So here’s the thing: I’ve been enjoying this season of Doctor Who very much, it’s fun and delightful and Bill is superb, HOWEVER, it has also been Wholly Unsurprising; other than the Doctor acquiring a professorship and more permanent Earth residence. Every story so far, I can more or less guess the plot beats if not the specifics of How Things Turn Out and What’s Happening. Which is fine, it’s lovely, I get this is a soft reboot. HOWEVER, as a fan, it was UTTERLY DELICIOUS to finally get an episode where I had NOT A CLUE what was going on or where we were going. Also, there was Michelle Gomez, who is amazingsauce. Anyway, onwards!
JUST OUT OF TIME (I finished writing just before this week’s ep, but didn’t manage to post it before I watched since PROOFREADING takes time; yes, I proofread these things, yes, I know I have many typos), this week’s rather late review type thing of Doctor Who. Spoiler: I loved it lots. I may repeat this MANY TIMES but in DIFFERENT WAYS. Onwards!
It’s late, I know. And ACTUALLY late, not just in the same week, but not as timely as I’d like late. NEVER MIND. Let’s cast our minds back a week and a bit to what was at the time MAYBE my new fav episode of the series. But now it has definitely settled down just a tad behind Thin Ice, and the DELIGHTFUL Oxygen, which will have its own post VERY SHORTLY. Onwards!
So last week’s Doctor Who was PRETTY DARNED GREAT. Here are SOME WORDS about how great it was (if you don’t want words, I was also talking about this ep on last week’s Teevee podcast with me Verity! cohort Erika Ensign, and Jason Snell):
- SO PRETTY. I do like a pretty episode and this ep was VERY PRETTY. Huge kudos to the set designer/location peoples and the costume designer. The Frost Fair was DELIGHTFUL and I would totally buy a Lego set of it. And the costumes OH. Bill and the Doctor, they just looked so much MOAR in those costumes. Like, these are good-looking people, yeah? But the dress and the hair and the hat. MAGNIFICENT. Specially chosen tea clothes should happen in all episodes REGARDLESS OF TIME AND SPACE LOCATION.
- Incidently the last time the Doctor landed on the Thames he was trying to sink the TARDIS to literally flush out the Master from its interior. NOT KIDDING THIS WAS A REAL PLAN. Also Christopher Bidmead, architect of said AMAZING plan, Doylishly, had a bit of a go at me on my LiveJournal for suggesting it might not be the best plan ever conceived. I WAS SO PROUD. (I love Logopolis btw; it was still A VERY SILLY PLAN.)
- “You don’t steer the TARDIS, you reason with it.” I sort of want fic that has Twelve going back in time to One and attempting to teach him better control of the ship via this method and seeing how that works out.
- So Bill’s first thought re 1814 is the same as Martha’s in the 16th century: “I’m Black, what if I get taken away as a slave??!” The way the Doctor responds, however, is quite different. In The Shakespeare Code, the Doctor says “walk around like you own the place” which OF COURSE that is going to work QUITE WELL when you are a white, able-bodied man in historical Europe. If you are a Black woman, BIT DIFFERENT. Anyway, here the Doctor has another response. He acknowledges the legitimacy of Bill’s fear, and that she’s right, it will be dangerous, and that they will find trouble. Which, yes, I love this validation of Bill’s POV from the Doctor; no dismissal, no obfuscation, no being patronising.
- HISTORICALLY, slavery in 1814 England was not TECHNICALLY a thing. This isn’t meant as a crit of the episode, rather I find the difference between history and the historical interpretation we get onscreen interesting. Also I really like legal history. Strictly speaking, slavery has not existed in England for centuries. The Saxons were big on it, the Normans were not and so it was effectively extinct a few centuries after the invasion (the legal record shows that every time someone attempted to enforce their enslavement of a person via the courts, it failed). HOWEVER, this isn’t to say things that we modern folks could colloquially call slavery didn’t exist, they did: there was indentured servitude, workhouses, transportation. Legally speaking, however, these things were not slavery. Besides, I think the sort of general level of knowledge re slavery in Britain is that it ended sometime in early 19th century and Wilberforce had something to do with it. So it makes perfect sense it’d be something Bill would be concerned about. And even though the Wilberforce backed Slave Trade Act had been passed several years earlier, it wasn’t for abolition, but to end the British slave *trade*, hence the name. Slavery would continue in British colonies until the 1830s.
