Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Doctor Who 8.08 - Mummy on the Orient Express

This week’s Doctor Who episode, Mummy on the Orient Express, was exactly what one might expect from this season; the Titanic episode on a train, with a mummy and an excuse to put Jenna Louise Coleman in a flapper dress. It’s getting old saying that this season is boring and poorly paced, and to some extent, I think words would be wasted providing the usual recap of the episode itself because not a lot happened.

What you’ll find instead under the cut is some commentary on the character development in this episode and how this might affect the season moving forward.

The Grumpy Doctor

Peter Capaldi hasn’t quite hit being the Doctor for me yet but this episode he was much closer than he’s previously been, aside from a few moments in The Caretaker. He played a lot of the Doctor’s ever flitting emotions with nuance and expertise in this episode. His awkward disappointment and frustration at Clara’s sad smile at the beginning of the episode was brilliant. The Doctor, both determined to have Clara stick around, but also afraid she’ll leave and this will be the last adventure and so wanting to get it right, meant that there was a lot of tenderness in the beginning.

Trying to become more accustom to being alone in future, the little Doctor/Companion conversation he has with himself is fantastic! His hesitation at whether or not to wake Clara up and what to do when he thinks something else might be going on on the train have all the child-like qualities of Matt Smith’s Doctor. His banter with Perkin’s is indicative of his loneliness and his desire to replace Clara immediately if she leaves.

Unfortunately, some of this Doctor’s trademark nastiness is also in this episode. He needs to be jolted out of his own self-adoration to hear that Clara is in trouble and all of his previous desire to show her how clever she is seems absent. Perhaps this is a kind of punishment for her imminent departure. Having said that, it doesn’t excuse his coldness towards other passengers who are dying. As one passenger mentions, his bedside manner sucks. I understand that the clock is running and that once he cannot save someone, he feels he needs to move on. But this is not only alienating for those around him, like Clara and in this episode Perkins, but also for the viewer.

Perkin’s politely declining the Doctor’s invitation to stay on board the TARDIS was subtly and wonderfully executed. I was reminded of Donna’s initial refusal of Tennant’s Doctor’s offer. In that case, it was sad that she changed her mind later because of the power of her refusal. This refusal was perhaps not as powerful, but certainly played a large part in both the Doctor and Clara’s characterisations at the end of the episode. In the case of the Doctor, it indicated just how cold and heartless he is coming off to well balanced and brilliant individuals; he can offer space and time and he’s still being turned down. Interestingly, Clara agrees to stay with him despite this, but refers indirectly to her need to travel with him and her need for the danger being like an addiction. Stephen Moffat has used this before in Sherlock, using Watson’s thirst for danger after the war very effectively. I wonder how this will play out given the war/officer/soldier theme.

I have to say, when she said yes, and he smiled and got excited and flipped the levers on the TARDIS together, I got excited. For the first time, Clara felt like his companion. Sure, their relationship might be completely messed up, addictive and potentially unhealthy, but it’s new and interesting and maybe if they come out swinging with that line of thought it will get better?

Clara the Compulsive Liar

I have no idea when Clara became a compulsive liar, but it seems that this season of Who is all about how she definitely is and we’ve been beaten into submission and forced to roll with that idea. Although completely out of character for the Clara of Matt Smith’s era, this new version (because that’s the only way one can really buy the change) seems to have little trouble lying, even though sometimes she claims that she does.

Somewhat confusingly, she has called the Doctor back after the massive dummy spit at the end of the last episode and decided to go on one last trip with him. She says that it’s because she couldn’t leave on a slammed door. This is all confusing because of the intensity of the dummy spit in the last episode and the conviction with which we were supposed to believe she said all of that. I maintain that she felt guilty because of Danny calling the Doctor an Officer and saying he would let her down and her then seeing things that had always been there differently. It’s a moderately interesting plot point that is terribly executed. The point is that they are having one last ‘relaxing’ hurrah on the Orient Express in space. She gets to wear a pretty dress and wig, sip champagne and listen to a chick rocking out a Queen Classic… also wear silky PJ’s in a wig for no reason. But hey, who need’s continuity and depth!?

Of course, it very quickly begins to dawn on Clara that she wants something exciting and dangerous to happen. She hopes that the death on the train ends up being some kind of monster that they can battle, although she very unconvincingly tries to deny this. When she realises that not travelling with the Doctor actually means that he probably will completely vanish from her life it’s what she is threatening to do becomes particularly confronting. She tells the Doctor at one point that you can’t have enough energy to hate someone unless you like them as well. It’s a pretty nice moment that the Doctor pretends to be completely uninterested in.

Once the chaos breaks out, she is once again disconnected from the Doctor, which seems to be a running theme this season. Unfortunately this means she doesn’t really do anything at all to solve problems and develop more than previously. She talks to Maisie about the Doctor (more on that later) and pulls out old documents to refer him to.

