There was a charming little prequel to this episode with the Doctor meeting Clara when she was a child. You might be forgiven for thinking “here we go again” at that point, and assuming that the Doctor is again going to be positioned as a magical childhood hero, as he was with Amy. But this is a clever piece of misdirection. The relationship between the Doctor and Clara, which we really see begin with this episode after two false starts, is unique.
I am going to talk about things in vague terms here in case anyone reading this doesn’t know Clara’s full story, but for those who do let’s assume that the connection between Clara and the Doctor (which I won’t specify) goes right back to his own childhood, which is a reasonable assumption. So what we actually have is a complete reversal of the Doctor/Amy story. The Doctor isn’t Clara’s childhood hero. Clara is the Doctor’s childhood hero. Whether or not he manages to remember her at any point in his life, you can see how this could work. She is an adventurer in time and space, and she doesn’t even need a magic box to do that. She can die and then come back to life again. She is everything the Doctor as a child would want to become. No wonder he’s fascinated with her when he finally starts trying to track her down. This has the slightly odd effect of making Clara the star of the show and the Doctor a supporting player. It is more overt in this episode than it will ever be, but there are other episodes where this will apply as well.
The story arc from now on is all about Clara, and the Doctor trying to find out who she is. He is now in the same boat as the viewers. Just as Doctor Who first started with Ian and Barbara in the same position as the viewers, trying to figure out who this strange man called Doctor Who was, now the same applies once more, except it is all about the companion this time, and the Doctor himself is our new Ian and Barbara. We have eight months and as many episodes before we will have an answer to that.
2012 and 2013 were funny old years for Doctor Who in many ways. We had a series with Amy as a part-time companion who seemed to be lingering on after her natural departure time, following on from the surprise debut of Clara, so that felt like marking out time and was overshadowed by the future knowledge of who the next companion will be and the mystery surrounding her. Now we have a series where the Doctor is kept from finding out the truth until the 50th Anniversary, so this is all overshadowed by that approaching landmark. Then the 50th itself was overshadowed by the impending regeneration. So it all felt like a couple of years of delaying tactics and waiting for a fresh start.
You might have noticed that I haven’t said much about the plot of the episode so far, but that is because there is really not much to say about it. We’re basically rewatching The Idiot’s Lantern but as a series of exciting set pieces which showcase the new companion and Matt Smith’s Doctor. The latter has done all he can do with the character until The Time of the Doctor offers him one final glorious springboard to something completely different, so for now he is content to be utterly brilliant and just give us business as usual. The Great Intelligence provides a series arc that should be primary but is forced to be secondary by Clara. If we had actually got some Yeti somewhere along the line it might have all been a bit more memorable, and not just for the fans. But that would be the Doctor’s story and this is all about The Adventures of Clara Oswald now. The Doctor has finally found his hero, and she’s amazing. RP
The view from across the pond:
Stephen Moffat, the man who gave us such greats as The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, and Silence in the Library… I think might have been replaced by Gangers after 2010. The original Stephen Moffat was a fan of Doctor Who and understood that we fellow fans like Doctor Who to make sense. I’m not saying science fiction has to be “real”; we all know it’s not. But we fans like to view the world through Rose-tinted glasses that say there is a TARDIS and a man who might appear one day to turn the world upside down with his gleeful mania and eccentric personality. And that means we look at the episodes as thinking people, trying to piece together the narrative of this wonderful traveler from beyond the stars.
Moffat, by 2013, seems to believe we all regressed and just accept what is on screen like infants who simply don’t know better. The Bells of St. John has some classic “moments” of fun, but a story does not hold up well based on an odd scene here or there. There has to be more thought behind it. There has to be more story for it to work, because it should accentuate a good story rather than be what the episode relies on. Like the commercial from around Clara’s birth, we ask, “where’s the beef?” All I can see is a lot of sides, but no main meal!
For instance, are we expected to believe that the “Impossible Girl”, the girl who will save the Doctor, doesn’t know that the internet is not something one person has to “get off” for another to “get on”? Born in 1986, by 2013, Clara would have had about half her life with cell phones and that would be the latter half; the half that she’d have a better handle on! The idea of the landline would be almost completely forgotten. What would make her think the landline concept applies to the Internet? It seems like it’s only a medium for the villain to recognize she’s tech-illiterate and spike her skills there like a video game character getting an upgrade! To compound matters, she’s supposedly a teacher. Did Moffat think we’d miss that? Or that she was so inept that she couldn’t use a trackpad? Or doesn’t know how to click on a button in Windows? She’s supposed to save the Doctor, remember! And what is she a teacher of exactly? (It’s only a short time later that she’s telling her students what a great kisser Jane Austen is, so I’m guessing she’s not teaching A-B-Cs. Either that or there’s going to be an ethics investigation in her future…)
The episode is too reliant on moments that are fun to watch. There’s no denying that the Doctor receiving a phone call in the monastery and his subsequent interaction with Clara is fun. His, albeit ridiculous, drive up the side of the building is exciting and triumphant. But it’s like getting a burger and finding the pickle, onions and ketchup but it’s missing the aforementioned beef! So the negatives far outweigh the perks and this, as yet the 3rd introduction to the Impossible Girl, fails terribly. With 2 false starts, Clara is becoming impossible to rely on right from the outset.
And what about the villain? Spoonheads? We’ve seen worse, but not by much. Dr. Simeon, the Great Intelligence… just didn’t have the wow-factor that the original Great Intelligence had. Miss Kizlet is not threatening, just ultimately unlikable. The idea of uploading people is creepy and we can have a whole ontological debate about that, but in the meantime, the Doctor wins by having everyone who was uploaded get downloaded again. Well, there’s a problem with that. What happens to the people who died? What about people who were buried? Or on a plane that was crashing? So it’s an ill-conceived plot with an even more ill-conceived victory!
Smith does seem to relish being silly though and that part of the show is enjoyable because he’s so much fun to watch. But even he falls short when he fails to recognize an obvious danger. It’s just that after 2000 odd years, one might expect that he’s not as ignorant as the people Moffat believes he’s writing for. Moffat is also too reliant on the “Doctor Who?” joke that has begun to pop up to such an over-the-top extent that it’s no longer funny. Back with Curse of Peladon, that ending was completely memorable because it was an actual question. I can even accept that Asylum of the Daleks gives the Doctor a sense of joy when he finds the Daleks don’t know who he is. But now supposedly, the Doctor uses it as some sort of badge of honor in the most sophomoric way! Much like the in-jokes with the book Summer Falls by Amelia Williams, and Clara’s comment that “11 is the best; you’ll cry your eyes out!”, the overuse of internal references can get in the way. I love in-jokes and references but you can’t rely on them to tell the story. They would have worked far better in something with the quality of Girl in the Fireplace than in a super-weak story like this one.
I’ll probably get uploaded for saying this, but I suggest we start a quest to locate the real Stephen Moffat before he does something utterly horrendous like having the Doctor shoot one of his own people in cold blood. Oh wait, that’s already happened! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Rings of Akhaten