Clara Oswald

Doctor Who – Listen

They’ve done it, they’ve found a way for Whovians to understand why normal people dislike Doctor Who. Just watch Steven Moffat’s latest vile creation, the sloppy, disastrous, and completely irrelevant (what a surprise) episode, entitled “Listen.” Jesus Christ, what happened here? This looked like such a good premise – what if you’re never really alone? What if everyone dreams the same dream? Creepy stuff, right? Finally, they’re pulling out the real material, not just relying on recycled robot plots, right? Wrong.

“Listen” is exemplary of everything Steven Moffat is bad at: not just plotting, characters, and sexism, but most importantly, the complete and utter lack of weight. I’m trying to think of a Moffat episode that doesn’t pull out the stakes at the end and let the whole plot go up in smoke, and I’m hard pressed to do so. It’s been a very long time since he’s done something worthwhile.

Look at his villains:
The Weeping Angels 

WeepingAngel2

The Silence 

Silent

The Vashta Nerada

VashtaNerada1

Other villains nobody remembers Moffat is responsible for

 

The Angels don’t actually kill you really, they just displace you in time, so other than being sad because you lose all your loved ones (so it’s like a funeral but backwards), you get to live out your life.
The Silence doesn’t threaten you in any way, they just pose the question of whether or not people have free will. A clever-ish metaphor, if he had actually gone through with the metaphor, but instead he just kind of turns them into monster-of-the-week fare that looks creepy and sounds awesome.
The Vashta Nerada are actual villains who exist in one place in the world and that’s about it. So, good job, but a stand-off episode.

The “unnamed ghosts under the bed” – referring to the monster of this episode – have absolutely no impact whatsoever on the story. To be spoiler-free, I’m going to have to be vague, but Moffat once again relies on his ever so infamous Giant Reset Button in order to do a whole bunch of crazy stuff, but not have any lasting effect on anything so he can go back to playing with his toys all by himself without sharing them with the rest of the kids. This is beyond indulgent at this point, as Moffat is now in his fourth year as showrunner.

Clara’s storyline is just clumsy and awkward, as she stumbles through a cliched date with Dan Pink, who becomes another extension of Moffat’s recycled sidekick cache, neither of them saying anything authentic, rather spouting off bad date quips that could have been taken from the cutting room of a film student’s first short film. The Doctor beckons, and Clara responds, then The Doctor drops her back off to make amends, only to have her almost immediately pick up the awkwardness where she left it, only for her to join The Doctor again, only for her to go back to Pink again and resume the awkwardness again. And then they kiss and it’s supposed to be romantic but really we just like seeing Jenna Coleman be adorable. I have no idea who Clara is, and I have no idea who Pink is supposed to be, but at least they’ve got good chemistry together and I suppose I could see it going somewhere in the future.

The plotting, or should I say lack of it, however, doesn’t go anywhere. Moffat feels the need to make yet another call-back to his 50th anniversary special, in yet another convoluted “hint” (look, you can’t randomly say “gorilla” in a sentence, expecting the audience to suddenly be gorilla interested and then call yourself a genius) to wherever he thinks he’s going. By the time we get there, if there’s anyone still watching, I can almost guarantee that he’ll hit his reset button and none of this will have mattered.

Okay, I managed to avoid the spoilers here and said my piece. So what does work about this episode? Well…

Peter Capaldi is a mad genius and I love him so much.
Clara’s final speech is touching and moving and all that stuff. If only the rest of the episode had actually anything to do with it, maybe it would have been significant.
Pink and Clara together are really cute and if the writers get them sorted, they’ll make for good co-companions.

