Season: 8 / Episode: 9
This week’s Doctor Who episode was a solid one; the plot, drama and comedic elements were all pretty typical, but the constantly changing and evolving dynamic between Clara and the Doctor continues to really push this season forward.
But first, let’s discuss the plot. I have to admit that as I was watching the first few minutes of the episodes, I wasn’t particularly drawn in. We see this pre-credit setup a lot in “Doctor Who”: Some random person is in trouble, with some mysterious creature or monster in the background, and just as they try to call for help or come to some realization about the creature or whatever it happens to be, they are snatched up, killed, changed, etc. I mean, I can’t blame the writers; it’s also something you see in countless horror movies. But at some point, it gets old. Fortunately, the originality of the shrinking Tardis made up for that. Plus, we just know that as soon as the Doctor gets back into the Tardis, he’s going to be trapped, meaning he’s not going to be the head honcho in the episode.
The idea of 2D creatures is pretty interesting—a bit hard to wrap my three-dimensional brain around, but still fun, especially because at first thought, a two-dimensional antagonist may not seem that threatening, like being attacked by a drawing (although if you recall, drawings can be pretty threatening too, as we’ve learned from the “Fear Her” episode and that one “Spongebob Squarepants” episode about the evil doodle … but I digress). However, the unnerving aspect of these antagonists is not their ability to just hide in two-dimensional plains—even though that’s creepy too—but the fact that they dissect their human bait. The wall of nerves that looked like a really hip wall print? Creepy. The skin they basically turned into wallpaper? Super creepy. And very Leatherface-meets-HGTV. The mural of corpses in the tunnel was pretty expected, but still a nice touch.
There were a few good references, slogans and puns in this episode. We got the welcome return of what seems to be one of the twelfth Doctor’s favorite insults: “pudding brain,” and even got the upgraded version, “fluorescent pudding brain.” The Doctor comes up with the name “2Dis” for his device that alters dimensions and is humorously disappointed at Clara’s inability to grasp the pun right away. Then there was the moment when the mini Tardis is on the train tracks as a train is coming toward it and Clara suggests that he pull an “Addams Family.” It’s a really odd and random reference to throw into the show, and I’m surprised that apparently the Doctor is a fan of “The Addams Family,” but I was still amused. 50 points to Gryffindor for cuteness and imagination.
But that definitely wasn’t Clara’s most clever moment in the episode. The ingenuity and creativity of her door idea to recharge the Tardis made her truly worthy of the title “The Doctor,” even if it’s a title she borrowed temporarily. But that was the main issue of the episode—was Clara’s transformation just temporary? Is Clara becoming the Doctor? From the beginning of the season, we’ve been very clear about Clara’s role. She’s the one who is supposed to pull the Doctor back. She’s the one who is supposed to care. She brings humanity to this incarnation of the Doctor, who insists on being harsh, critical and unfeeling in a way that’s totally opposite from the previous two Doctors. But in this episode, Clara, in what starts out to be a joke, takes on the role of the Doctor, running around with the sonic screwdriver and psychic paper and talking to Rigsby as though he’s her companion.
But even the Doctor is surprised when Clara takes charge of the situation, and we see her ultimately come up with a brilliant plan to save the Doctor and the Tardis. But what’s troubling is her reaction at the end of it all. She’s relieved to be alive, and she’s happy to have saved two other people, but does not mention the others. In fact, she refers to the Doctor’s way of thinking—that even though she failed to save some of the men, she still managed to save others, so it all balances out. Sure, the Doctor initially praises Clara for being a great Doctor as he’s trapped in the Tardis and almost at the point of death. But that’s before she manages to come through and save him, and it’s before she brushes off the deaths of the other people caught by the 2D creatures. After all, if Clara is saving the day, nonchalantly referring to the dead and lying to those close to her, then isn’t she becoming a bit too much like the Doctor—the good parts and, more significantly, the bad? There can’t be two Doctors (well, except for that weird regeneration thing that happened with the tenth Doctor when he had a human clone—but even then, the clone had to go off to the alternate universe and be Rose’s hubby). The Tardis just doesn’t have enough room for two. I have to say that I really enjoyed the Doctor’s moment of heartbreaking disappointment (and, to go further, the implicit self-hatred) in his statement, “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it.” It’s a combination of worry, disappointment and hurt that we don’t really get to see much in this Doctor, and that was just a killer line of dialogue with a great delivery. Clara may be a good Doctor, but that means she may not be as great of a person. 50 more points to Gryffindor for the feels.
What I’m really curious about is the revelation that Missy has probably orchestrated this whole thing—that she has picked Clara in particular for some kind of nefarious scheme and is waiting for her to ripen. With the way she was approvingly watching the scene from her iPad, it looks like Clara’s change for the worst is playing into her plan.
Also, can I just take a second to point out how bizarre this is? Are there really tablets in the Netherverse? Is there an Apple store there? Perhaps that’s the twist ending of the season: white walls, creepy people, tablets—the Netherverse is actually an Apple store.
Anyway, I can’t think of a plausible evil scheme that could involve the little spat between the Doctor and Clara, but then again, I’m not really that practiced in evil villainry. But at this point, it seems pretty likely that Missy was the woman from the shop who first connected Clara (well, at least this incarnation of Clara) to the Doctor. I’m really getting antsy for some answers here, so good (and bad!) thing there’s only three episodes left. Check in next week for my review of “In the Forest of the Night.”