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OK, so here's me trying to catch up with Doctor Who reviews. I'll aim to keep them short(ish... for me), as there are so many to catch up with. And obviously, I'm now doing this with hindsight, so I'm unlikely to be saying the same things here that I would have said if I'd written about each episode at the time. But I do have the notes I wrote while watching each episode to hand, so can see what I thought about them on initial viewing.

Between its Viking setting and its explicit concern with the consequences of time travellers changing history, the first half of this story reminded me strongly of The Time Meddler, and was clearly supposed to. My own notes for the latter remind me that it was the first Doctor Who story to articulate the idea that time travellers shouldn't change history, as opposed to the idea that they can't (which is what we get the very first time the issue comes up at all in The Aztecs). As the Doctor says to the Monk, "You know as well as I do the golden rule about space and time travelling - never, never interfere with the course of history" - though it's noticeable that this rule has only ever applied to Earth history, as known to a contemporary TV audience. The Doctor can clearly change history on other planets as much as he likes!

This story is all about the Doctor breaking that 'golden rule' and creating a tidal wave where he should leave only ripples. At the time of broadcast, this was clearly signalled as a pivotal moment both emotionally for the Twelfth Doctor, and structurally for New Who as a whole - particularly through the explicit flashbacks to his decision to save the Caecilius family in Fires of Pompeii and his self-identification as someone who 'saves people'. And now in retrospect we can see how much it foreshadowed, too. The first half of this story put a lot of emphasis on how in saving Ashildr by using Mire technology, the Doctor had created a hybrid of the two races, and the second had Ashildr referring to herself simply as 'Me'. To join those dots, the closing words of Heaven Sent:
You got the prophecy wrong. The Hybrid is not half-Dalek. Nothing is half-Dalek; the Daleks would never allow that. The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins is me.
Of the two halves, I preferred the second. That's not to say I disliked the first, and especially its core idea of the Mire being defeated with the power of imagination, stories and spin rather than brute force. But the second half appealed more aesthetically, offering a lot that was Hammeresque or generally Gothic, while its explorations of the consequences of immortality were suitably emotionally weighty. I also liked many of the smaller touches in the second episode - like comedy highwayman Sam Swift, Ashildr / Me trying out life as a man for a while (very Orlando), or her use of journals to work around the problem of a limited memory but an unlimited life-span. I'm only 39, but I am beginning to know the feeling!

Meanwhile, I found myself wondering whether both halves of this two-parter could actually have been handled as pure historicals, rather than pseudo-historicals. This takes us back once again to The Time Meddler, which was the first Doctor Who story to insert an alien threat (the Meddling Monk himself) into a story set in Earth's past. Both halves of this story qualify likewise, thanks to the presence of fake-Odin and the Mire in the first and Leandro and his people in the second - but could much the same plots otherwise have unfolded without them? I'm pretty sure it could have done for the first episode, with Ashildr's village simply facing down a more powerful neighbouring warrior tribe instead of the Mire and making them look like fools to be laughed at around camp-fires up and down the land. The only adjustment needed would be to establish that the Doctor carries medical chips of some kind around on the TARDIS which could take the place of the Mire chip - but that wouldn't be hard.

It would perhaps be slightly harder for the second episode, as it's important to Ashildr / Me's emotional arc in this story that she is trying to find a way off the Earth to more exciting prospects beyond - this is what makes her collaborate with Leandro, kill Sam Swift and then realise that she has done something awful in a flawed cause. But I should think a clever story-teller (not me!) could still come up with some way to put her through that arc which didn't involve aliens. Perhaps she could instead have ended up aspiring to some kind of apocalyptic destruction-of-Earth plan, in the hope that it would put paid to her own unwanted and unending life along with everyone else's, but realised once her plan began to unfold that she didn't want this after all, and needed the Doctor's help to stop it? (Though that may be too utterly dark for Doctor Who, even now - defeating an alien-of-the-week is always a much safer bet for a feel-good story.)

But my point is that I felt that we were dancing on the edge of not really needing the alien element in either of these episodes - like it was there because that is simply the accepted Doctor Who format, rather than because it was actually necessary to what the stories were trying to do. Certainly, these weren't celebrity historicals - indeed, they stayed well clear altogether of touching on any specific Earth history as it might be known to a contemporary TV audience, which as I've suggested above is the real 'golden rule' of time travel. The matter of whether or not a particular Viking village was defended successfully against attack, or whether someone called Sam Swift was or wasn't hanged at Tyburn, wouldn't break our suspension of disbelief about these stories (and thus the whole of Doctor Who) taking place within our history, and our universe as we know it. And if we've got to the point where Doctor Who is producing historical stories that barely need aliens in them to work, then could it be possible that some time soon we'll take the next step onwards from there, and get to the stage of having a historical story which doesn't have aliens in it at all? That's something I have to say I'd really like to see after all these years without one.

