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.”

Doctor Who: When A Dalek Says Mercy

Let’s say we are still playing a game called Doctor Who. It’s to be expected that in a game between The Doctor, Missy, and Davros that the rules will change constantly, but imagine that both “The Magician’s Apprentice” and the more recent “Witch’s Familiar” share a one-word thesis statement.

What is that word?

Before we answer that, and realize why that is the correct answer, let’s look at what we might have gotten wrong. The conceit of “The Magician’s Apprentice” was that Davros was still in a nihilistic mood from “Journey’s End.” He already knew he was dying, there seemed to be nothing he could do about it, and it looked like it was going to be a case of “If I go down, I am taking you with me, along with my stupid, disobedient children.”

Seriously, my Daleks were too stupid to even notice the people they killed survived and failed to kill them again. Maybe I should have made snake people instead. Oh. Wait ...
Seriously, my Daleks were too stupid to even notice the people they killed survived and failed to kill them again. Maybe I should have made snake people instead. Oh. Wait …

In retrospect, it might have also seemed clear that The Doctor symbolized the magician — who appeared out of nowhere on Skaro in the past to abandon a young Davros to Handmines — and that Davros was the apprentice to the ultimate sleight of hand and disappearing act of The Doctor. The act of abandonment and helplessness was changed by Davros into the creation of the ultimate survival of the strongest lifeforms that were fully dependable: on exterminating the hell out of you.

Some of this makes sense and you would totally be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Steven Moffat attempted to lead us to: that Davros would force the magician of The Doctor to complete his disappearing act and help him go back in time to kill him as a child and destroy The Doctor’s own sense of compassion.

But there is something to be said about super-villains. The best super-villains are those with two qualities: complexity and, strangely enough, optimism. Most super-villains have a plan: even and especially when they are near defeat. It’s kind of like being a magician, or the apprentice to one. There is always something up your sleeve: which is even more incredible when you’re Davros and you only have one cybernetic arm left.

Now let’s bring Clara and Missy into the act. I know that a day or so before “The Witch’s Familiar” I remembered that Missy and Clara both have vortex manipulators. It explains a lot. So of course neither of them were dead. Right now I’m just going to say: if this episode will be remembered for anything aside from the compelling and uncomfortably poignant dialogue between The Doctor and Davros, it will be for the pure psychological torture porn situations in which Missy puts Clara.

Missy must have ignored her parents admonitions to not play with her food.
Missy must not have been there on the day when her parents told her not to play with her food.

This is literal. We start off the episode seeing Clara hanging upside down from a rope on a desolate tree while Missy is sharpening a long stick. Of course, Missy isn’t going to make it that easy. I will give you several guesses as to who the witch and who the familiar are in this dynamic. Clara doesn’t so much need Missy to help her rescue The Doctor so much as survive the horrors of the Dalek City itself. Missy explains the situation and lets Clara come to her own conclusions, but she doesn’t make it easy for her. But whereas The Doctor might have a tough love attitude with Clara at times, and still quite a lot of leeway, we are always reminded of that scene in “The Magician’s Apprentice” where Missy compares Clara to a pet.

Missy manipulates Clara. She threatens her in an almost playful manner. She comes up with plans and makes Clara do all of the dirty work. You can see Missy’s utter disdain, and amusement at hanging Clara from a tree, tossing her into the Dalek City Sewer, the psychological game of turning her back to a stake-wielding Clara only to remind her of her powerlessness and disarm her with ease, and then making her sit in Dalek armour after killing its original host, and always leaving Clara wondering if and when she is going to turn her over the Daleks.

Missy sometimes likes tinning her food as well.
Missy sometimes likes tinning her food as well.

This last act of Missy’s is especially terrifying when you remember “Asylum of the Daleks” where one aspect of Clara, Oswin, was turned into a Dalek. If this Clara has any of Oswin’s memories, you can imagine her reliving that lost life over and again.

Clara is even more of a plot device in this episode and somehow loses more agency than before under Missy’s seemingly arbitrary but ultimately meticulous cruelty. It almost makes up for The Doctor, yet again, trying to convince us that right now Clara is his “be all and end all”: and the most important person in the show.

So here we have a magician who is drawn into the act of his inadvertent apprentice, and a witch manipulating her familiar into her own scheme. These dynamics will overlap in final acts against The Doctor.