- That is QUITE A GREAT PAN down into the the DEEEEEP where there is a MONSTER. Very proper.
- OH, the Doctor taking Bill’s hand as she steps out of the TARDIS is LOVELIENESS.
- No, but really, they should always have costumes such as these. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Doctor’s reaction to Bill’s “but butterfly effect! Every decision I make could change the future,” and the Doctor replies “exactly like every other day of your life, so stop worrying.” IT’S SO ELEGANT. AND TRUE. It encompasses both the grandiose notion that we as individuals have the power to affect the course of history AND recognises how utterly trivial most of our actions are compared to the mass inertia of human society.
- There is a very quick moment as the Doctor and Bill descend the steps to the Frost Fair, where the Doctor looks back at Bill and smiles and it is just MAGIC.
- “Bit more Black than they show in the movies.” CORRECT. Especially in London, which has had a population of non-white people in at least the hundreds since Elizabethan times. Having everyone be white by this time would be HISTORICALLY INACCURATE. The historical record shows that there have been people of colour living in the British Isles CONTIGUOUSLY for over four hundred years. That means that there is NO TIME in the past four hundred and mumble years where there is NOT solid historical evidence that everyone living here was not white. Before that things get slightly trickier – there were DEFINITELY people of colour who came over with the Romans, as part of the armies and infrastructure and it’s not impossible that some stayed and their descendants went on living here through the centuries, or that people came from distant parts of the world in the post-Roman centuries and ended up living here. But the evidence is sporadic rather than continuous.
- “So was Jesus.” Okay, I don’t talk about my faith very much, but I’m Church of Scotland. Of course Jesus wasn’t white (almost certainly; in the same way Kenneth MacAlpin almost certainly was). He was born in Judea. I find the idea that acknowledging Jesus was a person of colour is somehow OUTLANDISH and/or OFFENSIVE, both bizarre and gross. IT’S JUST GEOGRAPHY PEOPLE.
- I mean they don’t even have to be speaking to each other. It’s all done in body language and facial expression, the Doctor and Bill at the fair. IT’S SO CHARMING. They are v good, yes.
- OH THE DOCTOR TRYING TO BOND OVER SWINDLING IS RIDIC AND LOVELY.
- “Sometimes you see light sunder the ice…you were enjoying yourself, I assumed we’d get to work eventually.” HAVE I MENTIONED HOW ADORABLE I FIND BILL AND THE DOCTOR? Also, this feels so earned, the warmth and geniality of Twelve at this point. It’s like Four’s character arc condensed down into three seasons (srsly, watch any s12 and tell me Twelve is harsher than Four and I don’t mean to Harry) and this is our MAGICAL SEASON 17.
- The kid who snatches the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver has the best thief face. It is an amazing expression, well done that child.
- UNLIKE LAST WEEK, this is doing Bill learns about the Doctor’s modus operandi in a way I find compelling. The sonic screwdriver explanation, and the artificial or organic lights beneath the ice being the examples that have just happened on the telly screen.
- THEY KILLED A CHILD. Doctor Who doesn’t do that very often, does it? There’s some nice clattery incidental music there too, and Pearl Mackie’s face of stunned horror is super.
- And then there is THE SCENE, the standout magnificent scene in this episode. IT’S SO GOOD. And it works for new viewers as well as old as we’re sharply reminded of just how used to the Doctor killing people weare, or how he gets people killed, and it’s NORMAL. Except it’s not, not really. If you found out one of your friends had killed so many people they couldn’t actually recall how many, FOR MOST OF US, that would be RATHER UNSETTLING. And here we get hit in the face (IN A GOOD WAY) with that perspective. And both Capaldi and Mackie are magnificent.
