Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

Frankenstein: “We Will Need New Material” – AD 2014 (Part Two)

Penny Dreadful Frankenstein Puppet

Frank II

The concluding look at how the legacy of Frankenstein is faring 196 years on from his creation…And his creation’s creation.  Read the first part for tales of Angelic I Frankensteins, Missing Munsters and Intriguing Igors… Part Two is dedicated to Penny Dreadful, and full of spoilers

AS THE FIRST PART OF AD 2014 ESTABLISHED, THERE’S NO SHORTAGE OF CREATORS WILLING TO TAKE ON MARY SHELLEY’S GOTHIC CREATION AND WARP HIM TO THEIR OWN AGENDA.  

That’s nothing new, and the current cultural canvas stretching from demon bashing comic books to misfiring Munsters, proves that it’s still a powerful metaphor ripe for appropriation.  And this isn’t an exhaustive list, barely touching on the Frankenstein who’s been testing DC Comics since the late 1940s up to the current Young Frankenstein toying with the Teen Titans.  Then there’s the continual references propping up Doctor Who, doctorish twists on the thriving zombie genre …

As a statement of intent however, the strongest contender must be the darkly ambitious Showtime series Penny Dreadful. Immaculately cast, inspirationally created, veins pumping with horror, at the mid-point of the series UK broadcast it’s clear that this is the Frankenstein to beat…

Penny Dreadful (2014 – )

“Who is the child, Frankenstein? Thee or me?” – Caliban

For a chance to expand the myth and give a little more screen time to the eponymous doctors, where better to look than the brave new world of television. Into the breach stepped the fascinating Penny Dreadful with a gloomy, rancid and often brilliant blend of 19th century literary and gothic icons. In the first episodes, it was striking how this new iteration of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had crept up on prime time. By the end of the second it’s clear that it’s attempting  something different to Alan Moore’s sublime opus.  It doesn’t take much more than a consumptive Billy Piper spitting blood mid-coitus over Dorian Gray of Eve Green’s foul mouth bending Simon Russell-Beale’s frazzled tache to make the truth of the Penny Dreadful moniker clear.

There’s lots at play in this series; necessary when it turns its full focus to mystery and the dark underground of 19th century London.  With origins and explanations destined to appear later, surely, it’s the key enjoyment is watching significant talent take on these characters and win.  Masterminded by the brilliant John Logan and Sam Mendes, fresh from their revitalization of British 20th century icon James Bond, the input of consultants of the pedigree of Dr Matthew Sweet and ambitious casting makes for something special.

Amid a mix, or clash and blur of creations, familiar storylines vie for attention.  What must be  Dracula provides the main motivation while arguably Frankenstein makes for the most engrossing plotline.  In the first episode, there’s a point that divides those prime storylines neatly.

Point of No Return

It’s the meeting of the as yet un-named Frankenstein with Timothy Dalton’s obsessed Sir Malcolm Murray, African explorer, Alan Quatermain comparator and nemesis of Dracula.  They meet in what may as well be the Diogenes Club, the gentleman’s sanctuary and necessary catalyst.  The two great explorers, one of land and human experience, the other of science and human endeavour, meet and pique each other’s interest – although it’s Murray who takes the lead in summoning the younger Doctor to his cause.  We learn his insights on to his rag tag band of acolytes later (“not for the weak or the kind”), but after that meeting the great explorer returns to ramp up the vampire storyline while Frankenstein returns to his hidden laboratory, previously only seen as a secret door.

As is befitting, the end of episode one is brilliantly played down. The accidental awakening as Frankenstein’s return to a plain but classical laboratory sees him first strip away the clothing of society and – perhaps buoyed by an income boost or drunk on his passionate quest –tinkers to trigger an electric surge.  He’s walked past a finely realised copper bench, a prone form giving the director ample scope for misdirection.  There’s no hint of lightening in London, here electricity is man wrought.  That’s a crucial theme in this meshing of gothic icons, even the Alan Quatermain styled Sir Malcolm Murray; how their world is being encroached by the fast-developing world of Victorian rationalism and mechanics.