The backdrop is excellent as well. We are shown more about Dalek physiology and the differences between the Cybermen that interact with their systems through the repression of emotion, and the Daleks that express their power through anger and hatred. There has always been something poetic about how the Daleks speak and Moffat has Missy explain this in an extremely clever and disturbing manner. I mean, who knew “I love you” in the Dalek language meant something along the lines of “Exterminate exterminate.” But the Dalek Sewers are even more beautiful, in a horrific way. Daleks don’t consume enough to make a lot of waste. However, they have to put their dead somewhere. There is just one thing … Daleks are extremely hard to kill, and they do not die of old age. Imagine vast underground chambers where dying and rotting Daleks merge together into dark filth filled with pain, helplessness, and nothing but their own hate. It’s the literal foundation of Dalek society.

Dalek Sewers double as Graveyards for undying pain and suffering. Aren't all great societies and civilizations founded on the quality of their plumbing?
Dalek Sewers double as Graveyards for undying pain and suffering. Aren’t all great societies and civilizations founded on the quality of their plumbing?

But then we travel above the Sewers and back to the top. You might find it kind of sad just how the interaction between The Doctor and Davros actually goes.

Because this ...
Because this …

After The Doctor steals Davros’ chair — and you realize that Davros pretty much has no legs, or an arm and you get the lovely spectacle of seeing his metal spine sticking out of his torso — we get another “Genesis of The Daleks” moment where Davros tells The Doctor that he has been keeping himself alive through wires and tubes that connect him to all the Dalek race and entices him to destroy them.

... isn't deja vu at all. Oh no siree.
… isn’t deja vu at all. Oh no siree.

And then we have the greatest feat of the episode. Whereas seeing the usually self-sanctimonious Clara humbled constantly is nice (there isn’t even a Shut Up Clara Mini-Game in this entire episode), Moffat actually manages to make us … feel sorry for Davros.

Oh it’s true. We know that Davros is most likely planning something, and he is, but you realize that everything he is saying to The Doctor is absolutely true from his perspective. Davros really did want to save his own race. He saved them by his own standards. He wanted to live so that he could further aid them in surviving and thriving. What is really touching in a weird kind of way is seeing the rapport between these age-old enemies: and Davros accepting his own mortality is reminiscent of The Face of Boe dying. It makes you want Davros to die this episode: for an entirely different reason. And look: it turns out he still has his eyes after all … and he’s crying.

But he probably stole those eyes from someone else because, what a surprise, he tricks The Doctor and tries to use his regeneration energy to make his Daleks more powerful: and keep himself alive. It is kind of a let down to be honest. Here we had a story that could have been quite poignant: with an antagonist that actually shows some humanity before he dies, or perhaps just wants The Doctor to give him a mercy kill.

Seriously, Doctor, if there was ever a clear case for euthanasia ...
Seriously, Doctor, if there was ever a clear case for euthanasia …

I mean, it’s pretty horrible to be Davros when you think about it: the terrible will that drove him through all that pain and torment  — by others and his own hand — to create a legacy that has tried to destroy him so many times. Or at the very least there was that hint of Davros getting his ultimate moral revenge.

But as I said before, super-villains have to be generally optimistic — read: ambitious — and Davros and his treachery makes sense for what he is.

And Davros is going to screw you over in five, four, three, two ...
And Davros is going to screw you over in five, four, three, two …

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only heavy-handed villainous final act. After Missy actually rescues The Doctor — and hilariously pokes Davros in his one eye — she tries to trick The Doctor into killing Clara: who is still trapped in her Dalek armour and can only say “I’m a Dalek” and “exterminate.” Or so it seems.

And here is where things get interesting. Aside from the fact that Davros is, in The Doctor’s own words, “a moron” for not realizing that regeneration energy would affect the rotting Daleks in the Sewers — “The Sewers are revolting” being  one of the best lines in this entire episode — Missy’s long and elaborate story about how she tried to save Clara from “the Dalek” would trip so many alarm bells in The Doctor’s mind that even the TARDIS crashing would be more subtle. Surely Missy understood that The Doctor knew she was more of a liar than he is and is far less trustworthy.

Traumatized. For. Life.
Traumatized. For. Life.

But here is where the game reaches its most important point. Remember the beginning of this article: how I asked you if you were going to find a one-word thesis statement for this two-part season’s opener, what would it be?

Daleks have a limited vocabulary. Aside from the Cult of Skaro, only one other Dalek said a word that was an anathema to its existence: such as when the Dalek in “Dalek” asked The Doctor for “pity.”

Clara, through her Dalek armour, asked for “mercy.”

And there it is. “Mercy.” How is that even possible for a Dalek to say without throwing up a little bit in its non-existent orifice of a mouth? But that word is the thesis of both “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar.” It is The Doctor’s greatest strength.

Cue in the timey-wimey. That’s right. It turns out Sexy didn’t die. TARDISes apparently have the ability to disperse into scattered molecules. So Sexy takes The Doctor back in time: back to where he abandoned a small child. He then destroys those mines with the gun he cobbled together and takes little lord Davros back home to, most likely, his fascist and warmongering family.

