Doctor Who and Lady Me

Imagine you are immortal.

It is a common enough theme in fantasy and science fiction: especially when you consider Highlander or most modern vampire stories. You die unexpectedly and then get resurrected. And after a time you realize that you just can’t die. Perhaps you can be killed, but your instinct of self-preservation is still strong enough that you really don’t want to test that theory. Now imagine watching everyone else: everyone living and dying all around you. Then consider that for all you may live forever, you still have a human mind with human memory and feelings. You begin to forget things, either through time or trauma. But then it gets worse. The person that made you thought they were granting you a mercy. You see, they thought that by granting you the ability to make another immortal, like you, you’d have at least the potential to never be lonely.

But it’s too late. You already know what it’s like. You know what it would cost someone. Long ago, in a small Viking village, you told the man that made you that leaving your home would be like death. Well, you haven’t been home now for about eight hundred years. Could you do that to someone else? And worse: he only gave one opportunity to make someone immortal. Out of all the friends, lovers, and spouses you’ve had — the children you made — how can you pick just one?

Doctor Who Lady Me and Books

That had been the conundrum of the woman once known as Ashildr by the time of Doctor Who‘s “The Woman Who Lived.” You have to wonder, when you see the person who now calls herself Lady Me — as she is the only one who generally remembers who she is throughout time — if a longer life is always a better one, and just how many times she’s gotten tired throughout the years and centuries of her existence.

And The Doctor did this to her. In my last recap of “The Girl Who Died,” I was disappointed that Ashildr didn’t turn out to be another Time Lady. But perhaps it’s just as well. Instead the writer Catherine Tregenna did something else entirely with the character that Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson wrote. She took a hapless, but defiant girl from “The Girl Who Died” and made a complex character in “The Woman Who Lived.”

Lady Me, played by Maisie Williams, has reached a point where she realized that making another like herself or suffering from loneliness was no choice at all. So she decided to be alone. She distanced her feelings, wrote out the memories her brain couldn’t contain in a vast library in a mansion she bought with her riches, and tore out the pages of the most painful recollections of all. She robs people purely for the entertainment of it, even as she sometimes helps them.

Doctor Who Knightmare

And she wants out. She wants to get away from a world where she would have to watch her children and lovers die: having reached a point where she no longer wants the former. Everyone just seems like shades to her: mayflies already marked for the grave. She wants to go into space and travel with The Doctor. And the thing is: she would make an excellent Companion. Lady Me is realistic, somewhat jaded, but vastly knowledgeable, intelligent, and she knows how to adapt and survive.

But The Doctor will have none of it. And this is where Catherine Tregenna takes The Doctor. She shows us a man who cannot exist with others like himself, long-lived beings, for extended periods of time. He just doesn’t get that sense of … what, youth or vitality that he would from a shorter-lived Companion. His logic is that those with shorter lives value life more. And it’s a damning realization of the character. It shows us that his original aversion to Jack Harkness wasn’t just the strange way he felt in space and time. It illustrates why he left Gallifrey and how he generally avoided spending a lot of time with others of his own kind.

And then you consider the following. It would have been child’s play for The Doctor to get medical healing devices from beings like the Mira. The horrible fact of the matter is: The Doctor could have made any of his Companions immortal. He could have even made Rose Tyler an immortal and made the age-differences between them irrelevant. But he never did. You could argue that he didn’t do this because mortality was what made his Companions so plucky, so … human. Yet Tregenna seems to hint on the fact, at least through Lady Me, that there is a very selfish element underneath even the best of The Doctor’s intentions: something not unlike the stereotype of an older person dating only younger individuals to feel young again themselves. In The Doctor’s case, it has some very masculine connotations: even if he is not sexually attracted to his generally female Companions, or to Lady Me when she’s flirting with him, there is just this moment of realization — from Lady Me’s perspective and the audience’s — where you just know that she’s just not “his type.”

When you consider that The Doctor made Lady Me and that he is essentially rejecting her for being “too old for him,” and that you find out he had actually been watching her for a very long time without so much as helping her or offering to take her on the TARDIS, it comes across as a rather gross character flaw and connotation. Even Lady Me’s darkest actions and thoughts make a lot more sense in this vein: her impetus of loss and desperation giving you this strong inclination to sympathize a lot more with her than The Doctor.

