[previous: “Time Heist”]
So this is my life now. I’m depressed, I’m broke, I’m hopeless, and even Doctor Who has abandoned me. Forget escapism: there’s no escapism anymore. The escapism is happening over there, offscreen, and we’re meant to just take it as a given:
Whatever awesomeness happened here was not for us to enjoy. Yes, we’ve seen this done before. But not when the stories we’re teased with look far more interesting than the one we’re actually getting.
Instead of a cool SF adventure on another planet, we got the faded xerox of “School Reunion” meets an episode of Eastenders. Faded xeroxes of previous episodes are a Thing now. This is a problem, because if the show is not going be just corridor-running story after monster-chasing mystery, if it’s going to be About Something Bigger, then it shouldn’t be copying itself like this. All that corridor running and monster chasing of the old series was less repetitive than the show is lately. The less ostensibly formulaic the show gets, the more actually formulaic it ends up feeling.
But it’s meta! There’s just meta here. There’s nothing wrong with meta, but there can’t be only meta. You wanna wink and nudge and say something extratextual about the nature of Doctor Who as storytelling and as an institution, there still has to be an actual engaging story to hang it on. It has to also work on a non-meta level. (Non-Doctor Who examples: The Princess Bride. Firefly. Even if you have no conception of the other things they are referring to, the genres and the tropes and the clichés, they still work as stories.)
With All Meta All the Time, there’s no need for an alien or enemy or villain or monster. You just need a Thing. A scary Thing, probably — it’s gotta have a scary name, anyway. Something Blitzer. Ooo. It is most definitely not a Dalek. (It says “Destroy, destroy!” not “Exterminate, exterminate!” Totally different.) Or else… ooooohhhhh. It’s a meta commentary on the pointlessness of the Daleks at this stage of the game.
Except, no, it isn’t. It’s just the random vaguely Doctor Who-shaped boogeyman for this episode. So don’t bother asking for any explanation for it, and don’t ask questions about the plot to find it and eliminate the danger it presents. The school is “the only suitably empty place in the area”… except the place where the thing is is pretty damn empty, so why bother to put the school in harm’s way? What is the Thing? Where did it come from? Why is it here? How has it gone undiscovered? Wait, you mean the Doctor could have just talked to it to convince it to shut itself down? These are not questions you need to bother with. This isn’t meant to be a story about the Thing.
INSERT MONSTER HERE
There’s Danny. He’s probably a really great guy with lots of interesting ideas about stuff and things, but we have to just take that as a given. There may well be good reasons why Clara is hanging around with him, why she has gone from having-a-drink to “I love him” in the blink of an eye. However and whenever she fell in love with him is not for us to enjoy.
INSERT DEVELOPMENT OF RELATIONSHIP OVER THERE
It’s not like Doctor Who is about emotions and stuff.
Except… that’s exactly what it’s trying to be about. It’s what some of the very best episodes of the new series have been about. (“School Reunion”? I sobbed my eyes out.) Hence (I think) the cruel mean bigoted Doctor: humans are dumber than otters, soldiers can only be PE teachers and can’t possibly understand math, Clara smells (and probably has girl-cooties).
The Doctor’s just hurting, see. Or jealous of Clara and Danny. Or lonely. Or something.
But… barely a moment of this rings true emotionally, beyond Danny’s perfectly understandable anger and confusion, what with Clara treating him like shit and condescending to him like he’s a particularly slow child and lying to him all this time. I feel really bad for him. The Doctor and Clara? I can barely stand to be in the same room as them in this episode.
INSERT EMOTION WAAAAY OVER THERE, SOMEWHERE BEYOND THE HORSEHEAD NEBULA
Whatever validity the issues being explored might have as issues — it’s tough when friendships change; figuring out what sort of life you want to live can be tough — it’s all being handled in so hamhanded a way that I want to throw things at the screen.
And this business with the awesome Courtney Woods, the “disruptive influence” whom, we may presume, the Doctor would readily identify with? (He was Gallifrey’s most disruptive influence ever, after all.) The girl who thinks the TARDIS is “cool” and eagerly asks, “Can I go in space?”
I can’t help but suspect that this is Steven Moffat’s smarmy fuck-you to those of us fans who have been complaining about the things I’ve been complaining about for the past couple of years. (I’m far from alone in complaining.) Oh yeah, we think traveling on the TARDIS with the Doctor would just be nonstop amazing? Hah! We’d probably just vomit all over the place.
Of course there’s tons of potentially intriguing stories to be told about how life with the Doctor would not be all fun and games, and there have, indeed, been plenty of stories dealing with precisely that. This episode seems to collate in one place all the many grating ways that motif is being deployed lately.
[next: “Kill the Moon”]