Seriously though: trauma for the rest of his life.
Seriously though: trauma for the rest of his life.

At the beginning of “The Witch’s Familiar,” Davros laments that all Daleks have a genetic defect of “respect” towards their creator. But it seems as though they have another “defect” as well. And now we know why.

Then consider Missy. Missy, after The Doctor realizes Clara is in that Dalek armour, reminds him that there are friends in enemies and vice-versa. Then she leaves. She must have known that the Daleks knew that word: mercy. She just made both The Doctor, and in particular Clara, work and suffer for it.

So there we go now. Davros and Missy are most likely still alive: and scheming. Clara becomes the plot device that resolves another episode yet again and inspires The Doctor to perhaps subliminally influence Davros into placing some compassion into the Daleks. We even get to see more tantalizing hints as to what The Doctor’s and Missy’s previous lives on Gallifrey might have been like while not spoiling the rest of their character development. And The Doctor continues to possess one power greater than Time Lord regeneration. One magic word.

Doctor Who: Let’s Play A Game

This week on Doctor Who

I want to play a game.
I want to play a game.

Imagine an opening to a television program about time-travel for which you have been waiting. There have been hints as to what to expect but, given the nature of Doctor Who, it never starts the way you think it will. “The Prologue” actually wasn’t part of this episode, but its own minisode leading to “The Magician’s Apprentice.”

There is a plane up ahead that wouldn’t be out of place in World War I. There is also a man with a bow and arrow. You wonder if this is going to start on some other world or time: with Vikings on spaceships or something to that effect. Well, you got the first two parts right. It does take place in another space and time. Then you see a child. At first you think it might be Maisie Williams showing us her new role. But it isn’t Maisie Williams. It is a boy: a young, dirty, terrified boy.

It is at this point, if you’ve been following the rumours about the opening two-part story arc of Season Nine, that you know. You just know who it is.

This child is surrounded by what seems to be Handmines: most likely genetically engineered creatures created to drag people underground to their deaths. You’d be forgiven if you mistook them for your typical Weeping Angel fare. You know: the ones that like to hide under snow or dirt and grab you: stealing away the moments of your life. But no: these Handmines seem to just plain outright kill you.

It’s a good thing that The Doctor came to rescue this poor, scared child from these monsters that just dragged the archer soldier to his death, right? Only …

Think about your Whoniverse lore. Think about a world where archaic weaponry exists side by side with generations of different technology. Think about a world that has been at war for a thousand years. It’d be easy to make the mistake of not recognizing this world after so long and seeing how it — and its denizens — were portrayed in the Fourth Doctor’s run. I mean, they are all supposed to be heartless, evil, Spencerian fascists right? Certainly not ones that would take the time to save a child.

The Doctor asks the child what world this is, and the child doesn’t understand. As far as he knows, this is the only world in existence. The Kaled people, along with their enemies the Thals thought they were basically the centre of the universe before, millennia later, the First Doctor came and disabused their descendants of that notion.

But the code that unlocks the first level of this game is just one word. Just one name.

Davros.

It’s hard to recognize him. He’s young. He still has his eyes, his arms, and his legs. There is no cunning or twistedness in him: just fear, and The Doctor’s imperative.

He must survive.

Of course, The Doctor realizes the implications of this and he stands there, in horror, trying to decide what he will do.

Now we go forward. Colony Sarff, a being made of multiple snakes, is searching for The Doctor on behalf of Davros. I mean, why wouldn’t he use Daleks or Dalek agents and this strange composite snake person instead might be beyond all of us, but there the dramatic effect to consider. As it turns out, Davros is dying. I mean, since the last time you saw Davros in “Journey’s End”:

I name you ... the Destroyer of Worlds ... aghhhhhh ...
I name you … the Destroyer of Worlds … aghhhhhh …

But hey: when has death stopped Doctor Who villains in a mythological struggle with their nemesis anyway? But no. It seems legitimate. Davros has seen better days … ages and ages ago, but he does seem pretty physically ill. He knows the best way to find The Doctor is to get to his friends.

The Doctor has a funny notion of friendship. I mean, aside from Missy — who, blithely makes us aware of the obvious that she isn’t dead either (again, when do Doctor Who villains actually permanently die) — there’s also Clara and her priorities to consider. But one thing at a time.

All ships freeze above the Earth: threatening to fall on nuclear power plants. Is this Davros’ work? No. It’s too crude and almost insane. Actually it is insane and we all know who likes to be insane. UNIT contacts Clara because they can’t get to The Doctor. However, they do have a Doctor channel that he has forgotten about and … someone is contacting them through it.

