Monday, September 28, 2015

Time Lord - The Premise's Familiar

Aboot has gone and taken Kyron Cookson, Tom Mallet and even Nala Stevens have vanished into the either with them. Lawrence Miles is still around but given he's seemingly (by his own admission) unable to do more but whine Radio Times used to be cool, his opinion isn't even trying to be revelent.

So only Mark "Fuck Me This Chatham Business Has Been Going On For A Decade" Goacher actually has anything to say about this episode:

7/10 for that one. Not bad at all actually. The Doctor and Missy being silly/wacky was the only thing that spoiled that episode. Otherwise very good. The Dalek city and the look and design of Skaro were indeed very good. Looked like the original in 'The Daleks'.

Yeah, I know, hardly worth quoting but the truth is it's harder for anyone to review something they like.

And me? I liked it from the moment we didn't have a copout cliffhanger resolution which, to be honest, Moffat has never really been able to impress - to whit:

The Empty Child: our heroes are about to be consumed by a zombie hoard.
The Doctor Dances: the zombies go away when the Doctor tells them to.
Silence in the Library: our heroes are about to be consumed by living darkness/zombie hoard.
Forest of the Damned: River remember her gun, used only to blow escape tunnels through walls to escape the zombies, is perfect for this situation and uses it.
The Pandorica Opens: the universe ends.
The Big Bang: the universe hasn't quite ended yet.
The Impossible Astronaut: River and Rory are attacked by the Silence and Amy accidentally shoots a little girl.
Day of the Moon: three months later, Amy mentions she was glad she missed.
A Good Man Goes To War: River reveals she's Amy's daughter.
Let's Kill Hitler: Amy and Rory vandalize a crop field.

See? For most of them, you could cut out the cliffhanger and resolution entirely without damaging the story and in fact you'd probably improve it. But this time, Moff finally makes the cliffhanger a vital part of the plot - it's noted apparenly killing the Doctor's equivalent of Charlie's Angels has driven him to homicidal despair even though it could be a trick. Missy and Clara surviving comes at the cost of having to sneak into the city which in turn prompts Missy to try and get Clara killed. While UNIT and Bors and t'other lot don't appear this week, it feels more like the same story than any other Moff two-parter.

There's also a thankful move away from introspection. Big Finish has demonstrated that while you can get some truly fantastic scenes with the Doctor and Davros arguing, it works better on audio because on TV you end up not too far from those scenes where Tom Baker was left emoting to a cardboard box pretending to be a robot dog. Visually a bit dull, you have to agree and NuWho simply can't do that - compare if you will the 12/Davros scenes and the 8/Davros scenes in Terror Firma. Despite treading similar ground and dramatic beats, but on TV we would have had PMG glaring a bit, Capaldi runs around the set pulling it apart, waving guns and wiring Davros up with snakes. There's even the moment he nicks Davros' chariot to break up the fact the story requires the Doctor and Davros to chat idly for an evening when TV audiences need a bit more yippe-kai-ay to keep them watching.

And this is good because last year the mere thought of moral ambiguity left Capaldi standing in the shadows, vaguely muttering witty troubled thoughts and making Hartnell look like Frank Woodley in comaprison. Once again, the Doctor is actually doing things again and while I can see the appeal of a stoic, undemonstrative version of the Doctor, last year the subtlety strongly suggested that Capaldi hated the show he was in and refused to participate. This week we see him sitting in Davros' wheelchair, playing dodgems, drinking tea and getting strangled by rubber snakes - it's like he's cashing in whole seasons of Matt Smith wackiness in a single scene. The "clown" bit of "sad clown" is back, reminding us why anyone would want to spend time with the bloke - and the paradigm shift of getting rid of the sonic screwdriver to replace them with sonic shades goes with that. It'll piss off Mad Larry, who predicted it too.

Personally, I agree with RTD that having a sonic lockpick improves plots (as he said, a moral dilemma should stop the Doctor rather than a locked door) and not CH Bidmead who, I kid you not, suggested that future stories should scrap the sonic screwdriver and only feature bad guy strongholds where all the doors are already locked. Given all the molenski univarii and sonic lances shoved into the hands of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors, the sonic gizmo is here to stay. It just means that the Doctor is now obsessed with his sunglasses while not being as pathetic as Jeremy Banks-Walker.

Onto the main reason this episode rocked - it was Double the Fist again! Following the awesomeness of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Nightmare in Silver and Day of the Doctor, we have another story that could have been penned for the Fist team. Not only is Missy clearly Mephisto with poor Clara the Womp, we have a one-handed Davros (seeking to literally double the fist) arguing that the Doctor is a whinging, spineless no-fist dog. The Dalek armies might as well be clones of Panda while a certain vending machine could easily take the place of Colony Snake-in-Welsh. Rather than blind, helpless terror from relentless and unstoppable foes, we have a cast quite capable of fighting back with a pointed stick and some full-fisted passion. Even the scenes where Skaro is going to blow up and Missy seems trapped are not played for misery and pathos but high-octane fun - while Moff was kind enough to explain Missy's prior escapes, I dunno if we'll ever know how she escapes from this one. Facing certain death she suddenly, Italian Job style, has a plan as hot as her pants to survive and we cut to black. It's interesting to compare to Ainley who's constant deaths would be easier to explain if we thought he had the faintest idea of what to do; in Castrovalva it's like he's too insane to even TRY to escape, let alone manage it.