That’s about it. This is by far the biggest disappointment I’ve seen in my entire history of watching Doctor Who, considering my excitement to see a creepy episode and the amazing premise, and then weighing that against how good the actual episode was(n’t). Moffat needs to get his head back in the game and stop taking the easy way out. Also, there’s a reason story structure exists, and this episode is that reason. Don’t do what Doctor Who did, unless you’re an actor or something, and then yes, definitely do this. Otherwise, stay far, far away from “Listen.”*

There’s definitely something to be explored in the character of The Doctor where this episode is supposed to be going, but this is not the way to do it. We’re left with a completely useless time-loop of nothing that although it tells us something about ourselves, as the best Doctor Who episodes always do, doesn’t give us much of an emotional reason to believe it. It’s hard to learn life lessons from a monotonous drone, which is why we have storytelling, but this isn’t going to do it. Sorry boys, you need to break out the Story 101 textbooks before you can take on an idea of this size. I used to be a big fan of Moffat, and I still applaud his imagination – again, just look at the concept for this episode – but his weaknesses are showing more and more: the plot holes, the bad character development, the time-looping-as-responsibility-avoidance, and his inability to construct a meaning out of his drama, or in fact his inability to construct meaningful drama out of his premises.

As always however, I’m still a fan, and will be back to watch next week. I can take a bad episode here and there. If it seems like my review is exceedingly harsh, it’s because it is, and I don’t mean to stomp on anyone’s enthusiasm if they enjoyed this episode, but this is such a poor excuse for a story. Too bad. Maybe next time the staff will take their own advice and listen to the complaints of the fans. Who knows, they might learn something.

 

*Unless, that is, you want a lesson in what not to do, and then, I guess you could watch this.

 

Doctor Who – “Robot of Sherwood”

“I’m not a hero. ”

“Well neither am I. But if we both keep pretending to be perhaps others will be heroes in our name.”

Mark Gatiss is always welcome in the writing chair in my book and it’s a pleasure to see him contributing again to Doctor Who’s Eighth season. After a dark introduction to Capaldi’s new somber Doctor, “Robot of Sherwood” brings back the childish fun that defined the series, but doesn’t neglect the grown-up seriousness that’s always been central to its success. Doctor Who, at its best, is always about more than fun and games.

But it is all fun and games for the first act, as Clara requests to meet her childhood hero, none other than one Robin Hood. No, the Doctor insists, he is nothing more than a story, a legend, no more real than any other myth. And yet to his surprise, and continued disbelief, but much to Clara’s excitement, who should they meet upon stepping out of the TARDIS in the 1100’s? Capaldi really brings the fun here, delicately balancing his dark aspect, especially carrying over the personality that made him famous for The Thick Of It, with the silly but goodhearted nature that shone through the Matt Smith era. It’s a nice transition, perhaps more apt for a viewer unfamiliar with any earlier incarnations than Smith, but nonetheless it remains good fun.

Of course the biggest plot reveal is given away in the title, but I guess this is after all Doctor Who and most stories turn out involve robots in one way or another. I’d like to see an episode where the Doctor confronts a villain he can’t explain away. The show has always focused on science, and good on it, inspiring others to pursue knowledge rather than revel in ignorance, but sometimes I do think robots feature a little too prominently. It doesn’t have to be ghosts or anything like that, I’m just saying, maybe it would be better to see a new invention of technology, something that isn’t a bit of a worn out trope.

The banter between the Doctor and Robin Hood is undoubtably the focal point of this episode, which unfortunately leaves Clara once again on the sidelines, with very little to do other than fawn over Robin’s good looks and clever wit, and correct the Doctor. Face it, he needs it, but does she always have to be his babysitter? They even revealed that she took years of Tai Kwan Do, only to never let her use said skills. Sorry boys, but that doesn’t count. If it weren’t for Jenna Coleman’s impeccable delivery, Clara might not be any more believable than Robin is to the Doctor.

The plot is as predictable as any tale of Robin Hood, overly familiar, but perhaps that’s not the point. We tell ourselves our favorite stories over and over again because they speak to us on a deeper level.

History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.

