Going back to one of the most revered things in a franchise is always tough for a creator. You can just repeat the greatest hits of it, but you'll end up with something crowd-pleasing but whose sheen fades as soon as the newness wears off, and people have the option between choosing between it and the original. The other option is to push things in a new unfamiliar direction, which can be initially off-putting but which has a lot more staying power if it’s done well.
It's the sort of statement that can get tomatoes thrown at you, but a pretty good example in my eyes is the difference between the Star Wars films "The Force Awakens" and "The Last Jedi". The Force Awakens plays within the boundaries of existing expectations, and in doing so creates a very fun and well executed film that's a blast to watch. But then you have the Last Jedi, which does new things and challenges your expectations, creating whole new things for your imagination.
"Village of the Angels" is interesting, in that it tries to have its cake and eat it to. It’s an episode built up out of familiar elements, and allowing them to play out, but then butting in with brand new things that crack the shell of your expectations. But it’s also not a standalone story, and so it’s difficult to judge some of its elements till we see how they play out in the next two episodes (if they do at all).
The Weeping Angels are one of the most iconic and beloved monsters in Doctor Who, despite only appearing as the main antagonists in a handful of episodes, and this story very quickly gets us up to speed on all their elements: time-shifting, moving when unobserved, the image of an angel becomes an angel, a person becoming an angel and having sand in their eyes. At first, it seems like its just going through the motions, until after setting those elements up, it plays with them. And those parts? Well…
Where this episode really shines, is its understanding of what visual elements Doctor Who can actually pull off well--aside from some dodgy CGI at the end, but even that was unique and interesting enough for me to suspend my disbelief even while it resembled a video game cutscene. There are some truly fantastic visuals here that stick in your memory: the Doctor crumpling the drawing of the Angel up, and the angel itself crumbling with it. The Doctor throwing that paper in the fire, and the flaming angel that appeared afterwards. The night/day divided screen of the past and future of the Village. And of course, the final and likely instantly iconic image of the Doctor turning into a Weeping Angel.
There's enough here to keep you coming back just to see the things you remember fondly, and I expect this is going to be a well-regarded episode by the general public for just this reason--its super entertaining. This is one of those episodes where even though I'm going to whine about the issues I have with it in a minute, I'd be lying if I said wasn't a bunch of fun. The things that work about it work well enough that I'm sure lots of folks will have a very good time with it, and I'm very happy for them.
But does the episode as a whole work? Well, no. While other episodes have played very carefully with the Covid filming restrictions, this this definitely the episode where the inventive solutions to the problems end up hurting the episode instead of rescuing. Largely, this is due to the vast difference in how the tension is being built up between the two halves of the split main cast. It’s become a signature of this series to split the cast up into two parties so that filming the episodes under covid restrictions would be less ungainly. Only here, one half of the cast is having the tension ratcheted up as they try to fend off Weeping Angels in a spooky house, and the other half of the cast is engaged in a slowly unraveling mystery about a missing child. Both these plots are fine on their own but cutting back and forth between them ends up stopping the buildup of tension in each story to a halt during the switch overs, because they're not having story beats of equivalent tension next to each other. This is a nuts-and-bolts criticism, the sort that most viewers probably just vaguely feel in the back of their head, but it’s there, nonetheless.
But the biggest issue with the episode is everything after the reveal of why the Rogue Angel has infested Claire's mind. And... alright, we can't avoid it anymore.
Let's talk about the Division.
The Division is of course the secret service style group on Galifrey that erased the Doctor's memories of being a secret chosen one from another Universe and has been a very important part of this whole series. We've slowly been learning about them, and the big reveal this episode is that the Rogue Angel is something of a Space/Time Wikileaks Whistleblower, holding all of the information the Division kept from the Doctor, and it will give that info to the Doctor if she saves it. Of course, the Angel is duplicitous, and turns the Doctor in to save its own skin (stone?). But it’s an odd sort of turn, and it doesn't work the way it did before.
Last week, the Doctor was the focus of the parts of the episode that lead up to the Division plot reveals, and they worked. The episode built up to them, and paid those things off.