Doctor Who Angry Lady Me

However, it is only when Lady Me almost repeats what was done to her village on another settlement in her desperate attempt to escape the Earth that she remembers the defiant courage of her ancient youth. And after that, he reconciles herself to The Doctor. There is even a hint of a possibility that she might meet Captain Jack one day. But even as The Doctor tells her to keep an eye out for another possible immortal, Lady Me makes her own intentions clear. She will watch the other immortal, but she will also observe The Doctor as well: and protect others from his “good intentions.”

I have to say that this was an excellent episode because it was less about The Doctor and more about Lady Me. The fact that Clara was hardly in it was only a bonus. Indeed, there was one point where — when Lady Me confronted The Doctor about just how many Claras he had lost — I was just waiting for him to state something along the lines of “Three or four, that I know of.”

And what is also excellent is that Lady Me is going to come back at some point. I think that a spin-off with Captain Jack, River Song, and a whole lot of “loose-end characters” like The Doctor’s Daughter Jenny and Susan would be an awesome idea. This episode of Doctor Who was a good one: a worthy follow-up to the story that came before it. Also, the word “Hybrid” came up again during this arc. Missy and Davros had been rather fixated on that word in “The Witch’s Familiar.” You have to wonder just how this might come into play in future episodes of Doctor Who.

TADFF 15 Review: Deathgasm

Deathgasm is hardcore. There is no other way of putting it. Even from its very beginnings, according to the Toronto After Dark’s Q and A with its director Jason Lei Howden and producer Sarah Howden, the film proved just how powerful it could be through a one sentence prompt and treatment that would ultimately allow it to win the Make My Horror Movie contest in 2013 and win the production money that it needed to scream into existence.

It is so loud and clear with what it is that you don’t even have to be a metal expert to enjoy what you see. After a beautiful animated sequence, Deathgasm shows itself to be a story about a group of teenage friends in a conservative town that essentially unlock a demonic power through acquiring and playing sheets of music. These sheets are being hunted by a cult and then by the demonically-possessed citizens of the teenagers’ home town.

Deathgasm Demon

You get what you can expect when you look at how the horror genre has influenced the growth of metal: tons of gore, angst, screaming, demonic zombie destruction, and lots of penises. Certainly the prosthetics and special effects are impressively twisted: especially when you consider that they are all mostly borrowed props. For instance, the audience in the Q and A were told that the penises were taken from Spartacus of all places.

Deathgasm Zakk and Brodie

But this is just the blood and gore that stains the raging metalhead bad ass. In a movie that plays with the age-old theme of anarchy and vulgar defiance against conformity and hypocrisy, you also get some interesting characters for your time. Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) and Zakk (James Blake) play well off and against each other. Zakk himself is a bit of an asshole but somehow manages to also be a friend and even something of an anti-hero: though as you become more aware of the plot, you will begin to see where he is going with all this. And Brodie comes into his own from being in Zakk’s shadow: claiming the song that he used to unleash hell in a fit of angst.

Deathgasm Brodie and Medina

Even the female lead in the film Medina (Kimberly Crossman) has her own excellent character development. She starts off as something of a popular girl at school but already demonstrates that she is kind, real, and open-minded. You actually get invested with seeing her and Brodie’s relationship and how it’s completely reciprocal. It even gets to the point where she rescues the rest of their band with an ax-pun of which Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be proud.

Deathgasm Medina the Slayer

The villains have excellent moments and conflicting agendas and these, along with Brodie, Medina, and Zakk make up for some of the more stereotypical characters that populate the movie. There is just this emotional complexity amid the gore that makes it all the more alive: its dark humour and irreverence for even the hellish powers animating the story far more than any demon ever could. Also, given that this is a metal movie the soundtrack, much of it made by Skullfist, is excellent. In fact, Howden made people aware that they will be releasing Deathgasm‘s music in a double vinyl record.

In the end, Deathgasm is a glorious, musical, blood-splattered journey into hell and the pointlessness of life and the bad-assness of what you can achieve when you stop caring about the things that don’t matter and begin loving the things that ultimately do. Also, you get to watch really bad people get their moral comeuppance in some graphic and disgusting ways. Karma has never been so metal.