Isn’t that it? Stories become legends and legends stay with us, living on long after the truth is gone. This can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and often is, but whenever that happens, heroes spring up simultaneously to give us hope. Yet as the Doctor remarks, perhaps legends are indeed the opiate of the masses. The sense of false hope keeps us placated. How long have we endured suffering simply because we settled for hope rather than truly seeking change? I cannot help but see another parallel between an old story and today’s world of injustice. We’re all stories in the end, our real selves fading into time, only the legend remaining. There are two sides to every story, and while we may be heroes in one, we could just as easily be villains in another. Or vice versa.

So is the story of the Doctor and Robin Hood meant to fade into time, or will it inspire others to take up their fight and be heroes in their name? Each of us will be thrust into difficulties, and live to see times we would wish we had not. All we can do is decide what to do with the time we’ve been given, to paraphrase a great wizard. I think Doctor Who is about this decision, at its heart. I think that’s a good thing.

Doctor Who: “Deep Breath” Review

The Doctor is back! Peter Capaldi, taking over for Matt Smith in the Doctor’s 12th reincarnation in all his glorious style. Capaldi might be one of the best castings for the Doctor, and he could ever have come at a better time than after Smith’s departure. Capaldi’s angry eyebrows and brash voice, even removed from his famous turn in The Thick Of It as one of televisions most crude, offensive characters, lend a darkness and sobriety to the character of the Doctor that can take this beloved show to new highs and lows. Smith was a genius and his playfulness launched the series to new audiences everywhere, but as the show began to explore the darker sides of the Doctor, it became clear that a new actor was needed, and now, we have him. Although I’m still waiting for a female Doctor, I am more than happy and impressed with Capaldi’s first full appearance. I can’t wait to see what he does, and especially what his catchphrase will be.

On the other hand, although Jenna Coleman is incredible, her character, Clara, remains as undefined and vague as ever. After the disappointing reveal of Clara as “the Impossible Girl” – a condescending, sexist work of unimaginative cliche – she’s been left on the sidelines as a sort of combination of the Doctor’s previous companions, displaying a mix of all their traits, leaving her a blank slate as the writers don’t even bother trying to figure out her character. Finally this seems to be changing, although it will take several episodes to implement. The Doctor describes her as egomaniacal and a control-freak and… sure, I’m okay with that, as long as she really is an egomaniacal control freak. I have some issues with that being the same basic character traits as Amy and even Donna to a certain extent (although Donna had one of the best character arcs I’ve seen in a TV series that fully took advantage of her unlikeable traits and turned them into something truly special), I would allow this. However, I have some requirements:

Clara cannot be a control-freak woman. That is, she can’t fall into the stereotype that all women want is to control their men, giving dudes an excuse to brush off a woman’s legitimate concerns as somehow “bitchy” (what does that even mean?). I will not forgive the show if they do this.
Clara can however be legitimately egomaniacal, as long as she fully is so. If this is going to be her character, then go 100% and actually make it her character. Let it be her flaw too. Let it get her into trouble. So far, Clara only lands in situations she has to escape from when it’s someone else’s doing (read: the Doctor’s) and then, even worse, she only ever escapes from those situations by relying on the Doctor. Ugh. Talk about sexism.

Look, Clara’s smart. She goes toe to toe in a battle of the wits with a freaking robot in this episode. And yet she still only escapes because the Doctor shows up, and it turns out he was hiding. What??? Why did he wait so long? It seems that Steven Moffat, who wrote this episode as well as next week’s, has absolutely no use for Clara. I challenge Moffat to develop her character and stop relying on the Doctor’s magical appearances to get her out of trouble. In fact, let them both get themselves into trouble completely independently of each other, and then get themselves out of trouble, completely independently of each other.

Then you can start having them each get each other into trouble… and so on.

That would be much more interesting.

