Thursday, September 4, 2014

Doctor Who Into Darkness

     Ok, it's not actually called that, but that's what I'm calling it anyway. It's what the workprint was labeled (not that *I* watched the workprint, mind you), and I like it. Better, at least, than Honey I Shrunk the Doctor or Journey To The Center of a Dalek. Last week's episode, like so many Doctor-Introductory episodes, was rather weak in the story department. Being a self-confessed fanboy, I squeeed pretty hard, and liked the overall tone of the episode, but the story itself took much too long to get started, and could have been wrapped up more quickly. Onto this week, with a full spoiler warning, as usual, starring the TARDIS chalkboard and Clara's Mom Jeans.

     The Human/Dalek wars are something that's been touched on a few times throughout the series, from the invasion of Earth in 2150 to the imprisonment of Davros in the Fifth Doctor's era, but we rarely get a good look at it. Mostly because a war between Daleks and Humans is expensive, and the show's never had a very high budget until very recently. But Doctor Who Into Darkness shows us what some of those old episodes could have looked like if they'd had the budget.

Image courtesy BBC
     This is an episode which shamelessly cribs from a myriad of other sources both in its own lineage and outside of it, and it does so artfully. It feels like a more visceral version of “I, Borg” from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's a perfect companion piece to Series 1's “Dalek.” Scenes from this episode, especially the Dalek assault on the ship's bay, look like how my mind's eye remembers seeing some of the Fifth Doctor's episodes, specifically Resurrection of the Daleks. So many parts of this episode look like they were filmed by someone who wanted to recapture some of those old episodes, and as a fan of the classic series, I found that strangely comforting.

     The Doctor has a line, very early on, that sets the tone for the episode (if not his entire character). “She's my carer. She cares, so I don't have to.” Twelve's demeanor is coalescing into a very gruff and dismissive interior masking someone who really is trying to help, whether his intended recipients want it or not. He's a man whose intentions are more important than your hesitation, and his mind works on too fast and on a scale much too large. A companion is probably more important than ever, if only to make him stop and consider the consequences to those around him and act as a translator. And I can't be the only one noticing that he's not careening around the console anymore, instead confidently and calmly throwing a single lever, flipping a lone switch to command the TARDIS. It's almost like he's got a much stronger connection to her now. The banter returns. Twelve and Clara's interactions continue to be a highlight, particularly his Straxian comments about Clara's appearance.

     I like Danny Pink. I sincerely hope that he comes aboard the TARDIS at some point, given the Doctor's blatant distaste for soldiers that's expressed several times throughout the episode. Danny's character, so that we've seen so far, is defined by being insecure, sensitive, and a soldier himself, and I think it might provide an opportunity for growth for both Danny and The Doctor, especially if Clara is orchestrating it. The Doctor's always been against soldiers and warfare in general, and I think it comes through even stronger in this episode given his recent trip through both Trenzalore and his re-visiting the biggest war the universe has ever seen. I also think they're playing it up even more this season to act as a contrast to Danny, and I think we'll see him change his mind, at least a little, later on.

     Atmosphere is where this episode shines, though. It's all mood lighting and tubes and steel surfaces and massive computer equipment, and the soundtrack veers wildly between vintage 80s Who and the more modern Murray Gold scores.

     One last thing that I will credit this episode for: I was absolutely sure that this was aiming for another terrible “Power of Love” ending, much like previous episodes like Fear Her, Closing Time, The Lodger, Last of the Time Lords, and nearly every time the Cybermen have shown up in the new series. I was wrong. It led me on right until the last possible moment, then twisted my expectation like a punch in the gut.

Next week: Think I can't find anything to complain about? Watch me turn practically Scottish for Robin Hood.

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