TADFF 15 Review: Patchwork

Imagine you are a lonely businesswoman. Or perhaps you’re a college student that wants to belong. Or maybe you are a shy, quiet woman looking to better yourself.  And then, one night, you go out to seek the things that you want … and then you wake up the next day as three minds trapped in one, awkward, cobbled together body. What do you do?

This is the premise behind Tyler MacIntyre’s horror comedy movie Patchwork. It is an obvious hearkening back to Frankenstein on a classical Universal Studios level, but films such as Re-Animator and Dark Man have also been stated as influences. However both MacIntyre and his co-writer Chris Lee Hill succeed in challenging our expectations of what this story is going to be.

For instance, we get some back story into the lives of the three women that are stitched together. We see Jennifer (Tory Stolper), Ellie (Tracey Fairaway), and Madeleine (Maria Blasucci) as three very different personalities with often divergent goals. Even the scenes that explore their lives, and the moments before their deaths, seem to be stitched together in odd and interesting places.

Tory Stolper herself, who plays the amalgamation of the three girls known as “Stitch” in both the script and the original two-minute short from which Patchwork originated, manages to create a convincing lurching gait and the physical signs of her adaptation into activities such as eating, drinking, grooming, murder, and even sex. But where, in the words of an audience member at the Toronto After Dark, Patchwork might have become a “progressive take on Frankenhooker,” it verges into something else entirely towards the end. The key is examining just who was responsible for the creation of Stitch: and who her, or their, enemy might actually be. That dark twist in a series of shallow interactions with disgusting, chauvinist men, female empowerment that is almost subverted by said realization — and segments reminiscent of Memento and the resolution of Fight Club — was well-played.

In the fact, the only quibble here is that the audience becomes aware of the twist before the characters do: though it can be argued that this only serves to potentially make viewers more eager to see how they will deal with that revelation … and it doesn’t disappoint.

And somehow, through all the quirky humour, human caricatures, chicken fillets, righteous and recreational murder sprees, and gore porn Patchwork does have something of a happy ending. It is, in the words of MacIntyre, like looking at the beginnings of a female superhero’s origin story. After all, sometimes monsters are just people who haven’t found themselves yet outside of society and all they need to become comfortable with themselves, what they want, and who they want in their lives.

Doctor Who: A Promise and a Longer Life

I’m not sure I’m only one who feels this way, but Doctor Who‘s “The Girl Who Died” seemed kind of … underwhelming. Or so it seemed on the surface anyway.

Don’t misunderstand. Vikings are cool: certainly cooler than fezzes. And definitely cooler than sonic sunglasses that lasted about as long as the fezzes did. And certainly Maisie Williams, as the actress that plays Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, brought a lot of resolve, fierceness, and presence to this episode in her own right. However, in the trailer for this season that Moffat flashed in front of our eyes, there were things hinted on that just … didn’t pan out the way they might have done.

The episode starts off at the end of a missing scene with aliens and epic space resolutions that we don’t see only for The Doctor and Clara to end up in early medieval times on Earth: near a Viking settlement. Then, after The Doctor’s sunglasses get destroyed by a simple Viking sword, they are taken to the settlement as prisoners: only for an alien posing as Thor to send rust-bucket soldiers with guns to abduct the strongest warriors.

Because, after all, it’s totally not the first time an alien race as impersonated human gods: especially not Norse deities.

Stargate SG1 Asgard

The obligatory StarGate SG-1 reference aside, we find out these giant rust-buckets and the Odin-impersonator are called the Mira: yet another warlike race that wants to do some conquering and drink heavily distilled … testosterone? And even though Clara, yet again, can’t listen to The Doctor’s orders and gets herself and Ashildr, Maisie Williams’ Viking girl character, abducted along with the other soldiers it seems to be Ashildr herself that sabotages Clara’s attempts to talk the Mira down from dealing with the Earth: or at least her village. I guess Clara now knows what it feels like, but it’s doubtful these life lessons will sink in any time soon. And even then there is something inspiring about the defiance in Ashildr’s face and tone when she challenges the Mira.