On to the plot. “Deep Breath” starts off incredibly disappointing, wasting almost a full half hour on a plot that gets completely abandoned when the real story begins. Useless. It’s not even an interesting “fake” plot. We also spend far too much time reiterating how difficult it is for the Doctor to regenerate, resulting in boring exposition and weird challenges issued from characters who have nothing else to do but talk smack about each other until they reveal they were just testing each other’s commitment, something like that. Again, boring, useless, and a waste of valuable time.

Watching the Doctor figure out his new self however, is quite fun, and once Capaldi’s accent kicks in the genuine fun begins and the show returns to form. Too bad this only happens after a long meaningless amount of time in the Doctor’s absence. Still, his first meeting with Clara is a blast of clever wordplay, twisted expectations, and a sudden tonal shift that brings to mind Moffat’s best talent of manipulating his audience’s visceral experience. For all his faults, he does a good job here of subtly introducing blood-cooling information that changes everything. I wish he just had a clue how to handle his characters.

Still, once the real plot gets going, it manages well enough. The ending is a little shaky, casting doubt on the canon of the Doctor’s character in a way that should never be messed with, and then framing the finale as a deus ex machina (even though it technically isn’t, it’s presented as such) which feels a little cheap compared to how well the episode could have worked with one change in the edits. I’m probably being picky, but it just goes to show how easy it is to be more effective. Small laziness equals large loss.

Can we talk about Vastra and Jenny? Jenny seems like a pretty legit character, although a very minor one. I would complain that she needs some more development but compared to her screen time I don’t think at this point it’s necessary (it will be later though, so I’m issuing a warning). Vastra on the other hand, while I appreciate that she exists as a character, adds a disturbing dynamic to her relationship with Jenny. I’m happy that this episode finally featured an extreme close-up of the kiss between the two of them. It’s not even a “romantic” kiss – although it definitely is, you know, take my oxygen, all that sort of stuff – which is good to see. However, the context of their relationship throughout the episode is creepy. Vastra treats Jenny like a slave. Jenny even admits that the put on a facade in public, which I guess considering this episode takes place in the past kind of makes sense, although it raises questions about how the public accepts a lizard woman walking around (seriously, a veil hides small details, not large ones like green skin) and a Sontaran, but then questions why she continues to act like a slave in private… and then shrugs it off like it’s no big deal. She chastises Vastra for flirting with Clara, and yet she’s sexually objectified in the next scene. I’m glad for the kiss, but their relationship is borderline disturbing. Shame.

I really liked the villain(s) themselves, although I did feel that I never understood anything about them. The Doctor runs around saying “this seems familiar” or things to that effect over and over again, which doesn’t really help, but he never figures it out so we’re left with unmotivated villains – the worst kind. Where did he see them before? Where did they come from? What is it with the main baddy’s obsession with the promised land, and what’s the point of it all? The clutch of the villainy is clever – Deep Breath, reflecting the title – and made me genuinely concerned for the characters… at least the first time. I don’t know, it all ends in a very disappointing and detached manner. This episode doesn’t work on its own nearly as much as it feels like setup for something else. I guess I can live, but I wanted more.

All in all, this is a nice return for the Doctor if it’s a bit off-balance for the rest of the characters. I wish Capaldi had more screen time to establish his “new-ness” and Moffat would man up and deal with the giant sexist dinosaur in the room (pun?) instead of falling back on his outdated patterns. I also wish he’d learn how to avoid the deus ex machina. And for the love of all things holy, stop it with the giant mysteries. We get it, you have a plan for the whole season, we can tell that going in. Season 5 had the crack in the wall, Season 6 had the Doctor’s death (and the most disappointing ending ever), and even Season 7 had “Doctor Who?” which although featured some clever wordplay, didn’t actually address the question it posed. Now with Season 8 we have yet another super mystery element that will hang over our heads and probably ultimately let us down in the end.

Just focus on what actually matters, Moffat. Get your female characters sorted out, stop being creepy, let Clara actually do something, and write some more of the good wordplay that made your first episodes so much fun.