Quiet and tender, the meeting of this father and son is far more successful than the traditional one.  It forms the episode climax as Frankenstein teaches his creation his name.  Some reviews decried that, suggesting that it played down to a sophisticated audience.  In the climax however, I thought it neat.  This is an intensely intimate moment, one where the audience is clearly eavesdropping.  It’s awkward and chilling I thought… With these two, it’s not so much acquiescing to the common denominator, but an imprinting of a name that would become the focus for total vengeance.

This creature, allowed to name himself after the Shakespearean Proteus, is the product of Frankenstein’s devout romanticism and thirst to rationalise it with his science and deep felt experience of death, against that same industrial expansion.  Although it takes a while to explore that fully…

Out on the Town

“Death is not serene” – Frankenstein

Episode Two plays a little fast and loose with the fun of this new, scared but joyous father and his curious son.  When naming him, there’s the wry dismissal of the theological connotations of ‘Adam’ and then the vibrant scenes of the monster discovering the world, intercut with Frankenstein’s involvement in the Murray plot.  That provides a chance for Ives and Frankenstein to bond over Wordsworth, leaving the psychic to inform the main players correctly; this doctor has secrets.

And after a day of magical discovery, father and son return to their house of secrets and Penny Dreadful plays one of its mean tricks, expertly dishing and manipulating literary roots to spin and twist chronologically earlier plot points.  After exploring the unnatural creation going well, through emotion, aspiration, recollection…  Frankenstein’s world is literally torn apart.

“Your first born has returned father” – Caliban

The creature’s appearance is so good, the next episode near steals it with Fenton and his master…

However, that Episode Three is so far the highlight of the series for revealing an authentic Frankenstein and the first born son he abandoned.  It’s a surprise that shouldn’t be.  That savage twist should have been obvious, but this creature is more the tortured, long-haired creation of the book than vicious killer.  The roots of these characters immense hatred of each other is well laid, yet through few words on the Doctor’s part and many from his creation.  This episode starts with the brutal lessons of life and death that the young Frankenstein was forced to learn.  We see him walking through daffodils and quoting not only Wordsworth, but the poet’s Intimations on Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.  A neat if not subtle reference to the character’s literary origins, this retelling promises so much more alongside broad slabs of fidelity.

Alongside the weak doctor, this ‘normal’ sized creature is not horrifically violent, though it can evidently spring to action with resolve when required.  It’s a fine line to the ham fisted mechanic of I Frankenstein. No matter if the creature is as abnormally tall as Shelley’s, was awakened with enough volts to power its indestructibility… The real fuel for the creature must come from those first few minutes of imprinted rejection.  This creature is as articulate and learned as his source.  The recap of his birth, in “terrified agony” is gripping and faithful, and the script plays with it well, even name-checking in opposition PB Shelley’s  Lyrical Adonais.

Hippocracy

“Do not test me Frankenstein. You do not know horror until I have shown it to you” – Caliban

Still, it’s the two that are rooted in turbulence.  “Death is not serene” observes the Doctor early on while his creation promises that he would have pursued him through the “blackest tempest of the darkest night”.

We also see the origins of the Doctor of course and how death set him on an inevitable route.  The creature narrates what we’ve seen so far, the Doctor who favoured Wordsworth and the Romantics’ view of the world who creates something that is “modernity personified” in the age of the industrial.  It’s no wonder that Frankenstein fundamentally cannot stand his creation, and is incapable of making any effort to make up for his abandonment.  It shouldn’t fit quite so well with the other son we’ve seen, not quite, but it does.  That’s perhaps due to the quality of the creature’s argument.  Tellingly, Frankenstein doesn’t speak for minutes as his firstborn addresses him.  When told by his son that they are the Janus mask, “inseparable” his first words, “how could you do that?’  The response that it is a mercy for the tragic Proteus – “you put me through nothing but pain”.

As the creature continues its insightful psychoanalysis, it sums up what may as well be Penny Dreadful’s main remit.  Following the father who could only be “surgeon and the butcher”, he comes to London.  Rightfully not the creature’s birth place, but the perfect hub for these stories.  A rather pretentious ‘Hellmouth’.