But the set up and pay off here is odd, in a lot of ways. Claire is the min focus of the segments with the Doctor, only for us to learn very late in the game that actually the focus is the Doctor in a way that doesn’t tie into anything we learned or followed about the Angels—it’s a follow up from things from previous episodes, and it feels like an emotional leap. Maybe if you marathon Flux later it will all flow together better and this will feel more natural, but week to week it not only feels unearned, but Claire’s plot goes rather unfulfilled as well. Will Claire get her moment next week? We can only hope.
The other weird thing is the plot with the little girl—I was talking to Will Shaw (who writes incredible coverage of this Doctor Who Series you should read) after the episode, and after I mentioned I wondered what the payoff to her story set up would be, did he point out that the payoff was that she was the old lady they met earlier in the episode was actually her. Was it just that I am too jaded to these sorts of twists and figured that out very early on? Or was it just the weird way that the pacing was thrown off by the divided cast segments that meant that it didn’t feel like a climax to a storyline as things didn’t build up to it specifically? I’m not sure, but it didn’t quite fly.
But does that matter? Its visually pleasing, the Angels were creepy, the Doctor was funny. Is the script a structural mess? Absolutely. Will anyone care? Probably not. Its an odd case where the episode could be better with stronger emotional payoffs and more impactful scares with just a little tweaking, but there’s enough that works that complaining feels pointless.
It could be better, but you had a good time. Whatever sort of bar that is, I’m fine with it.
See you next week!
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Well, that was pretty good.
After the whirlwind of last week which spent most of its runtime setting up the future story threads, we finally get to sit down and actually enjoy one of those stories and... you know, once again, one really gets the sense that this is the form that Chibnall's Dr Who always should have been in. If you don't like Chibnall's quirks, you won't like them here either, but the way it’s all executed simply works better than it has before for the 13th Doctor. I don't even think this is the best episode of Chibnall's Doctor Who, but it is certainly the one that feels the most like it’s something that could be sustained.
My previous favorite episodes very much felt like one offs--you don't do Demons of the Punjab twice, or if you do, the second time isn't going to work as well.
Here, we have a structure that could be repeated across a variety of stories with different elements, and have it work. Again, this is because the structure is playing to Chibnall's strengths. We spent a lot of time doing set up last week, and because of that we can simply spend time with all of the different plot threads and character without needing to reestablish who these characters are, and reducing the guest cast with lines down to a minimum.
Which is also useful, because this is also a very obviously, "Effected by Covid" episode. Not in a bad way, it’s very well structured around that, but you can tell. Previous Chibnall series have reveled in being able to place several characters in frame at once, giving the show a feeling of constant presence, emphasizing connectivity between characters so that shots showing divisiveness strike harder. Here though, shots are much more isolated. Lots of shot / reverse-shot conversations where there isn't a "back of the head" body double for the other party they're talking to, as they're keeping the contact to a minimum. Lines of dialogue from characters feel sometimes like declarations being given to the room, as the actor was clearly alone on set during that shot.
But this isn't a criticism. In fact, I'd say it comes together stronger than the choices made in previous seasons.
Chibnall's Doctor Who has always wanted to be a character drama, but without the extended runtime of serialization, has often staggered at the attempt as there were too many characters in each episode trying to do too many things.
But here, our heroes are divided up, and given characters to play against directly. There's an intimacy to it all, a sense that we're really getting to meet these people and peer into their perspectives. Whether by design or luck, it’s a stylistic improvement, and one I hope we'll see continued going forward.
But what of the story itself? Well, it’s funny for one thing. John Bishop pulls off some punchlines that I had to pause on going back to them later, but I can't deny they worked. The Sontarans were a wonderful balance of evil and ridiculous and gave the biggest laugh of the night with "And I wanted to ride a horse!". The A and B plots, set in the modern day and in the Crimean War respectively, intertwine concerning a Sontaran invasion of Earth through time. They both shine, and I had a great time with both of them (aside from a thing we'll return to later...).