Finally, I don't really watch Game of Thrones properly, though I've seen enough of it to have been able to recognise some of its musical cues in The Woman Who Lived in particular. But I enjoyed Maisie Williams' performance last year as the central character in the Channel 4 film Cyberbully, and was impressed again across these two stories - and of course Face the Raven, which I've also seen since. She has already appeared in the 'next time' trailer for Hell Bent, and I'm glad that we will be seeing both her and her character again.

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Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
momentsmusicaux
Nov. 29th, 2015 08:41 pm (UTC)
So the Hybrid isn't the Doctor, but Ashildr/Me? I do rather like that! I'm not keen on the Doctor turning out to be half-human. I know that was said in the film, so is technically canon, but I was rather glad that it's been ignored ever since. If you're wrong about it being Ashildr, I'm still hoping this is Moffat taking that stupid half-human thing and bending it into something less crappy so we can stop having to keep pretending it never happened.
andrewducker
Nov. 29th, 2015 08:56 pm (UTC)
I'd worked very hard on forgetting it ever happened.

Along with the movie.
momentsmusicaux
Nov. 29th, 2015 08:58 pm (UTC)
Same here.

Really hoping this is just Moffat fucking with our heads and it's Ashildr. It does all make sense -- two warrior races, one of them being the Vikings.
strange_complex
Nov. 29th, 2015 09:25 pm (UTC)
Well, it's obviously all been set up to be ambiguous, but yes - it does seem like a theory that's worth entertaining. All to be revealed next week! :-)
steer
Nov. 29th, 2015 11:55 pm (UTC)
Oh gosh, I kept meaning to mention. The 200th big finish is a roman historical
https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-secret-history-872

Features everyone's favourite goth killer Belisarius and sex worker/empress Theodora.

Unfortunately you kind of need to listen to 198, 199 to make sense of it properly.
strange_complex
Nov. 30th, 2015 09:37 am (UTC)
Oh, thanks for letting me know, anyway! I'll pop it on my 'to-listen' list. :-)
softfruit
Nov. 30th, 2015 08:13 am (UTC)
"Me"
Oooooooh. Ah. Now that makes a smidge more sense than the Doctor having become notionally half-human-half-dalek through his experiences of compassion and time war.

It depends so much on the writers and the actor availability but I would like it if Ashildr became a recurring character. The Master without the (to me) irritating "to know each other so long they must be in love" thing from last season.
strange_complex
Nov. 30th, 2015 09:38 am (UTC)
Re: "Me"
Yeah, I'd like that too. There is a lot of potential in that character. That said, I really like where the Master has got to now, as Missy, so I'm very happy to see both of them keep popping up!
danieldwilliam
Nov. 30th, 2015 09:50 am (UTC)
I was going to post something but then I realised that having not seen this weekends' episode I am not in full posession of the facts so I'll not say anything.
strange_complex
Nov. 30th, 2015 10:20 am (UTC)
This weekend's is an absolute corker! One of those episodes I feel privileged to have been able to see on its first broadcast - which I haven't felt since the 50th Anniversary special. I'm not saying the story is quite as epic as that, but it's in that league.
danieldwilliam
Nov. 30th, 2015 10:44 am (UTC)
Sounds like it might be one to watch on my own before revisting with the Captain.
strange_complex
Nov. 30th, 2015 11:21 am (UTC)
Yes, I'd say so - partly to savour the fine details of it without having to field lots of questions at the same time, partly because having done that you'll be able to answer the questions better on the second watch, and partly because it relies quite heavily on M.R. James-style creeping terrors, so might be one to pre-screen for scariness anyway.
pmcray
Nov. 30th, 2015 11:24 pm (UTC)
As someone pointed out on Philip Sandifer's blog, Me being the Hybrid because she is human/Mire is a bit "meh" as the Mire haven't been set up as anything more than one-shot aliens so there's not much resonance there. The Sontarans, for instance, do have previous as a warrior race and even invaded Gallifrey (with help, I think: my memory of "The Invasion of Time" is hazy). Also we know there were Sontarans in medieval Europe. (Or *a* Sontaran.)

But the Doctor can't be the Hybrid if he were trying to identify who it was. UNless it's the sudden realisation that it was him all along. But then he couldn't be why he left Gallifrey.

My guess is that this is all Moffatian misdirection and that it will turn out to be (something to do with) Clara. Is she the Hybrid because she's somehow linked into the Doctor's timeline, so she's somehow part-Time Lord?
swisstone
Dec. 27th, 2015 10:37 am (UTC)
Did you notice that the helmets on the straw dummies the Vikings were attacking were all Roman helmets?
strange_complex
Dec. 27th, 2015 01:35 pm (UTC)
I didn't at the time, but I've just been back and checked and you're quite right. It seems a bit late for them to be kicking about looking quite so shiny (as far as I'm aware the story is set in the 9th century), but still I appreciate the attempt to convey a sense of cultural rises and falls.
swisstone
Dec. 28th, 2015 11:33 am (UTC)
Or to convey that the props department had run out of Viking helmets, and thought 'Nah, no-one'll notice'.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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