Friday, June 18, 2010

Doctor Who: Triumph of the Sopha Man

First, the preliminaries:

1. I loved this episode because I thought Matt Smith was brilliant in it.
2. I hated this episode from a writerly perspective.

Spoilers beneath the fold:

The Mere Devices
  • The Ear Piece.

So the episode opens with the TARDIS taking off without the Doctor. Awesome. Because what and who is the Doctor without the TARDIS - an idea that was kinda/sorta addressed in Blink but again the story wasn't really about the Doctor being without the TARDIS - and I believe that this would have been an interesting episode in which to develop that relationship more. Or am I just crazy for wanting that?

The audience is given hints that the Doctor is a bit off -- not just his delightfully bizarre behavior when he shows up as the Lodger, but in his apparent identity crisis:

I'm the Doctor. Well, they call me the Doctor. Don't know why. I call me the Doctor too. [pause] Still don't know why.

or even

Call me the rotmeister. No I'm the Doctor don't call me the rotmeister.

and then an almost overzealous affirmation of his identity, as if he has to convince himself who he is:

Football player: We're going to annihilate them!

Doctor: Annihilate - no, no violence do you understand me not when I'm around not today not ever I'm the Doctor the oncoming storm and you basically meant beat them in a football match didn't you?

(Though I also think that last bit served dual purposes: poking a bit of fun at the life and death world in constant peril theme that weaves into the Doctor Who mythos -- showed up even in "The Lodger" because if he touched the thingamabob the solar system would go kaplooie; but I still think it also reveals a driving need to somehow reaffirm to himself that he is the Doctor.)

In my mind, this would be an interesting concept: TARDIS gone. Without the TARDIS, how can he be the Doctor? What about Amy? Oh my gods, how will he ever live his life again - will he be confined to a life of domesticity (as seen in "Amy's Choice") - a life which he described as a "nightmare?"

Instead, all that danger and tension is removed because of this:

This. Really. Irritated. Me.

Where did he get it? He tells Amy not to wreck his "new earpiece" - but where did he get it? And, more importantly, why did he have to have a new ear piece. It removes so much of the Danger aspect this episode had the potential to have. I felt cheated.

Instead of being completely separated from the TARDIS and Amy, he's still got a tenuous connection - which just...I mean, we already know it's going to work out alright in the end - why not just go all out and play with the idea of the Doctor being TARDISless for a while?

  • The Non-technology Technology.

It's art! A statement on modern society! Oo! Ain't modern society awful.

(Despite my comments below, watching the Doctor do mad science with his suspenders looped off and wrists cuffs rolled up was very...nice in an oddly, adorkable, attractive sort of way.)

But that said - I just honestly didn't get the point of this contraption. No traces of technology, all too normal -- and then there's a wanna-be-tardis on the roof. Even if the sensor was boggled with the Perception Filter (or the Doctor's ability to read it right)...I don't know, it just seemed like an excuse to get Amy to look at the plans of the house (which sounded so Supernatural to me). Which isn't bad in and of itself - plot basically consists of cause and effect - but this felt a bit to me.

  • The Psychic Connections


The Doctor was able to pull a Spock on Reinette, but being able to talk to cats? Has he ever talked to animals before (I haven't seen Classic Who so honestly don't know if it's truly out of character)? It's like the writers said, Oh the Doctor needs to find out that people go in but they never come out and since he hasn't observed this for himself we'll just have the cat tell him.

Uh huh.

Yeah, that

Personally, I think it would have been cooler and slightly more terrifying to have the people go upstairs-that's-not-upstairs for a spot of tea - the Doctor says hello, the rot grows, and then they never come down. Because then the audience would have been shown that and experience it with the Doctor instead of knowing what he doesn't know, precipitating the boring reading of the cat's mind scene to catch him up with the audience.

It's not that I don't like knowing something the protagonist doesn't know - I just find it boring when the character has to be "caught up" in a scene with a character telling another character what the audience already knows like a walking, talking billboard. It's not too bad when there's a Big Reveal about something the audience knew when there are different character dynamics at stake - intrigues and desires and so on and so forth.

But this was a cat.

It peeved me.

Plottable Inconsistencies

  • What's in the Second Floor?

So, at the beginning of the episode, they thought they were on some moon or other. Then the TARDIS leaves the Doctor behind. Then somehow he knows that there's something stopping the TARDIS and that it's upstairs in that flat. But how does he figure all that out? Did he talk Amy through it with the ear piece? If so, why couldn't the audience have seen that too?

(I am aware that I watched this all hodgepodge and that I'm writing this review days after I've seen it instead of hours -- so I probably missed something -- enlighten me?)

  • The Psychic Connection (again)

Reinette: intimate.
Kitty: sweet.
Craig: violent.


The Theme

Earlier on the episode we have a scene that is a reprisal of the Being Best of Humanity scene in "The Hungry Earth" but only on a much smaller, but still relevant scale:

Doctor: Well perhaps that you then - perhaps you'll just have to stay here secure and a little bit miserable till the day you drop. Better than trying and failing eh?

Sophie: You think I failed.

Doctor: Oh everybody's got dreams, Sophie. Very few are going to achieve them so why pretend. Perhaps, in the whole wide universe, a call center is about where you should be.

Sophie: Why are you saying that -- that's horrible!

Doctor: Is it true?

Sophie: Of course it isn't true, I'm not staying in a call center all my life, I can do anything I want.

Doctor: It's a big old world, Sophie - work out what's really keeping you here, eh?

