Top of the Docs: Season 14

Coming off a truly stellar season 13, this one was more in line with the norm.  There are some ups and some downs.  The last season was an exception to the rule and as things go, this was a decent season, as we can see below…

season 14

The Masque of the Mandragora

RP: 2 – It tries to be a story about science beating superstition, but the science is technobabbly, and the superstition is astrology-based and somehow holds real power, so Marks doesn’t achieve what he is trying to do here, and to make matters worse the pacing is terribly sluggish.

ML: 6 – A fun romp but it took me to adulthood to appreciate it at all.  Like a salami sandwich, it may get better as we get older, but it’s still low on the list of favorites.  The masks are marvelous though.  Some truly lovely set design and we finally learn why everyone speaks English!  But I still can’t pronounce Mandragora the way Baker does.  I’m certain he puts an L in there somewhere.

The Hand of Fear

RP: 7 – Another Baker era change of location mid story, but this time much better integrated.  The first half is far superior, due mostly to female-Eldrad being a rounded character while male-Eldrad is a shouty caricature.

ML: 8 – I’ve got to hand it to her, while the male Eldrad was a bore, the female was both lovely and interesting.  The idea of the creature changing genders was far ahead of its time.  And Sarah Jane’s departure was heartbreaking for me.  Not perfect, so can’t be crowned “king” of the season.

The Deadly Assassin

RP: 10 – A fascinating approach to the Time Lords, and includes the most exciting and scary episode of Doctor Who ever made.

ML: 10 – The Matrix years before the movie was ever made, Gallifreyan politics, a nightmare world with a clown and a samurai, and the Master looked marvelously terrifying!  Predictable as ever, Doctor, this title was a product of idiotic writing!

The Face of Evil

RP: 6 – Doctor Who’s exploration of a cargo cult, plus the Doctor facing a monster of his own creation, with an intelligent resolution of the problem.  His attempted rejection of Leela is pretty nasty though, and for entertainment value I can’t rate this as highly as the stories that surround it.

ML: 3 – Just how boring can a story get?  Let’s face it: the best parts are the comedy and the “who am I?” from Xoanon.  Though her intro is a weak story, Leela brings this one up a good few points!  That’s telling, eh?

The Robots of Death

RP: 10 – A clever delivery of an Agatha Christie plot, with the Poirot reduced to a quivering wreck by robophobia.  This has to be a strong contender for the Doctor Who story with the most gorgeous design work.  D84 is a great character and his dialogue is at times pure poetry.  Fabulous.

ML: 10 – “I heard a cry…”  Yes that was me saying I love this story.  Agatha Christie in the future and proof that a proper alien companion can work for Doctor Who, this story is sublime!

The Talons of Weng Chiang

RP: 7 – Screamingly racist, and that could have been resolved by an easy fix within the script of making Chang a yellowface performer within the narrative rather than actually Chinese, but nobody cared about that at the time.  Other than that it’s brilliant, but that’s a very big “other than that” to swallow.  Jago and Litefoot are of course completely magnificent.  Jago and Litefoot forever…

ML: 9 – Some of the dialogue and plot is horribly dated and racist, but Jago and Litefoot!  They alone carry this story up several points.  Probably should get a 10 but I did feel the episode was a little prolonged and the casual racism is a talon in the side.

Hey, they can’t all be winners, but this season on average was still strong.  How long could Tom Baker keep the ratings this high?  We shall see…  ML

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Merry Christmas Mr Bean

mr beanThe three Doctor Who-less years on television between Survival in 1989 and Dimensions in Time in 1993 seemed like an eternity, let alone the seven-year gap between the end of the Classic Series and the Movie in 1996, or the sixteen-year gap between Survival and Rose.  Any fleeting mention of Doctor Who seemed like something to be excited about, a crumb of hope that our favourite television series hadn’t been entirely forgotten.  One such fleeting moment arrived on December 29th 1992, when a Dalek showed up at Christmas.