That reference to the Janus mask is a neat plant.  The ever reliable Alun Armstrong soon appears as Brand in the creature’s story, dragging him to his natural home: the theatre, the Grand Guignol no less.  Big puppet indeed, this may not bring universal acceptance but does bring him a name, again Shakespearean: Caliban.  It’s a neat trick, blending the creature into the shadows as the Phantom of the Opera of the hunchback in the real-life and enduring legacy of a theatre infamous for naturalistic horror shows. It’s unlikely such a literally concerned show will bring in a variant of wolf men beyond that stage, and perhaps that’s another reason for it.  The Grand Guignol stage allows the freedom to include fictional cameos, while behind the scenes the creature pulls the strings (literally, the grand guignol that’s not the buffoon, but the marionnettiste) and front of house, Penny Dreadful’s other players gather to watch events unfold.

There’s time for a quick bit of literary fun of course.  “It’s all Ibsen nowadays” laments Brand at one point, crew sniggering behind the camera I’m sure.  But the show’s main tool is this self-aware creature.  He knocks on the real fourth wall as he draws the comparison between these actors and the undying – creatures of perpetual resurrection.  And there on a stage we first see before it hosts the old ‘Penny Dreadful’ Sweeney Todd, the pale skin and red eyes make him appear more like a traditional vampire than ever.  He lacks the taught translucent, taught skin and adds sutures to Shelley’s creation, but some hair growth later and some things are inevitable.  When he tells his father “I’ll show you what I want’ ‘a collective sigh rises: what could that be..?

Frank II cu

The Monster’s Shadow

“If you seek to threaten me, threaten me with life” – Caliban

With Frankenstein in the pre-eminence, the other plot lines can only pale. It’s made clear that Mina is indeed the Mina, attached to one Jonathan Harker and falling under the spell of this other creature, never named.    Again it’s twisted, with a doomed Fenton a little more horrid than the fly obsessive in Stoker’s original and the marvellous setting of the London Zoo showing how Twilight could have done far better.

While these rattle on, the Frankenstein story settles into the classic amateur Faustian pact, playing out on the streets while the vampires occupy the night, interiors and underground.  “What do you want from me demon?’ asks Frankenstein of his firstborn, his cool arrogance brought more steel by the arrival.  He still feels fairly justified or perhaps is finding good reason to reach for it.

The streets of London were also the backdrop where his younger ‘brother’ found discovery.  While that relationship was about teaching and learning, here it’s one of constant misunderstanding.  It’s amusing when Frankenstein admits he does not love his son, but not for the creature; of course, it’s the love of one like him he craves.

Frankenstein is as much about loss as love of course, it’s a relationship built on the negation that intertwine the two until death is the only option. That’s negation of parenting, knowledge, hope.   The creature is brutalized by that loss, Frankenstein strengthened.

Love, Love, Love…

“Do not temporize demon, be at it” – Caliban

Love as is only right, is at the heart of much of Penny Dreadful, and never as simple as that of a father for his missing daughter or another father lacking it for his unwanted son…

We see Frankenstein enlisted into a super-gang of course, and that necessarily weights the other end of the relationship spectrum.   By the middle of the series, Murray’s similarities become more relevant as the search for the source of the Nile adds mystery on mystery and Frankenstein is cast as his son.  A neat balance to Frankenstein’s own son just returning.  Although, who on Earth would trust Murray…

Gray is the last major figure to give up his secrets… But seems a neat foil as an immortal and cat amongst other mortals.  Each character has their own implication on Frankenstein’s.  By episode Four, and the intensity of the creature’s quest for a bride, the short, shocking creation talks of mortals and touches on some of the more delicate pangs of 19th century politics.  “Future belongs to the strong, the immortal races” he says, “To me and my kind”.  In an echo, Gray later extols Wagner as he seduces Chandler with Tristan & Isolde‘s ‘Love Death’.

