Yes, Doctor, You Are A Good Man
All the graves of planet Earth are about to give birth.
Well, then I guess I'd better hurry.
I think I need the Doctor to explain time to me; specifically, where it goes and why I don't have any. It has been so long since I wrote about this decades- and generation-spanning series with no shortage of imagination or superb performances. Mostly it was because of said time just hiding from me, but some of it was due to Who's dense history and complicated everything. One thing leads to another and I'll get twisted around, end up in a loop, stumbling around paradoxes, probably fall into a pocket universe, and lose my mind trying to get back. It's a daunting task, but I planned on writing at least something during the interminable hiatus. Somehow that entire period came and went and I only found myself finally jotting down some thoughts about this new Doctor of ours after the premiere of "Deep Breath," which I then never shared.
I had written that Capaldi was instantly intriguing. After experiencing the heart he put into this role in the first episode, I was convinced he was a perfect choice. Literally, I saw Capaldi's pulse when the Doctor was in bed (hello, rewind button). Always endearing. Then when he had a chance to show what's in his chest with performance, he made me sad for a dinosaur plucked out of her time, who was frightened and alone. This Doctor has profound compassion and vulnerability often hiding behind a stern face, scattered mind, and callous demeanor. And he's just really funny, though I never doubted that Capaldi could deliver witty banter. Capaldi also does wonderfully in conveying the Doctor's curiosity and enthusiasm for the undiscovered and unexplained. Speaking of which, there's this a whole thing with a sentient droid. The Doctor tells him, "Those people down there, they're never small to me." This is one of those lines that serves to fully invest you in Capaldi if you weren't already. Shortly after, we are introduced to Promised Land/Heaven/The Nethersphere, a recurring mystery throughout the season. And the episode ended with a lovely, bittersweet little treat in the old doctor encouraging acceptance of the new with a call to Clara to assure her that he's the same man, that "he is more scared than anything [she] could imagine," and that he needs her. And it was a promising start to a season so long awaited.
This is exactly what it sounds like. The Doctor, Clara, and a few soldiers are miniaturized with technology used for surgery a la Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace, which the Doctor hilariously remarks upon as a "fantastic idea for a movie, terrible idea for a proctologist." They do this to go inside a malfunctioning Dalek suddenly burdened with morality to find out what went wrong. The Doctor's fitful anxiety about himself, aggressive certainty that there's no such thing as a Dalek that isn't pure evil (though there was an exception before in Oswin "Souffle Girl" Oswald), and insensitivity to deaths around him while he's trying to save the ones who are still here is so well balanced by Capaldi. He was having such a great go of it that after just two episodes I was already dreading the day he decides he's overstayed his welcome and passes the mantle onto someone new.
I find it interesting that he has to ask Clara if he's a good man and that she is unsure. He's a complex character that has had to make many unbearable choices and live with what he's done. But no matter how cold he may seem at times, how unforgiving, he goes to great lengths to give second chances, to save everyone he can. Yes, he is a good man. There is no doubt. He has so much love of life and has seen so much tragedy that he cannot be a witness to suffering.
Then there were the episodes I didn't have a spare moment to write a comment about, since life became permanently busier before the premiere, but something stuck with me from each of them. Wait a sec... Did something stick with me from "Robot of Sherwood"? I remember it being an odd one. I did get quite a few laughs out of it, such as "I don't need a sword. Because I am the Doctor and this is my spoon." Better than that, though, was the Doctor asking Clara when she started believing in impossible heroes. He can be adorably clueless sometimes.
This was far superior: a beautifully done, emotionally charged story. The monster was chilling in that it wasn't a monster at all but the imagination of a scared child, the shadows in the dark that we all feel yet never catch a glimpse of. Clara discovers by travelling to the end of time, where the dark is empty now, that she is connected to Danny Pink, someone she barely knows, revealing that he will be special to her or prompting that connection. From young Danny to the last days of the universe, and finally to the beginnings of the Doctor. I got goosebumps when Clara reassured a young boy in a barn on Gallifrey that it's alright to be afraid and the fear doesn't have to make him cruel or cowardly.