Before we get ahead of ourselves we need to talk a bit about Mr Bean, for any poor souls who are not aware of this television (and film) phenomenon.  In 1990 I watched with mild curiosity when my parents turned on the television for what we assume was a one-off comedy programme starring Rowan Atkinson.  He played a hopeless character called Mr Bean, who was placed into a couple of ordinary life situations and messed them up hopelessly: sitting an exam and then going to church.  It was a hilarious half-hour of television.  Two more episodes followed later the same year, then one in 1991 and three in 1992, the third of which was a Christmas special.  Mr Bean was always an occasional treat.  Every episode was a “special”, with the 14th and final episode airing in 1995.  There were also various short charity episodes and two films, the second of which is completely sublime.

So for Christmas 1992 Mr Bean was placed again into some ordinary situations, but with a Christmas theme: going shopping, getting a Christmas tree, cooking Christmas dinner for his unlucky date, etc.  It’s a wonderful episode.  Friends lifted a sketch from it wholesale, and did it a lot worse, but that moment in the episode is probably the least funny.  The standout moment is when Bean gets to conduct a band playing carols in the street.

But the moment of interest to a Doctor Who fan is where Bean finds a nativity scene in a department store and, behaving like a child as he often does, he plays with the nativity, making up a story of various intruders arriving to disturb the baby’s peace.  He uses other toys that are available to hand in the store: soldiers, a helicopter, a dinosaur – the more anachronistic to the nativity the better.

Oh… and a toy Dalek.

And a generation of Doctor Who fans sat forward in their seats.  Of course, it was an absurd moment, and not just because a Dalek was invading the nativity.  The sad fact was that you just wouldn’t have found a Dalek for sale in a department store in 1992!  But it was a lovely little moment, and of course very funny.

For one glorious day in the Wilderness Years of Doctor Who, over 18 million viewers watched a Dalek invasion, at Christmas.  Doctor Who hadn’t been forgotten, after all.   RP

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The Many Lives of Doctor Who

I have to make today’s post a quick one.  I had a tough day including a flood and far too much driving but I didn’t want to leave our Christmas list blank!  Santa is coming and there are plenty of fun Doctor Who items to be found. Take this gem for example…

TMLoDW

I was in Barnes and Noble killing some time a few days back when I spotted this thin volume hiding between those hard backed Doctor Who graphic novels; you know the ones that take too great a liberty with the canon for me to really get into.  But this one tied in nicely, as I learned right away!  Roger often makes the point about anime and the quality of the art therein.  Often, I find, this is what has kept me away: I’m typically not a fan!  But when the artwork is good, it’s a lure and I jump with a bit more gusto! Thankfully I started from the beginning because the artwork jumps around, as does the style of story.

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Does that sound like the first Doctor, or what!?

The main story begins at the end of the Twelfth Doctor’s life, immediately before regenerating.  As he is about to go through that explosive burst of energy, we get a quick remembrance into all the Doctor’s past lives with a glimpse of never-before-seen stories.  Some inner voice, perhaps the TARDIS, is speaking to him, reminding him of all that came before, leading him to his next body but it gives us a few pages with each of our former heroes.  The stories range from good to silly, but the characterization is spot on.  I was a little turned off by some of the artwork, like the story for Tom Baker, which goes all out zany.

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The Doctor was wacky, but the artwork didn’t have to be!

That said, it might make the younger audience quite happy.  And the stories are over so quickly that, if you don’t care for one, you don’t have to put up with it for long.  And that works nicely for the format.  The book was under $10; I think I paid $8 for it, but for the romp through time with all of the Doctors, I was not unhappy.

Overall, I was impressed with the stories and the great artwork from the current regeneration, which wraps up the book. We’re back in familiar territory as the Doctor’s regeneration completes and the new series is about to begin…

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A scene we’ve all come to know and love.

