Picture shows: Peter Capaldi as the Doctdor
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DOCTOR WHO: Mr. Harvey Catches Up

BANNER_WhoKnows2014

Season 9, Episode 7, 8, 9: “The Zygon Invasion” “The Zygon Inversion” “Sleep No More”

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Well clearly I’m behind.

Sorry about that… been a crazy few weeks here, but in a good way. A working film classroom program my film organization has started began its first film shoot this past weekend, and I’ve been swamped with helping get that off the ground. It’s something I’m both excited and proud about, but it’s been a big focus of the life of late. Getting over to the Bunker to record podcasts or over to Mr. Adair’s for the Walking Dead reviews has been my break from it all, but clearly my Doctor Who reviews took the backseat to all of this.

So let’s get back up to speed, shall we?

We’ve had our Zygon two-parter and our found-footage ep, and 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

Because ye gods do I hate found-footage movies.

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Slight digression here. There is one good film in that benighted sub-genre, and that’s The Last Exorcism. Avoid the sequel like the plague, but the first one with Patrick Fabian is both extremely well written and acted, as well as doing found footage right. The Blair Witch Project is a terrible movie with a genius marketing campaign and the Paranormal Activity movies are laughably awful, but The Last Exorcism is actually a good movie.

Which I guess means I’m doing this in reverse order, and that actually kind of makes sense. “Sleep No More” is not really part of the arc of the season, is it? And it’s only half a story, with Mark Gatiss talking about doing the second half of this odd tale in Series 10, so let’s just get it out of the way, shall we?

Gatiss’ work tends to divide fans, with “Victory of the Daleks”, “Night Terrors” and “The Idiot’s Lantern” being particularly disliked by many, while I personally really liked “Cold War” and “The Crimson Horror” and found “Robots of Sherwood” to be somewhat slight. Like his writing or not, no one can really accuse Gatiss of not being imaginative, no matter how his episodes end up at broadcast.

Doctor Who S9 Ep9 Sleep No More

What’s odd to me about “Sleep No More” is that’s it’s an experimental episode of a show that doesn’t experiment with format all that often… and that’s a little surprising, considering the years Doctor Who has been on our screens. That it doesn’t quite work is perhaps a good reason to see why not (don’t fix what isn’t broken), but there is something to be said for trying something new. Unfortunately, it’s significantly out of sync with the rest of the season so far, so it feels jarring to have both an unusual format as well as a story that doesn’t have the intense character dynamics of the previous eight episodes. If there is any real complaint I could have with this season of great Capaldi and Coleman moments, and fantastic turns from Michelle Gomez as Missy and Julian Bleach, is that plot has taken a definite backseat to everything else, although I’m not complaining all that much. Seriously, the interactions between everyone this series have produced some amazing Who moments, and given Capaldi yet another platform to show just how incredibly talented he is as an actor.

But when you have an episode that does focus more on the action and plot, and yet is revealed to be a constructed tale by an unreliable narrator, and add a screeching halt to the momentum building up to the exit of Clara… yeah, it just doesn’t quite work. And there are so many missed opportunities here to flesh out the 38th Century society, to touch on a clear religious influence that is hinted at, or examine the effects on humanity when sleep becomes an option, or when soldiers are grown for cannon fodder. It feels like what it seems to really be: a two-part episode without a second part. If we get the second part next series, and it’s not a “Kill the Moon” level of bad episode, that may give me a greater appreciation for this one. We’ll see.

And yes. The found-footage aspect works. For the most part. Still, ultimately, without that second part to the story, we’re left with a story that left me cold, even if I can give Gatiss points for experimenting.

Going back to our Zygon episodes, I found myself both really enjoying them and also beating my head against the wall, because we had some, again, amazing performances from Peter Capldi and Jenna Coleman, and some mind-boggling daft moments, like pretty much anything involving UNIT. First we have Kate Stewart being a little too bloodthirsty (“Science leads, Kate”, remember?), then Colonel Walsh being pretty much in charge of nothing, based on how many of her troops just ignore her orders. Then we have those troops, who one would, considering the job they should be used to doing, assume that situations involving aliens might be more than they first appear. Yet they roll over for what is a pretty obvious trick by the Zygons without much fuss, which makes them pretty ineffectual, something they’ve struggled with since the show returned in 2005.

And I do have to say, I’m a little troubled by the fact that Harry Sullivan — bumbling yet goodhearted medical doctor of the early 4th Doctor years — is painted in such a dark light here. It seems that the anti-Zygon gas that UNIT had before the Doctor confiscated it was developed by Sullivan, presumably in response to his own experiences with them, and while on one hand, it’s kind of understandable, in a precautionary and military sense, that Harry — sweet, kind, bumbling Harry — should be the one who developed a weapon of mass murder is… kinda sad. Somehow I see him more being appalled by the idea.