I love a good bank robbery and this one was quite hilarious at times. No one had a clue what they were doing because their memories were sucked out to protect them from the mind-reading/brain-souping security slave at the most impregnable bank in the universe. And so we got a few hilarious gems like, "My personal plan is that a thing will probably happen quite soon." and that morale would plummet if they were blown up by the bomb they were to detonate, but only for a very brief moment. Balancing the comedy, there was drama, and Doctor Who is excellent at both. I was surprised that it turned out to be a rescue mission from the future. The timey-wimey stuff always chokes me up.
This started with a great montage of Clara's whirlwind life with the Doctor and her attempts to keep it from Danny. Then there was a funny misunderstanding when the Doctor thought Clara was with a teacher that looked like his previous self, the adorable Matt Smith. But the best part of it was Danny finally getting fed up with the Doctor's constant intentional misremembering of Danny's teaching position and mocking of his former life as a soldier. He recognizes a leader and thinks he's of the kind that just gives orders and doesn't have to personally deal with consequences.
Not my favorite story, I'm sorry to say. I didn't question the space whale with a city on its back, but the moon as an egg didn't really work for me. Though, even the lesser episodes of Doctor Who are better, more thought-provoking, and more emotional than the best that many shows have to offer. I enjoyed most of it. I got chills when Clara was asking the entire world what she should do and the Doctor was staying out of the decision between billions and the last of its kind. After spending so much of his life saving people, he was sure putting a lot on us all of a sudden. I feel like being the last of his kind, he couldn't bear to be a part of it, though he made the excuse that it was a decision for humans to make since it's was our home and not his. A few episodes later he even wanted to stay on Earth during its last moments because it was his planet, too.
After being a bit disappointed with "Kill the Moon," we got bsck on the right track with this episode, the resolution of which, as so often happens on this show, put a lump in my throat. First of all, a train in space. That's just cool. Second, a mummy. In space. That kills in 66 seconds after you see it. Then the Doctor being his now usual callous self while trying to figure out a way to save everyone. When he's firing on all cylinders, there seems to be no room for nice. And in the end of that episode, Clara asked the Doctor if he was just pretending to be heartless. He asked her if it would make it easier for her to think that and continued on to say that sometimes all you have are bad choices, but you still have to make them. He cares too deeply and has taken the weight of all of time and space on his shoulders.
Tiny TARDIS with the Doctor trapped inside! I lost it when Clara put them in her purse, then when she pulled a sledgehammer out of there, and again when the Doctor tried saving himself from a train by "walking" the TARDIS off the tracks like Thing from The Adams Family. It was also peppered throughout with an unstoppable adversary that kills by pulling people into walls and floors. Of course, the Doctor hopes this horror is a misunderstanding and gives whom he dubs the Boneless another chance, because "you cannot be too quick to judge." I mean, he knows "a race made of sentient gas who throw fireballs as a friendly wave." His goodness is again in evidence, always trying his hardest to save everyone and foster peace.
And, unfortunately, this episode brought us back to too hard to swallow territory with trees that popped up overnight. This uber rapid growth seemed silly even in the far-reaching realm of speculative, fantastical, completely bonkers sci-fi. But what matters to me most are the power of the words and the poignancy of the acting that have this ability to pull me back into the story. (Also, the great deal of quotable, humorous dialogue.) Clara, normally not one to give up, accepted the fate of the world, and the Doctor, normally not one to be completely defeated, ran out of ideas and was forced to leave alone to quietly watch all of humanity burn, losing the world he had fought for so many times. I knew Clara would choose to stay behind, that she wouldn't want to become the last of her species like the Doctor, a comment that hurt him and which he understood completely.
And now suddenly we're on the verge of the last episode, "Death in Heaven," the second part of the two-part finale that started with "Dark Water."
If you are not caught up, just stop reading now.