It’s not a huge book and it probably won’t be the main Christmas gift for fans of the series, but it sure makes a great stocking-stuffer.  The stories are all over the place, but the cast is brought to beautiful life with this book.  With the end of season 11 coming today, this’ll give you something to read to tide you over until the New Year’s episode!  Enjoy!  ML

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Alternate Realities: The Blu

In a meeting earlier this week (that I was not able to attend) a question was asked: what is the next big thing in digital health?  The answer was virtual reality.  The answer was specifically geared toward mental health but it tied in perfectly with a discussion I had the week prior about how our generation has had a literal “game changer” since the advent of computer games and virtual reality and how this might impact this current generation and all subsequent ones.  The old age homes of our grandparents may become a distant memory and future ones will become far more digital by the time we’re looking to take up residence in one.  This means I had better get comfortable in some of those VR locales!

It got me thinking, I haven’t done a VR review in a while and since I went semi-aquatic two weeks ago with Call of Cthulhu and we were fully aquatic last week with the superb Subnautica, maybe I should take a dive into one more underwater habitat.  I researched a handful and settled on The Blu.  To be fair, The Blu isn’t a game; it’s a VR experience.  There are three environments to explore but I use that word loosely.  You don’t “explore” at all; you stand there and experience three underwater settings.

The first setting is called Whale Encounter, set on an undersea shipwreck.  As you stand on the deck of the ship, an enormous blue whale passes by.  Good lord, it’s impressive.  The creatures eye can’t be more than 4 feet from you.  As it passes, it swishes its tail in a huge arc, seemingly missing the viewer by a narrow margin.  You can almost feel the water current blasting you.  The entire experience is over in less than 3 minutes but it’s awe-inspiring.

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A whale of a tale and it’s all true…

The second, set in clear blue waters, is Reef Migration.  Fish and turtles swim around you.  It’s idyllic.  With the Vive controller, one can reach out and interact with the fish; they swim too fast to touch, but they are beautiful and they will try to get away if you get too close.  Then, jelly fish begin to appear.  Eventually colossal ones start coming.  They are everywhere.  Again, using the Vive controller, you can reach out and touch them.  I bumped one right up to my face; they are glorious!  Sure, we may be improving technology, but this is one area I’m glad we’re still behind on, or I’d be treating far too many stings for my liking!  Again, the entire experience is under 5 minutes.

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The Seas are alive with the sound of swishing.

The final setting is in the deepest, darkest water.  This is Luminous Abyss, the longest of the three experiences and by far, the most unnerving.  The Vive controller becomes a flashlight and with it, one can spot angler fish moving just outside of our reach.  Turn off the light and their illumination gives that spectral glow to these dark environs.  As you look around, you realize you are standing in the skeletal frame of a whale or some other giant of the deep.  There are crabs by your feet, as curious about us as we are about them.  Then jellyfish come.  Once again, a tactile response from the controller as one bumps off my hand.  They are luminous and beautiful.  This experience goes on for the longest time closing in on 10 minutes, but just watching those alien looking lifeforms floating by is breathtaking.  Then, there is a sound, like something vast moving in the water.  The fish suddenly take off and above you, a nightmare appears.  A massive array of tentacles extend out, fanning above you, angry at the intrusion.  It’s terrifying and amazing.  After a moment, it speeds away.  No, I wouldn’t spoil that one with a picture, but check out where we are before the arrival of the nightmare…

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Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me…

And that’s it… that is the extent of this game.  But take these items into account.  First, it’s fully immersive, and while you’re looking around, this is a full 3D experience.  That’s never more unnerving than when you are exploring the Luminous Deep.  And while I wanted something more interactive, I only payed $8 for this.  I’ve played the whole thing through in one sitting at least a few times but so has my mother, my sister, both nephews, my wife and kids and many friends have all tried it because, simply put, it is amazing.  Look, we’d pay far more than that for an IMAX experience!  Imagine paying for yourself and 7 friends to go to an IMAX; you’d pay a heck of a lot more than that.  So while the individual replay value may be limited, the ability to show off a great experience when friends come over, does make it a great value.

For those who like taking even more time admiring the creatures of the deep, there is an “ambient mode” that allows you to slow time and get very close to the denizens of the deep.  It doesn’t add much, but it is a fascinating experience.

