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Date Posted: 19:44:05 11/21/14 Fri
Author: cjl
Subject: DOCTOR WHO: Talkin' 'bout Regeneration (S8 review/season rankings)
In reply to: cjl 's message, "DOCTOR WHO: Talkin' 'bout Regeneration (Buffy tie-in/general overview)" on 19:38:37 11/21/14 Fri

Deep Breath – A solid introduction to Doctor No. 12, with the characters reflecting the viewer’s uncertainty about the transition. Most encouraging development: Moffatt’s script is a meditation on masks, boldly proposing that the young, vital adventurer of the past four incarnations (more or less) was a cover for the old man’s creeping self-doubt and self-loathing. It’s appropriately ironic that the plot here is a sort-of sequel to S2’s “The Girl in the Fireplace”—the apotheosis of the Romantic Hero version of Tennant’s Tenth Doctor—but this Doctor doesn’t remember any of it. (Rating: 8 out of 10)


Into the Dalek – “Am I a good man?” It’s rare that a long-running drama’s protagonist will ask that question; it’s even more stunning when the answer is apparently “No.” It was great seeing Phil Ford’s name in the writing credits again, because the last time he visited (“The Waters of Mars”), he gave us the darkest moment in the Doctor’s 50-year history. The climax here isn’t quite as bleak, but it cuts almost as deep. Here, the Doctor has a once-in-several-lifetimes opportunity: he meets a Dalek who’s actually open to new experiences, and the Doctor thinks that all he has to do is let this creature drink in the love he has in his hearts, and he can turn the whole misbegotten species around. But once the Dalek looks into the Doctor’s soul, all it sees is hatred. Capaldi’s dumbfounded “There has to be more!” is crushing. The episode isn’t perfect—the “meet cute” between Clara and Danny is too sitcom sweet and violently clashes with the more serious goings-on elsewhere. But what stays with you at the end is the Doctor’s bitter realization that he went down to find a Dalek’s Heart of Darkness and found his own instead. (Rating: 8.5 out of 10)


Robot of Sherwood – After the previous episode, it’s understandable that the Doctor is a sourpuss. He looks at the laughing figure of Robin Hood—a fellow British legend—and sees a model of life-affirming heroism he feels he can’t possibly live up to anymore. So naturally, he tries to tear down Robin in Clara’s eyes (and his own), coming up with ever more preposterous theories about how Robin can’t be real, theories that even he (eventually) admits are rubbish. It’s a great premise, and Jenna Coleman is game for a swashbuckling adventure, but the script and Capaldi lay on the crankiness a little too thick. It’s only when the two legends talk quietly at the end, and they reach a mutual understanding, that the geeky thrill of seeing Robin Hood and the Doctor together really takes hold. (Rating: 7.5 out of 10)


Listen – Everybody says this was the best episode of the season, but I didn’t feel it. I did like the idea that, for 2000 years, the Doctor has been chasing a boogeyman that (probably) only exists in his imagination. I like how Clara does a temporal “double down” on her date with Danny, and winds up screwing herself even worse. I like the escalating plot twists, culminating in the whopper at the end. But there’s too much distracting chatter about Fear and What It Means, and not enough fear itself. (Rating: 7.5 out of 10)


Time Heist – A miniature caper movie, with the Doctor and Clara as part of an expert team of thieves breaking into the proverbial impenetrable bank. The heist part is slickly executed, punctuated with some of Capaldi’s sharpest one-liners this season. But what makes the episode crackle is the undercurrent of self-loathing running through almost all of the characters: the bank president and her clone the shapeshifter/living mirror, the cyborg—and, of course, the Doctor, who instinctively hates the unseen Architect for his unfeeling manipulation of the players, not realizing that he’s both the puppet and the puppet master. (Rating: 8 out of 10)


The Caretaker – Once again, the Doctor goes undercover as a normal human being to stop an encroaching alien threat, and once again, the episode is comedy gold. Unlike the previous outings (S5’s “The Lodger” and S6’s “Closing Time”), the comedy isn’t in how the Doctor almost-but-not-quite fits into human society; this time, the biggest laughs come from Clara freaking out when the Doctor intrudes on her private space in Coal Hill and her budding relationship with Danny. (It’s a tribute to Jenna Coleman and the writers that Clara has firmly established that private space in S8—something we don’t usually see with the Doctor’s companions.) The Jane Austen bit in Clara’s classroom is literally textbook comedy.