But what of the C plot? What of Yaz? Well... unfortunately Yaz doesn't get a lot to do in this episode. After a refreshing turn last week, this week we find things are once again happening to Yaz, rather than Yaz doing things. She is transported to a place, a flying upside-down pyramid tells her to do something, she follows it, meets Vinder, and then meets the bad guys who turn her into a replacement statue/conduit. It's the weak spot of the episode, mainly redeemed by how much damn fun the actors seem to be having. Swarm, Azure, Vinder, and Yaz all seem to be having a blast on set, and the energy that Swarm and Azure bring to their performances is clearly infectious. But they steal the show from Yaz, who already just had the show stolen by a pyramid, and it would be nice if the following weeks give her an episode focused on her character.
So, mostly its a good time. But what about that bit I said I'd come back to?
Well, the ending.
The ending is just the ending of "The Christmas Invasion", an earlier episode of Doctor Who, played out with the same emotional beats. Is it effective? Well, your milage may vary. But it left me pretty cold. I had been on board with the story, even the disappointing C plot, but the payoff felt like a whimper, even though it involved things literally going bang. Oh well.
Even so, I'm hoping the renewed energy and structure continues in the coming weeks. My fingers are crossed.
* * *
This episode featured three plots of people turning their enemies’ own possessions against them. Two of the plots have our heroes using Sontaran tech to defeat Sontarans, and the third has Swarm and Azure using the technology of "The Planet Time" for whatever their scheme is and turning two of the heroes literally into objects to use against their enemies.
Mary Seacole and the Doctor being healing figures is of course a contrast to Swarm and Azure placing two people into positions they will be hurt and turning to ash anything they don't like.
And once again, we have a return to Chibnall's body horror, one of the defining tropes of his era in my opinion. Yaz and Vinder becoming statue like conduits for time, covered in writing and markings, is a very nice piece of subtle horror. We'll see how it plays out.
And next week should prove... an interesting moment for my opinions on this series, judging by the preview. But more on that then.
This post was brought to you by my wonderful backers on Patreon! You can join them for just $1 month at the link below, and support more fun stuff like this.
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Doctor Who: Flux
Part 1: The Halloween Apocalypse
Doctor Who has been going on for so long that seeing it do something it hasn't done before on TV is always a little refreshing. Whether or not it works as intended is almost beside the point: when you're on your 39th series of a TV show (and 13th of its current run) that's had five TV spinoffs and so many spinoffs outside TV it’s not even worth trying to count, something new is always worth a respectful nod.
And Doctor Who Flux is certainly something new for the show.
Chris Chibnall is most known for his work on the mystery series "Broadchurch", a sprawling story about a small town that has a heinous crime happen in it. It’s a story told each season week by week, each episode part of a larger whole.
When Chibnall became the showrunner of Doctor Who, I expected the format to be somewhat similar. And at first, it seemed I was right: the ending of the first adventure of the thirteenth Doctor is a cliffhanger right into the start of the second episode. However, that proved to be more the exception than the rule. Most of the 13th Doctor's era ended up being largely episodic, with fewer multi-part stories than any era of the show’s revival (and, with the current Flux story, tying the 9th Doctor's single season's multi-parters).
It seemed a puzzling choice to me, as Chris Chibnall's greatest strengths as a writer were interconnectivity. His ability to juggle a group of characters who are each going about their own lives until events start forcing convergences between them. In Broadchurch, it was the murder of a child. Here, it’s the murder of the universe.
There's a strange inevitability to this, a sense that this is what we should have been doing the whole time. It’s what Chibnall coming to Doctor Who feels like if you step back from it and just imagine it as a concept, to be a little insufferable, it’s the Plato's Cave of Chibnall Who. But well, we're finally here. All that waiting, and we're finally at that point.
So, what's it like?
Well, in short, its sort of like Broadchurch Season 2.
That is, it its own story but one that is connected inexorably from the stories before it. As well as one where the opening episode spends a lot of time establishing things, we're going to see later with the expectation that we'll stick around to see the payoff. The story establishes its ties to the past fast and furiously--though to be fair it establishes everything fast and furiously. Vin Diesel is nodding his approval somewhere.