The major turning point, or so the writers would like the viewer to believe, is that she lies for the Doctor, even though he cannot save Maisie, to get her into the main laboratory where they can gain valuable data from her demise. Clara realises that the Doctor definitely knew something a little strange was going on on the train before he booked them ticket (in a surprise to no one but apparently Clara) and she makes to get really agro with him again, screaming that she even lied for him. The Doctor takes on Maisie’s thoughts and memories so that the mummy will attack him instead and then in a blink disables the mummy and saves the train (it’s literally a blink).

Clara seems satisfied that he saved enough people for her to no longer think he’s a shit bloke and speaks to Danny, telling him that she’ll be home soon. Of course, she’s lying and decides to stay on with the Doctor as long as he promises to get her back in time. Once again she is lying to Danny and to herself about why she is staying, and goes back to being the liar she’s been all season. What is worse is that she also lies to the Doctor, telling him it was Danny who wanted to stop her going with the Doctor (probably partially true) and that now he’s totally cool with it (a big fat lie). I’m not really sure why she would like to the Doctor, other than to cover that she is lying to her boyfriend who she allegedly loves, but it also undermines her relationship with the Doctor and is incredibly frustrating. I actually cannot wait for Clara to leave.

The one interesting thing she mentions is whether time travel is like an addiction, and given she cannot bring herself to try to stop, she seems to know if probably is. This addiction is definitely something that has been present in Clara from the beginning and is one of the only things this season that seems to thread through to the previous season. Her jumping into the Doctor’s time stream wasn’t just about her caring for the Doctor. It was about being important as well, and about the danger and the potential sacrifice.

Clara and Maisie’s Conversation – Failing the Bechtel Test

Even though two women talk to each other in this episode, they fail to talk about anything (directly or indirectly) other than a man – namely the Doctor. Although this is disappointing in itself, what is worse is that Clara actually draws attention to it by telling Maisie that they should be able to talk about something other than a man… and they kind of never do. I’m not sure what I am supposed to interpret from this. There are already so few women in Who anyway, and they barely speak to each other, to have the fact that Moffat’s seasons rarely (well approximately 53% of the time according to some stats I read recently) consistently pass the test doesn’t fill me with hope that he’s on a crusade to find female writers (as I also read recently – even though there have been exactly zero during his run) or that he isn’t sexist. Passing the Bechtel test doesn’t earn you an award, it’s considered the bare minimum, and the fact that the show struggles to do this, even when there are two female characters present, is some kind of insult to the viewers intelligence!

Danny Pink is the Worst

I cannot stand Danny Pink. I cannot say this enough. Including him at all has been such a terrible idea and every time he is used as a cause or excuse for Clara’s new bad behaviour I cringe. Because ultimately, I wonder what Clara and the Doctor would be like this season without this messed up and tiresome character getting in between to cause all the ‘she needs a man’ tension. It’s ridiculous, it’s not cute, it’s not engaging, and it’s actively ruining the companion dynamic. We have seen that Peter Capaldi and Jenna Louise Coleman have some genuine chemistry together so why not just let them shine and let their relationship evolve the way that it’s played. Personally, I can see Capaldi’s Doctor being like the older and annoying big brother to Clara’s sassy little sister. A brother/sister dynamic – with a little of the bickering and a little of the upstaging one another – still could work really well.

What’s perhaps equally annoying is that Danny himself is a completely 2 dimensional character. We don’t get anything more about him other than that he has a bad attitude and ‘loves’ Clara. Let’s just reinforce that. And that will totally justify WHY Clara gives him the time of day. What were they thinking? What were they hoping to achieve? There are so many family members, boyfriends, B-Characters in Who that are brilliant. Why is this dude so bland and annoying?

Remind Us Again About Officers and Soldiers

As if we didn’t catch on, this episode again sees the Doctor interact with a soldier. The mummy turns out (through some silly and convoluted explanation) to be a soldier that has been denied the ability to die. The Doctor saves himself and everyone else by realising this and speaking the right words ‘we surrender’. He then salutes, which establishes again the officer/soldier dynamic. It’s just too heavy handed (in true Moffat style) and painfully uninteresting. PAINFULLY. I do not care. I don’t care that it’s potentially alluding to the War Doctor, making this Doctor more like John Hurt’s, I don’t care that this Doctor might be a hypocrite for hating on soldiers because he behaves like an officer, there are plenty of other things that we can worry about the Doctor being a hypocrite about.

Maybe I have to go back and look, but I originally thought that those people getting into the Promised Land were people that the Doctor failed to save by not getting there in time. But upon reflection, I think they all have links to this solider/law enforcer/peace keeper theme. The clockwork man in episode one seemed to be some kind of commander or soldier, the woman in the dalek episode was a solider and there was also a police officer. Maybe that is tied in?

Next week the tension between Clara and the Doctor looks to be eliminated and Clara looks like she’s putting herself in a very dangerous situation. Let’s hope it pays off.

No comments:

Post a Comment