Saturday, November 21, 2015

Face the Raven / Heaven Sent / Hell Bent - "You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge."

Face the Raven - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 10 (Overall Series Story #263a) | Previous - Next | Index

Pop culture has this thing it does, it's been doing for ages, where the hero loses a wife/friend/dog (sometimes, famously, finding the cold corpse of their loved one in the refrigerator) and has an excuse to go berserk. The Revenge Fantasy. It's powerful, fueling the violent imaginings of audiences yearning to slip the ties of civilization and finally lord over everything and everyone that's ever hurt them. (We've all been hurt. We're all susceptible ... )

Powerful and awful -- it is the worst of us, distilled. We drink of it when the pain of remembering the consequences of our stupidity, laziness, selfishness, and our cowardice overwhelms us. It allows us to pretend we can shift accountability for our failings off ourselves and, once externalized, destroy them. We then come out the other side of the ordeal as a battered hero, purified by the fire. It's the ritual of blood sacrifice repackaged as ... Rambo, or whatever. Somebody's got to bleed to death so the hero can pay the devil for the power they need to master themself and their world. (The 80s were chockablock with this crap -- as they had to be in order, considering; but, that's a Noam Chomsky lecture for another day.)

What Doctor Who does in "Face the Raven" is gently, but firmly, show us there are better fantasies. There are other stories we can tell ourselves; stories that can help us learn and prepare to be brave when faced with, among other things, our inevitable mortality.

  • Retcon, that's Torchwood's go-to amnesiac.
  • The Trap Street is a refugee camp. Again we're circling around the dilemmas raised in the Zygon Invasion/Inversion -- in a world where the dispossessed hide to protect themselves, how do we broker the peace within community, and between communities?
  • Was there ever any thought to a Malcolm Tucker tear down for the Doctor's last words to Ashildr before being transported out. I don't imagine so, it would have been the wrong note that spoiled the symphony. But, because of the allure of the revenge fantasy,  we can imagine a dark mirror universe Doctor Who where the show is wholly amoral and it would have pushed all the wrong buttons for profit. In it, Capaldi plays the Doctor with a Van Dyke beard, a scar, and possibly and eye patch and that Doctor verbally eviscerates Ashildr. It would've been wicked. But, wrong. 
  • Last week, I was expecting a Part One. This week I wasn't. Kept hearing the final story was a two-parter, but this had a big ol' To Be Continued on the end of it, so I'm treating as Part One of the Series 9 Finale and have gone back and revised the page where I collect all these things to reflect it. This is, of course, totally arbitrary, but I am -- as nu-Spock might say -- emotionally comprised by tonight's episode and choosing to focus on a trivial matter in this particular moment.
  • This being the first part of a three part story, I was tempted to hold off publishing a post and take the night off to watch Jessica Jones, but if I did what I did with the last multi-parter and waited 'til the story was done, it'd be three weeks before I said anything about this one, and that would've felt like too long, I reckon. Will play it by ear next week, but may not update the rest of this post until after "Hell Bent". 
  • Nicola Bryant made some of us old timers smile with this one: 

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia Entry transcript

Sandifer post
As for the second chunk, what is there to say? Not for the first, but nearly for the last time Capaldi and Coleman are given astonishingly good material, and they do astonishing things with it. Notice the structural cleverness of it: the cliffhanger is identical to The Magician’s Apprentice: Clara’s dead and the Doctor’s trapped. Equally notably, the Doctor and Clara lose for the same reason: they tried to take care of someone, and made a reckless mistake. 
But unlike The Magician’s Apprentice, it is a scene written around Clara. And it is a scene that revolves around who Clara is: a deeply flawed bossy control freak capable of acting with indescribable grace. She lied and manipulated her way to death, like she inevitably would eventually, just as the Doctor inevitably does every couple of seasons. “Why can’t I be like you,” she asks, and there is no good answer. Indeed, she is. She gets a death scene, just like he always does, and it is very much hers, with numerous facets that would not appear in the Doctor’s, or in Rigsy’s, or in Ashildir’s, or in Amy’s. “Let me be brave” is easily the equal of “I don’t want to go” or “you were fantastic, and you know what, so I was I,” or “Hey.” Her conversation with the Doctor, and the things she chooses to say to him and not let him say to her, are astonishing.
Jack's Eruditorum/Shabogan Graffiti post

