Right, so… that wasn’t bad. Good, actually. But not great. Sorry, Neil. Come along, you lot, and discover why.
We all knew it was going to be tough to follow up The Doctor’s Wife with something equally as brilliant—not to mention heartbreaking and imaginative. But Moffat whispered, ‘Cybermen,’ and Mr Gaiman couldn’t resist (and who would’ve?). Make the Cybermen scary again was the directive for this episode; but it wasn’t so much the Cybermen themselves that were scary. It was watching a Cyberman’s mind taking control of the Doctor, or at least almost. The terrifying thought that’s always sort of been there in the previous Cyberman stories—what if they ever seriously got their hands on the Doctor—was actually enacted in this episode. Very cleverly, too, merely putting those… ornaments on the Doctor’s face in order to keep him in his usual costume. We’d lose him as a visual anchor otherwise; although just thinking about the alienation of the Doctor in a Cybersuit tingles… ah, well, maybe another time. The other Cybermen were just sort of… there, after that.
There have been references to Classic Who all over this series, from The Rings of Akhaten onwards. It was ‘Brave heart, Tegan,’ and getting the ‘gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport;’ and although I don’t know the Sixth Doctor all that well, this chess game between giants is very much like The Trial of a Time Lord, in which the Valeyard, the incarnation of all the Doctor’s darkness itself puts him on trial. The Valeyard is said to emerge at some point tied to his twelfth regeneration, so we are getting steadily closer. It began with the Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice, and now we’re looking in the face of the Doctor being partly ripped apart from himself. Massive, massive props here go to Matt Smith, who played not only the Doctor-not-being-himself, but the-Doctor-not-being-himself-playing-the-proper-Doctor. And what’s so fantastic is that it’s a different kind of cold than what we’ve already seen from him. It’s not the Time Lord’s indifference, nor the cold fury; although the CyberDoctor does get angry. The CyberDoctor is condescending and arrogant and smug; not usually attributes assigned to Cybermen, which means that it must be borrowing from the Doctor himself, it can’t help itself, but it doesn’t get his anger. That’s an indicator that, during that entire sequence, the Doctor keeps the worst parts of himself well hidden, not just to protect Clara. If the Cyberman were to harness the kind of rage the Doctor keeps bottled up, then good night, Vienna.
This entire thing was beautifully scripted, and Matt Smith made it magnificent—and so did the art department.
This planet and some of its inhabitants are a delightful play on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, complete with Willy Wonka 2.0. The Doctor’s got a Golden Ticket, and though it won’t get him a go on the rollercoaster anymore, it’s gonna damn well save everyone’s lives. Well, until the upgrade comes in, anyway.
Despite this being a very Doctor-centric episode, Clara gets to hold her own very, very well. She takes to being a commanding officer easily—of course the Emperor (Warwick Davis!) was going to end up proposing to her. But, well, if being the Emperor is a bit of a difficult job, being his partner isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, either. (Angie, don’t give him ideas.) Despite the lingering doubts from two weeks ago, she does what she has to do, and she does it marvellously and always keeping her wits about her. Her struggles with the Captain work very well to show her moxy; although the Captain, as a supporting character, was a bit… I mean, she just dies? After freaking out a bit? It’s a good thing the Doctor carried most of this while being able to rely on Clara for not letting everything go to hell in a handbasket while he’s tied up. Literally.
This leads me to the things about this episode that I didn’t find too great. One, Angie. Really, Neil, really? The Cool Teenager trope? Not only that I spent almost every episode of season one of Homeland wanting to sign Dana up for Community Service in lieu of slapping her, I just… I can’t really remember a kid in new Who that I didn’t like. But this, the Cool Teenager trope: no. It’s not just that I don’t like those character types, but it’s doubly annoying to rely on those character types’ stupid decisions for plot development. Angie and Arty could have just been attacked by the Cyberman in their sleep, they could have ran to defend themselves, but no, Angie had to be the Cool Teenager and wander off, whining all the way. And then, no really, she says to the Cyberman, as he’s putting her down: “I hate you!” Neil, honest, would any teenager say that to a Cyberman threatening their lives? It’s a nice enough cliché, but as far as I know, teenagers say that to their parents when they don’t get their way, not to a menacing robot who’s just carried them off. And then, in the end, after all that trouble, she hasn’t learnt all that much, has she? Right, she apologised to the Doctor for calling the TARDIS a stupid box, but I think an apology to Clara would have been in order, too. (That said, Clara and the Doctor as exasperated sort-of-parents/sort-of-older-siblings-looking-after-the-young’uns just exchanging looks at her antics and not even rising to the bait was funny.) Clara is an experienced governess, she knows how to deal with it and Angie will turn out just fine, but… Neil, did you have to? (And it’s not like Angie has been positioned as a kid acting out after her mother died. She was just constructed as a one-dimensional character and not given enough to do.)
And then, one thing: that line with Clara being an “enigma wrapped into a… riddle and squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little too tight”: NO. CLARA IS MORE THAN A SKIRT, and I do not want sleazy lines like that coming out of the Doctor’s mouth.
I loved The Doctor’s Wife, still do love it. I liked this one, mostly. Some bits I truly loved, but I was too busy being annoyed half the time.
Another thing: BBC America have, by accident, dispatched some Series 7 Part 2 Bluray DVDs early; which means some people have already had the chance to see the finale. Beware of spoilers, there are some asshats who are freely posting them, ruining the suspense for a lot of people. Don’t be that person. And if you don’t have the DVDs, safe blogging until Saturday night.
Next: The Name of the Doctor.