This episode also sets up the major moral conflict between Danny and the Doctor, one that continues throughout the season, and it’s set up superbly. Danny sees the Doctor as the general who likes to keep his hands clean and Clara as the Doctor’s loyal soldier who does the dirty work. And even though the general/soldier analogy doesn’t adequately describe the full dimensions of the Doctor/companion relationship (bigger on the inside than it is on the outside), it’s absolutely a legitimate point, rooted in Danny’s painful experience. It’s made even more powerful because Danny doesn’t insist that Clara stop traveling with the Doctor; he’s warning her, but he assumes she’s a grown woman who can make her own decisions. How refreshing is that? (Rating: 8 out of 10)


Kill the Moon – Well, this is where it all blows up. After acting like a dick for most of the season, with all of the pompous attitude and none of the surface charm of his previous incarnations, the Doctor finally gets an earful from one of his companions, an f.u. heard around the universe. But really, is what the Doctor does here so bad? He honestly doesn’t see how the timeline is going to take shape from that point, and it makes sense that he would let humanity make its own choice. Maybe if he explained the situation more clearly to Clara, without the patronizing bit about taking off her stabilizers (ooh, bad move there), she would have been more willing to accept responsibility without complaining. But he doesn’t, and it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Clara. He’s not her friend; her friend is gone, and he’s left her with this asshole. This episode is the true death of the Eleventh Doctor, and from this point on, Clara is able to reassess her relationship with the Time Lord without the smiling image of Matt Smith getting in the way.

As for the rest of the episode, it’s probably the best-looking moon-based TV adventure I’ve seen in a long time. The lighting and the set design are appropriately lunar, and the small pockets of abandoned human civilization are appropriately dark and grotty. Do I completely buy the concept that the moon is the egg of a giant space butterfly? No. Do I snicker a bit when the newly-hatched creature lays another moon egg and waves bye-bye? Yes. But that doesn’t take away from Clara’s epic blow-up in the slightest. (Rating: 7.5 out of 10)


Mummy on the Orient Express – This episode is the Doctor Who experience in a cold, hard nutshell. With the space-bound Orient Express, you luxuriate in the allure of traveling with the Doctor, with an exotic (yet comfortably familiar) locale, agreeably eccentric characters, and a classic movie monster to get the blood pumping. But then, slowly, all the glamour and pretty trappings are stripped away, and you’re left with the bare bones of what a DW episode is usually about: the death trap, with the Doctor’s brilliant mind the only way out. The endgame here comes down to how many people are going to be fucked over before the Doctor solves the mystery—and if that sounds harsh, the episode says the Doctor’s life is harsh, and always has been. (“Sometimes, all the choices are bad, but you have to choose anyway.”) I have to quibble with Clara’s about-face at the end; beautiful beach scene aside, there’s just not enough set-up. Instead of locking her up in the storage room for half the episode, the writers could have more fully explored what travelling with the Doctor means to her. (Rating: 8.5 out of 10)


Flatline – This was (I’m so sorry) flat-out fantastic. As all of you know, I’m a sucker for two-dimensional creatures in my sci-fi viewing, and this episode exploited every facet of dimensional disorientation to the hilt: the shrinking blue box exterior of the TARDIS (I still can’t believe the Addams Family reference), the human nervous system and skin pattern embedded into the wall, the “mural” of the disappeared, the shimmering 3-D zombie manifestations of the creatures, all brilliantly imaginative and horrifying. After flirting with abandoning ship, Clara is truly back on board here, taking on the Doctor’s role in his absence with quick thinking and utilitarian efficiency that would make the Doctor… proud? Sad? Nervous?

But my favorite part is at the end, when the Doctor steps out of the restored TARDIS and hits the creatures with a big, fat Mission Statement. (“Hey, I tried to talk to you like a reasonable person, but you’re acting like monsters. Well, I’m the Doctor, and I destroy monsters.”) And then he kicks their 2-D asses back to Flatland. (Rating: 9.5 out of 10)


In the Forest of the Night – A tonal 180 from the previous episode, but just as amazing. With the concept of Earth’s plant life possessing a consciousness, and humans wandering through a nurturing (yet, at the same time, unnerving) forest, this about as close to an Alan Moore Swamp Thing comic on screen as you can get without paying Alan Moore royalties. And for once, the presence of children in a DW episode adds to, rather than detracts from, the story. So many powerful moments:

Danny passes on seeing the solar flare up close—he’s had enough excitement for one life, thank you… “The human race is saving you.” … The Doctor’s line about what would happen if humanity remembered all the weird shit that happens in this series: “You wouldn’t have any more wars—but you’d stop having babies.”