Hmm … Someone has knowledge of UNIT having a Doctor channel. Who has dealt with UNIT before? Who knows the Gallifreyan calculations to access it? Who has been both an ally and captive of UNIT? Who is insane?

Yeah. That lady. 
Yeah. That lady.

Honestly, here is the part in a Doctor Who episode when what I like to call the Shut Up Clara Mini-Game comes into play. I mean, here she is contacted by UNIT to find The Doctor but instead has to meet Missy. Usually, what I like to call the Shut Up Clara Mini-Game happens when Clara berates The Doctor for something petty, has a temper-tantrum, has no idea what’s going on, and generally makes the situation all about her. But strangely Clara is rather subdued in this scene with Missy: probably because Missy is threatening to kill people, is killing people, cost Danny Pink his life a second time, and she’s kind of flabbergasted as to why The Doctor would send that strange disk — that turns out to be his last will and testament — from “The Prologue” to Missy instead of her.

I’m not going to lie: having Missy compare Clara to a pet was pretty much the sickest burn rivaling the holocausts that she was threatening over the Earth. But together they figure out where The Doctor is: leading to a Vortex manipulator of Missy’s and the next scene.

And what an absolutely bad ass scene it is. The Doctor is in medieval times and facing a long-suffering warrior on an empty tank and with a guitar. No one in the battling arena of that time seems to actually care about that, as per a lack of a Temporal Prime Directive or a stereotypical “It’s a Demon!” response. And hey: it’s one of the few times we see Mr. Cantankerous actually having fun.

So you just know something really bad is going to happen.
So you just know something really bad is going to happen.

Of course the two women were being followed and Colony Sarff tracks them down. It’s funny. What do you think would truly disturb The Doctor? A threat from a monster made of snakes? Seeing Missy again? Knowing that Davros and the Daleks are probably coming for him?

No. What disturbs The Doctor is a sonic screwdriver: an ancient one handed to him by Colony Sarff.

It might have registered even before this what just happened between a young boy named Davros and a flabbergasted Twelfth Doctor. Of course, The Doctor wasn’t going to kill a poor defenseless child: even if one day he’d grow up to be an omnicidal psychopath. But he also knows that if he helped him survive the Handmines, he would go on to fulfill his future of horror and genocide. So what does The Doctor do?

Because these Handmines totally won't inspire the appearance of the Daleks in a young and impressible mind. Not at all.
Because these Handmines totally won’t inspire the appearance of the Daleks in a young and impressible mind.  You know: creatures designed to drag others down to the depths with them. Not at all.

He does what he does best. After initially telling Davros what amounts to the idea that he must survive at all costs, and then realizing who he is dealing with … The Doctor runs. The Doctor abandons a small, scared little boy — not unlike himself at that age if he had grown up in a Thousand Year War — to his own devices: with the screwdriver he threw to him to help communicate with him … before he knew he was talking to a boy who would become a monster.

“Hey Davros. Actually, there are worse things than death. See you later … or rather, I hope I won’t.”

Imagine what that does to someone who had already grown up in a multi-generational war. Imagine what seeing a soldier trying to reassure and rescue you being dragged down to his death would do to you. Imagine someone who promises to save you and then leaves you to die: telling you beforehand to survive at all costs.

Suddenly, all the books that dealt with Davros’ past are swept away: leaving us with his new dynamic with The Doctor. Davros made the Daleks and, as Davros likes to point out, The Doctor made his Companions. But now we see that The Doctor essentially made Davros as well.

Remember how the First Doctor was basically responsible for releasing the Daleks on the Universe by his insatiable curiosity: essentially causing them to come across the Time Lords and eventually start the Last Great Time War? Well now we really know that The Doctor screwed up. A lot.

The ending of “The Magician’s Apprentice” pulls even less punches than the beginning. It doesn’t fuck around. We do get one Shut Up Clara Mini-Game: where she berates him for lying to her about knowing Missy wasn’t dead — and considering her his best friend over her — but it’s kind of halfhearted and she does have something of a point, only offset by hoping to continue their conversation and therefore let The Doctor survive.

But Davros has no intention of killing The Doctor. No. It’s unclear why Davros forgot about having a sonic screwdriver or seeing a mysterious man disappear in front of him. Perhaps dying makes him remember things. If so, he should probably recall his whole existence as Davros has died. A lot. And he’s supposed to be a genius level scientist who created an entire advanced race and he can’t clone himself a new body?

Potential plot-holes aside, such as Missy having trouble dying and always having a crazy backup plan, let’s play that game I promised you at the beginning.

