Catching up on Doctor Who – Episodes 4, 5 & 6

Well, things got busy.  I can’t believe that it’s been four episodes since I commented on the current season of Doctor Who.  What have I been doing all this time?  Just sitting around and feeding my cat and working on my movie and playing with the kids, I guess.  And work.  And watching TV.

Actually, there’s a lot of TV I’m watching, compared to normal.  Not only am I creeping forward on my Star Trek viewing, but also I downloaded the first episode of Supergirl (free on iTunes!), and I’ve also been checking out (finally!) Daredevil and the last season of Falling Skies (thanks, free month on Netflix!).  There’s a bunch more that I’m not watching but would like to, because it’s not available in Australia anywhere that’s free and easy (and legal – I like to vote with my legitimate viewing, when I can).  So I haven’t seen any of the current season of Flash or Agents of SHIELD, yet.

But I have been watching Doctor Who.  Because that show is a bit of an Australian phenomenon, so it comes out pretty much right when it airs in the UK.  And I am enjoying this season.  It’s not perfect, I guess – most stories have got something in it that falls short of ideal.  But, every story has still been solid and enjoyable–something that’s grabbed my attention and kept me coming back for more, even if I wasn’t already pretty much committed to watching this show every week already.

Now, I’ve already talked about The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar and Under the Lake.  Let’s pick things up with Before the Flood.

(C) BBC – Photographer: Simon Ridgway

When we last left our blogging, we had just talked about Under the Lake and agreed that it was a cool and creepy retro-style adventure, or at least the first part of one, and that it had a brilliant cliff hanger.

It’s follow up, Before the Flood, lived up to the promise, and proved itself to be the most convoluted time travel episode that the series has ever had that was not written by Steven Moffat.  Instead, it’s writer Toby Whithouse taking us on this little “timey-wimey” narrative trope.  From the opening direct-to-camera monologue of the Doctor’s talking about the bootstrap paradox (“Google it,” he says), to the Doctor repeating about half an hour of time in the past, to the Doctor figuring out how to save the future without changing it, we see all sorts of jiggery-pokery with time travel tropes, all while keeping things fairly straightforward and clear (in a way that Moffat often doesn’t).

There was a lot that I enjoyed about the story, that kept my attention.  Maybe one of the most effective things was the surprising lack of characters killed off.  We did lose O’Donnell, of course, which was sad, as well as Prentis the Tivolian.  But his death was more or less foretold.  It’s sort of surprising that beyond that, none of the “good guy” survivors from the previous episode were killed off.  This sounds paradoxical, but it makes the story more gripping, since it means that we spend nearly the entire episode hoping that these likable guest characters won’t be killed off.  The scene with the deaf Cass realizing that the killer ghost was behind her by feeling the ground was particularly gripping (although one wonders why she doesn’t just look around a bit more as she creeps along).

And I’ve already mentioned it but that opening monologue by the Doctor was certainly an enjoyable and surprising way to start the episode, made all the more so by Capaldi then rocking out on his electric guitar and having that segue into an alternate take of the theme song for opening titles.  Quite cool.

Next up:  Taken together, The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived

The Girl Who DiedCredit: BBC/Simon Ridgway

Actually, I’m only putting these two episodes together because I’m trying to quickly catch up with things.  In truth, these two episodes are not a single two-part story, but more two related standalone episodes, with different settings, different supporting casts, and even different writers.  Indeed, other than the fact that that nearly the whole season is made up of two-part stories, and that they come one after the other, no one would think of them as a two-parter.  Well, except for the big “To Be Continued” that’s stuck at the end of Part One.

But they are connected, of course, as they together introduce a new recurring concept for the series:  the functionally immortal Ashildr.  And truly, she is an interesting concept, as well as an interesting character.  Ashildr is a flawed but likable young Viking girl whose death in the first part is unsurprising but still devastating, especially as it comes at the end of what was up to that point a pretty light-hearted episode.  The Doctor’s actions to save her seem heroic and brilliant at the time (and especially inspiring with the callback to The Fires of Pompeii), but the ending of the story reveals a darker side to his interference.  The image of Ashildr’s expression changing from optimism and hope to disenchantment and coldness, while the world collapses around her, is a powerful ending…indeed, one of the best in a season of great cliffhangers.

In terms of actual plot, the second part of the story, The Woman Who Died, is one of the weakest we’ve had for the season.  The lion-monster guy was pretty underdeveloped, the actual threat a bit too quick and easily solved, and Ashildr / Lady Me’s turn back to goodness too convenient.  What saved the episode, though is the character work and thematic implications of the story, as well as the lead performances by Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams.  The discussion about how it wouldn’t really do to have the Doctor traveling with another “immortal” character is extremely interesting, and illuminating to the Doctor’s relationships with his various companions, and makes Jenna Coleman’s small part that week still very meaningful.  And the general idea that Ashildr will continue to exist through time to encounter the Doctor again is a compelling one and a great addition to the show’s mythology.

The two-parter also continues to present the recurring motif’s that we’ve had this season:  there are references to death and resurrection, which have been present in every story so far.  Also, the idea of the “hybrid” is brought up again, after we first heard about the concept in the season’s opening adventure.  The story adds to all that by introducing the mystery of who told Ashildr about the Doctor during the time since he’s last seen her, and what was in her torn out diary pages.  Hopefully, we’ll eventually come back to that, and it will be something more interesting than just, “She ran into Missy.”

The Woman Who LivedCredit: BBC/Simon Ridgway

Anyway, once again it’s good work from Doctor Who, as the season continues to be a strong one.  It’s just too bad that there are only twelve episodes.  The Zygon Invasion has already played, but I think I’ll save commenting on it until it’s conclusion has come out.  Til then…

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