Supposedly, technology doubles every 18 months, by the time I’m in need of an old age home, I may not even know I’m in one, considering I can be deep underwater, or in an alien environment.  Once we’re able to share that experience and have others join our VR “games”, we can be wherever we want, from the comfort of our own old age homes.  It’s an idea that might dawn on you too, out of the blu….  ML

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Festive Beards in Doctor Who

What do you associate with Christmas?  What are those truly iconic things we think of when we think of Christmas?  Turkey?  Stockings?  Christmas Trees?  Pudding?

Forget all those.  There is nothing more festive than a big beard.  Ask Santa Claus.  He knows.

Robot Santa

Oops.  Wrong Santa.  That’s not festive, it’s just creepy.

Santa

That’s better, although he’s looking a little glum.  Surely Doctor Who can do better than that, when it comes to a big festive beard?

Revenge

Well maybe that’s taking things a bit far.  Sometimes less is more.

BEFORE THE LAKE (By Toby Whithouse)

That’s the “why is my chin feeling cold?” style of beard.  Of course, there is a reverse of that:

Enemy of the World

Warm chin, cold cheeks.  If you really want to keep warm, there’s always the “Aslan” option:

Tharil

Although it might pose a problem for hearing what people are saying to you.  Those ears are hidden deep.  Sometimes we need the Doctor to lead by example:

Leisure Hive Doctor

Or maybe not.  Festive, I suppose, but lacking the twinkle in the eye we would associate with Father Christmas.

SoothsayerDoctor

… and that’s just untidy.  You see, the problem is that the Doctor really isn’t a beard man as such.  He rarely sports a beard.

War Doctor

That’s why he doesn’t count the War Doctor as one of his regenerations.  It’s the facial hair.  There’s something a bit too Masterly about that.

Delgado Master

“Rubbish Beard” #1

Ainley Master

“Rubbish Beard” #2

wife

“Rubbish Beard” #3

Simm Master

Rubbish Beard #4.  Neatness.  Cold cheeks to match a cold heart.  That’s the Master’s style.  But when he adopts a disguise it’s a chance to let loose and go with a more festive option:

Master Castrovalva

You know your beard is too big when it wanders off out of the bottom of the TV screen.  In fact, beards in Doctor Who can be quite a useful indication of sanity.  The bigger they are, the crazier the character.

Stahlman

Beard Insanity Level 1: obsessed with his work.

professor-marius

Beard Insanity Level 2: unhinged scientist.

State of Decay

Beard Insanity Level 3: has an urge to drink blood.

Yrcanos

Beard Insanity Level 4: Varoooooooooonik!

Colin

Sometimes an intervention is necessary.

So let’s all raise a glass to festive beards at Christmas.  A Merry Christmas to all of you at home!

hartnellbeard

RP

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Howl’s Moving Castle

In 2001 Spirited Away won an Academy Award.  In 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle was nominated.  Could lightning strike twice for a Japanese animation?  Unfortunately not.  It lost out to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (good grief), but perhaps something stuck in the craw about the film: it was a deliberate critique of the invasion of Iraq, with a strong anti-war message.

Director Hayao Miyazaki has strong pacifist beliefs, and expected Howl’s Moving Castle to be poorly received in the States, but it actually turned out to be another worldwide hit, mainly because it’s completely brilliant, but also I suspect the parallel went over the top of the heads of many viewers.

He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

That’s Friedrich Nietzsche, from Beyond Good and Evil, and it applies strongly to Howl here.  He is trying to stop a war, and in fighting it he is in danger of losing his humanity.  In some respects we are in similar territory to Princess Mononoke, although the message is delivered with far less subtlety here, and no balancing factors.  In Princess Mononoke the motivations behind the conflict are shown with shades of grey, but in Howl it is simply a monstrous, generally distant event.  The movie is based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, and the war stuff is really beefed up in comparison with the book, but Miyazaki always likes to put his own stamp on things.