The Doctor is dealing with the Flux, a force that is unraveling the very fabric of the universe. She's also dealing with Sontarans invading Earth (though she doesn't know that yet), Weeping Angels (though she also doesn't know that yet), some guys in 1820's Liverpool having an issue (again, unaware), a fleet of doggos trying to kidnap humanity, and a pair of evil crystal-faced siblings who want to do bad things. And maybe something else I'm missing.
The main point is that we're dealing with a lot of plot threads, which are being laid out to us in an unraveled state so that we can watch them entwine, in the opposite manner of the universe unraveling. Presumably, this entwining will go along with fixing the universe itself. We'll see.
As such, it’s difficult to describe the Halloween Apocalypse, as its very much an introduction to what is going to follow. This is just a prediction, but while we may see bits from each of the storylines in each episode going onwards, it seems likely that we're going to have a structure of each episode dealing with one of the big plotlines we've established, with the Flux itself and perhaps the crystal siblings being running threads through all of them.
Really, the episode is more focused on establishing its characters than giving this episode a focused plot, and considering the introductory nature of things, that's probably for the best. Surprisingly, a big highlight is the newcomer Dan, played with instant likability by John Bishop. Did I think I was going to like Dan going in? No. Did Mr. Bishop manage to sell me on the character very quickly? Yes.
This goes into what has been one of the strongest points of Chibnall's era of Doctor Who: the casting. Bishop pulls off some lines that in other hands would be frankly pretty awkward, giving them a playfulness and sincerity that makes his scenes a delight to watch. When he finally gets to interact with Yaz, played by Mandip Gill, the way he doesn't absorb the energy in the room, but instead builds on it helps the scene shine, and you can see why they wanted to bring him into the cast's dynamic.
Watching Jodie Whittaker and Gill go at it is good, and frankly pretty refreshing, at the episode's start. It’s the dynamic I was hoping to see, and the dynamic is fun. I was disappointed when I heard we weren't going to have the adventures of just the pair of them, but Dan doesn't derail the pair, because Bishop understands something that in hindsight makes some of the earlier episodes a little unbalanced in dynamics: he doesn't need to have the spotlight all the time, and the show around him is better if he doesn't try to focus it in on him with every line. So, Dan is our fresh face, asking questions for the audience, being surprised at things, while Yaz gets to be the old hand who has seen it all. Its good stuff and makes me look forward to their future adventures together.
But again, there's a strange sense of "Ah, this is he dynamic we wanted from the get-go, isn't it?" I liked all of the fam in the previous Whittaker seasons, but four main cast members was just too much for the episodic format to handle. Here, it all clicks together nicely. It’s the right balance, and I like it.
I have a feeling that this episode will work better when you can binge straight into the second, on its own its a madcap rush of ideas that doesn't give you the satisfying tie up you want, because that's not what it’s doing or meant to do. We'll have to be back next week to see how that plays out.
* * *
All those words, and we haven't actually answered the question: What is Flux about?
Well, if I had to guess, it’s a story about things being taken and separated from things that matter to them. Throughout the episode, we start with the Doctor and yaz locked up on an alien world separated from the TARDIS, we see Dan kidnapped by space dogs, Dan's girlfriend and the mysterious Claire are both time-zapped by Weeping Angels to the past, we have one Crystal Alien named Swarm locked up by the Division (of Timeless Children Fame) and escaping, disintegrating his captors into crystal dust, before rescuing his sister who has been apparently captured and forced to live a life thinking she was a different person working for the Division. We also meet Vinder, who is separated from basically everything, locked away in a space station observing nothing, and a pair of guys in the 1800's who...
...Look I don't know why they're there yet and they don't tie into my thesis as far as I know, so maybe I'm full of it, maybe they're an outlier and should not have been counted.
But most of the plotlines are filled with things being taken from people, and those people wanting them back.
The biggest one of these things is of course that the Doctor wants to know the truth of the Division and the Timeless Children. A child stolen from their parents, raised by another culture, and their biology and memories stolen from them for the good of others.