It’s Josh Hartnett’s Chandler who seems the real oddity.   Particularly with the neat addition of haematologist Abraham Van Helsing working alongside Frankenstein in the fourth episode.  Surely Quincey Morris is Chandler’s template, and one with a pre-built destiny to finish off Dracula.  That he isn’t Morris can only promise something else, that deep secret he’s running from.

And at the centre. Elsewhere, it’s clear that Vanessa Ives, with her mysterious arachnophobia is the key or indeed as Dorian Gray put it “The most mysterious thing in London”.  Her spin on Frankenstein? As her master first observed, Vanessa Ives has to name something to make it live before he seduces her with Keats….. And it’s surely no coincidence that the example we see twice is Shakespeare’s Ariel.   The stunning Ives-centric episode establishes that the tremor of something lay in the Murray family well before Penny Dreadful picks up the reigns, and also that this team is very, very finite.

With the Dracula storyline advanced, Penny Dreadful leaves Frankenstein as the main vehicle to bring the theme of love to the gothic horror.  And perhaps the horror of gothic love.

2014 AD

Despite losing and stalling adaptations on each side of the Atlantic, it’s clear that The Modern Prometheus is in fine form.  Quality and quantity will always vary, but that’s something the good Doctor himself is only too aware of.  Madman, explorer and scientist.  As DNA and medicine reality continues to keep Frankenstein relevant, the various facets of Frankenstein have no reason to be too stitched back together any time soon.  3,000 volts or not, immortality is assured.

To paraphrase a victim of Hammer’s Baron “I fancy that we are the spider and you are the fly, Frankenstein”.

Frankenstein: “We Will Need New Material” – AD 2014 (Part One)

Frankenstein's Monster in the 21st Century

Frankenstein AD 2014 Fresh Material

A decade on from the Van Helsing misfire and 20 years on from Kenneth Branagh’s earnestly romantic take, the legacy of Frankenstein is in better health than ever, even if it‘s a little more comfortable in its patchwork…

The Modern Prometheus.  Scientific progress will always play its part in keeping Frankenstein relevant, or rather the human response to it.  While Mary Shelley’s novel may have been a romantic answer to industrialization and even temporary climate change, the raw power of electricity in the early 19th century was revolutionary enough to question how far man could progress if he was able to harness such power.  And when that question’s asked, there’s a short list of comparators.

Frankenstein was published three years prior to Faraday unveiling the electric motor.  196 years on, that Modern Prometheus won’t go away, constantly fuelled by scientific progress.  In the 21st century, whether genetically modifying a crop, cloning stem cells or creating life from three donors, “playing Frankenstein” is a line easily brought to bear. Playing Frankenstein. A great phrase, keeping its fictional and manipulative connotations while posing its own challenge and sanity check.  Frankenstein has been presented in multiple ways over the past two centuries of course, from visionary saviour to arrogant savant, mad man to psychopathic Baron (who’s single-minded determination gifted the above title).  And by constantly maintaining this diversity, it looks as though the Doctor and his creations are faring better than ever in 2014…

In this first check-up, a look at January’s I Frankenstein, two aborted television shows that should have rocked the laboratory and the promise of a big screen revolution in 2015…

I Frankenstein (2014)

…Without Abbot and Costello…

“You go talk to the Gargoyle Queen; I’ll meet you back here in an hour”

So says Dr Frankenstein’s blonde spiritual successor to his original creation just before things kick off.  The creature of I Frankenstein is named Adam by Leonore, that same Queen of the Gargoyles and that’s pretty much all you need to know.

It’s no surprise that I Frankenstein is a graphic novel adaptation, nor that it comes from the same creator as the Underworld series.  Here however, a little disappointingly, the creature is thrust into the eternal and Christian-centric war between demons and gargoyles (the slightly stony Angelic lineage of St Michael).  Vampires and werewolves would have been a step far too much without Abbot and Costello…

As with Underworld, CGI and odd character design is the order of the day in a plot of simply decimated good, morally conflicted scientists, an impossibly empty international city and a broadly realised McGuffin which spells peril for the human race.  Of course, it manages to magic up some Romeo and Juliet moments, haphazard threat and a few digs into Frankenstein’s literary past as well.  Although, amid its cluttered, character-led plot bashing, there’s little reason to care or develop the creature’s relationship with his creator as he follows his strict path of redemption.