Perhaps, simply because of where I am in life right now, I really, really liked this little speech -- even if it was slightly cheesy (but I like cheese, so).

Earlier, we had this exchange between the Doctor and Craig after Craig said he wasn't much of a traveler:

I can tell from your sofa -- you're starting to look like it.

With just the tiniest bit of disapproval - of course, Craig and the Doctor are polar opposites: one travels the whole of space and time, and the other can't even see the point of London. Or Paris. Or anywhere without Sophie (which really, really irritates me -- he'd rather be a sofa than actually do something with his life -- to live it to its fullest potential).

And then he saves the day because he is "Mr. Sofa Man" - even after being inside the Doctor's head. An entire universe and not one bit of him wants to go and be magnificent? Not only that but Sophie -- the girl who was going to do something with her life -- decides to stay, give up her dreams (because she helped turn off the machine, meaning she no longer wanted to stay) because Craig loves her.

I hate that idea. Again - it may be just because I'm in a particularly bad spot with my own relationship and it's coloring my interpretation -- but still. It rubs me the wrong way. And even though Craig said that he could see the point of Paris with Sophie -- I don't know. Maybe I'm overreacting.

The Problem with Amy

And no - not referring to the widening of the crack because of her ring. She had like - nothing to do in this episode. She was just -- there. Would have been much more exciting if, in the same way the Doctor had to deal with being without the TARDIS, she had to deal with learning how to fly the TARDIS.

Oh god. I cannot believe I am about to say this considering how much I really disliked Rose as a character but --

Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS. And then she flew that thing right back to the Doctor. Amy, on the other hand, is so much more amazing than Rose (imo) - and what does the audience get? Just her pulling the zig zag thing, generally telling the Doctor to hurry it up, and just being there. In the background. All static and boring. With the obligatory necessary piece of info towards the end, of course. No character development at all.

And towards the end, she asks the Doctor why he can't find her a fella - right after she told Van Gough that she wasn't the marrying type. Though it does solidify her relationship with the Doctor as a nonsexual, nonromantic one - which is nice.

The Good Bits

But, divorcing myself from the structural aspects of the story, I really did like this one.

For example, I liked that they continued the theme of putting the Doctor out of his element, which they also did in "Vincent and the Doctor."

I love the Doctor's absolute cluelessness:

Less of a young professional more of an -- ancient...amateur. But frankly, I'm an absolute dream.

Have some rent. That's probably quite a lot, isn't it. Looks like a lot. Is it a lot? I can never tell. Don't spend it all on sweets, unless you like sweets. I like sweets.

My room? Oh yes, my room. My room. Take me to my room.

I believe this sort of thing enhances his alien-ness. Really, really well done. And not only his alienness, but they're also emphasizing more the fact that he's a Time Lord, which I don't recall being mentioned so often as it has been here:

Craig: Where did you learn to cook?

Doctor: Paris in the 18th century. No hang on. That's nto recent is it. 17th? No no no 20th. Sorry, I'm not used to doing them in the right order.

Craig: Has anybody ever told you you're a bit weird?

Doctor: They never really stop.

It just seems more time-lordy to me when they address the fact that he does experience time differently - which has been mentioned before, but never in such small, everyday ways (like the bit with Van Gough when he muses on how time passes normally...really slowly). It's just nice to have the different perspective on what we earthlings would consider normal. Makes him more three dimensional.

As always, I like how they continue to portray sexuality in the show:

Craig: [when Craig told the Doctor to shout] in case you'd want to bring someone round, a girlfriend or ... boyfriend...

Doctor: Oh I will - I'll shout if that happens.

They touched on this when he was 9 with Captain Jack (when Rose thought she should distract the guard when he was actually not into girls at all -- bit of a commentary on society's assumed hetero-as-the-norm perspectives) - but it was nice to see that it wasn't portrayed as weird or abnormal, sort of like how it is in Caprica. The Doctor doesn't care - he's more concerned with the shouting bit...and totally misunderstanding this earthly custom of which Craig is speaking.

And while I'm on the subject of sexuality, what about gender?

You know, usually it's women who are portrayed as those who nurse people back to health -- but here we have the Doctor doctoring and being heroic when those are roles usually reserved for two different people - one who is considered masculine and the other feminine. Really complicates and three dimensionalizes the Doctor as a person/character.

I love how smiley and child-like he was when he was jumping on the bed. :)

I think that 11 misses the brainy specs - first goggles, then snazzy shades that could see body heat, now this? Definitely.

Hello. Oops. Sorry. Don't worry I wasn't listening...just reconnecting all the elctrodes - it's a real mess. Where's the on switch for this?

Ah, 11, socially clueless as ever. =)

And the hair - the crazy hair, the madcap hair!

Yes. I did love Matt Smith's performance. I did fall even deeper in love with 11 than I had been before -- even though I still think it would be cooler if certain aspects of his character had been explored with more nuance and subtlety.

Which leaves me with the Perception Filter.

I didn't put it with the Plot Devices because I don't think it is one -- it does appear to be the recurring theme though, and I'm hoping that the finale episodes coming up will have something to do with perception, how people see things, that sort of thing.

All your life you live so close to truth it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye. And when something nudges it into outline, it's like being ambushed by a grotesque. -- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I've heard the speculation that, in the preview for the Pandorica, that the person the Doctor is describing is actually the Doctor -- which I'm not sure how I feel about that. I hope it's something a bit more complex than that - because in "Amy's Choice" we already got to see the Doctor's darker self -- hoping for something a bit new, more in the corner of your eye sort of thing.

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