The Flux is wiping everything away, just as the Doctor struggles to learn what was taken from her.
Now the question is, how will these strands form knots?
The Past is Parasite
“Can people, and things, stop putting things inside me without my permission?!?” -Graham
Let’s cut to the chase, after all, this episode is about a space race.
The themes from the last episode? Oh boy, they’re all back. Like the previous episode, we get a first person shot, we have immense physicality, and a planet that is filled with dangers big and small that can kill a person, each described not in terms of horror existential, but of horror bodily. Flesh eating microbes anyone?
But the biggest thing we picked up on was something I wasn’t sure would be a theme through the whole season, but clearly is going to be. I mean, two episodes where people have things planted inside their bodies without their consent and comment on it explicitly to the audience isn’t so much a subtle theme as a siren signaling to the audience that bodily consent is going to be something that we need to pay attention to throughout this season.
Which leads into another point I should address quickly—there’s a story arc this season. That was something we were told explicitly wouldn’t be here, so outside of anything interesting we have another era of not being able to believe the production team. Alas. I mean, I’m not surprised, but still. Anyways. Yes, there’s a story arc. The Stenza are back, and are apparently involved in forcing people to create bio-mechanical monstrosities. Or were, since they’re all dead.
“The Ghost Monument” is an episode haunted by the past, filled with ancient things that are struggling to survive in their future. We have a space race that’s been going on for millenia, but is not coming to it’s ultimate end. We have a planet filled with ghosts of a dead civilization, the people’s creations living on after them to haunt the world as physical spirits. The planet’s one defining feature a monument that itself is barely there, shifting in and out of reality. The past holds on here, on a world called desolation, and it is history that is inescapable.
But screw history. The whole point of this episode that it’s never to late for reinvention.
We’re treated to two new characters, both part of the space race, one of whom has lost their wife, the other who has deep deep seated trust issues thanks to some amazingly abusive parenting. Both are dealing with parasitic pasts, and an inability to trust. This mirrors the conflict we have between Graham and Ryan, both of whom are dealing with loss, and neither of whom is open to trusting each other. But more than that, a thing that is bringing our characters down is toxicity. Not just in the planet, which is notably toxic, but I the character’s attitudes.
This shows up in ways big and small, including a comic sequence where Ryan thinks he can solve the situation by being a violent action hero. That by going in with the attitude of personal destruction, he can solve their problems. It backfires, and the Doctor is able to solve the problem with a cool head and without the toxic attitude Ryan had.
Our space race friend whose mom let him drop out of a tree is the poster child for this toxic attitude,a brusk take on the world that kindness and cooperation are flaws. But, in my favorite thing about the episode, this isn’t treated as irredeemable. By the end of the episode, he does learn that his attitude about life isn’t actually going to get him what he wants, and that’s beautiful.
He sees renewal, and so does the Doctor. She has gained new friends, a new joy at the universe, and has found her TARDIS. The sheer sincere joy of her finding the TARDIS is so heartwarming I barely even want to analyze it, it’s just nice okay? Happiness, a beautiful new set from the set designer from Sherlock, and a custard cream dispenser. The Doctor’s intimate little lines to the TARDIS, “Oh, you’ve done yourself up!” are adorable. And here we are, at a new beginning.
Doctor Who now is a show about an alien who goes around teaching people about kindness, and about how toxic, isolationist, violent attitudes aren’t the best way to approach the world. It’s a show about how the bad guys ignore consent, cheat to win, and in many ways mirror sexual predators. It’s definitely going in interesting directions, and while we haven’t seen the endpoint, there is a trajectory.
* * *
Let’s talk about that scene with the ghost-rags that murder people, alright? The Doctor has a chat with them, and they can read her mind, and they mention a “Timeless Child”. This is…very much a tease for the future of the show. So lets note it now. Also. it’s something from the Doc’s past she can’t escape from, which is very much in the episodes themes. Alright, a bit off path, but noted, right?