- “Morally and practically that is not a useful distinction; unlearn it.” And then her snap back “Don’t tell me what to think.” IT’S JUST SO SHARP. And the TENSION as she asks “how many people have you seen die?” because WE KNOW what the next question is and there is NO GOOD ANSWER. And then he avoids the question and the TONE is just so perfect, like he’s doing this by rote, knowing that she’s not going to actually be deflected but still wanting to hold back the moment for just a little longer. And then the ACCEPTANCE and that momentary smile, as though he’s ashamed for the deflections. AND THEN HE AGES. Like hundreds of years before your eyes, he’s suddenly SO FUCKING OLD AND QUITE ANGRY. And Mackie’s just as good: her expression of realisation as she lets go of the picture she had of this mysterious Doctor in her head as it metamorphises into something less wonderful, more terrible.
- And I do love that he properly ENGAGES with what she’s saying. It’s not dismissed or swept aside and he doesn’t patronise her.
- SO MANY PIES IN THAT HAT.
- “Conjecture..proposal..plan.” THIS COULD SO BE SEVEN AND ACE. But with less explosives.
- I do love the diving suits. And the pilot fish. And that completely terrestrial-seeming giant fish.
- “You assume it’s alien.” There’s a lot of weird stuff in the sea. So I totally assume that fish is native and this is a pure historical Who ep.
- The Doctor and Bill at the workhouse, as well has having MAGIC PAPER, are also Extremely Well-Dressed. Much as the Doctor is CHARMING and PERSUASIVE, they’re also utilising class privilege to get the info they want. (Which I rather like as a way for the episode to acknowledge the Doctor’s class position, though he fights for the disenfranchised.)
- “It even burns underwater.” So this is like Greek fire, right? SEE, HISTORICAL.
- “Leave the talking to me…because you have a temper.” It really is absurdly Seven and Ace. But McCoy would never have punched with such elegance. And, yes, I am totally fine with the Doctor punching someone who’s just been appallingly racist to his companion. I also like the racism is called racism. And Mackie’s look of disgust is perfect.
- But then we are right back to the Doctor using FLATTERY to let the villain of the piece talk himself to his eventual, lolarious death. It’s so nicely played too, Sutcliffe’s slimy appreciation of the faux adulation.
- “Without that beast my mills would rely on coal mines, and men die in coal mines all the time.” Indeed. I think it is just fine we get an out and out villain, especially since one was lacking in the past two episodes, but it could have nudged towards this angle a bit more to make it more complex? Maybe? I dunno if it’d actually have been better. JUST A THOUGHT.
- “I move this Empire forward.” I loled at that, cause one thing I was waiting for was the (not gratuitous – it totally ties in with the themes) shot at the British Empire.
- And then we hit the other MOMENT of the episode what made my heart delight, and it was: “Human progress isn’t measured by industry, it’s measured by the value you place on a life.” QUITE. Any society is only as civilised as its least fortunate member. This is something Doctor Who comes back to again and again, and I particularly like this iteration as it’s so unashamedly tying that back into race and class.
- Both Sutcliffe and Bill praise the speech which was, oh, I don’t know the right word. I am going to pretend Moffat or Dollard wrote the speech and the other one wrote the praise of the speech.
- Speaking of, Sarah Dollard! Only the second woman to solo author two Doctor Who stories! (And only the third if you count co-writing credits). And, look, when so few women write for Doctor Who, you desperately want their every story to be brilliant. It shouldn’t have to be, but you want it to be nonetheless. And Dollard has delivered two standout awesome stories. This is most yayful. We are also, incidentally at a high water mark for women writing Who: for a whole TWO YEARS in a row TWO WOMEN will be contriburing scripts to the season. Now, you can rightly be ticked off that it’s still so low, but EVEN SO, this is as good as it’s ever been.