AV Club review
Clara comforts the Doctor not because her death is unimportant relative to his pain but because she wants her death to mean something, and she refuses to let him insult her memory by using her death as a motivator for vengeance. It’s the same reason she refuses to let Rigsy feel guilt over her death, and, in its way, why she stops talking to Ashildr the moment the mayor admits that there’s nothing she can do. Clara restricts her focus to what matters to her, and above all she wants to die right, just as Danny did. That’s a fine thing to aspire to, at least in the context of her available options, and she admits she would like the Doctor to find it in himself to be at least a little proud of her as she goes out to face the raven. 
“Face The Raven” isn’t quite perfect, but it’s damn close, and it’s hard to imagine a finer exit episode for a companion (notwithstanding the fact that I’m still a little dubious that this is Clara’s actual exit, but what the hey).
Vulture review
This recap could easily finish off with a full transcript of everything said between the two old friends. It’s drenched in heart wrenching emotion and rock-like strength. Make no mistake – it’s heavy and sad and moving and punches most of the right buttons, and if it’s all of those things, why does it feel so incomplete? Ultimately “Face the Raven” is a story that proposes so many questions it can’t help but feel unfinished at the close.
iO9 review
I’m pretty curious to see what happens next here—I guess it all revolves around what’s on the Doctor’s “Confession Dial,” plus the identity of whoever Ashildr made that deal with. (Again, guessing Missy and/or the Daleks.) And just who/what the Hybrid is. But most of all, I’m curious to see exactly how, or whether, the show can pay off this latest and darkest iteration of the motif of the Doctor’s hubris and obsession with his own mythos leading to suffering and death.
TV Tropes page

Locations guide

Heaven Sent - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 11 (Overall Series Story #263b) | Previous - Next | Index

Thought we'd gotten away from fairy tales? Not so much. The wise shepherd boy from the Brothers Grimm isn't the hero in this tale though; Moffat fractures the story-within-a-story about a the bird coming along to sharpen its beak on a mountain once every hundred years by making the Doctor the bird. When he says he'll never, ever stop ... well, he means it. In this story, the hero is clever, but it's his willingness to simply grind it out, to live through the pain every damned day in pursuit of his goal, that makes him capable of heroic feats.

The logic of the plot is fairy tale logic, which is to say, no real logic at all -- and that's a bit frustrating, it detracts from an otherwise amazing hour of television. (The confession dial is what? The diamond wall doesn't reset because why?) Like virtually every other Moffat-era episode, there's fuel here for the haters. And, like virtually every other Moffat-era episode, there's something here for those willing to go along from the ride.  If nothing else, there's Peter Capaldi carrying the hour -- with only a small assist from Jenna Coleman, whose Clara is not back, exactly, just around in the sense that the character will always be there -- in a way it's difficult to imagine any of the prior actors who've played the role being able to anchor it. (My opinion of Capaldi's formidable skill are no secret, but even the folks who didn't like the episode almost universally seem to be in agreement that Capaldi continues to nail it. There's nothing not to like about how he plays the role.)

So, the Hybrid thing ... apparently that's (not?) Moffat doubling down on the 1996 TV movie's controversial, lamentable decision to reveal that the Doctor is half human on his mother's side. I say "reveal," but I guess "retcon" works there, too. Let's see how it plays out before leaping to conclusions. ("Me," after all, isn't necessarily him.) Instead, let's play the "What Is This Episode A Hybrid Of?" game. My crack at it: "The Deadly Assassin" (the Doctor pursued through a surreal hellscape) crossed with the disposable, scienti-magically produced duplicates of The Prestige.

Odds and Ends:

Here's the relevant bit from the fairy tale excerpted:

How long before Randall Munroe works out how big the ocean that castle was in the middle of had to be to accommodate a billion plus years-worth of Doctor skulls?

With fascism on the rise here in the States, little digs like: "It's dictatorship for inadequates. Or, to put it another way, it's dictatorship," are more welcome than, ideally, they ought to be. Not that gardening ever seemed like a dictatorial pursuit to me. But now, I'll watch gardening enthusiasts more closely ...

Don't suppose we'll get Timothy Dalton back as Rassilon again next week?

