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New Who 9.3 Under the Lake

Well, I think we can safely say that Moffat's decision to go heavy on the two-parters this season was a good one. Oh, mid-story cliff-hangers, how we have missed you! Plus the obvious advantages of being able to develop both characters and complex mysteries over a more generous span of time. Not all two-parters are perfect, of course. Mid-season ones in particular have tended to be a noticeable New Who weakness, in fact. But perhaps that was only ever because they were in the middle of the season, rather than because they happened to be two-parters, all along?

I'm also starting to think I like the pitch of the Doctor's character a little bit better this season. He seems less arrogant / grouchy for the sake of it, more at ease with himself and more natural in his exuberance when he shows it. Maybe it is partly to do with how his relationship with Clara has developed? Now that she is stronger too, and we've got past the whole lying-to-each-other theme from last season, he too seems to have become more enjoyable to have around the screen. The business with the cue-cards, with the Doctor needing to make a thing about even a whole dimension (inside the TARDIS) only having room for one him, and Clara being all 'yeah, whatever' in response, was all just lovely for being obviously a performance on both sides, rather than fragile and tense for being a little to close to the truth as it tended to be last season.

It helps, too that I absolutely love cabin-fever stories like this one - and even better when they acknowledge what they are, as this one did when Cass told the Doctor he could "stay and do the whole cabin-in-the-woods thing" if he wanted. In fact, I think this story was actively nodding at some of Doctor Who's very own cabin-fever stories of the past. Like the device of having the Doctor and Clara able to see each other through round windows but not reach each other, which is exactly what happened as Martha fell towards the sun in an escape pod in 42. Or the sigils which the TARDIS can't translate and which infect people, as in The Impossible Planet. Or the whole underwater setting of both Cold War and (in an earlier era) Warriors of the Deep. I'm sure there are loads more resonances, too, especially with Troughton-era stories which constantly used this format. But those are the ones which struck me. As did the Quatermass and the Pit-ness of people investigating a mysterious and apparently-empty space ship and starting to be driven mad by it - not in itself a cabin-fever story, but still a welcome contributor to the tale.

Other strong moments which I haven't had occasion to mention yet include the 'relay race' team effort to trap the ghosts in the (very convenient) Faraday cage, which was a nice way of showing the crew (+ Doctor and Clara) coming together to solve their problems. Also the Doctor's speech about what the team will miss out on if they simply bail while the ghosts are trapped, which articulated the heart of what Doctor Who is all about very nicely - curiosity about the Universe, whether terrifying or wondrous. Meanwhile, the fact that the crew had heard of the Doctor and identified him as being 'from UNIT' makes this the second story in a row in which they have featured. This rather suggests that they are going to remain a running presence throughout the season - indeed, looking over the story titles for this series I can hardly see them not featuring in any story entitled The Zygon Invasion / Inversion.

Diversity -wise, it was good to see Cass, the deaf crew-member, not merely functioning as just another member of the crew, but becoming the default captain after Moran has died, as well as being identified by the Doctor as the smartest person in the room when he isn't present. But while it is clever to make good plot use of her deafness by having her able to read the lips of the 'ghosts' and thus understand what they are trying to say, it also means this doesn't in the end count as an example of deafness just being ordinary and present because it simply is. Meanwhile, Moran himself is trickier. He was captain of the base in the first place, but as far as we can tell at present his death at the start of this episode makes it the second story in a row where a black character has died first. As thanatos_kalos and I have both just been agreeing on Twitter, though, we have to hold off on getting too angry about that until we're sure whether the apparent ghosts really are 'dead' or not.