- I love that Bill screams for help. It is just so sensible.
- “The Lochless Monster.” Lols.
- And I do like the Doctor leaving the decision to Bill in less mean and silly way than THAT TIME THE MOON WAS AN EGG (NEVER FORGET). “If your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what is your future worth?” I LOVE THAT LINE TOO. METAPHOR FOR SO MANY THINGS. There are bits of this I don’t like, but that’s taste; both “I serve at the pleasure of the human race” and “I need an order” irritate me for trivial reasons.
- The Doctor pulling Bill off the ice was SO BEAUTIFUL.
- I am so-so on the giving orphan kids vast inheritance. I mean, HURRAH, and all that, but social welfare > random acts of kindess BUT I SUPPOSE we can’t go messing about with Acts of Parliament.
- And back to the university! That is a bit marvellous, that, the feeling of coming home and it’s not the TARDIS, it’s the Doctor’s study.
- Okay, so there is A KNOCKING THING in the vault. Which probably means they have HANDS. I am trying to think of the coolest answer as to what’s in there and the best one I have is another regeneration of the Doctor but he was already trapped in the Pandorica, he wouldn’t get stuck in a box twice now, WOULD HE?
IN CONCLUSION, easily the best ep of the season so far and a truly delightful episode it was. The other two I enjoyed, but this was the first one I instantly wanted to watch again right away. And I seem to have written over double the words about it than I did for the other two. And that’s after doing a podcast about it. EIGHT OUT OF TEN TERRESTRIAL GIANT FISH.
Ooh, next week it’s Poirot! Yay!
There was a Jessica Jones ep called Smile, wasn’t there? I ASSUME THAT BODES WELL. (it did not bode as well as I thought it might, alas.)
Doctor Who is back on the tellybox! HURRAH! And so begins a new exciting series of NOT REVIEWS on this blog. Now you might be asking, possibly, heh, didn’t you do these so-called non-reviews last season of Doctor Who and NOT ACTUALLY FINISH? And, yes, that is correct. So, I shall be, er, finishing off last season’s reviews during this week (a mere year and a bit late), so I don’t feel constantly irritated at the incompletion.
So, THE PILOT, how was it?
The answer VERY GOOD. Here is some of why:
I say “should”, but y’know, I don’t want to gatekeep or the like; you might really not like the Fourth Doctor, in which case, sure, I JUDGE you, but I don’t want you to be miserable watching Fourth Doctor stories when you could be having a yayful time watching Pertwee or the Other Baker or Eccleston or such. SO. With that DUBIOUS excusing of the title of the post out of the way, it’s Tom Baker’s birthday! He’s Eleventy Hundred or something and is going to live forever! And here are five Doctor Who stories what he did where he was the most marvellous Tom Baker that Tom Baker can be.
Genesis of the Daleks – An obvious pick but DAMMIT, it’s obvious for a reason. It’s freaking GREAT. Don’t say Genesis isn’t great, it is; the only reason it might not FEEL great is because you’ve been told it’s great so many times that you built up some sort of televisual tolerance to its greatness. This is Doctor Who at Allegorical Best. It’s not subtle, but it doesn’t need to be subtle. It doesn’t WANT to be subtle. It wants to be the Doctor fighting fascism where there is a cause of death round every radioactive corner and you’re half-convinced no-one is going to get out of this mess alive. It’s about MORALITY, and how the right thing might not be the good thing, and there can be no good choices, but maybe there are cheats and temporary fixes, and oh God, WHILE THERE’S LIFE THERE’S HOPE. Also, there’s THE SCENE. “Would you do it?” It’s a great scene. A stupendous scene. Don’t ever diss the scene. (Alternatively, pick out ANY story from Season Eleven aka Tom Baker’s first year; they are all GOLD. (Yes, even Revenge, stfu haters). Tom Baker may not having a clue what the fuck he is doing but he is doing it MARVELLOUSLY. There is, arguably, no better season of Who, ever.)