Imagine you are a child left to die thousands of years ago and grew up in war. You see how fallible everyone is who vows to protect you or help save you. You are crippled and twisted during this war. You begin to think that people would safer in tanks and without the illusions of weak emotions such as love or compassion. One day, you encounter your worst enemy and he defeats you time and again: until you remember he was the one that left you to die at the very beginning.

The replaying the time of when he was the Fourth Doctor on Skaro is delicious enough. So what do you do when you realize you are now, finally, dying?

You kidnap The Doctor’s friends. You get The Doctor to you. You make him watch as your Daleks kill the person who is jealous over you being his arch-nemesis, the Impossible Girl that he’ll now never be able to play Shut Up Clara with again and … worse … Your Daleks kill his oldest companion.

You destroy the TARDIS. You kill Sexy.

So, what do you do now? Do you kill The Doctor in his moment of despair? Do you kill him before you die? Oh no. No, see, that is too easy. Instead, you give him a choice. You offer to let him play a game. You are already dying. Your creations have already rendered you obsolete. You have taken everything from The Doctor now. You give him an offer.

You see, The Doctor always prides himself on his sense of compassion. You always saw that as his undoing. Now, you have made him see that. Or perhaps deep down you are punishing him for what you think is cowardice that day on Skaro. You offer him a way to change the fate of his friends. Your replayed conversation with him for all those years ago, from “Genesis of the Daleks” is no accident. You make sure he hears his words to Sarah Jane Smith from so long ago.

"If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives... could you then kill that child?"
“If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives… could you then kill that child?”

You already know he feels guilty for abandoning you to the Handmines and to time. What a better revenge than to make your old self-righteous nemesis betray and destroy his own ideals to kill a child in order to save those he loves. You’ve methodically taken away his best enemy, his Companion, and his TARDIS. He has already given up on his sonic screwdriver. Slowly and carefully, you are attempting to obliterate everything that The Doctor is: to prepare him for this last warped mission that is your revenge.  The fact is, either way, you win. And either way, The Doctor loses.

Win / Win for Davros.
Win / Win for Davros.

You thought that your final victory was the destruction of reality itself. But, truthfully, it is the obliteration of your enemy’s own reality — his thoughts and beliefs — by his own hand that is a triumph greater than any monster you have ever created.

Like “Deep Breath” last season, “The Magician’s Apprentice” doesn’t pull any punches. We will just have to see if it can continue its own sense of momentum next time in “The Witch’s Familiar.”

We Have Another Dream In Doctor Who’s Last Christmas

In terms of Doctor Who‘s “Last Christmas” episode, I’ll tell you later — I mean, it’s a long story.

… right.

Actually, the episode itself was very good. On the surface, you have The Doctor and Clara at the North Pole with a science team dealing with some creatures attached to people’s faces, and Santa Claus coming to the rescue. Of course, as with any Doctor Who episode of any kind, nothing is ever as it seems: especially if it is completely and utterly insane.

My introduction at the beginning of this recap is not a coincidence. The science team’s response to The Doctor of “It’s a long story” is very reminiscent of the line “I’ll tell you later” in Moffat’s Doctor Who and The Curse of Fatal Death. The dream crabs were interesting creatures, though I’m not sure how they coincidentally found all of those people scattered across space and time: a detail I might have missed or something put aside for the emotional impact of the entire story.

Think of the dream crabs as beings that feed off of your mind and give you pleasant dreams of safety or reality until you grow weaker from an ice cream headache at the right side of your skull as they drill into it and feed off of your existence until you die. They also create a scenario where if you die in this state they placed you in, you will die in reality: or, if you’d like: if you die in the game, then you die in real life.

The rest of the episode was combination of Miracle on 34th Street, Aliens, and some Inception and The Matrix for good measure. Everything is basically a dream. As for Santa Claus … think of it like this: the dream crabs have a collective consciousness that networks all of their victims together in order to feed off of them properly. Santa Claus and his elves are, at least at this time of year, a large portion of humanity’s collective unconsciousness attempting to help these victims resist the feeding and potentially wake up and therefore kill the creatures.

Think of Santa as something of a meme that exists in a considerable number of humans: even those that don’t believe in him. He is an ultimate archetype, and has a great sense of humour to boot. And as The Doctor, Clara and the others wake up from dream to dream there is an excellent festive, almost transcendent moment where they are on Santa’s sleigh after he rescues them from the entities in the final dream and you actually see a rare occurrence: the Twelfth Doctor actually driving dream-Santa’s sleigh and, dare I say it …

Actually looking happy.

It all flowed almost seamlessly together and even the ending where the Twelfth Doctor finds … Clara.