Moffat doesn't bother to give Davros such exploration, though. We're not told how he got here or how he intends to escape - only that while the Master fought the Supreme Dalek in the Time War, he's never actually met Davros before. Though to be honest, all the clues are there if you want to put two and two together: Davros escaped the Crucible with an emergency temporal shift that sucked up all his energy, causing his terminal illness, and then landed in the 62nd Century or thereabouts where the last surviving Daleks following Trenzalore were hiding on restoration theme park Skaro. How Davros or any Daleks escape the holocaust unleashed here I cannot say, but Davros (unlike Missy) has no plan to survive. Given the regenerating Doctor wiped out a Dalek army, it makes sense the survivors would want their suckers on the same but it feels strange that the ongoing Dalek saga has ignored Rusty the Good Dalek. We all thought he was going to be the one to go back in time and put a bullet through Young Davros' head.

(BTW, didn't boy Davros resemble Jonas Armstrong's Robin Hood? I now cannot imagine the Special Weapons Dalek as anything other than the Little John of the Dalek Empire as he glides around grating "TODAY IS A GOOD DIE TO DIE!" before nuking the opposition.)

Speaking of Davros, it is needless to say Julian Bleach's performance is total perfection (while it seems Michelle Gomez needed to be sedated before she could be calm enough to portray Missy) and doesn't go ranty once as if to balance out his prior appearance. I dare say new viewers would be on Missy's side in wondering why Davros earned "Best Villain EVA" props from the Doctor, but this episode proves it - as well as demonstrating the fact that while the Doctor likes the Master despite everything, both he and Davros would much rather have been friends than enemies. The moment where they share a genuine laugh, clearly inspired by Batman and the Joker in The Killing Joke, could be the defining moment of their relationship. The Doctor and Davros have always respected each other's intelligence, but the fact they can joke with each other puts Davros up above any "worthy adversary".

We also have Davros opening his eyes for the first time ever. Some (honestly) saw this as a betrayal of the character, others saw it as an interesting development. Me, I suddenly realized Davros was one rubber gimp suit away from being Scorpius. All in all, the set up of the story that this might be the very last Davros encounter was, to be blunt, convincing. Yes, we all knew that cute, weepy Davros was probably an act and he was undoubtedly going to backstab the Doctor but full props for playing it straight. Had Davros actually karked it, watching the sunrise like Handles, it would have been a convincing if not satisfying end.

The story doesn't really contradict the prequel I, Davros (though you have to ask yourself how a pampered indoors kid like Davros possibly got onto the frontline without his mum going to rescue him) but it upholds the spirit that the character is more than just a blind, one-armed cripple. He's passionate, ambitious and he actually has the knack of getting on with people - he plays the Doctor like a fiddle, made all the more convincing because he's never actually lied like this to the Doctor before. The sight of Davros ripped out of his chair and thrown onto a table could have ruined the credibility of the character (especially given his, er, excited spinal chord that my family thought might have been a different part of his anatomy) but instead we have the first villain of NuWho to nearly the defeat the Doctor not through an army or blackmail, but by playing the Doctor's strengths against him. The last time that happened was in Mawdryn Undead, as far as I remembered. "You were sick and you asked for my help," indeed.

So the story ends with the Daleks defeated, Davros screwed over and Missy obviously going to turn up at a latter date and maybe this time the production team will let her off the leash. The Doctor's not suicidal, he's got his shades and his hipster Classic Doc outfit, plus Clara who is probably the most psychologically-healthy we've seen her since Matt Smith left. Except we now have the dark brooding foreshadowing story arc of why the Doctor left Gallifrey in the first place.

Why? I mean, fanon is pretty much agreed the reasons given were true (though reports differ on the crisis that made him steal a TARDIS and leg it). Not even Eric Saward tried to redo that, and believe me he redid everything else. But now the Doctor fled Gallifrey with Susan because apparently he was part of an ancient prophesy of a hybrid warrior? Seriously? Given the Doctor was destined to die twice before now, it seems ridiculous the legend suddenly appeals to him. And judging from past experience, the prophecy will be totally bloody irrelevent - remember the dark secret of the Doctor's name? Yeah, his name is intrinsically meaningless, it's just the password for a locked door. Tch.

Hybrid? Seriously? Maybe it'll bring back Bessie as a Prius.

Oh, and this was first episode of the Capaldi without the TARDIS interior. You'll need to know that one day (and for the record, the other NuWho eps are Dalek, The Long Game, The Idiot's Lantern, The Satan Pit, Love & Monsters, Midnight, A Good Man Goes To War, The Lodger, A Town Called Mercy, Cold War and The Crimson Horror.)

Raahhh! DOUBLE THE FIST! *explosions*

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