Fortunately the war is a relatively minor part of the film, which mainly centres around a girl named Sophie who is turned into an old lady by the magnificently named “Witch of the Waste”.  When she seeks help she finds a scarecrow that is able to jump around on its pole (she names him “Turnip Head”), and Howl’s Castle, which is a magnificent steampunk creation that can wander around the landscape on legs.  It can also take on other aspects or identities, with a portal door that opens out into different places, including a town house.  It is powered by a sentient fire named Calcifer, who is completely hilarious, voiced in the English dub by Billy Crystal.  In fact, the voice work is of the highest possible calibre, with Lauren Bacall completely sublime as the Witch of the Waste, Blythe Danner as Madame Suliman, Christian Bale as Howl, and Sophie played by two actresses: Emily Mortimer and the legend that was Jean Simmons.  This is an incredibly astute move, and actually one that is only present in the English dub.  The Japanese original has one voice actor for Sophie.

Sophie’s transformation into an old lady is handled with incredibly subtlety and positivity.  It might take a couple of viewings to appreciate how cleverly it is portrayed as she progresses through the film, starting off with her behaving like a slow, tired old lady who needs to walk with a cane, and gradually walking less hunched and regaining her youthful energy as she finds her place in the world.  Exactly when and how the curse is broken is open to interpretation.  She may eventually be renewing it herself, and it may be tied to her feelings.  She starts the film full of insecurities and ends it full of confidence and with a heart brimming with love and youthful energy.  Howl’s Moving Castle is about one young lady finding her self-esteem, and discovering where she belongs.

The great thing about all this is the positive way in which it portrays old age, and that’s something very important for Studio Ghibli in particular.  The studio has a track record of portraying old ladies in a grotesque manner (and there is still some of that here, with the Witch of the Waste).  In fairness the portrayals have been often positive, but the art perhaps betrays a certain horror with the aging process.  This is different, with Sophie the object of two men’s affections (they can see beyond her physical appearance), and almost immediately gaining the confidence to do and say what she wants that comes with old age.  Miyazaki said that he “wanted to convey the message that life is worth living”.  He certainly did that with considerable style here.

He also has another very strong message, which integrates beautifully with the anti-war theme: the importance of compassion.  Miyazaki simply doesn’t have one-dimensional characters in his films.  There is only one irredeemable, moustache-twirling villain in the entire Ghibli range, in Laputa.  The Witch of the Waste is given a chance at redemption, and Sophie shows her kind-hearted nature when she decides to care for the very person who originally cursed her.  It’s one of those moments where we might lack understanding as a viewer, and think: why is she having anything to do with her?  Until you realise that Sophie’s kindness is just the thing that both of them need.  Forgiveness heals.  And just as Miyazaki doesn’t have one-dimensional villains, he doesn’t have one-dimensional heroes as well.  Howl might be amazing, but he is far from being flawless, and needs Sophie to show him how to put other people first, rather than descend into his own dark little world, turning into a puddle of goo in the process.  Howl’s Moving Castle is about a family coming together.  It might be the strangest family ever, but love and kindness and compassion was all that any of them needed.  It makes them invincible.

Is Sophie young, or just young at heart?  In the end, it’s exactly the same thing.

My Studio Ghibli rankings so far, again simply to help anyone trying to decide your purchasing priorities, but the top 9 in particular are all completely magnificent:

  1. Spirited Away
  2. The Cat Returns
  3. Whisper of the Heart
  4. My Neighbour Totoro
  5. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
  6. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  7. Howl’s Moving Castle
  8. Only Yesterday
  9. Porco Rosso
  10. Ocean Waves
  11. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
  12. Princess Mononoke
  13. Grave of the Fireflies
  14. Pom Poko

I’ll leave you with the trailer for the Disney dub of Howl’s Moving Castle.  Next time we will be looking at another novel adaptation from Studio Ghibli: Tales from Earthsea.   RP

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It Takes You Away

grahamIt’s time to play the music
It’s time to light the lights
It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Doctor’s Show tonight.

My oh my, that frog is going to divide opinions.  An act of surrealist genius, or a poorly realised Kermit?  You decide!  It’s probably a bit of both, but either way you’ve got to hand it to writer Ed Hime: he’s done something different, and where Doctor Who is concerned that’s not easy.

