One of the advantages of being a science fiction fan is that we tend to develop active imaginations. I imagine the call between Patrick Ness and the “governors” of the BBC when this show was being produced.
BBC: Pat, sorry old fella me’ lad, I know we told you there would be 10 episodes for season one, but you know, we think 8 will do nicely.
Patrick: What? But I have a story arc where Quill will go to 3 different planets to remove the thing in her head. I was even going to introduce a TARDIS-like device in the shape of the Metebelis crystal complete with hexagonal floor and steampunk pipes. That’ll attract the crowd!
BBC: Right, sounds good old boy, but…. well, Quill is probably the harshest of the people in the cast and, you know you really should soften her a bit but that just won’t convinced us to change our minds. We put this in the graveyard slot of a dead channel for a reason. So, you know, do an omnibus episode if you like. We can’t extend the season to 10 episodes though. Sorry.
Patrick: Well, alright then! Omnibus, it is! (And I’ll show you her softer side…!)
And with that, Ness gives us the Kubrick-esque titled The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did. To accomplish the omnibus format, Quill needs to get to three planets, but without a mode of transport, she has to team up with Ms. Ames who has… well, for all intents and purposes, a TARDIS. They also get the help of Ballon, aka “Little Lord Growls-a-lot”, or as I like to call him, “Random Guy”, because Ness wrote himself into a corner having the rest of the cast in detention from the previous episode. Quill was going to need help and Ames and Random Guy are her only options! I’m not saying Random Guy wasn’t a good character, but he’s introduced too late in the show so we know he’s unlikely to survive the episode and we have no real reason to care about him. So he’s there to hurl himself around on The Planet of Gorgeous Colors in order to catch a muskrat. Then he cuts the heart out of a God but not before he gets to be frightened in The Caves of Shub-Niggurath. (In fairness, most Lovercraftian deities are scary so, fair dues on that! Although I don’t think the real Shub would be tricked by people playing statue. A bit of Red Light, Green Light was never really good defense in the Necronomicon… trust me, I looked!) Lastly, they go to the Wigwam of Long Nails, the Quill God to decapitate a sentient idea. Very on brand for Doctor Who writers! Oh, and Ames takes on the role of the Doctor, taking her companions to these places because she promised to help Quill. To prove her sincerity, after all this, she gives Quill and Random Guy some time to make love (“Don’t worry about it. The last person I kissed was a robot!”) then fight to the death. (What, you don’t do kind things for people, then put them in a position to die, right after risking life and limb for them? What’s wrong with you??) Ironically, Random Guy wins, gets the gun and shoots Quill, but the gun was booby trapped and Quill actually survives while Random Guy dies. She survives and to prove she has a soft side, lets her hair grow long and rapidly develops a very pregnant belly. (I heard Ness laughing: “there’s your soft, BBC governors!”)
Look, this is a fun, fast-paced episode but I realize the writing takes a turn for the worse when we go all action-format. For instance, the fight to the death at the end had a “why bother” vibe to it that I couldn’t shake! Random Guy is a shapeshifter but not a Zygon because they are protected on Earth, so we had to come up with yet another Shapeshifting race. Seemed silly. And while I may love continuity, the “Does UNIT know…” just sounds like someone is throwing continuity-words into the script for little reason. Oh look, I know Doctor Who history!
On the other hand, there are some breadcrumbs to add to the bigger picture. We find out that Quill’s love was killed in battle. We get an idea of what Quill’s race really looks like. And for better or worse (can’t say yet), we’re told the Governors have studied the cracks in the universe. This last observation could be a wonderful one if it’s played well! One hopes, that will pay off in the final episode. One thing that is starting to pay off already is the music. Good Quill God, one of the best things about Doctor Who was Murray Gold’s outstanding score. We’ve been away from that level of epic music for too long. The music in this episode really packs a punch and it’s worth every note!
So where are we? Well, the previous episode was stronger, but this allowed Quill to be able to fight again. Now, will she be able to while heavily pregnant for episode 8, or did we just get a plot device to make her a living weapon again, only to put a new limiter on her so she still can’t fight? Guess we need to wait until next week to find out! Still, while this episode was a little lacking, we’re still in high quality storytelling with a cast that was clearly becoming something special. I can’t help but wonder how good this series would have become if the BBC Governors didn’t have other plans. (I really can make them sound like villains, can’t I? It’s all in good fun!)
Well, one episode to go. Is Quill about to save the day? Wait and see. For now, Class dismissed! ML