Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Triple Review: Face the Raven, Heaven Sent, Hell Bent

I got distracted and wasn't able to post weekly reviews, but now that Series 9's three-parter has been broadcast and we now have the upcoming Christmas episode to look forward to, I'm sitting down to write up my review.

I think at this point the best that can be said of Series 9 as a whole is that, just like show runner Stephen Moffat, it's wildly inconsistent—so much so that it's almost physically painful.

Face the Raven

In this episode Clara Oswald is killed off.  This is a poor way to write the character out of the show because, just as did Dark Water and Death in Heaven, it completely disregards what Moffat has already set up in Listen.  In that episode, we are introduced to Clara's great-grandson by Danny Pink, Orson Pink, as he was rescued from the end of the universe by the Doctor and his human companion, and by the end of that episode we see Clara somehow manage to visit Gallifrey in the Doctor's past to comfort him as a child.

These events, having already been observed and set down as series canon, should be respected, and if they are to be disregarded then a plausible explanation must be given so as not to further insult the audience.  But that's Moffat's biggest problem: he doesn't even bother to pay attention to what he's already established within the greater story, because he is too busy patting himself on the back and telling himself how clever he is.

So we have in this episode the return of Rigsy from Series 8's Flatline.  Rigsy has woken up with a strange tattoo on the back of his neck that is a number counting down.  He calls Clara on the TARDIS telephone and informs her, and she and the Doctor set off to investigate.  Encountering Ashildr/Me once more, we learn that she orchestrated events so as to lure the Doctor to a street hidden in the middle of London that houses an assortment of aliens, with a creature called a Quantum Shade at her service executing wrongdoers if they break the Street's rules.  Rigsy stands accused of a murder he can't remember, and Clara, ever more reckless, acts upon information she's been given by a Street resident and takes Rigsy's death sentence upon herself.

By the time the Doctor realizes what she's done it's too late and all he can do is tell her a tearful goodbye before he is teleported away.

Again, this episode would have been better if Moffat would stop setting up key plot points only to toss them out the window by the next episode.  But he does, and so this leads into...

Heaven Sent

Peter Capaldi's acting chops are put to the test as he has to carry the entire episode virtually alone, with Jenna Coleman as a mental construct of Clara in the Doctor's tortured mind making only very brief appearances.  The Doctor finds himself teleported to a weird castle in the middle of an ocean that, it is revealed, is littered with skulls.  As the story unfolds, we eventually learn that the Doctor is trapped in a repeating loop of events, reliving the same day over and over for billions of years until he finally breaks free from his prison which, as it turns out, was created by the Time Lords themselves.

As a standalone episode it's a fine bit of acting we receive from Peter Capaldi, but largely unnecessary as he already has an impressive resume under his belt and really doesn't need to prove himself.

Hell Bent

Where do I begin?  Arriving back on Gallifrey after breaking out of his confession dial, a device that was first introduced in Series 9 opener The Magician's Apprentice, the Doctor returns to the old barn of his childhood and quietly waits for someone important to show up to greet him.  He is eventually met by Rassilon himself (Donald Sumpter), who is frustrated that he can't get his personal bodyguards to shoot his adversary.  The Doctor banishes Rassilon from Gallifrey, although since the planet is positioned at the end of the universe he may not actually be able to go anywhere.

This is where we see yet another inconsistency from Moffat.  According to Series 3 episode Utopia, the universe goes until the year One Hundred Trillion.  Yet after spending four and a half billion years trapped inside the recursive loop of the confession dial, we're supposed to believe that the Doctor took "the long way around" to reach the end of time.  But it can't be the end of time because there are still trillions of years to go before we're supposed to reach it.

HELL-O!  Earth to Moffat!  Sit your lazy ass down and actually watch Doctor Who from start to finish why don't you!

The Time Lords want information from the Doctor about the mysterious Hybrid, a creature prophesied to lay waste to Gallifrey and "stand in its ruins", which is why they orchestrated Clara's death and the Doctor's imprisonment in his confession dial in the first place.  The Doctor demands the use of an extraction chamber to pull Clara out of her timeline a moment before her death, causing her physical processes to become time-looped, frozen between one heartbeat and the next, rendering her ageless.  Her death is supposedly fixed in time, so naturally the Doctor's plan all along was to try to find a way to undo this.  He runs off with Clara in a stolen TARDIS to find a solution at the last moments of the universe, where he again meets up with Ashildr/Me, who theorizes that the Hybrid is in fact the Doctor and Clara together.

Obviously this can't be allowed to stand, so a rather pointless trick is played and Moffat finds a way to get Clara out of the show without killing her off, albeit still time-looped, now traveling back to Gallifrey with Ashildr/Me "the long way around" in the stolen TARDIS.  The Doctor supposedly forgets Clara, although he is able to fill in the gaps in his memory by way of the holes left there.


What really frustrates me is the arrogant, self-congratulatory sloppiness employed by Moffat throughout his tenure as head writer for Doctor Who.  He has no respect for viewers and nothing but contempt for good writing.  If he'd stop and pay attention to what he's writing, he could come up with much more clever and plausible ways to achieve the ends he wants.  As it stands, we're subjected to a tiresome parade of characters that should never have been written out of the show the way they were, characters that were allowed to overstay their welcome simply because Moffat wasn't quite done with them yet and wanted to write them out in a bigger way, and never-plausibly-explained gaffs in the storytelling.  It's insulting.

Back during Doctor Who's original run, if a character was written out, he or she was usually set up to simply leave.  There was no need to keep trying to top the previous departure of a Companion with ever-escalating drama that had so many twists it violated all rules of good writing.  But these days it's all about the Gimmick, good writing and viewer intelligence be damned.

I really wish Moffat would leave the show as head writer and let someone competent take the reigns.  But as long as Doctor Who continues to maintain higher ratings in spite of the poor quality of the stories, the BBC won't sack him.  That's a shame, because we could really use fresher, better ideas with superior execution from someone who respects viewers' intelligence.

1 comment:

  1. There was that minute towards the end of "Paradise Sent" when it's at long last uncovered that the Doctor had been rehashing the same arrangement of activities again and again and over again, a huge number of times, as he endeavored to get through that twenty foot thick divider, wearing it out somewhat, before biting the dust every single time.

    best essay writing service company