* * *
Reinventing the past is the game here. We have a new intro sequence that looks like the old “Howl Around” intro sequences from 60’s Doctor Who, in a series with four companions like 60’s Doctor Who, in an episode that could easily be compared to old school Doctor Who Episodes like “The Keys of Marinus” or Enlightenment.”
But the most notable contrast is the race-runner, who competed in the race when it started 4000 years ago, and has now decided to end it. Despite his insistence that the race is important, that what it tests is important, he’s ending it. That could easily happen with a show about a 2,000 year old time traveler. It happened. We did it. We had stuff we liked, and stuff we didn’t. But we can do something new with something old. It doesn’t have to be like what we liked to be good. It doesn’t have to check our check list.
It can just be itself, as it is, reinvented, but still like it was.
It’s redecorated. I really like it.
Its an exciting time to be a Whovian, with our first spin off show in five years arriving this weekend! I've now watched Class episodes 1 and 2: in short, episode 2 is fantastic, episode 1 is concerned more with setting up the premise of the show than being a complete work in itself, but is still enjoyable. Also, its more enjoyable after watching episode 2 and knowing that a lot of things from the first episode I wasn't sure would be returned to or dealt with were. Episode 1 also has a lot more exposition than episode 2 does, which delves right into exploring the characters and setting up a dramatic problem. You need to watch Episode 1 to really understand #2 (its very serialized) but Episode 2 is where the show clicks into place, and you'll understand why you want to keep watching. At least that's how it was for me.
I should note that the show is much darker and gorier than I expected it to be. Episode 2 might be the goriest screen-whoniverse work we've had, but it was GOOD so it didn't feel vapid for it. However, I'm not kidding that its a surprising amount of gore. Keep that in mind if that's not something you want yourself or others to see.
My favorite character is Ram Singh by a longshot. Fady Elsayed really gives the standout performance here, and he's someone we should be watching in the future. He has a promising career ahead of him judging by how stellar he is here. The cast as a whole is very good, and all do a good job with their characters. They don't all come off as entirely three dimensional at first, but they sink into their roles. Katherine Kelly pulls a surprising amount of dramatic weight into her role as Miss Quill, who is playing the role that would be filled with Sarah Jane, The Doctor, or Captain Jack in other whoniverse shows. Thankfully it isn't played straight, and she adds a rather large twist to the usual format that makes the show feel (thankfully) very different and unique.
Oh, and the protagonist Charlie has a boyfriend, who I hope we see more of cause the boyfriend character is super sweet.
Probably what I'm surprised most about is that this show is far closer to Torchwood on the spectrum of Doctor Who spin offs than the Sarah Jane Adventures. Characters have been cast into a terrific situation, but it is terrifying. There are wonders, and they are the same thing as horrors. A lot of time is spent on character growth, and dealing with the effects mentally and physically this stuff has on the characters.
In short: its worth your time, its well done, but its VERY much not for kids.
Oh, and I like the themesong.
Welcome back to Lil' Doctor Who! This is the second time we've featured this comic here. It was made by Annie Zhu (who does the 10,000 Dawns art, aka Cazdinal) and Saintoswald, and features tiny versions of Clara and the Doctor having adventures! You guys loved the last one, so has a compliment to the new Christmas Episode of Doctor Who (and as a Christmas treat!) Here is a sequel! I hope you guys enjoy! You can find more of Annie's awesome art at: http://cardinalcapalditumblr.com -Jim
(And to note, these comics are rather obviously parodies.)
I really want to share this wonderful comic made by my friend Annie Zhu (aka Cazdinal), and her collaborator Tumblr user Saintoswald with you guys. Annie of course does all of the wonderful art for 10,000 Dawns right on this site, and does a lot of incredible Doctor Who art, so with the finale of Doctor Who series 9 this weekend now is the perfect time. You can find more of her art at her Tumblr page: http://cardinalcapaldi.tumblr.com_. Spoilers: This comic is adorable. -Jim
(And to note, these comics are rather obviously parodies.)
by James Wylder
Today on Doctor Who, we dredge up the detritus. This is a story constructed out of old parts. There in the background-- is that the special weapons Dalek? The weirdly shaped one? It even gets a line this time. We mold this story together out of old parts and forgotten memories, and then tip the rubbish bin over on its side and burst forth anew from it. The nostalgia is the aesthetic, the old stories are what we remember, but its the new stories we keep creating that push us forward.