Father and Son

The journal changes hand more times than magic cups on Westminster Bridge

The creature is pure antihero.  From the beginning the monster’s journey is defined and justified– apart from a few outbursts – by the unnature of his creation.  The Frankenstein story is broadly present and correct, though covered within the first three minutes of the film.  That the creature is christened Adam suggests at best an oversimplification of the text, at worst a misreading.  This Victor Frankenstein is a “Mad man, terrified by what he created”.   His death may come in the tundra of the north, but the irony of this creature returning his father’s corpse to be buried in the family graveyard is a little lost: “It was more than he deserved”. And as soon as that story’s buried, his creation is immediately thrust into the film’s sub-theological plot.  No wonder he looks so surprised when having just seen his father off…  He’s attacked by descending demons then saved by ascending gargoyles.

No, as might be expected, all subtlety has been deanimated.  The MacGuffin in question is the mythical Diary of Frankenstein – hidden away in a vault while the creature conveniently mans up to a sort-of modern day – the key to the forces of evil discovering immortality. Or perhaps that’s not quite right; to reanimate demons who are surely mildly immortal anyway? They certainly don’t decompose.  In one of the few bits of profound scripting, the Gargoyle Queen prefaces Adam’s sabbatical by labelling him “Written proof that God is no longer the sole creator of man”.  Fortunately, it’s not to his jagged little face.  Sadly, some time away doesn’t improve this monster’s knowledge or ability.  In fact, having the majority of his life spent in the surety that God, angels and demons exist above the world of man can only belittle Frankenstein’s core essence.

But core essence and subtlety isn’t what I Frankenstein’s all about, nor the creature mad old Frankenstein’s only genius.  He can also write the secret of immortal reanimation neatly into a small journal that lasts 200 years.  His creation cannot age, can’t easily be destroyed and possesses supernatural strength.  This is all put down to the 3,000 volts that the diary states brought the creature to life (Volta’s first battery appeared in 1800 electro-fact fans).  All details are laid out in neat writing and sketches for the crème of modern British scientific research to purloin.  Well two of them at least, in much the same way as they might have written down Blue Peter building materials when they popped up briefly onscreen pre-internet.

The journal changes hand more times than magic cups on Westminster Bridge and there’s not even a single mention of a photocopier.  Perhaps, coincidentally, electro-magnetism hasn’t been developed in this time stream.

Body Parts

…This monster could have tried harder in those nightclubs.

Character-wise, we’re a supernaturally long throw from Shelley.  The modern successor to Frankenstein takes the form of blonde and sceptical Dr Wade – effectively Rosamund Pike in Doom – here working for big bad Bill Nighy.  The monster though, for all its lack of authentic physiognomy is rather well done. Aaron Eckhart is fine casting but given little to play with. He’s been hacked up for sure, but typically it’s difficult to portray that he’s “A dozen used parts from eight different corpses”. Perhaps truest in intent, his main scars come from the psychological battle with himself and his creator. Perhaps the weakest part is he didn’t gain any insight into his father before his death.  “He hunted me. I would have killed him too but he froze to death” Adam growls at one point, inadvertently making it sound wonderfully like “haunted”.  This Creature, possessing the long hair of his literary forbear, although not nearly as articulate, is constantly told why he’s so screwed up.  That’s a little mean, especially considering how the fact of his origin proves far more important that the why or hows.  Cue the Bill Nighy master plan: “Niberius has been planning this for centuries, Frankenstein just made it possible”.

When a Faustian pack is suggested at one point, the bride’s promised, adding an interesting tie between the scientist and creation – but really, this monster could have tried harder in those nightclubs. It’s unlikely that a sequel will happen let alone examine those missed opportunities.

Still, by the end he’s come to terms with his lot and continues along the selfless path that has earned him a demon-shocking soul.  Yes, by the end he is Batman. Sorry, no, He Frankenstein.

