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New Who 8.5 Time Heist

After last week's big scares, deep exploration of the Doctor / companion dynamic, and epic rewriting of the Doctor's personal history, this episode was bound to seem rather work-a-day and ordinary by comparison. It did, and that's OK. You do actually need some of those each season to fill the gaps between the OMGWTF? episodes. But it was a very polished and nicely thought-out work-a-day episode, all the same. Just as they should be when Who is running properly.

This one gave us a nice mystery, some clever time-travel shenanigans, and indeed some further development of the season's big themes to boot. Take, for example, the moment when the Doctor tells Sabre that although he hated the Architect, he couldn't promise that he would kill him, and she comments that he is 'a good man' - something she's always wanted to meet. This is a nice continuation of themes raised explicitly in Into the Dalek,, and implicitly throughout most of the season so far. I note that Steven Moffat is regularly credited as a co-writer this season - indeed, that there has been only one episode so far that he hasn't written or co-written, and that one was by his long-term chum and Sherlock collaborator Mark Gatiss (details here if you'd like to check). So I assume that this is essentially what he is doing in his co-writing slots - making sure that the themes of the season appear consistently in every episode. Meanwhile, nwhyte draws my attention to the fact that Doctor Who has a new executive producer. Perhaps ensuring that Steven Moffat is closely involved in the development of as many episodes as possible is the sort of thing which he is now doing?

Also ongoing is the importance of Clara and her relationship to the Doctor - now a theme properly embedded into each story, rather than something we are just repeatedly told, as it was last season. In fact, this episode included direct references to each of the first three of her stories after the departure of Amy and Rory, as follows:
  • The Snowmen - this is where we first met memory worms, and was Clara's first appearance after Asylum of the Daleks (although she still wasn't yet the same Clara we now know). I was pleased to see the memory worms return with or without the Clara business, as it's always nice to see an established device re-used when appropriate in Doctor Who anyway. It gives the Whoniverse a sense of internal consistency which helps to make it feel that little bit realer.
  • The Bells of Saint John - when the phone rings in the TARDIS at the beginning of the episode, the Doctor mentions that very few people in the Universe have that number, but that one person who evidently does is some woman in a shop. This seems to be this week's nod to the season's Big Bad arc involving Missy and the Promised Land, since it was hinted in the first episode of this season that she might be that woman. But it all began when the Doctor first met the Clara we now know.
  • The Rings of Akhaten - the Doctor asking the Teller to feast on his memories recall this, 'our' Clara's first off-Earth adventure, where Eleven said the same to Akhaten himself.
  • More generally, of course, there is also the augmented human's (sorry, I never did catch his name) comment to Clara that she has obviously been with the Doctor a long time, since she is well-practised in reeling off the right excuses for him.
So in other words we are being reminded of the early development of the Doctor and Clara's relationship, and just how long ago (in relative terms) it began. And that relationship is obviously about to be tested. Already, he is behaving downright competitively about her date(s), while on her side she appears defensive about the matter, as she is consistently withholding any information about Danny from the Doctor. From the trailer for next week, it's clear that this is all about to come to a head. I'm not entirely thrilled at this prospect, because I thought we had left the UST between Doctor and companion behind with Capaldi's arrival - but I will wait to see how it actually plays out before casting judgement. (And I am certainly very happy that he is brushing off his John Smith identity again!)

Meanwhile, it seems like the people responsible for both the casting and the wardrobe for this episode worked quite hard to make it inclusive and diverse. The clientèle of the bank is distinctly multi-ethnic - we see Japanese-looking people, Arabic-looking people, black people and white people. But I think it's already somewhat unfortunate that the character who turns out to be guilty of criminal thoughts is black, while it is really unfortunate that the character described as a 'mutant' is played by a black woman. Sure, so being a 'mutant' turns out to mean having superpowers - i.e. the ability to take on the appearance of anyone she touches. But the fact remains that in the real world, this casting essentially amounts to saying that being black is a mutation; a variant on the 'norm', which by implication is being white. Imagine if they had cast the black woman as the augmented human, and the white man as a mutant! That would carry very, very different overtones. But it is not what happened.

No doubt the casting director would insist that they simply cast the best person for both of those roles. But nonetheless, this is how it has come out. The whole thing reminds me strongly of a conversation which I had with altariel in the context of my review of the First Doctor story, Galaxy Four. I had noted that what was probably an attempt to portray strong female characters on screen had ended up as a misogyny-fest, while altariel replied that she thinks of this as the 'Jasmine effect' - that is, the regrettable decision in Angel season 4 to cast a black woman as the anti-Christ. Yep, I think the black-woman-as-mutant here is another distinct example of the same phenomenon. This season of Doctor Who has, in fairness, done rather better than some of its predecessors where the portrayal of race issues is concerned. Not killing off Journey Blue in Into the Dalek is definitely progress. But there is still some work to do here, I think.

A few smaller things:
  • Clara is HAWT in her purple suit with black edging.
  • The Doctor yelling 'Shuttity up, up, UP!' is probably the closest he is ever going to get to Malcolm Tucker's swearathons.
  • 'Delphox' and 'Karabraxos' are of course intended to sound pseudo-Greek. I'm not sure whether this is an ironic statement about the current state of the modern Greek banking system (after all, the Karabraxos bank is entirely wiped out at the end of the story), or just another example of world-building using motifs from aniquity. Certainly, 'Delphos' can mean brother, which I guess works well for someone who turns out to be a clone, while 'Karabraxos' sounds like a mash-up of of 'kara' (head) and 'braxios' (arm). The first part certainly makes sense for the head of the bank, though the combination sounds more like a description of the Teller, with 'arms' coming out of the sides of its head.


Finally, the Doctor notes that there is a water supply line to the private vault. That is certainly a reminder of how essential 'good' water is to life, though it is also water in the service of a rather unpleasant person (Karabraxos). But I am also now going to have to come out and say something even more ridiculous than that I think water is a 'theme' this season. You see, in my review of Robot of Sherwood, I noted that claiming something as common as water as a deliberate 'theme' in a series of Doctor Who was nearly as silly as claiming the same thing about oxygen and breathing. And softfruit picked up the comment, and we had a little joke about it. Except, here's the thing:
  • The first episode of this season was called Deep Breath, and featured Clara having to hold her breath to escape detection by the cyborg people.
  • In Into the Dalek, everyone waiting to be miniaturised was warned not to hold their breath during the process, but to keep breathing normally.
  • In Robot of Sherwood, the Doctor noted that Robin Hood had stayed underwater in the moat for a very long time, and wondered whether he could really hold his breath that long.
  • In Listen, Orson Pink's presence was signalled by heavy breathing through his space-suit.
  • And in this episode, customers of the bank identified themselves by breathing into a special receptacle upon hearing the instruction, 'Please exhale'.
It's like these two themes - water and breathing - are running in parallel through the length of the series, tying together the first episode, Deep Breath, and the opening episode of the two-parter finale, Dark Water. If the latter doesn't now include (apparent) drowning, I shall be asking for my money back.

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Comments

strange_complex
Sep. 20th, 2014 10:16 pm (UTC)
I am a bit worried that I've got myself into a mind-set which means that if I sat down in front of any season of Doctor Who ever, or indeed any season of any other television programme for that matter, I would come away convinced that its keynote themes had been water and breathing. But honestly, when they are featuring in book-end episode titles, it does feel like a thing!
danieldwilliam
Sep. 22nd, 2014 10:00 am (UTC)
I have no idea if you are on to something or not but you seem to have some decent evidence for it so far.
momentsmusicaux
Sep. 23rd, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
No, I think you're onto something!

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