The episode is in every way a reflection, its title is a mirror of its predecessor, “The Magician's Apprentice,” the aesthetics mirror old Dalek stories from Hartnel to Cushing to Tennant, and the character interaction is a mirror of “The Genesis of the Daleks”, while the set up itself is a mirror of the previous series finale “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” where Missy takes up an old monster of the Doctor's and has a story with them. But again, its reversed.
Where before Missy was controlling the Cybermen, here she is fighting alongside the Doctor in a weird perverted way, teaming up with Clara to try to save him. Again, these scenes of Missy and Clara are mirrored with Davros and the Doctor. The reflections aren't what we expected of them, though. In getting to see how Missy handles a mission, we see up close and personal her excitable cruelty. She somehow works in a similar way to the Doctor, and yet not at all. You can tell that they grew up together, that their methods of problem resolution are tied together in a mutal understanding, and yet they are also incompatible. With how cruelly Missy treats Clara, one has to look back at Series 3 of Doctor who and shudder at what exactly Lucy Saxon had to go through. It must have been worse that we imagined it.
Strangely, we get to see the Doctor paired with Davros in a totally congenial way. The two of them get along for the most part, aside from the Doctor stealing Davros' chair, the Doctor shows real compassion for Davros on his deathbed (death... chair?). In what might be one of the most brilliant pieces of dialogue I've seen recently, Davros is informed of Gallifrey's survival, and is genuinely happy for the Doctor. At first, its confusing, but then Davros explains himself, and the scene manages to make Davros both more understandable, while also revealing him truly as the nationalist fascist he is as he gives a speech about how every man should have his own place he hails from. The speech is heartfelt, even though the scene itself is a ruse, and shows us more about the difference between Davros and the Doctor than we had before. Its not just that the Doctor wants Galifrey back, its that the Doctor wants it back because all the people there died, just just cause it was its home. Davros' tears somehow reduce Galifrey to simply being another pinprick on a map, a cultural joyland that should remain isolated, when the Doctor himself thrives on leaving, on exploring, on changing and understanding.
Thus, is Skarro rebuilt as a relic. The Daleks remade a city in the shape of their heritage, and let an old man drain their life away for the sake of the past. They are so hidebound to their own creation, their own story, that they cannot progress. When they finally do progress, taking the Doctor's regeneration energy, it destroys them. The very process of change is anathema to the fascism of the Daleks. They cannot truly progress to the next level without sacrificing their isolated purity. The Doctor meanwhile is able to survive by ignoring his own history. When all the Daleks expect him to have a sonic screwdriver, he has changed yet again, and has sonic shades. He is always adapting, always learning, and always, in the end, merciful.
The Doctor's great victory in the end, is corrupting the Daleks. By going back in time to save Davros, he drops a hint of color into their sea of white washed conformity. The Daleks can ask for mercy now, they know what it is, and they will be forever cursed by this taint of goodness. They will not be good, but their iron charge has that hint of hesitation, that tiny urge for decency. A defect that could not be put out. Always, mercy.
From all that defeat, from all that hell, from all that cultural detritus, something new is rising out of something old. Something holy from the sewers.
Lets note the funny bits, now, shall we?
-”The last chair on Skarro!” made me laugh harder than any joke on the show I can remember. A+ (also, a nice call back to the parody of Doctor Who Moffat wrote “The Curse of Fatal Death.”)
-”Your Sewers are Revolting!”
-”You are a bad doctor...”
-Missy poking Davros in the eye after she said she'd scratch his eyes out last episode. Nice.
-Oh, and if you rewatch “The Big Bang” from series 5, there is a scene with a Dalek that has some new meaning!.
