Previously on Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion + The Zygon Inversion
The filler before the series finale, Sleep No More is truly a standalone, whilst Face the Raven connects to the series finale, Heaven Sent/Hell Bent. Since I don’t fancy writing a three-episode review next week, I’m keeping with the two-episode scheme today.
Sleep No More
Written by Mark Gatiss
Sandmen — like the Vashda Nerada, but for sleepy people
Sleep No More is a bit of an odd one out, made unusual by the unconventional FPS camera perspectives and the diverse cast. (Even if most of them died and only team leader Nagata (Elaine Tan) made it out unscathed.) Reece Shearsmith is watchable but bland as Gagan Rasmussen, the clueless victim turned villain, who appeared to be merely narrating what footage he could salvage so that the authorities (or whoever would come after) would know what happened. Instead, it turns out, he was constructing his alibi. Shilling for the Sandmen, as Clara names them (ha!), he was going to help them escape the space station and infect all life on Earth, and then the galaxy. Yay.
“We don’t have helmet cams.”
That objection thankfully comes soon enough after the viewer realises that we see the Doctor and the others from Clara’s eye line, but that that technically can’t be, since she’s not wearing a helmet. I, too, had simply assumed that the soldiers have helmet cams, which is quite clever of Mr Gatiss to bank on that assumption on the part of the audience. Clara’s POV didn’t confuse me long enough to distract me, but it did make me second-guess what was going on and prepare me for the twist.
The scene in which the door simple lets Deep-Ando (Paul Courtenay Hyu) sweat bullets by making him sing the Mr Sandman song before opening the door is very… GLaDOS. And really creepy. And mean. And playing Portal will never be the same again. But still, we barely get to know the crew members within the story before they’re picked off, even though Rasmussen includes a short bio/character description at the beginning of the video. No, wait: make that because. If he hadn’t done that, perhaps the writer wouldn’t have relied on that to contextualise everyone’s reactions so much.
Well, except for Chopra (Neet Mohan). He at least got to take a stand, and protest the Morpheus programme and explicitly frame it as the capitalist exploitation tool that it is. At first, his teammates react to it as though he’s just a stick-in-the-mud who doesn’t do well with progress, but that’s not it at all. He sees what’s happening, and why it’s happening, and he’s not having it. Not bowing down to the pressure, he refuses to use Morpheus. I’d have loved for him to live, to be rewarded for that awareness. By contrast, Nagata is more of a career soldier than he is. She keeps the mission objective in mind at all times, she does what she has to do. I don’t agree with her killing Rasmussen, and neither does the Doctor, but I understand why she does it. Her job is to eliminate the threat, so that’s what she does. That, too, is a different morality, because humans who take the slow path don’t often get to assume the Doctor’s perspective, who’s got, on the whole, a pretty cushy life, popping in and out of danger as he pleases. Sure, he does it to help. But he doesn’t have to stick around for the clean-up, or the consequences.
“Hold my hand.”
Ah, Doctor. Him being sparse on physical contact (though less so in Series 9), knowing when Clara needs comfort and acting on it (like the first time he did, in Deep Breath) is still different from initiating contact because he needs it.
“Why can’t I be good cop?”
“We talked about this. Your face!”
Grunts are bred — Clara challenges Nagata on this, questions the humanity of the process, but the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t. Eleven might have, Ten definitely would have… Nine would have told her, “It’s a different morality!” Chopra ends up actually feeling for 474 (Bethany Black) when she saves his life by sacrificing her own, but it’s a pittance for comfort. Nagata does include her as a vital part of the team, refuses to leave her behind or send her out to face the threat alone on the off-chance that she might stand the best chances of defeating the thing by brawn alone.
When it turns out that Gagan was killing them all, Nagata just… shoots him. And that’s it. The Doctor gives her shit, but it’s brief. Who is not usually this callous about taking a life.
“NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE.”
It’s as though Peter thought the same thing filming it as I did watching it. As to what this episode could have been, it only scratches the surface. Tension is so high throughout the whole thing that there are no high points that have the chance to stand out, and even though the stakes are high, at the same time the episode didn’t really grab me. I usually really love Mark’s episodes, but this one was just not for me. Nonetheless, I’m delighted that he pens at least one script per series, and I’m looking forward to his next one!
Face the Raven
Written by Sarah Dollard
“He’s making an effort to be nice.”
“There’s no nice way of telling someone they’re going to die.”
As the cards make a reappearance along with Rigsy (Joivan Wade) from Flatline, we are thrown into another very London adventure. It will also be Clara’s last (or so we think at this point, anyway), and there is so much going on with this episode that I think this, too, might be benefitted from being made into a two-parter. Why?
We should have had more time to explore the Trap Street.