Clara and Ashildr Doctor Who

I mean: it wasn’t as though the Mira were going to be intimidated by words anyway.

In the end, the way they actually deal with the Mira is brilliant and cruel in its own way. What is the worst way you can punish a renowned warrior race? It’s simple: you humiliate the crap out of them through trickery and blackmailing them with evidence of their dishonour.

There are two elements of note, however, in “The Girl Who Died.” The first is that we discover just why The Doctor chose the face of Lobus Caecilius: the Roman whose family he saved from Pompeii in his tenth incarnation. It does take a while for the realization to set in, but then you begin to remember something. Do you recall when The Doctor told Clara in “The Name of The Doctor” that the name he chose was a promise he made? Well, as it turns out The Doctor also considers regenerated faces promises. And it was his promise, then, in Pompeii to save what lives he can: no matter how terrible the odds truly were.

But then we have the other element. So Ashildr dies due to her role in The Doctor’s plan to defeat the Mira. We already had evidence that there was something strange about her. It’s true that we were also introduced to the fact that The Doctor’s idea of deja vu often occurs in reverse: that he has the feeling of having met someone before he actually does. So there was some evidence of what was about to happen.

You see, the thing about advanced warrior races is that they often have excellent medical technology. You know: the kind that existed in “The Empty Child?” Well, as it turns out, the Mira left some of that behind and … It’s funny really. I was personally annoyed with the fact that Moffat seemed to make such a big deal about this character in this Season’s trailer: as being somehow central to much of what was going to happen. Certainly, it would have been nice of Ashildr had been another Time Lady: perhaps someone The Doctor knew. It’s that kind of teasing of his that has gotten old pretty fast, which says a lot when you apply it to a show about time travel.

And yet … in a way this episode is kind of an intersection in The Doctor’s life. It’s not just about the flashbacks to his time as Doctor Ten, though they definitely play a part in that. The Doctor stated, in “The Lazarus Project” that “a longer life isn’t always a better one. In the end you just get tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of losing everyone that
matters to you. Tired of watching everything turn to dust.” Then there is also his own encounters with  and his responsibility for Jack Harkness and knowing what the price of immortality ultimately is.

Ashildr Resurrected

Perhaps it’s different now that The Doctor knows there are other Time Lords left. Even so, in a poignant scene with Ashildr, she tells him that leaving her village — where they accept her as being strange — would be like death. So what will that mean for Ashildr now when she herself may well be immortal? Still, there might be some recompense in this. The Doctor did leave her with another Mira medical device, for someone else: in case she ever gets lonely and can’t bear to lose that one other person.

So there is that. And again, we are introduced to another familiar word from “The Witch’s Familiar”: hybrid. What does that mean and how will this all play out in Doctor Who‘s “The Woman Who Lived” … and beyond?

TADFF 15 Review: Tales of Halloween

Imagine The Ray Bradbury Theater mixed with Tales From the Crypt and what you’ll get — at least in spirit — is Tales of Halloween. Yet while Axelle Carolyn is the creator of this collection of vignettes, she is only one of eleven popular horror directors — such as Lucky McKee and Darren Lynn Bousman, among others — to have included a short film in the overall structure of the piece.

It’s difficult to actually review a collection of supposedly interlocking films, so perhaps the best way is to look at the overall structure of Tales of Halloween. While Corin Hardy mentions Ray Harryhausen as one of his influences in creating the monsters in The Hallow, you can really see the shadows of Harryhausen’s animation in the miniature land panoramic view introduction to Tales and in Mike Mendez’s “Friday the 31st” and Neil Marshall’s “Bad Seed” vignettes with the cute alien and mutant pumpkin respectively.

But aside from some attempts to unite all the narratives, mainly in “Bad Seed,” most of the stories seem pretty well independent. In that, perhaps the collection as an overall and cohesive story structure fails. However, each vignette can be seen to stand as confections and diabolical plots in their own right. Certainly Dave Parker’s “Sweet Tooth” and Axelle Carolyn’s “Grim Grinning Ghost” create some nice standalone urban myths, along with demonic children facing and doling out justice in both Adam Giegrasch’s “Trick” and Paul Solet’s “The Weak and the Wicked” stand out as particularly strong and memorable stories.

