then, though at least the love theme made sense in terms of deleted emotions and cybermen. This time around, I have absolutely no idea how Bill’s memory’s of her mother damaged the monks. I am not quite sure how Bill isn’t dead.
At least the episode ends on a high with Missy. I could watch Michelle Gomez as Missy, especially a more muted Gomez as she is in this series, forever. My partner and I would both be happy campers at the Missy o’clock spin off show, comprised entirely of Missy messing with everyone she ever meets and killing off a lot of her temporary companions in nefarious plots geared at either saving her own skin or world domination of some kind.
Surely no one thinks Missy has reformed. Surely The Doctor doesn’t believe it. Though oh how much he wishes it might be so. Missy is the scorpion stinging the frog even as it float’s on the frog’s back. Missy is putting your hand into a jar of poisonous, hungry spiders. Missy is snake venom dialled up to eleven on the pain scale as it works through the bloodstream. And this end scene just makes her all the more chilling. Crocodile tears or the real deal. Somehow I don’t think it matters much either way…
The Lie of the Land: 5/10 inky stars for the weakest episode of the series so far…
Next episode is Gatiss. Yawn. Moving right along.
…Or that was a bit disappointing after last week’s strange confection. I loved Peter Harness’ series 9 Zygon two parter and loathed his abortion metaphor in Kill The Moon (not to mention the waste of a particularly strong guest star in Hermione Norris). A writer…
YES. Jamie Mathieson episode time. I love this guy writing for Who. What a true find he was. Both Flatline and Mummy on the Orient Express are great episodes in my book and The Girl Who Lived wasn’t half bad either. My money is on him having what it takes to be a show runner one fine day.
Anyway, Oxygen is about The Doctor and Bill doing space adventure. For the first time this series, Nardole comes along for the ride and gets some story beats in his own right. Oxygen is a commodity and suits are the three’s only hope of breathing for sustained periods. Then the suits turn on their human residents…
What I loved about this episode (which was yet another example of Doctor Who in confined space with guest stars getting murdered one by one), was the way it took the time to breathe, the way it let us fear for Bill and then The Doctor and then rage with all three main characters about the way capitalism has screwed us all over.
I am still loving Bill. She is fast sky rocketing to one of the better companions in the show’s entire run. I loved her comment that inside the space station she couldn’t tell she was in space, but then she turned to a window and looked out, and the audience, like her, felt the wonder and emptiness of space. “That’s more like it.”
Of course, it’s Bill’s suit which malfunctions and we get to see Mackie’s acting chops on show as she does genuine shit your pants terror. I love that The Doctor gives his helmet to Bill and risks his own life. Even though Twelve is grouchy and sometimes coldly scientific (as his voice over at the start of the episode reminds us), when his companion is in trouble,he risks everything for their safety. Bill and The Doctor have a lovely relationship and I can’t wait to see where it all goes next.
This week as well, Nardole moves beyond mere valet and starts helping The Doctor on an adventure in his own right. I was never a huge fan of Matt Lucas, but this episode he grew on me with his combination of light comedy turn, cowardice and gentle put downs of The Doctor when needed. We also see that he values individual life. It is obvious that he cares for Bill’s safety because she is The Doctor’s friend. What else should the audience expect from an ex colleague of River Song?
Aside from protecting his companions and raging against capitalism (and with good reason in this story), there is another drop the mic Doctor Who moment which I for one did not see coming. The Doctor walks into a vacuum defenseless and seems fine. But this is not the case. His sunglasses shield the truth. That he has been blinded by his choice to spare Bill. I really hope that this story consequence isn’t hand waved away next episode. One of the great things about Capaldi’s Doctor (and I say this as someone who sees Eleven as her Doctor)is that he is a more back to basics kind of guy: less reliance on the sonic and on timey wimey stuff. More reliance on science, rationality and intellect. Series 10 has been a vehicle for great stories which underplay both of the former. Having a blind Doctor only adds to the difficulty of penning a story, but it makes for very interesting Doctor territory.
Guest stars this week were a mixed bag. The opening woman who is killed in the first five minutes gave a surprising memorable bit part performance. I was genuinely moved by her every time she was on screen. I loved the blue guy and his exchange with Bill on racism. I love that we can now depict racism and discuss racism on Doctor Who and it’s great that stories haven’t ignored Bill’s identity as a black woman. The female leader who distrusts The Doctor? I liked her for the most part (it doesn’t do to have everyone worship the ground The Doctor walks on all of the time) but I didn’t buy her sudden acceptance of The Doctor’s explanations for the oxygen, the suits, and the incoming new human cargo. A small niggle in an otherwise five star episode.
The Doctor: They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The endpoint of capitalism. Bottom line. Where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm. A spreadsheet. Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits!
The Doctor: The universe shows its true face when it asks for help, we show ours by how we respond.
Oxygen: 9/10 inky stars with another quality Mathieson entry