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia Entry transcript
Sandifer post
As I’ve said many a time, what I want out of Doctor Who is something I’ve never seen before. And so I’m not going to argue with anybody who puts this among their masterpieces. If you want to claim it as the equal of Listen or Blink then be my guest. For me, it’s a solid 9/10, and won’t be ahead of The Zygon Inversion in my rankings... 
Vulture review
What’s most amazing about “Heaven Sent” is how little interest it has in bullshitting the viewer. Though the episode leaves a number of dangling questions (as the penultimate episode of the season should), the bulk of it once deciphered is pretty straightforward, and that’s no mean feat for an episode drenched in such an abundance of poetry.

Capaldi, as always, is marvelous, and due credit goes to director Rachel Talalay for making such streamlined visual sense out of all of this. But if I had to give an award here, it’d go to Moffat. It takes courage to follow through on a series of ideas like this, and even if the writer side of him said “Go for it,” it’s entirely possible the showrunner side could take issue with the concept. This was brave and beautiful Doctor Who, illustrating so many new and different sides of the Doctor, and in the process making him more human than ever before.
popmatters review
The quality of the script is shown off to best effect by some masterful direction by Rachel Talalay. The episode calls for extraordinary directorial resources, including some fairly intricate CGI, underwater scenes, and point-of-view footage. Talalay pulls off all three beautifully, using fisheye lenses to convey the point of the view of the hulking, shuffling, pain-inducing monster prowling in the Kafka-esque corridors of the castle, and skillfully portraying the Doctor’s emotional dependency on Clara during the imagined TARDIS scenes. The editing is mesmerising, particularly towards the end, when dizzying, ever-faster cutting lends the Doctor’s epoch-spanning suffering virtue and grace.
AV Club review
This season has been a remarkable achievement for the show, and, pending next week’s finale, it’s got a real chance to go down as the best season of the revival, topping even Matt Smith’s debut in season five. And hey, maybe “Hell Bent” will be the perfect capper to this season, or maybe it won’t. But the genius of the construction of this season’s endgame is that “Hell Bent” could be an unmitigated disaster and it still wouldn’t really undo the genius of “Heaven Sent” or “Face The Raven” before it. Those two do form part of a larger three-parter, but each has had its own particular story to tell. The first was all about the end of Clara. The second was the all about the survival of the Doctor. And the third? Why, nothing less than the return of Gallifrey. The Doctor wasn’t kidding when he said he came the long way round.
TV Tropes page
Ambiguous Syntax: The Doctor's last line is "The hybrid [...] is me." Or is it "The hybrid [...] is Me", meaning Ashildr? Although the Doctor usually calls her Ashildr, not Me, the way things left off between them in "Face The Raven" he may have accepted that Ashildr, for all intents and purposes, is no more. 
Locations guide

Hell Bent - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 9, Episode 12 (Overall Series Story #263c) | Previous - Next | Index

That's the face I pulled as well at the open ...
What I took from it and what it was may be entirely different things. It's often that way with me, so we'll just need to accept that this isn't analysis proper, nor even a review; it's just a reaction and a reflection. There are mirrors and, sometimes, there are also shards of a mirror. This post is a shard. A jagged one at that.

As a whole, I don't know. I don't know if it made more sense, than I think it did on first watch, or if it was as incoherent in places as it seemed to me. I'll read the reviews and kick myself later for the things I missed ... I always do. For now, sitting at the end of another season with an xmas special coming soon but another long spell without new episodes coming after that, I'm weighing the satisfaction derived against the anticipation, trying to decide if the answers to the questions were enough, and if the new questions raised are genuinely interesting. Who was the Hybrid? Me, certainly. The Doctor, too. The Doctor and Clara. (The DoctorDonna probably should've been in the mix. And what about Jenny? Or the Meta-crisis Doctor? We're chock-a-block with hybrids.) Did it matter? Or, were we just slapped about with a red herring all season?

Gallifrey's back, hiding out at the end of time, presumably not too far from where we saw the last of humanity taking off in search of Utopia, or Frontios even. So it's back, (a less bombastic, non-Timothy Dalton) Rassilon is back, and for all the drama we had around the 50th anniversary about the Doctor finding it again, the way the Time Lords came back boiled down to (paraphrasing): "Well, they figured it out somehow, they're clever like that."  Given the choice between a bunch of technobabble and a quick elision, I guess the elision is the better choice for pacing, but we got elision where it would have been nice to have had explanation, and got explanations where we might as well as had elision, because it's not clear the explanations made sense.