Tone can usually be a casualty of creative collaboration. Whereas The Hallow seemed to be deciding what genre and tropes it was made of out, Tales of Halloween — depending on what tale you were viewing — veers wildly between the mundane, the silly, and the outright murderous and horrifying. Even the fact that each tale is supposed to take place in the same American town doesn’t always show through until “Bad Seed.”

Even so, there is something nostalgic in these vignettes that hearken back to candies, and games, and movies. Certainly, Adrienne Barbeau’s dark and delightfully full and villainous voice as a DJ on the radio narrating each vignette also adds to this spirit. Mainly, Tales of Halloween is a lot like the ghastly Sweet Tooth’s grab bag: sometimes you find delicious morsels, and other times you just find guts … until you realize that both are valid snack choices.

What Does It Want to Be? A TADFF 15 Review of The Hallow

There are many different interpretations of faeries. Corin Hardy, director of The Hallow, seems aware of this fact: particularly with regards to how the Fae relates to Nature, being the Other in relation to humanity, and always bordering on the formless. Anyone who has read the original fairytales, the oral cautionary folklore of the past, understands just how dark and alien faeries can be.

The premise of the film is fascinating: in that Adam Hitchens, a British conservationist, his wife Claire, and their infant son move to an old forest in Ireland. They move there so that Adam can survey and eventually allow for construction in the area. The problem, of course, is simple: faeries or, as they called in the mythology of the film, the Hallow dwell in the forest … and they do not take kindly to having their territory intruded upon.

Or at least that is what it seems. Hardy creates an interesting take on faerie mythology that feeds well the film’s narrative: at least upon first glance. Through Adam’s own stubbornly scientific observations, viewers see the Hallow as a form of fungus that takes over its hosts: a life form that is highly photosensitive and possesses a great aversion to cold iron. They also create changelings: substitutions of stolen babies when they want to infiltrate a human settlement. It is also very clever how, as what seems to be a hive-mind fungus, the Hallow already has a presence in their wooden house: a ubiquitous threat making the audience aware of that tenuous line between Nature and human society.

However, how the Hallow interacts with the protagonists is where it all begins to fall flat. Even though, at the beginning, someone with a knowledge of faerie lore might wince at Claire taking off the iron bars around the windows of their new home, the nature of the Hallow itself — or themselves — just doesn’t possess any continuity. One moment it seems as though it wants to consume the family; at another it toys with them; and then it wants to spread beyond the forest even though it could have done so many times over for years.

The Hallow as a creature defines its own film structure. It seems stuck in a place between body horror, creature featuring, haunted housing, psychological, and zombie survival horror. Its as though, like its Fae monstrosities, it doesn’t know what it is, or whether or what kind of individuality it possesses. Even Adam and his dog, both of whom are infected by the Hallow fungi, seem to struggle with its mutations slightly but still ultimately fight against it. It just takes away from the actual horror element despite the excellently malformed Hallow creatures, the engrossing scenic view of the forest environment that could easily have been lost to time, and the very real terror a mother feels when her child is danger.

There were a lot of themes that could have been explored in more detail such as a loss or questioning of identity, or even specifics about the incredibly elaborate book of fairytales that the farmer Colm Donnell left the family to warn them out of the forest. The ending just bludgeons for a sequel that lacks even the mystique of its forest environment seemingly last to humanity and time, and the following jump scare just feels a little cheap. But the environment was played with well and there was some kind of closure and humanity for the characters involved.

Before the Toronto After Dark’s showing of the film, the audience was treated to a video made by Corin Hardy: telling them that they should have brought with them cold iron, a flashlight, and goggles. And it is by using these tools that the audience might see that while some trails in the forest of The Hallow might be predictable, Hardy does manage to build on and create a mythos: just as long as he protects that vision and keeps that light right in front of him.