The pacing of this episode is incredible.  Somehow Hime manages to get a coherent story by throwing in all sorts of seemingly disparate elements.  We start off with a Cabin in the Woods style horror, travel through Alice’s creepy looking-glass, journey through a labyrinthine underworld with Stephen King’s red balloon to light the way, and find ourselves in a false afterlife mirror world, all in the space of one episode.  An American genre series would make a 26 episode run out of this, and even then wouldn’t have resolved anything.  Let’s take those elements in order.

Before we get to the cabin in the woods there’s a bit of silliness with the Doctor eating dirt and talking about a rebellion of sheep.  It’s an element of Doctor Who that has consistently misfired this year in even the best of episodes: the attempts at humour.  But we’re done with criticism now.  That’s the only bad thing I have to say about this remarkable episode.

The cabin itself is initially a straight lift from the horror genre, with the unseen more frightening than the reality.  Scary sounds turning out to be a recording is ok.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s the jumps and scares along the way to discovering that which matter.  There aren’t time for many of those, but the moment where Graham discovers the mirror is creepily done.  The sole resident of the cabin is a great character.  What works so well about Hanne is that Ed Hime doesn’t just write her blindness as a weakness.  Note how astute she is at working out that the Doctor has not drawn a map on the wall and more importantly her dismissal of the fake mother.  She might be lacking one sense, but she certainly uses the others to compensate.  And Eleanor Wallwork plays all that stuff brilliantly, with the instinct of somebody who truly understands the material she has been given to work with.  She’s a great actress (and see the end of this article for one of her original songs).

Then we’re into a labyrinth that seems to be pretty linear, despite Ribbons making a big thing about cutting the string.  Ribbons is a great Gollum character, treacherous to the very end, and director Jamie Childs pushes the horror aspects of the episode as far as he can and possibly a little bit beyond with the flesh-eating moths consuming Ribbons’s body, one even flying out of his eye socket.

Talking of the director, I don’t know if it was his decision or not, but the mirrored footage when we get into the sentient universe is a clever choice, giving those moments a subtle sense of wrongness without going over the top with any colour or lighting effects etc.  I have mentioned before when writing about this series that the Hartnell era seems to have been a huge inspiration, with the approach to educational historicals in particular.  Originally Doctor Who was supposed to be a mix of past, future and “sideways” stories.  The last of those is obviously the most difficult one to come up with ideas for, so they never made many of them, but the ones we did get were brilliant, almost without exception.  A sentient universe is very “sideways” and is just the sort of thing I’ve been hoping for this year to really make the series hit the heights that it always seemed to be capable of but never quite reaching.  Importantly, despite the mirrored footage, Hime doesn’t go with a simple Trek approach to a mirror universe.  Instead, it’s a beautified copy where the dead come back.  The focus on Graham and his grieving for Grace pays off his storyline from earlier in the series, and we finally get the emotional kick of the moment that was set up in the first episode, Ryan calling Graham his granddad.  I can’t stress enough what an asset to Doctor Who Bradley Walsh has been this year.

This is my kind of Doctor Who.  Last week we had the supernatural with a veil of technobabble.  This week we had fantasy, horror, myth and fairy tale all rolled into one, in a glorious sidestep.  Doctor Who can’t always be this weird, but give me one surrealist masterpiece like this a year and I’ll be one happy Doctor Who fan.  Throw in as many muppets as you like, for all I care.   RP

The view from across the pond:

In many ways, It Takes You Away should fall into the same category as In the Forest of the Night.  It’s about an event that is going on without any real enemy.  In a season that has given us pretty forgettable villains and stories that hold our interest but have little re-watch value, It Takes You Away might be the breakthrough the season needed.