The set designers and FX department don’t quite nail down the effect of 21st century London buried in forest, and the ending is too pat. Otherwise, something completely entrancing and unique from a series that’s already unlike anything else on TV. (Rating: 9 out of 10)


Dark Water – The first 15 minutes are heartbreaking, as Clara and the Doctor’s relationship is pushed to the breaking point. The Doctor pokes around in her brain to see exactly how far she would go to bring Danny back—and, as it turns out, she’d do just about anything. But even though she betrays him in the worst possible way (you don’t come between a man and his TARDIS), Clara discovers—to her amazement—that this version of the Doctor is still her loyal friend, perhaps even on a deeper level than his predecessor. The Doctor’s promise to take her to hell itself to find Danny is the most joyful moment of the season.

From that point, Coleman and Capaldi don’t have much to do, and we get a lot of throat clearing and misdirection about the 3W company and the afterlife and an elaborate Hollywood Squares set of cubes with skeletons that looks expensive, but doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

So the rest of the episode falls on Samuel Johnson’s shoulders, and he carries it easily. Danny’s confusion, his awestruck reaction to the Nethersphere, the painful encounter with the boy he killed in Afghanistan, his love for Clara, all sustain the episode’s momentum while we wait for the big reveal of the Cybermen and—after the full year build-up—the Master, back from the dead, and as loony as ever. (Rating: 7.5 out of 10)

[Side note on the Master: in both the Davies and Moffat interpretations, we’re leaning on the camp aspects of the character and the gay subtext that’s slowly edging into text. Turning the Master into Missy puts an interesting spin on the latter, and gives us more comedy, too. Love the Doctor’s terrified expression when Missy practically devours his face when she sees him. (“Who is this horrible woman, and why is she kissing me like that?!”)

But I think back to when Derek Jacobi (yes, that Derek Jacobi) played the Master for about, oh, 150 seconds back in S3 before he regenerated, and I wonder if they couldn’t have gone another way. I don’t have a problem with Michelle Gomez’ psycho Mary Poppins, and I do hope she comes back, but maybe if they toned down the camp and kept the Secret Sharer part, we’d have a more interesting villain. More Shakespeare and less Batman, if you know what I mean….]


Death In Heaven – This time, Moffat sticks the landing.

The climax of the season and the culmination of all the character arcs is the scene in the cemetery, with Danny reborn as a Cyberman and holding on to Clara for dear life while the Doctor gives this beautiful speech about the power of love and the human heart. Then the Doctor realizes that he has to fully activate Danny’s cyber-programming—wiping out Danny’s humanity--to find out how to save the world, and the beautiful speech means nothing. It’s this twist of the knife, the realization that preserving life sometimes forces you to compromise your ideals, that in order for the world to work, you need the poets, the presidents, the teachers, the idiots, and yes, even the soldiers—that’s the lesson the Doctor learns, and he finally understands what his friend stood for and why that damned salute was so important. Two years after his death, the Brig gets his salute. (Well, better late than never.)

As the curtain falls on Season Eight, each character has put aside the doubts and disputes from earlier in the year and each is willing to sacrifice his or her personal happiness to do the right thing. Clara is willing to sacrifice her happiness with Danny to save the world, even though she feels she’s killing him all over again; Danny gives the boy he killed a second chance at life, at the cost of his own; the Doctor is finally willing to let go of his old friend and mortal enemy--and best chance of finding Gallifrey—to save Clara’s soul; and finally, the Doctor and Clara part ways, each refusing to burden the other with grief. It’s all very sad, but it doesn’t feel like a defeat. These are still good people (and aliens), and it just seems to be the price you pay for sticking your neck out for somebody else.

I think Buffy and the Scoobs could relate to that. (Rating: 8.5 out of 10)

FINAL THOUGHTS ON SEASON 8: Easily the best season of Moffat’s tenure, on a par with the best of the Davies years. The Doctor, Clara and Danny all had fully realized personal arcs this year, and you had to go back to the beginning for the last time every main character went through such radical changes during a season. Peter Capaldi scored big with his more alien, less cuddly version of the Doctor, but that wasn’t a surprise; the big surprise was Jenna Coleman coming into her own as Clara and the fascinating interpersonal dynamic between the two. Can’t give enough praise to Samuel Johnson as Danny Pink; the character could have been a drag on the season, but Johnson ran with Danny’s complex and tragic backstory and he proved an excellent moral counterpoint to the Doctor (even when he wasn’t in the episode).

Every episode seemed to have an emotional and/or conceptual kick; each episode built on the others, and Moffat seemed more in control of his overall plotline than at any time since Season 5. For a showrunner who‘s been accused of being a Pollyanna, Moffat ended the season on a somber note, but who knows? Maybe Santa will give the Doctor and Clara what they need for Christmas. We shall see.


Season by season rankings:

4
2
3
8
1
5
7
6

I thin that's enough for now. Hoped you enjoyed it. Comments, as always, would be appreciated.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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