The narrative, once they find it, is confined to it, and yet we never really explore it beyond the first sort of “tour” that Ashildr/Me (Maisie Williams) gives the Doctor. If the narrative had had more time, then it would have merited from the lengthy exposition — getting Rigsy, finding the Trap Street in the first place… all of that takes a lot of time, and everything that comes after is squeezed into the episode because it doesn’t have enough time. Why is everyone here? What are they running from? The war, we know from Rump, but what war? How did even Cybermen so readily accept the truce? Who are the families living here, have any of the people here met the Doctor before? Knowing how often he gets into trouble, it wouldn’t have surprised me. They have Judoon, for goodness’ sake! Also, a two-parter would have allowed to us to spend way more time with Anah and Anahson — I would have loved to learn more about aliens named Janus (a two-faced Roman god).
The rules of the Street are absolute, and Me enforces them without mercy.
How did she broker this truce? Who gave her the Quantum Sphere? Were the Time Lords involved from the very beginning? That, too, would not have been a surprise, given that all of this happened to lure the Doctor there, and trap him. Getting to this realisation, too, takes half an age, and by then there’s not a lot of time left to resolve the mystery entirely and, well. For Clara to face the raven.
As such, this episode is a bit badly paced — and even though I had been somewhat more happy with the writing for Clara at the beginning of the series and throughout Series 8, this really was… really inconsistent (and it gets worse from here).
Clara taking the chronolock like that… was uncharacteristically stupid. In the end, it wasn’t noble sacrifice that killed her, it was hubris and thinking too much like the Doctor. The thing is, when writing an ex for a character on a show that needs its characters to be smart/strong/lucky enough to cheat death on a weekly basis, you need a tight narrative to box them in and not let them get away with it this time. This, then, was somewhat undignified. This is the last push to finalising the Clara Is Becoming the Doctor narrative we’ve been watching play out throughout this series, with Rigsy being shocked at Clara enjoying hanging out of the TARDIS by her ankles and the Doctor shouting back that it’s been an ongoing problem. And where the Doctor would have gotten away with it, too, Clara engineered her own downfall. She should have used her willingness to take the mark from Rigsy as leverage, not having already taken it without thinking through all possible consequences. Rump told her, death cannot be cheated entirely. She heard that, but she didn’t listen.
And then — and this is what really gets me — they have the gall to explain this away by giving Clara an underlying, constant death wish?!?! Using it to explain why she’s been so reckless ever since Danny Pink died?? That is cheap. That is cheap, and inconsistent, and totally inappropriate in that moment. (And it gets turned on its head completely in the series finale, but let’s not go there yet.)
It was a gamble that went wrong, and the only noble thing about it is how quickly Clara accepts her fate and makes sure that the Doctor won’t go off the rails. Still.
I was crying at their goodbye because of how Peter played being faced with losing her, not because I think the story led there well or that it was well done. It would have been better (read: more meaningful) if Me had somehow become unable to release Rigsy (blame the Time Lords, I don’t give a shit), and if Clara had then taken it from him to save him. That would’ve given her a death that said something about her, about her kindness and compassion and stubborn refusal to let a family suffer.
“Listen… if this is the last I ever see of you, please… not like this.”
“I should have taken care of you.”
“I never asked you to.”
“You shouldn’t have to ask!”
You. Now, you listen to me. You’re going to be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re going to be furious and you’re going to be sad. But listen to me, don’t let this change you. No, listen, whatever happens next, wherever she is sending you, I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Be a Doctor.
“You will not insult my memory, there will be no revenge. I will die, and no-one else, here or anywhere, will suffer.”
“What about me?”
“If I could do anything to change that, I would.”
As I said, the message about Clara’s character might not be in what causes her death, but rather in how she deals with it. She remembers what she felt after losing Danny, and she is speaking from experience when she tells the Doctor what’s going to happen now. She knows how he’s going to be, because that’s how she was. She was changed by Danny’s death, but she orders the Doctor not to take revenge in the hope that he will listen.
And he does. Up to a point.
Peter and Jenna both played that scene fantastically — for once, it’s Clara who does the talking, and Peter really only gets to react with his face, and his eyes. They’re red by the end of it, and I don’t want to imagine how many takes they had to do, and in how many he might have nearly cried. When the Doctor kisses Clara’s hand, it’s so much more than a hug, not just because of the gesture, but because he doesn’t look away from her. He holds her gaze, he’s not hiding his face in another hug. He’s not hiding his pain from her now.
“Everything you want to say right now. I already know.”
As the Doctor is teleported to goodness knows where, we’re having to come to terms with losing our companion and, possibly, the Doctor never being the same again. He isn’t, usually, being alone. He’s not very good at it.