If all the above feels like complaining, it's really not, it's just getting the awkward out of the way because really I loved it, and what Moffat's put in play when all is said and done. Loved that we saw Maisie Williams playing Me again, and thought she was better here an in last week's episode. Ageless Clara and Me are going to go off and have adventures before she returns to the moment just before her death and, while I'm reminded of Jenny blasting off and never being seen again, turning those two loose in a TARDIS is to great an idea to quibble over it being shoe-horned in where it didn't look like there was shoe to horn in on.

The line that got in my head like the writing on the spaceship wall in "Under the Lake," was the Doctor telling Clara: "Every story ever told really happened." That's the key, I think, to what Moffat has been after all along. Words and stories are the Doctor's greatest tools/weapons. Stories being the was we learn/change our minds. Memories becoming stories, all stories being equally real as objects of the mind, our identities being constructed of stories. The Doctor is a story, Doctor Who is a story: neither are real -- but, because we watched them, and they made us want to be braver, or more clever, or a better friend, or just tell better stories, then it's as good as if they were. The things that change our minds have real impact.  

So, naturally, Gallifrey's capitol city sits on top of "a computer made of ghosts." The Time Lords are powered by stories.


Told to put down any weapons on his person, the Doctor lays down his spoon.

Me/Ashildr is there even closer to the end of spacetime where TARDISes, we've seen in the past, are generally reluctant to go, though the capsule the Doctor nicked this time didn't seem to mind at all.

Sandifer has a great way of framing the regeneration of the General: "[T]he regeneration of Ken Bones into T’nia Miller, [is] a glorious “fuck you, no, here is a race and genderbent regeneration that happens on fucking camera right in front of you it is canon now so shut up you racist and sexist assholes.”

This Doctor in a basic white and grey TARDIS console room, with a door that makes that old door opening noise, was like seeing the show's DNA under a microscope.

It just clicked, possibly because it's only a coincidence, that "Duty of Care" anagrams to DOC. If, next season, the Doctor starts saying he's Tired of Responsibility, we'll know Moffat's trolling us.

Wait ... so when the Doctor met up with River, Amy, and Rory at that diner in Nevada, were they in Clara and Ashildr's TARDIS?!

Additional Resources:

Sandifer at Eruditorum Press
If Heaven Sent felt like Moffat writing about the experience of writing the same thing over and over again, Hell Bent feels like him consciously reflecting on the question of whether it’s time to leave the program. He has, of course, also said that he wrote The Husbands of River Song thinking it might be his last script for the series, and given several “yes I am leaving soon” comments in interviews. Certainly this story can only be described as groundwork for his departure; a rehearsal for “the last Moffat story” in the same way that Kill the Moon, Death in Heaven, Face the Raven, and Last Christmas were rehearsals for Clara’s departure.

Vulture review
The reason this recap is titled “Duty of Care” is because when a focused Doctor painfully yet offhandedly uttered that line – “I had a duty of care” – to Clara, I lost it. And I lost it again and again as I repeatedly thought of it in the hours after first watching “Hell Bent.” I’m losing it as I type these words, days after that initial viewing. That line coupled with the tears welled up in Clara’s eyes was the moment I’d been waiting for since the end of “Face the Raven.”

A.V. Club review
The result, then, is that the audience is invited to think going in that “Hell Bent” will be an epic finale along the lines of, say, “The Big Bang” or “The Wedding Of River Song,” only for the show to swerve toward something closer to the sustained heartbreak (admittedly still mixed with plenty of narrative pyrotechnics) of “The Angels Take Manhattan.” The framing device of the Doctor telling Clara the story of their parting is the first clue that this episode is far more about their relationship than it ever was about Gallifrey, but it’s fair to say that “Hell Bent” delivers something rather different from what it and the episodes building up to it appear to promise. This definitely isn’t the first narrative swerve in new Doctor Who, and in the Moffat era in particular, and this is actually one of the better-executed examples, if only because what we get in the second half of the episode is so compelling ... As for the actual decision to even partially wipe the Doctor’s memory, well … this is the kind of fantastical occurrence that is difficult for an audience member to connect with emotionally, but it’s not too difficult to see how this could function as a kind of narrative shorthand for the Doctor gaining just enough distance from the memories of Clara to move on at last.

Charlie Jane Anders for io9
I had some mixed feelings about tonight’s episode of Doctor Who. The plot of the episode (and the season) felt severely half-baked, to say the least, and great moments intermingled freely with a certain amount of WTF. But that ending? Was the greatest. That ending retroactively made the whole thing great.

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