The Pillow Fight League Awakens

The idea of it began with a spontaneous pillow fight at a New Year’s Eve rock concert in 2005. But it wasn’t until 2006 at the Vatikan goth bar in Toronto that the Pillow Fight League truly began. The Pillow Fight League — an all-women’s competitive sports organization — combined mixed martial arts and pillow smashing techniques against each other in sixty-six events all across North America and even so far as South Korea. For six years, the costumed superheroes, villains, and anti-heroes of the Pillow Fight League, under creative stage names such as Sally Spitfire, Carmen Monoxide, Olivia Neutron-Bomb and Guillotina battled their way through five minute unscripted bouts of pillow swinging and grappling until 2011 when the organization went into a hiatus.

For five years, with the exception of at least one group known as the Bedlam: All-Girl Pillow Fight Revue made up of some of the League’s members, the Pillow Fight League as a unified national and international sport, group, and event remained in slumber.

This all changed six months ago when Brandy Dawley purchased the rights to the original Pillow Fight League and its tenets: becoming its new President and vowing not only to re-awaken the League, but to introduce it to a far vaster dream. Even though sanctioned by ” the Intergalactic Pillow Fighting Association” according to its home page, the Pillow Fight League has created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to provide its athletes and staff with compensation, insurance, training, and contribution to and the reconstruction of overall infrastructure. There are also some very nice perks for backers that want to see the sixty-seventh game happen and who want to be a part of the next chapter of the League’s history.

Pillow fighting as a sport is a fascinating concept. Pillow fighting itself is often associated with girls sleepovers, model shoots, and male fantasies, but there is something incredibly innovative and fitting on a physical and philosophical level in utilizing something considered to be soft and pliant in order to create a harder and challenging sense of atmosphere, activity, and competition. Certainly, there is something subversive in this act.

Once, in 2007 ESPN went as far as to call the League “a glimpse of the future in sports.” Perhaps that future has come again.

Doctor Who: The Bootstrap Mystery

It shouldn’t be surprising, given how The Doctor travels through time and space, that he has also encountered the fourth wall: and broken it. In fact, it’d not be all that shocking if this was neither the first, nor the last time, Doctor Who flirts with this form of paradox.

Doctor Who and Beethoven

In either case, it is also not the last time we will be hearing about paradoxes. The Doctor begins the continuation to the last episode “Under the Lake” by introducing us, or reintroducing us to an old science-fictional staple: the bootstrap paradox for which he tells us to Google. After posing us with the conundrum of “Who wrote Beethoven’s Fifth,” a nice play on words and a Timey-wimey introduction to what is about to happen, or what has already happened rather, The Doctor plays a rock version of the song followed by another rock version of the Doctor Who theme.

With both bad-ass introductions upping the ante, we’re now left to see how Clara and The Doctor deal with the fact that he is now a ghost. But first we get to see The Doctor and his two temporary companions back in the 1980s at the Army base before it was flooded: where they meet the Tivolian before he died and the strange ship. There is a body of a tyrant called the Fisher King on board the vessel: deceased when the Tivolians had been conquered yet again by another species.

But the strange writing on the wall of the ship isn’t there and the missing ship’s power cell still in place. The Tivolian Prentice also has no idea as to who is projecting transmitter ghosts and has no knowledge of this technology. So we get more mysteries at this point in the game. And it only gets more convoluted and strange when The Doctor talks with Clara.

It’s a surreal scene, you have to admit. The Doctor is confronting the fact that he is going to die and become a ghost, while Clara is looking at the ghost itself: who has actually released the other ghosts from the Faraday cage. But this is a key event. Even Clara demanding that The Doctor more or less die on another Companion’s time doesn’t take away from this fact: that and the fact that his ghost is saying something different from the others. He is actually repeating the names of the crew, and Clara, over and again silently.

It also doesn’t take The Doctor long to realize that the Fisher King isn’t actually … dead. In fact, he probably knows that it is the Fisher King that wrote the writing on the ship’s wall: which imprints information into those that read it. What sort of information? Well, it’s the very information that manifests after the reader dies: and turns them into ghosts, which in turn changes them into transmitters to summon … something to Earth. In this way, this form of writing is actually very reminiscent of the Carrionites and their word-algorithm magic: except that it is more like a viral psychic meme that utilizes a person’s soul or essence to serve one function. As The Doctor states later, it is an ultimate form of violation beyond even time itself.