On a side note, the title – among its many other references to I Claudius, I Robot, er, Disney’s I-Man etc – was almost shared with the second Hammer Frankenstein film in 1958. That film, ultimately titled The Revenge of Frankenstein and featuring the late Francis Matthews who sadly passed away this week, proved to be a chilling and excellently produced addition to the franchise. It was always unlikely that its almost-namesake would be so lucky.

Frank I cu

Stitches in time (2012 – 2014)

…Frankenstein lives on in a far more thematically just way…

It’s worth noting the almost-Frankensteins; those Doctors whom, in a parallel universe, are furthering the scientific mastermind’s agenda on television.  Here they fell quickly with little chance of resurrection.  First was the quickly dismissed Gothica on ABC.  Albeit modern day, it saw a mashing of horror icons including Tom Ellis as a Victor Frankenstein, a hospital lead desperate to bring his dead daughter Anna back to life… Possibly with the help of ex Grace van Helsing.  Also dragging Dorian Gray and Dr Jekyll into the mix, it was dashed at pilot stage.

As forming gothic leagues seems to be the done thing, it’s no surprise that networks looked to their back catalogue.  Bryan Fuller’s Mockingbird Lane an update of 1960s classic The Munsters and its spin-offs did see its pilot air in Halloween 2012, but proved too complex an entity for the NBC network to commission.

A natural extension of Bryan Fuller’s excellent Pushing Daisies, the pilot was also directed and produced by Bryan Singer. That’s a great deal of talented Bryans for your buck.

Fuller’s dialogue is typically witty, picking out the heritage and black humour of suburbia as reverentially as you might expect.  NBC seems to have struggled with the simplistic dark sitcom leanings amid the peak of True Blood, and it’s true that the pilot doesn’t quite project the weight of story-wealth that it should. What it does have is some wise casting and scintillating banter, especially thanks to Eddie Izzard’s Grandpa. A far more malicious and less scatter-brained scientific trickster than the originals, he’s properly the Frankenstein here, pragmatically rejuvenating his son-in-law, not through any means necessary as much as the Munster way.  Jerry O’Connell’s rather unorthodox Herman Munster is similarly changed.  The sly, familiar silhouette joke at his introduction makes way for the creature who just “loves too hard”.  In comparison to the fellas, the female characters Lily and Marilyn seem hardly changed.

If picked up, Frankenstein would certainly be more prevalent this year in suggestion alone, but its sad and quick demise has undoubtedly allowed Frankenstein to live on in a far more thematically just way.  Bryan Fuller moved on to develop the former surgeon, psychiatrist and psychopath just intrigued by what will happen… Hannibal Lecter.  Pumped full of the Frankenstein themes, it’s certainly one of the best things on television at the moment.

Elsewhere, there’s always the resurgent Hammer studios.  With winning new material and fresh adaptations it looks as though Steven Thompson’s Quatermass reboot will be the first jewel plundered from their back catalogue.  As befits Hammer, the production house is always on a lookout for a way to present a fresh return for the Baron though…   While waiting for that spark of inspiration it’s over to another British outfit for the next big screen outing…

Frankenstein (2015)

“Let’s just say I’m Frankenstein’s Monster. And I’m looking for my creator” – Magneto, X-Men: First Class

No, X-Men aside, Frankenstein will next return in a more direct, but not necessarily faithful way.  The upcoming film adaptation from Paul McGuigan is perhaps the most interesting Frankenstein property around. Fresh from his startling and stylish hand in bringing Sherlock back to the masses, he’s a gifted powerhouse director who promises something quite different.  Details are scarce so far, but during its recent and current filming some images have come to light.

James McAvoy takes the role of Frankenstein and it’s well documented that classic film assistant Igor will be not only present, but intriguingly a key focus of the film.  Portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, early images show a dapper, long-haired version who’s not at first glance the Igor of popular culture.  As what appears to be the third prong of a moral piece, Moriarty Andrew Scott takes the role of the film’s  ‘religious head’.  It’s clear there are many dynamics at play here, just as there should be in a Frankenstein adaptation worth its copper.  The recent delay from January to October 2015 can only bode well considering I Frankenstein’s fate this past January.