Well, it’s no secret that I am really disappointed with how Clara has been portrayed for this past while. But seeing her old and frail, realizing The Doctor left her for sixty-two years, and pulling apart a Christmas cracker with her much in the way that she did with his elderly Eleventh incarnation on Trenzalore … I actually felt sorry for her. It was artfully done, this parallel between “Last Christmas” and “The Time of The Doctor” and I’d heard rumours of this scene happening but seeing it was actually emotional: especially when Clara flat-out states that there were actually two men in her life that no one could actually match.

I even liked the dream scene with Danny and the realization that Danny — whether he was a dream or not — was very real. Poor Danny. I would have really liked to see more with him but I knew he wouldn’t be coming back. And for the first time we see Clara even apologizing to him for the lies. It’s like even she knew that he was just too good for her. No so much The Doctor, as he lied to her too, but there you go.

So … readers and Doctor Who viewers. Did you see the real end coming?

Did you know what I was going to happen to Clara Oswin Oswald?

I know I did. Or at least I wasn’t surprised. The fact of the matter is “Last Christmas” was self-referential, with some funny and terrifying moments, but also pretty clever and relatively put together. But when you look at how it ended, and what was teased — both Clara’s apparent end and the degrees of separation between The Doctor’s and Clara’s faces — and Santa coming back one more time …

Honestly, we’ve seen Moffat’s writing and his responses to the press before.

Just what did you think was going to happen?

Honestly: a teaser towards the episode of an episode and even some tear-jerking manipulation with a “too bad everyone, I am writing what I want at the end and Clara Oswin Oswald stays” at the finale. She even got to look at her face, at one point, in a tiny mirror.

It was some well-played trolling on Moffat’s part.

After we watched the episode, a friend of mine noted the Christmas tangerine on the snowy windowsill in the final scene of “Last Christmas.” He hoped this was all a dream. But here is where I think that tangerine is fascinating. You’ll notice that it is neither Clara nor The Doctor that sees it. It’s the audience. It’s us. Just as the dream crabs facilitated an interactive dream between its victims, between its members of its captive audience, so too — in a generally less grim and cynical way — does Doctor Who exist as a communal dream which we all participate in: some of us as long as sixty-three years. That tangerine — representing hope, the human imagination, the promise of Spring, and a Midwinter Night’s Dream — was well shown: well said.

And that being said, I don’t think I’m having any icy pains on the right side of my skull. I don’t think anyway.

A happy coming New Year to you all.

Doctor Who: Missy Takes The Season Finale

So …

“Death In Heaven.”

Please, don’t read past this point if you haven’t seen this season’s finale of Doctor Who. It’d be something of an understatement to say that there will be spoilers.

I have to say that I think Missy, aside from this incarnation of The Doctor, has been my favourite character in this latest iteration so far. In fact, she is an excellent villain. Don’t misunderstand: I like the sinister, urbane, and hammy tones of Roger Delgado’s Master and the sheer bat-shit zany madness of John Simm’s Master but Michelle Gomez’s Missy manages to take those elements and make them understated and subtle with moments of vicious crazy as punctuation while conveying the Time Lady’s insanity in an overarching and truly horrifying scope.

I mean: what could be worse than decimating one-tenth of the human population and playing pop culture songs while making the survivors suffer in labour camps? Or duplicating one’s self to overwrite the DNA of an entire sentient species? How could anyone top that?

Well, try manipulating the fears of the rich and powerful into giving you their bodies, converting them into new forms of Cybermen, then going back in time and creating a concept of an afterlife (or manipulating existing ones) for an entire species so that you can store all of their consciousnesses onto a Gallifreyan hard-drive and then make a cloud substance — presumably composed of nano-technology — and resurrect all of that species’ dead as Cybermen.

And why? Why would you violate an entire species’ lives and even their deaths? Why would you manipulate your enemy into having a Companion that you can exploit as a weakness on a purely psychological level — to play on his compassion — kill some of his friends, and then turn over the army you made to him?

Poor Osgood. You would have made a dream Companion.
Poor Osgood. You would have made a dream Companion.

It’s very simple why Missy did all of that. She wanted to show The Doctor that they weren’t that dissimilar. She wanted his validation, his friendship, and even his love. This warped way of showing that love is to unleash as much pain on The Doctor as possible and even after Missy’s supposed “death” (and we have yet to see concrete evidence that she’s actually dead: meaning that given who she is, she probably isn’t) and that hearts-wrenching moment where The Doctor realizes she lied about Gallifrey being at those coordinates is all a part of that.

And I hope Missy isn’t dead because of the wasted opportunity that would be. After all, The Doctor did mention that she must have a TARDIS somewhere.

