Previously on Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood.
Of creatures under the bed, fear in the dark, and the Doctor’s constant companion.
This episode seems almost unlikely in all its intricacies, coincidences, and revelations — but then, it is practically molded to Clara’s timeline, and the TARDIS doesn’t always take you where you had in mind. She takes you where you need to be.
First, Clara returns home from a medium-disaster first try at a date with Danny. Again, Clara develops a serious case of Foot in Mouth Syndrome; and as I said last week, the fact that one of her flaws is insensitive humour is a well-picked characteristic for someone who’s generally mostly defined by their compassion and kindness. It doesn’t detract from her skills with kids and other people or her being a good person, but it makes her three-dimensional and just very real.
The second try at a date goes a bit better, but tanks the moment Clara lets slip that she knows Danny’s much-hated real first name, Rupert. And there’s the well-picked flaw in Danny’s character: he’s nice and laid back and respectful, but he’s also obviously affected by his past as a soldier, and it leaves him somewhat prone to… not to flying off the handle, but to a certain degree of anger and temporary unwillingness to listen that I think everyone’s familiar with as well. No-one likes being lied to, but we can also see, by the way his first instinct is to apologise when Clara turns up on his doorstep, that he’s aware of it and might not like that about himself very much, no matter whether it’s something he’s always done or whether it’s something that was exacerbated by whatever he lived through in military service. I also like that he and Clara immediately have meta dialogue about what just happened — the “people like you” and Clara immediately questioning that and the “you were making assumptions about me” bits. For once, fictional characters are actually using their communication skills whilst arguing, that’s very refreshing. Clara’s also apologetic about her flaws when she goes back to the restaurant the first time, like she’s aware of them and implicitly posits that she can’t change herself, but she knows they can cause disruptions and she’s sorry about that anyway. As awkward as the date scenes are, I think it’s a very straight-forward navigation of what people who are possibly attracted to each other go through, as ridiculous as it may seem. Let’s see where the kiss in the closing scenes leads…
There is a lot going on in this episode, with Clara and with Danny and Orson and with the Doctor, but it just about manages not to get too heavy, except perhaps for the last five minutes.
My favourite scene, hands down, is the scene in Gloucester with young Danny/Rupert. Clara’s fantastic as a caretaker, and the Doctor and her make a wonderful team in a crisis. The scene with Danny went from “What?!” to fabulously creepy and actually breath-haltingly scary to throwing-the-remote-away funny when Clara slaps the Doctor’s head in admonishment for creeping the poor boy out even further and then orders him to sit back down and he just does. Their comedic timing and Capaldi’s body language are just spot-on in that tiny moment alone. I just adore Jenna and Peter on-screen together, and how somehow Peter’s Doctor looks younger than Matt’s ever did. The Doctor carries with him some sort of excited energy that somewhat freed himself from the mysterious air that Eleven had wafting about him, and you can see it when he waits for Clara to get home, when he says, “Come on, you’re free!” He’s excited, and his face is distractingly happy-go-lucky about it. Oh, and: “Dad skills.” That has got to be the first time that the post-war Doctor doesn’t fudge the issue on having once been a parent. And with such easy confidence, too, because he knows Clara knows and who was he ever kidding, anyway. God, I love Twelve.
“No, not the hugging! I’m against the hugging!”
And again, there was that back and forth between them, her indignation at being told what to do, and her throwing it right back in his face and him taking it for what it is. “Do as you’re told.” They’re equals, and if he can say that to her, then she can say that to him, and they both have to cop to it, or else this won’t work. So he cops to it. Add to that Peter and Jenna work so well together in both the dramatic and emotional and the comedic and physical/situational comedy moments, and it’s just fantastic.
Of course, the scene with the Doctor as a kid was supposed to have the biggest effect, I guess. And it did affect me, but it happened so suddenly and obviously intended for shock value that I can’t help but feel it sort of went over everyone’s heads, you know? It felt more shoehorned than Eleven’s appearance in Deep Breath, certainly, because it was just so… in a way, it closes a circle. Clara’s been there for every single Doctor, has saved him time and time again, but she’s never had the chance to save that little boy who was scared by what he saw in the dark, perhaps by what he’d seen in the Untempered Schism, even. It’s a callback to the First Doctor saying, “Fear makes companions of us all,” pretty much the inception of the concept of the Doctor’s companions, and it’s a Big Important Gesture that Clara leaves the little boy from Gallifrey with Dan the toy soldier. It’s a family heirloom, and the Doctor’s part of Clara’s family, undeniably. But while the scene can be explained and makes sense within the frame of reference of the episode, it feels contrived and out of place by the sheer magnitude of it. I mean, if that barn is on Gallifrey, which I think we’re all assuming, then… they just went to Gallifrey. In the TARDIS, which is now so full temporal energy that, surely, the Time Lords should have noticed something? I don’t know, perhaps it just feels weird to have something so potentially huge occur pretty much in passing, like an afterthought, in a scene that was obviously written to bring us to tears. I’m not at ease with that scene, perhaps because it feels less organic and too much like emotional manipulation in an episode that is already chockfull with Clara being confronted with her possible future with Danny. Clara could have said all that to her Doctor’s face, too, and it would have had the same effect. As I say, I’m not at ease with it.
All in all, they spend an entire episode chasing a rumour — and something did breach the airlock, so…? If the punchline is that they spent an episode chasing nothing because the Doctor’s just a kid scared in the dark, then what was the thing under the bedspread for? I’m struggling with whether that’s actually what the solution is or whether to classify this as one of the Doctor’s unsolved X-Files. ’cause if they’d been chasing something that doesn’t exist, that’s where the episode would begin to fall apart a bit, and that would be a shame.
P.S.: At some point, Clara talking about her outward appearance a lot and the make-up joke and the wide-face joke become less about a character’s vanity and desire to look their best (which, as just another character trait, would be perfectly fine) and more about something that women apparently focus on (read: obsess over) because, well, they’re women, and everyone Clara is interacting with this episode are men and the men never once do, especially in conjunction with dates and date preparation. Food for thought.
Next on Doctor Who: Time Heist.