Still, we have Osgood back! In stereo! With an actually quite clever explanation for “her” survival after dying at the hands of Missy. I have a theory as to which one survived, as I’m sure you do as well, but ultimately we are left with the Osgoods standing guard over the Earth, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Welcome back Ingrid Oliver! And for this old-school fan, it is nice to see the question marks.

Like so much this season, the strength of this two-parter is the performances. Ingrid Oliver, Jemma Redgrave’s Kate of course, but always Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. Coleman gets to play both Clara and Bonnie, and while Bonnie gets more screen-time, Clara has some nicely strong moments. It is Bonnie and her conflicted and all-too-familiar revolutionary fervor, where Coleman gets to do some stretching in the acting department though, and she brings a chilling intensity to the Zygon terrorist.

Picture shows: Jenna Coleman as Clara

And yes, this is a very political story. From the terrorist angle and the refugee-assimilation allegory — stunningly appropriate, as it turns out — this story asks some tough questions. That it doesn’t quite answer them is both a good and a bad thing… good, because they aren’t questions that can be answered in just an hour and a half, and bad because, well, narratively, they can’t be answered in just an hour and a half. You want a real solution, but you also know we haven’t found one in the real world, so Bonnie coming to the realization that she can’t win — truly win — rings a touch hollow in the bigger picture, even as it satisfactorily brings her story to a close, and begins a new one.

Capaldi, of course, is the both the star of the show, and one of the finest actors to ever play the part of the Doctor, and he proves it here, once again. That nearly ten-minute sequence, almost all dialogue and most of it Capaldi’s, is magic. Every Doctor has his great speech — and while I hope Peter plays the part for a long time — if this is his, then it’s a hell of a one.

Picture shows: Peter Capaldi as the Doctor

Bonnie: We’ve been treated like cattle.

Doctor: So what?

Bonnie: We’ve been left to fend for ourselves.

Doctor: So has everyone.

Bonnie: It’s not fair.

Doctor: Oh! It’s “not fair”. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was “not fair”. But you know what? My TARDIS doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor.

Bonnie: These things don’t equate.

Doctor: These things have happened, Zygella, they are facts. You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You’re not superior to people who were cruel to you, you’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people, being cruel to some other people, who end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace, is if they’re prepared to forgive. Why don’t you break the cycle?

Bonnie: Why should we?

Doctor: What is it that you actually want?

Bonnie: War.

Doctor: Ah! And when this “war” is over, when you have a homeland, free from humans, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it, given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want. What’s it gonna be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Tell people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Ooh, will there be music? Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? Who’s gonna make the violins? Well? Oh, you don’t actually know, do you? Because like every other tantruming child in history, Bonnie, you don’t actually know what you want. So let me ask you a question about this “brave new world” of yours – When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, you’ll have got it exactly the way you want it, what’re you gonna do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How’re you gonna protect your glorious revolution, from the next one?

Bonnie: We’ll win.

Doctor: Oh! Will you? Well, maybe. Maybe you will win, but nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So come on – Break the cycle.

Bonnie: Why’re you still talking?

Doctor: Because I want to get you to see, and I’m almost there.

Bonnie: You know what I see, Doctor? A box. A box with everything I need. A 50% chance –

Kate: – For us too.

Doctor: And we’re off! Fingers on buzzers! Are you feeling lucky? Are you ready to play the game? Who’s gonna be quickest? Who’s gonna be luckiest?

Kate: This is not a game!

Doctor: Oh, it’s not a game sweetheart – and I mean that most sincerely.

Bonnie: Why are you doing this?

Kate: Yes, I’d like to know that too. You set this up, why?

Doctor: Because it’s not a game, Kate. This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn, how many hearts will be broken, how many lives shattered, how much blood will be spilled until everybody does what they were always gonna have to do from the very beginning: SIT! DOWN! AND TALK! Listen to me, listen, I just, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for “changing your mind”.

Bonnie: I will not change my mind.

Doctor: Then you will die stupid. Alternatively, you could step away from that box. You could walk right out of that door, and you could stand your revolution down.

Bonnie: No. I’m not stopping this, Doctor. I started it, I will not stop it. You think they’ll let me go after what I’ve done?

Doctor: You’re all the same, you stupid, screaming kids, you know that? “Look at me, I’m unforgiveable.” Well, here’s the unforeseeable: I forgive you, after all you’ve done. I forgive you.

Bonnie: You don’t understand. You will never understand.

Doctor: I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine. And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this: No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will ever have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!

God, that’s good. That whole sequence,  Capaldi and Coleman and Redgrave, but Capaldi… wow.

Wow.

And tonight we have “Face the Raven”. Rigsby is back, and Clara… Clara… well.

Clara.

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Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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