I like this character, this new incarnation of the being that used to be The Master, because she actually makes The Doctor more human again: bring him out of his cold and detached, even grumpy exterior and seeing him display the emotion of empathy more blatantly again. And the interplay of love, hate, and fear between them just really adds something to the show that has been lacking for a while.

I have to say: I’m still not very impressed with Clara. Her attempt to pretend to be The Doctor was rather underwhelming in itself: although it’s a nice teaser of The Doctor one day becoming a woman … as if Missy weren’t enough on her own for that. Seriously, I like the idea of Time Lords — or Gallifreyans — being able to change sex. There are just so many storytelling possibilities in that if handled right.

But that aside, Clara is just lacklustre and, if anything, it’s Danny’s transformation into a Cyberman that really hits home: and how he takes that and transforms what could have been a psychological mercy killing into something of salvation and personal redemption.

Some hard choices were made.
Some hard choices were made.

And, at the end, when you see The Brigadier … well, I would just love to see him become a Cyberman vigilante: protecting the Earth when The Doctor is away. After all, after saving his daughter and seemingly killing Missy, we never saw him self-destruct like the others. And oh man: he waited ages to shoot the being who was once The Master.

Brigadier, we and The Doctor salute you.
Brigadier, we and The Doctor salute you.

The episode almost ends much the way that Clara has been acting for most of this latter season: and The Doctor, arguably, has most of his life. Clara pretends that Danny has returned and The Doctor pretends that he found Gallifrey so that she can stay on Earth. To be honest: as a character I saw so much potential with, I was almost relieved that he didn’t want Clara to come with him. I think it’s time that this — whatever it is that Moffat has been trying to make — with Clara and The Doctor is over. Maybe he can actually go and search for Gallifrey now.

Hugs are just ways to hide one's face
Hugs are just ways to hide one’s face

But I guess we’ll see what Santa Claus has to say about that. And so ends this recap of Doctor Who until Christmas. It’s been fun writing these up and I look forward to the next one. Travel well, fellow Whovians.

Doctor Who: Mischief, Misrepresentation, Misrule, And Missy

Wow.

Just … wow.

After doing my coverage for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival last week I didn’t really have time to go into the previous Doctor Who episodes “Flatline” and “In The Forest of The Night.” Between an episode dealing with denizens from a gritty revisionist and twisted graffiti version of Flatland and practically a children’s special about the specialness of children and the Earth saving itself respectively I found I didn’t have very much to say about the characters that wasn’t a continuation of previous insights.

Now, Missy — the erstwhile main antagonist of this story arc — did have some appearances in both of these previous episodes. In “Flatline” Missy looks at Clara through her tablet and calls her “Her Clara,” and that she chose her well. This already brought some questions as to who Missy actually is: especially given that she was calling herself The Doctor’s girlfriend. Her appearance “In The Forest of The Night,” expresses pleasant surprise over the world essentially saving itself. There is no lead up, no particular indication as to what is going to happen in “Dark Water.”

Between creepy beings from another dimension attempting to engineer lifeforms in ours and invade our space and a sunny fairytale hearkening back to the ancient tales of the Black Forest, what was about to be revealed in “Dark Water” is blacker than the blackest soul, and appropriate when you think about it in retrospect.

We are going into Spoilers now. Turn back if you have not watched “Dark Water.” Turn back while you still can and see it as soon as possible.

In “Dark Water,” Danny dies.

Even in the Whoniverse, cellphones can be a hazard.
Even in the Whoniverse, cellphones can be a hazard.

That’s it. In the beginning of the episode he is talking to Clara, freaking out on the phone about telling him she loves him, and he gets hit by a car.

The End.

Now, Clara has already been exhibiting some rather questionable and immature behaviour. In “Flatline” she gets called on her dishonesty to Danny and The Doctor by The Doctor himself — through the backhanded compliment of saying she made a “good Doctor” — and we all know that The Doctor always lies. In “The Forest” Danny pretty well figures out that she had been lying to him about no longer adventuring with The Doctor as well, but he takes it in stride all things considered: as The Doctor is helping them deal with the situation, he is dealing with his duty in chaperoning his young students and, ultimately, tells her he is happy where he is. Personally, I think that Danny is a better man than most people would be in his situation: both then, and now.

And in “Dark Water,” so is The Doctor.

I know you can say that Clara is desperate to save her boyfriend’s life and is willing to destroy all space and time to do so. Very few people would be less than willing to do almost anything to save someone they love if they have the hope and the chance to do so.