I'll be doing an analysis of every episode of Series 9 of Doctor Who after the episodes air. This is the first! Look forward to it for the rest of the season. -James Wylder
Television, or most entertainment, is made up of different pleasures. You go to a comedy for a taste of laughter, or to tragedy for tears, in a more general sense. But in a broader sense there are a whole pallet of tastes that make up entertainment. You might know this without even being able to express why when you are trying to think of a movie to watch, and think of two movies that are so very similar but you enjoy for different reasons and you feel a strong urge to watch one but not the other. The Magician's Apprentice knows its pleasures, and is unabashed in rolling them out on a tank for us.
What's really interesting about the episode is what those pleasures are, and exactly how unashamed of them the episode is. This is after all playing with the joy of nostalgia, and not just in the more vague way that TV often plays with nostalgia by throwing in tiny references, or bringing back an old villain for a new plot, but by directly tying the entire plot of this episode into the history of Doctor Who. From Missy's nonchalant, “Yes, I'm not dead just like always lets move on with the plot already,” to the casual use of Unit, all the way to showing off Davros, an old Dalek City, every sort of Dalek, and the clips of multiple Doctors from earlier in the show, its steeped in those things in a way that Doctor Who has shied away from since its return. Sure, the show has brought back plenty of old things, but it usually has done so in a way that it treats them as being new, or as tangential. Here, they are part of a past we are diving into. The past is the problem that needs to be solved, after all.
“Genesis of the Daleks” is one of the most revered Doctor Who stories, where the 4th Doctor and Davros square off for the first time, and the Doctor is given the chance to kill the Daleks forever, but doesn't. Its a moving moment for sure, but its also one that has been criticized: after all, if the Doctor had killed all the Daleks, it would have saved all the people they continually killed. This is dealt with in the episode itself, but not everyone buys the Doctor's reasoning on the matter. Here the consequences of his decision are laid out again for him: was it the right choice he made back then? We won't really find out where he falls on this question again till next week, but its a powerful one worth bringing up again.
But lets return to the pleasure of the past. With how much of my child hood was spent thinking through idea like, “but what if the Doctor returned to that story?” I find it totally charming that the show was finally brave enough to do so this directly. Not with a wink and a nod, but opening with it. This is after all an entire way we engage with stories: we pick apart their possibilities, create new futures and alternate routes for them. Now we've taken a chance and jumped down that rabbit hole. But even while its indulging in it, it stays away from the sort of excess that makes people despise this type of story: there are no long rambling explanations, and the problem isn't based around nonsense or technobabel. Instead, the story shows us what we need and centers the dilemma around the people involved in it.
Being that the entire revived series of Doctor Who has been written by fans who turned professional, there is something sweet about one of the overlooked pleasures of fanfiction being stripped of its thorns and made into a main course.
But lets not overlook the other fun that we had this week: first off, the Doctor played the guitar. Allow me to break my writing style for a moment to say oh wow that was so rad I mean wow that was super cool yes please I want more of that rock on you sunglassed powerchording hero. So yes, that was a highlight. Seeing Clara work with Missy was also fascinating, as Missy took on the role of the Doctor in the story, requiting Clara for the mission, leading her out onto Skarro's surface, figuring out problems and explaining the solutions, but also being utterly different than the Doctor even while she was similar by being utterly bonkers and without a trace of sanity.
Also, the very nice realization of the colony of snakes was fantastic, and it got the funniest line in the episode: “We're a democracy!”
These pleasures are just as important as the weightier ones, and that the show is so utterly fine with just sitting back and enjoying these moments makes it a delight. We're allowed to let Clara take a spin while walking on stars, and even though it barrels onto the next taste in its copious buffet, oh what a taste it was.
But in the end the thing I'll remember most from this is poor tiny Davros standing in a sea of hands with eyes. Those eyes that see and grab. They're always watching us. You have a one in a thousand chance of making it through, but can you? Whatever decision you make, you'll be seen. You can never escape horrors in a vacuum, nor end them. Maybe the scariest thing is knowing that even your hardest decisions, even your own death, are held to a captive audience, made of palms, or in the chair in front of the television.
But since we like being scared enough to watch this show, what could be more pleasurable than that?
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.