Not kidding, because I have to address a few spoilery things from this penultimate episode. I saw some things differently than Christina at Televixen.com. (We agree on the awesomeness of The Strain, though.) I could not stop myself from writing. It's the whole reason I actually decided I had to finish this post before the finale.
I adored "Dark Water." It may be my favorite episode of the new season. Either that or "Listen." The Nethersphere, which had previously been introduced to the dead as Heaven, finally came into play. And creepy-crazy Missy was such a delight, pretending she was a droid, taking the Doctor's hand to feel her heart. The reveal of who she is was unexpected to me. I briefly thought when the season started that was a possibility but then dismissed it since it had been so long. I'm being vague now, but that's in case you haven't seen it and are still reading despite my spoiler warning. This one's too good. I hope the finale tonight isn't the end of Missy. That would be a shame.
I was also stunned by the depth of feeling, though not surprised, and the lengths both Clara and the Doctor were willing to go had me holding my breath. Clara was compelled by grief and I could never hate her for that. Regardless of how long they were together, Clara's love for Danny and reaction to his death felt real, both possibly more intense in a shorter span because of her knowledge of the future; and after all that's happened this season to make her doubt The Doctor and her desire to continue travelling with him, her monumental betrayal was understandable. I can only imagine how it would feel to be talking to someone one second and have them taken from you the next, but Jenna Coleman portrayed the shock and numbness of loss in a way that was terribly familiar.
As anyone can relate to, Clara just wanted to turn back the clock; unlike anyone else, she could. She knew the rules about messing with your own timeline, but she had seen the Doctor make possible so many impossible things. She was still unsure of him. He had changed from gregarious and warm to manic and far less personable and she doesn't realize how much she means to him. She didn't trust that the one person who could help her, someone who owed his life to her many times over, would help unless she had leverage. And for a moment there I did the same, overlooking the Doctor's love for those closest to him and innate need to make things right, and started to believe that his refusal was genuine.
Stealing the TARDIS keys and threatening to destroy them one by one was a scene that was breathtaking in its sheer desperation. It was compelling to see her breaking down and him becoming more defiant. It was wonderful to then be reminded of the Doctor's essential goodness. I fell in love with Capaldi and his Doctor for probably the twelfth time this season when he said, "Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?" Even knowing Clara was willing to throw away their friendship and potentially strand both of them in a volcano, his feelings for her are unconditional. It might be the most powerful moment I've seen, and that says quite a lot.
It doesn't matter to me that the Doctor never before attempted to go to the afterlife for anyone. It was less about who he was trying to save than about the person he wanted to do it for. It was not about his own pain this time. Someone he cares for deeply was begging for help, betraying him in a most unexpected and cruel way because she didn't trust that he would. He had to have felt responsible for making Clara think he would only help her under duress. Her willingness to go so far proved to him that he couldn't just sit back and watch a friend suffer. And having already gone to the end of time because of Clara's connection to Danny, the Doctor had one thing he could try.
And let's not forget what happened in "Listen." As Tom Gardiner at ThreeIfBySpace.net said, "Dan is a symbol for the kind of man the Doctor has become." It was because of Clara's words to both of them as children and Danny's toy soldier, who was so brave he didn't need a gun, that the Doctor became the man he is, someone who risks his life for even the least significant of people in spite of his fear, because he's never met aybody who wasn't important. More reasons why it was believable that he would be willing to go so far. He never went so far before because sometimes an impossible thing is just that. He is a good man, so if he had the choice to save a friend and didn't, it would be to save even more and a devastating choice to live with. Or maybe the writers just had never thought of going to the afterlife until more recently or only just figured a way to use the idea. Stories come when they come. They can't be forced. And does any of that really mean that a new incarnation should not be ever more sensitive, out-of-the-box, and willing to go to extremes to save people?
Overall, I really enjoyed this season and a few gorgeous episodes in particular that were breathtaking in scope, incredibly acted, and thoughtfully written.