On that point in and of itself, I really doubt it, partly because purely supernatural beings don't usually exist in the Whoniverse, and partly because I think it very unlikely indeed that Peter Capaldi's Doctor is going to die for real in the next episode. But then again, even if they aren't dead, we still have a black character becoming the first victim of something-or-other - and it clearly isn't a very nice something-or-other either, because getting burnt or drowned and then returning and wanting to kill other people with axes isn't very high on anybody's bucket-list. At the very least, they have had their agency removed in order to become unwilling transmitters for somebody else's message. So while I'm holding actual fire on this for now, I'm still unimpressed, and not at all sure that any kind of oh-so-clever reveal about how what looks awfully like racism right now isn't 'really' racism after all will really make this better.

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Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
qatsi
Oct. 3rd, 2015 10:13 pm (UTC)
Whoa! Spoiler alert on those episode titles! Having said that, I thought "Zygons" at the mention of Caithness.

Edited at 2015-10-03 10:14 pm (UTC)
davesmusictank
Oct. 3rd, 2015 10:14 pm (UTC)
Two parters are back and it was a great story ,overall , and now i cannot wit to see the second part.
djm4
Oct. 4th, 2015 06:52 am (UTC)
Danny Pink died right at the start of Dark Water, too.
strange_complex
Oct. 4th, 2015 11:43 am (UTC)
It's a systemic issue in Doctor Who. Someone did a statistical survey back in 2010 which showed the proportion of white to BaME character deaths per season, and the disparity was striking - but unfortunately if you click on that link now, it's no longer very enlightening, as the graphs were obviously hosted remotely and have now gone. :-(

There's a very partial list included in the 'Live Action TV' folder on the Black Dude Dies First page on TV tropes, but I can think of loads more - like Vampires of Venice, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Asylum of the Daleks. It's just constant and relentless, and I can't believe they keep being so (apparently) oblivious to it while obviously making serious efforts towards diversity elsewhere at the same time.

Edited at 2015-10-04 11:44 am (UTC)
danieldwilliam
Oct. 5th, 2015 11:00 am (UTC)
Do you know if Doctor Who is noticibly worse than other contemporary programmes?

It does seem a curious habit for Doctor Who to remain in and relatively easy avoid I'd have thought. You just need to chuck in a couple of almost token white redshirts.

Isolating the case in the first episode of this season I totatally see why character who dies first dies as and when he does. Very dramatic. Given that he's an alien he could be black or white or sky blue pink - so why not have him be black? It's not like he's a Victorian cabinet minister or a Southern Civil War General. It's a pretty neat wee role in and of itself. So individually his brief life and death stack up. However, once again, a black man is the first person to die. So, I do wonder, given how much the BBC monitors itself for values and inclusivity and so on why they don't do as you suggest and run a bit of check list "Oh, oh, black guy dies first, again. Can we kill some white people first please?"

There's probably space in the episode at the begining for some random person (white) to be the first person killed and for that to add something to the episode.

Not convinced by the mixed race crowd in 1138 to be honest. That just seems a) tokenistic b) so obviously tokenistic as to invite legimate critisism that it was tokenistic. I think the ethnic history of the British Isles is a bit more complex than there were no people of colour here until the 1950's, then there were quite a few. There are clearly all sorts of opportunities during the Roman period for people to arrive from all over the Empire and stay. I'd expect traders and diplomats (tourists? mercenaries?) and random arrivals from North Africa and Spain and the Middle East at any period. Once the British start doing some serious trading and colonisation in the 16th century then I think there is a steady drift of folk from around the globe. But, if I were going to guess a period of British history when the population was whitest I'd guess the 12th and 13th century.
strange_complex
Oct. 5th, 2015 08:31 pm (UTC)
I think there are only certain contemporary programmes you can fairly compare Doctor Who with on this issue. Basically, they have to have a) large numbers of replaceable secondary characters and b) a set-up where it's normal for those secondary characters to die on a regular basis. That rules out most TV drama serials, soaps, etc., and basically leaves us with fantasy and Sci-Fi - which indeed are exactly the shows featured in the 'Live Action TV' folder on the Black Dude Dies First TV Tropes page. Judging from that folder, it's pretty common across all those kinds of shows - and obviously the more episodes any of those shows produce, the more common it is likely to be. But at the point when it's become a well-recognised trope, and after several years of Doctor Who fans specifically pointing it out on a regular basis, I really am surprised that the production team apparently remain so oblivious.