With over a year until Frankenstein soars on the big screen again, it’s down to the Idiot’s Lantern to carry it on…

And on that note, time to dim the electric lanterns and blow out the candles on tonight’s experiments.  Coming soon, the concluding part of Frankenstein 2014 AD will herald a trip to possibly Frankenstein’s finest hour this year…  Penny Dreadful

Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part Two)

The Impossible Girl - Silence Will Fall

Part two of a retrospective of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl. She had just over half a season to pose her riddle, so how did the ever so unaware Clara measure up?

The riddle had unravelled over half a half-season so far…

The Sharp Edge of the Roundel: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

“You’re an android. You don’t get bored.”

It was always going to go wrong wasn’t it? It may be the most hyped episode of Series Seven, so it’s no surprise that it’s such a let down. I feel a bit for writer Stephen Thompson. Great episodes of Sherlock, fine plays, Quatermass incoming – and he doesn’t half get a short straw on Who. The pirate episode we shall not name was rushed and edited into nonsense while here he ended up penning a sequel to Castrovalva. Remember the old days? Corridors of the same white roundels? Well in this brave new age of intricate design and multi-million pound TARDISes… Nothing has changed. The claim that we’d go further into the TARDIS than ever before may not be too inaccurate, but it’s like promising Asylum of the Daleks would feature every Dalek. We’re wise to those tricks now. Still, it starts of fairly promising… Apart from the blink and you’ll miss it shoe-horned paradox cutaway and any idea quite how Clara ended up where she did.

Amid the middling dynamics the guest cast have to work with, the only things of interest are glimpses at the swimming pool, a rather familiar telescope and at last the library!  Other than that, a curious tone is set by the Doctor’s peculiarly devious, and unnecessary, ruse of a Faustian pact. In an episode where a time limit has no meaning, impalement injuries are brushed off and characters appear from nowhere in an infinite ship the rather effective paradox monsters don’t stand much of a chance. The Doctor’s name signals its intention to steal the Impossible Girl’s thunder soon enough – though quite why the Doctor keeps a reference book on the Time War is inexplicable. Pure sadism.

The companion riddle returns when the Doctor gets the chance to go a little psycho on Clara – he’s really on edge in this episode, are things getting to him? He’s now reached that point that’s strike a chord with many: Millennium old alien meets girl who does twice and refuses to reveal how she’s alive once again.  Now needs to prove once and for all whether she’s a deliberate trap or not and the TARDIS has gone to great lengths to create a suitable atmosphere. To be fair to the Time Lord, he had run through River Song and Bad Wolf storylines in the past few hundred years. That joins the well placed misdirection of the console rooms as a high-point: alas few and far between. Somehow during these sex sticks an oar in, pretty much discounting – we very much hope – that Clara is actually Susan (or Jenny) may be his granddaughter.

It soon becomes clear – thanks to a strangely Hellraiser monster and a giant neon sign saying ‘Eye of Harmony’ that we’re back to paradox. You know, those are the ones that we were reliably told generally resolve themselves in Cold War? Fortunately in this instance they intervene to create a convenient plot resolution and repair some family damage in the meantime. It’s a mess, which is a shame for an episode that contributes a fair amount to the Impossible Girl riddle (albeit through negation). Fortunately, it’s sandwiched between two classics.

Current Clara theory: Now the Doctor knows she’s not a trap – she must be a future echo and NOT REAL.

Rockets at Dawn: The Crimson Horror

“The Wrong Hands”

Could this be the time Mark Gatiss lives up to his true potential? Yes, but it takes significant splatterings of Carry on Screaming, Frankenstein, Bond villain, Joker origin, Total Recall, Bioshock and the Doctor’ own previous scrape with The Green Death to get there. Once again in the Moffat era, too much is packed into this one-parter.  A lot sticks but thanks to the skill of all involved that it’s not overwhelming.  In particular, The Crimson Death is saved by its excellent direction. The flash-back trick – whether it’s down to Gatiss or director Saul Metzstein – works very well indeed.  If only it wasn’t quite so derivative. Homage can only get you so far.

