Series 8, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #251) | Previous - Next | Index
Jotted a lot of quick notes while watching the second time through, but for the most part they were things I'd normally tack on to one of these posts in the Stray Thoughts section at the end. At first, I took this as an indication that while funny, mostly charming, and giving the characters some depth, this story was slight and primarily functional -- the characters need to stand in certain relation to each other for drama that will happen later, so this is the episode that introduces Danny to the Doctor and the Doctor to Danny and gets the whole issue of soldiers out in the open to be dealt with. The Schoolbox Spritzer was just enough of a threat to serve its purpose and was dealt with cursorily. The Doctor needed to be at Coal Hill, so a threat was put nearby. Missy and the Nethersphere have been drifting out of our attention, so the Kotex Grifter dispatches a patrolman to bring them back into focus.
There were comedic scenes that worked quite well, for me at least, and enough nods to the classic series to keep the obsessives satisfied with threads to pull and similarities to analyze. While every episode is guaranteed to be at least one fan's least favorite ever, my sense of the general response to this one is positive; most, myself included, finding it continues the season's run of generally strong outings without an obvious faceplant. While the monster of the week is handily discharged, and the focus is on character, I don't think it's exactly fair to label this one as slight.
A post about the craft of criticism at Siris this week has been lingering at front-of-mind, tapping at me to answer the questions it raises:
If we strip away all irrelevancies, all purely arbitrary and irrational criteria, there is nothing about a work itself that can be assessed except these three things:The difficulty is identifying with confidence the ends of a particular episode of a TV series before the larger story of which it is a part has concluded. We don't generally consider it wise to review novels chapter by chapter before we've got to the end of the book; likewise, until we can locate an episode within the complete story of the series (by which I mean season, not the 50+ year series) we can't really be sure we know the the storyteller/showrunner's ends, in part because we haven't seen justice, or injustice, meted out to all the characters yet.
(1) Are the ends sought genuinely good?
(2) Are the means appropriate to the end?
(3) Are the means used in a way to achieve the end well?
Brandon goes on to write in his post:
If you cannot identify what the author is trying to do, your opinion about the work is of no importance at all. It does not matter whether you were bored. It does not matter whether you have ideas about how you think it should have been written. It does not matter whether you hated it. It does not matter whether you liked it. If you don't know what the author is doing, or if you've misunderstood what the author is doing, your judgment is about you, and says nothing about the work itself.So, yes, I can tell you I laughed out loud a few times and we can argue about whether the scene where the Doctor's deep cover operation is revealed to Clara is genuinely funny or not. When the Doctor tells Clara "Deep cover. Deep cover," and shuts the door on her, I laughed. I could go so far as to say, "if you didn't think Capaldi played that perfectly and weren't at least chuckling a little on the inside, then you have no sense of humor." But should you take that as just being about me and my sense of humor? (And for a comedic work, can we ever get from this conception of criticism to a determination whether the means are used well towards achieving an end if we can't agree on what's funny?)
The end of this season (Series 8) as far as I can tell, is to challenge us to think about what it means to be a good person, a hero, and whether the two are necessarily entangled. So anything I have to say about this story, and the others in the season, should be judged, I suppose, in light of whether I'm getting that right. Now, that's not the only end I think Moffat & co. have in mind, but I think it's the primary one.
If that is one of the ends, is it a worthy end?
Yes. I don't think you can go wrong creating entertainment that asks people to interrogate their notions of what it means to be virtuous.
Are the means appropriate to the end? The means: our hero, the Doctor, a grumpy, conflicted alien trying to protect innocent people, but also putting people in harm's way to accomplish his ends; Clara, a teacher, a hero in her own right, who loves the Doctor, but love loves Mr. Pink and has been withholding information, and outright lying when need be, to accomplish her ends; Mr. Pink, who love loves Clara and, now that he's found out about the Doctor, finds he's got to deal with whatever internal conflicts he's got about having been a soldier while reconciling Clara and the Doctor's companionship in light of their adventuring; the presence of agents in the universe that will harm others to accomplish their ends; a mysterious group of agents with extraordinary powers, resources, and unknown ends, but who are presenting themselves to some of those who die around the Doctor's adventuring as a supernatural force that rewards people with a heavenly after-life in the Promised Land; the Doctor Who continuity is a means; the TARDIS itself; the plot of each episode is a means; and, since we're talking about television, each directorial decision, each actor's choice in how to play a scene, each special effect, each editing decision, the use of music, all the myriad decisions that go into making a story for TV on top of what's written in the script, are a means of telling the story.
Yes, generally, to all of the above. It remains to be seen what Missy and the Nethersphere are all about; we may yet throw our hands up at the end and curse Moffat. But, for now, that means feels thematically appropriate.