The Deadly Assassin – I hate to rec this story, I do. It gets recced for terrible reasons, like “the Master is scary” or “the Master’s motivation makes sense.” WHATEVER. IMO, this is the very worst Master story BAR NONE (yeah, I said it, if we’re talking Master stories, I prefer End of Time to this, and I bloody hate End of Time) BUT as a Tom Baker story it is THE TOP. And I don’t say that just cause we get Tom Baker running around the place in boots and a very fetching poet shirt, though frankly, that is a plus. The Doctor is often tasked to outwit his opponent, and we are PRETTY CONFIDENT almost all of the time that the Doctor is smarter, and has more experience, and he will figure a way out. The great thing about Assassin is, sure, it’s his brain fighting, but what we see is the Doctor physically tested. He has to run all around a quarry TRYING TO KILL HIM, and get hunted in a jungle, drowned in a swamp, run over by a train, AND HE STILL KEEPS FIGHTING. We are getting a WHOLE OTHER WARDROBE of acting choices from Baker here, stuff with despair and exhaustion, desperation and fear that are so very rare for any Doctor. Also, Bob Holmes writes much more interesting Time Lords than we’ve seen so far. INTERESTING IS GOOD. AND they get the shiny skull caps and big collars and cloaks. What more does anyone want.
The Pirate Planet -WHAT?! Yes, I know, why didn’t I say The Ribos Operation, or City of Death? Well, yes, you should watch them too, they’re amazing. But I wanted to step OUTSIDE THE OBVIOUS BOX for a second to rec one of my beloved faves. It is forever written on my heart for the moment we get the full Tom Baker Doctor fury of “THEN WHAT’S IT FOR?” Rarely has a Doctor been so angry, so morally outraged, so MAGNIFICENT onscreen. It is worth watching for those seconds alone, dammit. It’s also got a lot of DELIGHTFUL SILLINESS. And if you enjoy this combo of drama and silly then you are WELL SET UP for enjoying practically any Doctor Who story. Also the Captain has a ROBOT PARROT. And there is a shoot off betwen the robot parrot and the Doctor’s robot dog. Oh, Doctor Who.
Horror of Fang Rock – The QUINTESSENTIAL Doctor Who story. Closer to the Platonic ideal than any other seventies Who story. It is MAGNIFICENT. A period piece, in a lighthouse, with an ever decreasing cast as the looming threat circles closer, and ALIENS of DUBIOUS DESIGN. This is a story to be CHERISHED. Obviously some fans may not enjoy it, sure, but try to argue this is a bad story TRY IT. YOU CAN’T, not unless you want to be a disengenous cabbage. It’s not just great Doctor Who, it’s top seventies British telly. Also, good game: which is the best directed Doctor Who story, Horror of Fang Rock or Heaven Sent? I DON’T KNOW.
Logopolis – Ah, the swan song. Tom Baker’s final year was a year of sadness, of doom, of heart-wrenching break-up with Romana. Sure, Logopolis has its flaws – an eighties computer can save the universe…hang on, I LOVE THAT, that’s not a flaw, that’s lolarious. But there is that bit with the Master and the tape recorder. Let’s ignore that, and focus on Tom Baker, who is magnificent, and commanding, and DOOMED, and he knows it. There is a majesty to his final performance, an invulnerability even as he knows he’s going to die. Sure it’s not a perfect story, there are messy bits, Adric is there, but there is a GREATNESS to it. It’s a final salute not just to this incarntion of the Doctor but, in many ways, to THE DOCTOR. And I say that with Troughton as my fave and Capaldi and Smith fighting it out with Baker for second place. No other actor so indelibly stamped the role as his, (the fact is, none of the New Series ones CAN atm, as we simply don’t know if they will stand the test of forty years, but Tom Baker has) and it is a heartwrenching farewell to a truly great Doctor.
And that’s the lot! Happy birthday, Tom Baker, and thank you for making my childhood that little bit more magical!