As for the 1138 crowd scene, and the wider issue of whether the ethnic range of characters shown in historical settings is historically accurate or not, I read a good blog post about this recently, based on an interview with a medieval historian. It's long, but I took two main points away from it myself: a) that a proper look at the evidence suggests medieval Europe was more diverse than we often allow ourselves to think, and b) that historical sources don't wholeheartedly support any particular picture of medieval ethnic diversity - neither an all-white one, nor a radically diverse one, nor anything in between. So dramatists inevitably make their own choices and need to own the fact that they do - not try to press historical sources into service to justify their decisions when the sources aren't really capable of carrying that weight.
danieldwilliam
Oct. 12th, 2015 01:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link to the blog. Very interesting and I'll revise my assumption that the High Middle Ages in England were not racially diverse and replace it with "Nobody, really knows, could go one of several ways."
strange_complex
Oct. 12th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
It's your standard go-to answer on most historical issues, really! Also, I like your Augustus icon. :-)
danieldwilliam
Oct. 13th, 2015 01:10 pm (UTC)

I'm reminded of a conversation with some archaeologists I used to work with who were explaining a dig they were writing up to me which seemed to involve decapitated heads (or de-bodied heads) being buried in the post holes.

Why?

Ritual.

Which I soon learned was code for "Buggered if anyone knows, people did weird stuff in the past, probably, as far as we can tell."

Thanks - it's a photo of the shop window of a curio shop in the next suburb over.
momentsmusicaux
Oct. 5th, 2015 09:53 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed it!

It started out a bit too similar to Last Christmas, to the extent that without a direct comparison it looked like they were reusing the same sets. But I suppose there's only so many ways a remote futuristic base can look.

The porthole thing was seen in Partners in Crime too -- Donna and 10 through a round window in a door.

I guessed the new ghost would be the Doctor, but it was still a very satisfying cliffhanger. And from what we saw of the teaser, part 2 is going to be very different -- totally different setting, different time. I like the sound of that.

As for Moffat on 2-parters: it was only 2 seasons ago that he announced he was dropping them (Matt Smith's last season) and that this was an amazing decision (I think he said something about it made for more exciting episodes and how having to wait a week for a resolution was terrible) -- and yet now he's saying that 2-parters are the best thing since sliced bread!!! I'm quite pleased at their return though! And glad to see he has other people doing them too. The season opener followed a pattern that I suspect is Moffat's standard for 2-parters: show us lots of things that don't make any sense and are mysterious and strange and leave us wondering what the hell's going on (eg: does the Doctor kill young Davros? Is Clara dead? What's Missy playing at?) and then explain it all in the 2nd part. A bit like 'why are people growing gas masks on their faces?' or 'why is the a little girl phoning the president of the USA from a spacesuit?'
strange_complex
Oct. 5th, 2015 08:35 pm (UTC)
Hehe - that's quite funny about Moffat's changing view on two-parters, and matches up very precisely with his similarly-changing views on the length and timing of seasons (split spring / autumn vs. unsplit autumn) too. Anyway, I'm looking forward to part 2 of this one. :-)
momentsmusicaux
Oct. 5th, 2015 08:44 pm (UTC)
> his similarly-changing views on the length and timing of seasons (split spring / autumn vs. unsplit autumn)

I suspected that was to either give him more time on Sherlock, or to give us a half season at the start of the year that then led on to the 50th anniversary special -- season 7 was a single season spread over 2 years, which is half the reason why we're 10 years in but only on season 9 rather than 11!

I suspect looking at the episodes that season 6 had that gap of a few months over the summer to emphasise the cliffhanger of A Good Man Goes to War.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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