But the interaction with the Fisher King becomes even more eerie. When The Doctor actually does confront him — essentially meeting what he thinks will be his death — the monster reveals a lot of information. The Fisher King remembers the Time Lords. It is a strange thing when you consider the cracks in time, the second Big Bang, and the fact that The Doctor spent so much time and energy erasing all knowledge of himself and the Time Lords from the face of the universe. But this monster, who we have never seen before in any way, remembers this and even how they acted during the Time War itself.

Then more questions come up. The Fisher King reveals that if he kills The Doctor he can create a massive amount of transmitter ghosts: perhaps thirteen of them. In this way, once he goes back into that suspended animation pod we were introduced to in “Under the Lake,” this perversion of the Arthurian Fisher King myth can wake up centuries later, greet his people summoned from the stars, and conquer the Earth. But there is only one Doctor ghost that we’ve seen so far. How is this possible?

It’s at this moment that The Doctor knows what he has to do. First, he lies. He tells the Fisher King he erased the writing on the wall: that he would rather have a distorted and destroyed space-time than nothing at all. Then The Doctor, having already planted the power cell near the dam, causes the flood which kills the Fisher King.

Fisher King Flooded

But wait. The mysterious suspended animation pod we were introduced to in the last episode has been activating. This whole time we have been led to believe that the Fisher King will awaken and that his transmitter ghosts are about to bring his people down.

So what is in the pod?

Remember that Bootstraps Paradox? Recall just how much emphasis was placed on what was in that pod in “Under the Lake” and how The Doctor couldn’t open it? And remember how The Doctor isn’t supposed to cross his own time-stream?

The thing that you need to understand about time travel for The Doctor is the following. He still has to deal with fixed points in time: events he can’t change. However, he doesn’t have a human mind. He is a Time Lord. His mind works differently and in other tangents. And even if that weren’t an issue, there is the fact that just because the overall structure of an event can’t be negated, it doesn’t mean that details can’t be rewritten by someone who knows what they are doing.

Remember the Doctor’s ghost? Well, it makes a shriek like the one that summons the transmitter ghosts and lures them all to the Faraday cage again. It’s almost as though it did everything so that others could see him having this ability. But it seems so redundant … until you look back and see that The Doctor was watching all of this happening. Then The Doctor’s ghost disappeared.

And guess what — or rather who — comes out of the pod.

It turns out that the only reason The Doctor enacted his plan was before he saw the holographic ghost of himself that he hadn’t even made yet: and yet there it was. That is a bootstraps paradox.

Still, for all of the simple elegance and convoluted genius of this solution, it doesn’t come without a cost. Whereas the crew of “Into the Dalek” were, for the most part pretty brusque and hostile, and you almost got this satisfaction with the callous way The Doctor just didn’t bother being emphatic towards them, the cast for “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” are much more relatable. It really hits home when you see how Bennett realizes The Doctor knew that O’Donnell was going to die and how he had to prevent Bennett from crossing his own timeline to save her when the TARDIS went back one hour before they themselves arrives in 1980. There were moments where it seemed as though Bennett was seriously going to punch The Doctor: especially when he reveals he was doing this all to save Clara.

He did it all for Clara. The tone of that still comes out flat, but all right. All right Moffat. We get it. You want to remind us of how close they are. Why don’t you just bludgeon us with that a little more.

And even Clara, who is acting like a mirror to The Doctor again, gets called out on her behaviour: first by Cass and Lunn who asks just how easy it becomes for her to dispose of other people’s lives, and then by Cass herself who wants to go after Lunn who left to get Clara’s stolen phone. The ghosts also remain in the Faraday cage and Bennett has to look in on the remnant of O’Donnell and realize that even though some part of her is there, the woman he loved was long gone.

Doctor Who Cass Survives

Cass has a bad ass moment, though, where even though she is deaf she actually bends down to feel the vibrations in the floor to know when to avoid getting killed by an ax to the head. And at the very least, she and Lunn finally admit their feelings to each other. So at least some emotional good came out of the resolution to this episode.

But now that this mystery is over, perhaps we will get to see just who the girl is who refers to The Doctor so familiarly as “old man” in the next episode of Doctor Who: “The Girl Who Died.”