Do the means achieve the end?
We have to re-frame this, I think, to consider this episode in the context we know it now. The story isn't complete and additional chapters will address the larger ends. The question for this episode is: did it entertain on its own, while maintaining or increasing interest in the larger story (we think) we're being told?
Hmm. I was entertained but, like a joke, do we have any criteria by which we can ever truly say it was entertaining such that we could prove to a person who wasn't that their not being entertained was a failure on their part, not of the story? Well, I suspect that anyone who wasn't entertained wanted this story to be something other than it was -- perhaps a greater emphasis on the Clorox Twister, it's motivations/programming and the conflict it was engaged in, more people killed, greater peril to the Doctor and the kids at Coal Hill, more pew-pewing and Danny doing acrobatic combat -- and it's hard to see how that would've been a more effective way to set up grudging respect and unresolved conflict between Danny and the Doctor, for instance.
Let's get to the Stray Thoughts and I'll come back and do a massive re-write on this one after the season ends and/or I realize I need to re-think my assumptions about what we're watching:P
- Love seeing snippets of other adventures and being reminded that the characters are up to more than what we see each week. It makes the DW universe feel bigger and more vibrant.
- Two teachers, one male one female, a disruptive young lady, and a crankly old man with a TARDIS, sound familiar? The unacknowledged ghost of "An Unearthly Child" haunts this story in strange ways. Young Courtney the disruptive influence is not another Susan, but it sure looks like Twelve may see her that way. If Clara maps to Barbara, she's got a head start on Danny mapping to Ian.
- How can the Doctor go to Coal Hill School and show no sign he's given a thought to Susan, Ian, or Barbara? Well, he's Twelve, so we can imagine he's really that focused on what he's doing and is indifferent to his own history here. For us though, isn't it disturbing how it's like "An Unearthly Child" and "Remembrance of the Daleks" never happened for him? (Although, if he meets Ian, and has to explain regeneration, and that he's a Time Lord, and answer awkward questions like, "How did Susan get on after we left her? What do you mean you only saw her again briefly?!")
- I'm guessing many of us subtitled this one "Groundskeeper Willie Dresses Like a Ghostbuster"
- So this bit: the white cop strolls up to two black kids and asks them why they aren't at school. I don't know if it only plays this way in America, but it felt like Ferguson, MO was about to break out in East London. Without checking the filming schedules, I'm sure this must have been in the can before Ferguson, but it was a tense moment. Can't help but wonder if viewers in the U.K. got a similar vibe? (Twelve later asking Courtney if she didn't need to be off shoplifting somewhere was an uncomfortable moment as well. Again, as an American, I wonder if that just says more about our culture than about about whether that scene wasn't an unfortunate bit of writing.)
- Twelve's evident delight when he thinks Clara's beau is a guy in a bow-tie with a bit too much jaw and unfortunate hair is borderline twee, but he needed a dash of that, didn't he?
- "Artron emissions"? Nerd alert!
- Samuel Anderson is doing a brilliant job in his portrayal of Danny. "He's your space dad?!" Again, I was laughing. This is, far and away, the best Gareth Roberts has done writing.
- Danny calling Twelve out as an officer (an aristocrat) and their class conflict worked really well for me. A powerful scene. We don't know Danny's trauma, but here are two former soldiers, as it were, trying to rile each other up and, perhaps, playing with fire by pushing the other to a dark place they might not want to have dredged up. That may have been my favorite scene of the season so far.
- Twelve whistling "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" while Clara makes some schoolkids clean up a mess they've made. Hah!
- Couldn't make out what Courtney was saying under her breath to Clara, and didn't pick up "Ozzie loves the Squaddie" meaning anything until second watch. Ozzie = Ms. Oswald ... Squaddie = Mr. Pink ... yeah, I was slow on the uptake there.
- The scene where Danny tells Clara the Doctor needs to know he's good enough for her carried some paternalist baggage, the old suitor asking the maid's father for her hand, as if she were property. Or, maybe it didn't and Clara is going to do what she wants, with whom, regardless.
- So, Courtney is going to get another ride in the TARDIS? Are we sure this is a good idea? I thought Eleven taking Clara's charges on a trip was unwise and didn't sit right. Here I am again thinking this is a child, with a family and a life who is too young to make a decision like whether or not she should go off adventuring through time and space ... but am I applying too much real world thinking to a family show where having a younger character for younger viewers to identify with overrides normal reasoning?
- I know, I know ... Skovox Blitzer. But I'll forget again in a week and be struggling to remember what it was called.
What did I miss or get wrong?