That said, like most of this season, there are a number of throw-away lines that have become epidemic.  Like Russell T. Davies’s Target novelization of Rose, adding things can take away from the whole and knowing when to use those add-ins is clearly not something current Doctor Who writers understand.  The biggest example of this is the Doctor saying that one of her grandmothers might have been a secret agent for the Zygons.  Yet back in 1975, when Terror of the Zygons premiered, it seems the Doctor had never heard of them before.  Yeah, you can say he forgot over 750 years, but that would even be more valid now, with the Doctor being over 2000 years old, right?  Not to mention, now we’ve got some idea of the Doctor’s childhood and that takes away a portion of the mystery while adding something that people are going to want to know more about.  It’s a dangerous game the writer plays.

This says nothing of the “Woolly Rebellion” coming in 193 years.  (Another idiotic throw-away that in all Who history has never been mentioned before … because it’s idiotic!)  Like the name of a place being “antizone” or the creature being “solitract – which is clearly some iteration of “solitary” and “track”!     And speaking of the Solitract “bedtime story”, the Doctor is very comfortable with “pre-time” now, but couldn’t come to terms with it in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit.  Let’s also talk Sherlock Holmes deductive reasoning: the Doctor sonics open the locks on the house and says it’s a “deserted home”.  Does she think the locks locked themselves?  I know, I’m just a stickler for these little things!  Or take Ribbons, who was a great looking creature akin to any of the best Nosferatu out there, and completely alien.  He even lives in a Warriors’ Gate style void-universe.  Cool as hell!  But he knows about tea?  And knows what “wee” is?  C’mon!!!!

Alright, let’s go beyond all of the niggling little things because if I’m honest, they really didn’t hurt the episode that much.  It’s just that they could have been removed which would have strengthened the episode.

The episode is full of examples of strong writing and great cinematography.  Visually, I had noticed immediately that Erik’s shirt was reversed, but only on my second viewing did I notice hair was parted in the opposite direction while in the mirror universe and the Doctor holds her “tool of omnipotence” in her left hand instead of her right.  Each member of the team gets at least one truly wonderful line.  The Tripadvisor rating is comical, but Grahams “someone’s got a bit overexcited with the DIY” was outstanding, considering the state of the house.  His defense of not being lured with “it’s not like I gave it credit card details” was another of his most memorable quotes!  So was Ryan’s “We’d know if we were vampires, right?” as well as Yaz’s “how Nordic does this look to you?”   This kind of dialogue is both funny and believable.   And speaking of believable, we get a more vivid picture of the crew.  Graham suffers low blood sugar and Yaz knows how to handle Hanne because she’s had police training.  Less believable is Ryan following the cable outside the house – why not follow it inside to see where it goes, before heading out to where one thinks Godzilla is lurking?  Still, that suited his character whose youth prompted him to suggest Hanne’s dad did “a runner”.  Which, by the way, ends up being exactly what he did do!

Yet, Ryan’s accurate assessment ends up leading us to the best insight into the episode.  Every episode of the season has had a theme that addresses a big issue: racism, greed, selfishness, etc.  What makes this one stand out is that it’s not about something we do wrong.  This story is about companionship, loneliness, loss and letting go.  This is perhaps the biggest story so far this season!  The Solitract entity wants companionship and creates an entire pocket universe to achieve it.  Yet when it recognizes it could destroy both itself and others, it has to give it up for the promise of a friendship that will never be able to develop.  Giving up that friendship is painful yet it has to give it up to continue to survive.  This is exactly what Graham has to do with Grace; he has to give her up to keep living.  Sadly, it takes accepting that loss to be able to move on and live again.  The reason it hurts is because that bond that we have with one another is incredible, and when it’s gone, it hurts; it’s supposed to!  But we make a choice to live beyond the pain.  We make a choice because we know it’s the right choice, and that the person we are letting go would want us to continue to be who we always were when they were with us, not stagnate.  Graham lets Grace go and in doing so, becomes closer to Ryan.  That final scene made me gasp.  I saw it coming this season, but did not see it coming in this episode: “At least we have each other, right…. Granddad!”  (Yeah, I had all to do to keep it together.  So what?)

Easily the best episode of the season. It mixed science fiction, horror, and drama and gave us a story about how far we go for those we love and how hard it is to let go.  A truly wonderful and important episode!  ML

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