This wasn’t cheerful watching. I saw this last Tuesday, and it left me with mixed emotions. On Wednesday I dwelled on what I didn’t like: real death (Osgood) and crass resurrection (The Brigadier). On Thursday I reflected on the things I did like: the ambition, the ending, the wonderful performances. I’ve gone from thinking it as another flawed and overblown finale to a rather impressive and fitting end to a strong season.
I wasn’t sure whether to post my thoughts on this now, with the story only half told. It’s been so long since we’ve had a two-parter (over three years) I’d forgotten the drill. But I want to make a note of how much I enjoyed this, just in case part 2 fails to meet the standard set, as often happens with 2 parters. Spoiler warning; don’t read this until you’ve watched Dark Water. I’m not going to hide the big reveal(s).
There is so much in this story; Moffat’s economy is incredible. He squeezes bereavement, betrayal, a wartime horror, two parallel mysteries and two old enemies into just this first part. There are no weak scenes: the details are beautiful. Clara’s post-its of lies, grief-stricken tea-making, a volcanic confrontation. I loved the fact that the Doctor hides one of his keys in The Time Traveller’s Wife. Clara fails to force the Doctor to do what she wants because he out-manipulates her manipulation.
Dreams get to bypass logic and go straight for emotion. You can feel the sustained fear of being chased by a wolf without observing the physical and biological consequences (or lack of them). You can dream of a city as a woodland, without wondering where all the people are, or how the roots could have left power cables and structures in tact. Woods in dreams can be idealised, managed, with glades instead of thickets, no brambles to hack through, low hanging branches or scrub. When you wake up, you can forget them, because unlike real forests, dreams leave no physical traces. (Such as, say, Nelson’s column having collapsed.)
Look, let’s get my one gripe out of the way. A class 117 DMU in 2014? I mean, this is supposed to be present day, modern Bristol, smart phones… And not only do we get a DMU that last saw mainline service 20 years ago, but which is in the green livery of 1960s BR it would have first appeared in following its manufacture around the start of that decade. Surely, any viewer would have been thrown out of the story by this extraordinary anomaly?
Guuh ouh aah guah aaah. When I try to write how I felt while I was watching this episode, I end up doing little more than than transcribing my gurgles of pleasure. It’s the best episode since Listen. In fact, though Listen blew my socks off, this I enjoyed this more for quite simply distilling the very best of Doctor Who in general, and all the goodness of the Capaldi era (can we call it an era yet?) into 46 minutes of near perfection.
Visually, this is an amazing episode – especially the moonscapes and the ultimate ‘hatching’ effect. Watch it with the sound down and it is as beautiful and flawless as… well, as an egg. But start listening to the plot, and some fairly major cracks begin to appear, as a turkey threatens to hatch out. Does the story have enough emotional nukes to kill the tur— okay, I’m probably taking this a bit far…
I did think this was pretty, I did enjoy more Courtney Woods, I did like the way Clara reacted to being pushed into taking responsibility for civilisation (“I’ll smack you so hard you’ll regenerate”), but… I fell into these cracks while I was watching:
- The threat to Earth was established as being the additional mass of the moon. But the reveal, when it came, didn’t explain where this mass came from (did it?) Also, would the moon continue to orbit around the Earth if both bodies have the same mass (which I’m inferring from the fact they have the same gravity)?
- The organism that was the moon: millions of years to hatch, then it reaches maturity in a few seconds to be able to lay a new egg. What did it feed on (i.e. where did the mass come from for the new egg, see crack #1)
- The lights going out on Earth: so many problems, but let’s just settle for – just half the world’s population, is that fair?
- Firing enough nukes into the moon to kill the…thing. That wouldn’t blow the ‘moon’ apart, then? I mean, is that not even enough of a possibility to be worth discussing?
Also I’m not keen on 2049. It’s not a worry that it contradicts The Moonbase (which I haven’t seen to know if whether it could be consistent with being on an egg). I just don’t like near-future stories. I’ll be in my 70s, if I live that long (“My Gran used to put things on Tumblr”) and I hope to still be watching Doctor Who and yet at the same time not being washed away by super-tides. But that’ll be one more thing for the next-show-runner-but-nine to fix (more cracks in time, Time War II?)
I won’t get too worked up about ‘fuzzy moments in time’ which we apparently had to contend with along with the fixed points, because I think the Doctor was lying.
Actually the main problem was the lack of emotional investment in The Choice. I think it’s essentiality trying to pull the same plot trick as Children of Earth but it fails to represent a real dilemma.
“Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky; he thought.”
At the time I was thinking how we don’t know if this super-bug species is even sentient. In retrospect I realise that’s not relevant, when it’s a foetus and we’re talking about an abortion. Meanwhile, on Earth, there are presumably hundreds of thousands of human babies and children dying every 12 hours, everywhere on the planet. Why are we hesitating here? How is this a problem for anyone but either the extreme conservations or most zealous pro-lifers (who anyway tend to be chauvinist when it comes to species).
“But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.”
It doesn’t help, either, that the plight of humanity is being told to us (tell, don’t show?); fed into the dialogue alongside the distinctly dodgy biology and physics – that’s why those distractions are such devastating fault lines in the emotional narrative of the story.
Actually, I don’t think episode was a turkey. I think Courtney was right, it’s a chicken1. Though given that it is a pivotal episode in the development of the Clara/Doctor relationship which has still to play out, it maybe that it will look different in hindsight once we’ve seen that run to its conclusion.
Apologies for the gratuitous Hemingway.
I like chickens. I also like turkeys come to think of it. ↩
It was announced this morning that Maggie Stables had died. In the years when Doctor Who was not on TV, it lived on through the audios and BBC webcasts. Evelyn Smythe was the first new companion for the Doctor, and she travelled with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor.
I remember listening to The Marian Conspiracy for the first time in a B&B in Aberlour many years ago, uncertain what to make of this unlikely pairing, but eager to hear more.
Tonally wonky, this one. It starts out as if it’s an episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, but Doctor Who has evolved with the recent regeneration, and Capaldi reminds me of a bemused Shakespearean actor whose been talked into doing an episode of The Muppet Show. I liked The Lodger. I think Matt Smith did great running around playing at being human (The Power of Three was another favourite). But this doesn’t fit with where Capaldi has been taking the character; it feels like he’s been transplanted into a different show.
Now, I like Hustle as much as the next man1 so to have it combined with Doctor Who should be a real treat, but, for some reason I cannot quite put my finger on, this episode left me cold. Oh, I didn’t object to it – it passed the time quite merrily – it just left me without any strong emotion. Like a meringue. Or The Long Game.
at least, the first three series ↩
It’s a rare pleasure when you really have no idea where an episode will take you next. In a restaurant for an excruciating first date? Under the bed in a children’s home near Oxford? The end of the Universe?
I thought I knew what was coming when I saw a couple of tweets likening Listen to Blink, as if we’d get a weeping angel for the ears. Blink was Moffat’s third Doctor Who story. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances won me over to the new series in 2005. The Girl in the Fireplace was sublime. Moffat’s scripts were the highlight of each series. Since he took over as the big chief writer, doing a lot more, his stuff has seemed less of a rare treat. It becomes easier to spot ideas being reused – there’s less that seems really new (although The Beast Below is seriously underrated – perhaps the subject for another post). Essentially I thought Listen would recycle Blink.