Doctor Who Is Afraid Of No Ghosts

You’d be forgiven to think that after the really good show with Doctor Who‘s “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar,” we would be subjected to something of far less quality. But “Under the Lake” proved to be something else entirely.

It doesn’t start with Clara and The Doctor in 1920s finery on a cosmic Orient Express, or even with The Doctor bungling his cover as a janitor with something that looks awfully and suspiciously like a proton pack. It does start with a team of scientists, not unlike “Into the Dalek.” But instead of automatically dealing with some people we have no sympathies or connections towards either way, we actually get introduced to the basic personalities of the team exploring a sunken city and an alien craft they found there in the not too distant future all things considered.

The episode starts off creepily enough: with a withered old Tivolian ghost and what seems to be the spirit of the group’s recently deceased leader.

Doctor Who Ghosts

They have no eyes and they seem to be repeating a phrase, silently, over and again. Sometimes they want to kill people with physical objects, and other times just talk to them. And, of course, they come out at night: or the artificial night of their own facility under the deep sea.

The Doctor and Clara do make it into this situation and it is here that you begin to notice something different. It starts off similar to most of their adventures: with Clara rather being somewhere else and questioning why they are there, but the Shut Up Clara element seems to be a bit more subdued this time around.

What’s even more refreshing is that the crew is already familiar with UNIT and know who The Doctor is: making his psychic paper pretty much redundant. At the same time, they take no sass from him: making it clear that while he finds the prospect of the afterlife fascinating, it did cost them their captain and comrade’s life. It shouldn’t be too surprising as well that even as The Doctor dismissively subverts the convention of the exploratory horror genre by already asking for the person in charge whom he should ignore, he also has Clara with cue cards to help him empathize with people and cover his own faux pas.

After all, The Doctor’s bedside manner is only exceeded by that of House.

When all else fails, he should have gone with: "I'm so sorry." He used to say it all the time after all.
When all else fails, he should have gone with: “I’m so sorry.” He used to say it all the time after all.

You would think that a group of scientists would have learned to examine details that stand out, right? Of course, you would also think that The Doctor would learn from his own experience: especially when the TARDIS herself wants to be out of that entire situation.

The Doctor should remember never to ignore Sexy.

Even as The Doctor is utilizing the minds of the crew and his Companion around him to figure out what the ghosts are and how to deal with them and just why they are there, it is the ranking member of the facility’s team — Cass — that clarifies some matters.

Doctor Who Cass

Cass is second in command of the Drum facility. She is also one of those individuals that, while reasonable and is quite willing to take The Doctor’s lead, has no issue taking him to task or calling him on his behaviour if it gets in the way of the mission and the dynamic she has with her crew. Cass is also deaf: a fact which eventually allows her to actually make out with the silent ghosts are actually saying.

But that information is not enough. There is also a suspended animation capsule from the craft that they recover from the ruins of the town under the lake: which they can’t open. And even though they manage to trap the ghosts in a Faraday cage, the ghosts manage to flood the station. The Doctor goes back in time to see where the craft came from and why the ghosts are being used as transmitters to summon or communicate with … something.

One thing you might notice, from the last two episodes, is that Clara is almost uncharacteristically quiet. Aside from a very forced and stilted conversation about her mental well-being by The Doctor in the TARDIS, her introductory lines, and the cue cards she is mostly passive and just letting others do the talking. And while this is definitely another refreshing moment when you consider all of the “it’s all about Clara” moments the last seasons had, it is sad that she isn’t actually … doing anything. So far we’ve seen her get “acted upon” and now go along with anything she’s told. It’s kind of disappointing that, at this stage in the game, it looks like this is the place to which her character has finally been reduced.

Clara Under the Lake

Yet this might change. Usually, in this kind of episode, The Doctor solves the mystery in an hour’s time. But he hasn’t. What’s worse is that another ghost has appeared in the water. And so now half the crew that left with The Doctor on his TARDIS seems to be gone, leaving Clara with the rest of them … and the hollow eyes of what seems to be her dead friend.

Doctor's Ghost

But nothing is as it seems and perhaps there might be … something to that capsule they can’t open. But maybe we will get to see Clara step up, or the plot work out in a “Timey-wimey” sense next time, on Doctor Who, in “Before the Flood.”