But Clara’s character, as she has been written this entire time, seems to have come to a head. Tell me: how would you feel if your best friend, who hadn’t been returning your calls, who then shows up, who had been lying to you for some time, took all the spare keys to your ancient home, seemed to knock you unconscious, takes you to a dangerous place and threatens to destroy all your keys and leave you two there if you don’t break all the rules and potentially cause more pain and suffering than has already happened?

Remember: this is your friend who you searched for ages to find again, who had been with you in all your changes and all your life, and who you never thought would betray you. Ever. How would you feel?

I wonder if either of them remember that The Doctor can open the TARDIS with the click of his fingers.
I wonder if either of them remember that The Doctor can open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers.

I won’t lie: in that time before the commercial break, I really hated Clara. I actually despised her: or at least the way that Moffat has been writing her and wrote her in this one part. And I also won’t lie: when The Doctor revealed that he had simulated all of it through a telepathic connection — after she thought she destroyed all the keys and ruined any chance of her finding Danny or getting anywhere again — and she had to face the fact that she had betrayed her friend, I felt a bit of satisfaction in seeing her crumble.

In fact, I almost wish that when The Doctor told her to, “Go to Hell” that he sincerely meant that …

Beyond, you know, actually being literal and helping her and attempting to take them into the afterlife to save Danny’s existence. To bring him back. Perhaps the afterlife is simply another dimension to the TARDIS, or maybe there is a reason why all TARDISes would, presumably, have safeties in place: even with a Time Lord pilot.

I guess it’s not that accurate to say that The Doctor is a better man than most people in that situation, when someone you love hurts you, but then again he isn’t human: and he did see how far she was willing to go.

So here we are.  We follow The Doctor and Clara into a place called The Nethersphere which seems to be the afterlife. Now, we’ve seen this place before. We’ve seen Missy here in what she called The Promised Land dealing with seemingly dead people that encountered or had tangential contact with The Doctor.

But it’s here where we begin to understand how this place works: through Danny. Yes, Danny is now the one sitting at a desk being told that he is dead and the creepy seemingly metaphysical rules for how this afterlife works is just … creepy. It is here, however, that we seem to uncover Danny’s secret.

You know all the times that Danny reacts to his military past being brought up? Well, we get a glimpse as to why it is so devastating for him. And when you consider his previous occupation and what he had done compared to his current one working with children … I feel bad for him. As a viewer, I feel bad for Danny Pink and what he tries to atone for and how he tries to be strong for everyone: even after he is supposedly dead.

By the time you see The Doctor and Clara around the skeletons in their tubes, and if you’ve seen the trailers for this episode and how “the dead out number the living” and how they are told that the liquid in the tubes is dark water that makes all inorganic matter invisible: you can figure out just what those things are.

But then we have Missy.

Oh Missy. You know, I thought that the twelfth incarnation of The Doctor was the ultimate troll — the master of stirring up trouble — but watching Missy do that to The Doctor was nothing short of brilliant.

So yeah ... that happened.
So yeah … that happened.

Imagine a warped version of Mary Poppins pretending to be a tactile AI simulation, providing hints that she isn’t and, well, manoeuvring The Doctor towards the punchline.

And the punchline is this.

All this time some people have thought that Missy meant “Miss C:” perhaps a corrupted version of Clara. Others thought that Missy was The Rani or Romana. We see all this evidence: the mind-machine interface Matrix-like technology of The Promised Land, the cruel meeting that Danny is introduced to, the most probable lie that he is actually dead and the option to erase his own feelings, even the mechanized sound that the Cybermen — who we knew were there — make when they march.

What do footsteps sound like when they march? Who has a derisive view on a human heaven, or utopia? Who likes to find the weaknesses of humankind and use them against them: changing humans into their own worst enemy?

Missy is not Miss C. Missy is short for Mistress. And Mistress, for all its other connotations, is the female noun for …

Master.

Quite a few people guessed that Missy is a female regeneration of The Master, but Steven Moffat said The Master and the Time Lords wouldn’t be playing a role for a while. Of course it has been said that Moffat lies. And so he did.

The sound of drums isn't the only thing coming it seems.
The sound of drums isn’t the only thing coming it seems.

So how did Missy survive attacking Rassilon in her previously unstable incarnation while, presumably, being sent to Gallifrey to get sealed into a pocket dimension? How long has she been working unseen and in the shadows? And does Gallifrey play a role in all of this? Missy claims that The Doctor abandoned her but why hasn’t she killed him yet? What are her plans in presumably controlling this army of Cybermen? Will Danny erase his feelings and join the Cybermen after bravely getting Clara to shut off communications between them? And how will Clara deal with facing down the Cyberman that is right behind her?

Where is this all going?

Well, whatever happens next it all seems to be leading into a “Death In Heaven.”