On the Impossible Girl front, it’s the first time back in Victoriana since the Doctor actually met Clara for (yes, the second time he talked to her), or the idea of her at least.  That brings the potential of reuniting her with the so called Paternoster Gang. Unfortunately for them, they already feel tired after less than a handful of appearances. Even when Jenny makes an emphatically ninja statement of her own… the Doctor has to step in to rescue her. Strax’s humour continues to grate and amuse in equal measure, fortunately not reaching the nadir of the season finale (Repeat mantra: “They’ve ruined Robert Holmes’ Sontarans”).

It’s easy to pick at a fantastically enjoyable adventure. There’s the (deliberately) stilted dialogue, the ‘hilarious fainting gentleman’, the pointlessly anachronistic rocket technology (surely Mr Sweet, a ‘bacteria’ at the time, didn’t pick up the tech from the Silurians), and the fact that everyone survives the rocket chamber during the old school shoot out. But then you also have the Rigg dynasty on top form, gorgeous set design and fantastic quotes. “I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you” – brilliant. Up against that lot, Clara was always going to come a cropper. In fact, it’s astonishing that any danger can be wrung from a girl we’ve already seen die twice.  Even more so that the Doctor’s new success in saving her is wonderfully realised. By the time the TARDIS crew board their craft there’s a real sense that the plot’s moved forward– perhaps accelerated by the Doctor’s lost impotence when it comes to this compulsively fatal friend. You know what I mean…

While the Doctor may appear to have more of an idea as to what’s going on with his erstwhile friend, the Paternoster trepidation reinforces that Clara’s still a live mystery and very unaware herself. Fortunately, even in the clutch of a riddle, this Doctor is insistent on having breaks from companions – only seeing Clara every Wednesday we would learn the next episode. And when Clara returns home she finds that of all things… She’s undone by the internet.

And there on the side sits the oddest toy in a house of 21st century children – a mid-1980s Galvatron Transformer. Something’s really not right there…

Current Clara theory: She’s just a bloody Victorian or not of the 21st century anyway – there’s a Galvatron toy in her house!

Upgrading Cyberia: Nightmare in Silver

“The Time Lords invented chess, it’s our game”

After the universally praised The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman may have returned to Who a little too quickly, but what an irresistible draw: make the Cybermen scary again. After all, their non-Mondasian birth in Series Two left them on the back hydraulic foot compared to the Daleks’ first appearance.

It’s reliving to jump straight in without the extra scene explaining Clara’s charges’ arrival in the TARDIS. That’s a welcome theme this half-season.  The preceding cliff-hanger had done enough, but really, could the Doctor have chosen a more dangerous place for them? Apart from Skaro about 6,000 years ago or Vulgaria.

The little seen Cyber wars have always held a firm fascination for me. Moffat has touched on them more than most, but here they’re at the heart of the story: and it’s the old phoenix paradigm just a few episodes after the Ice Warriors tested the water. Ramping up the threat and avoiding one of Who’s curious weapons, this time Cyberia didn’t get wiped out by gold: entire galaxies were blown up to rid humans of “The Great enemy” at the cost of trillions. This is big stuff.

When the retooled Cybers appear, Gaiman makes some shrewd decisions. The upgrading instinct and ‘remote detachability’ is a modern and relevant ‘upgrade’ of the spare parts idea that everyone’s clamouring to see on screen. Quite rightly they march and don’t fly, although it’s a shame that the tombs we glimpse aren’t of a more classic design. It’s a wonderfully broad set-up, almost as though he was an expert at setting up entire comic book universes.  It’s also suitably biblical for another one of Doctor Who’s great good versus bad conflicts. Time Lord and Dalek skirmishes are increasingly too blurred.

There are some interesting character points for the Doctor here; the suggestion that he can’t be converted, that he could regenerate out of the Cyberplanner tussle. If there are any doubts about the Fenric throwback chess conceit, just look how ham fistedly Terry Nation tackled logical warfare in Destiny of the Daleks. In all, Gaiman’s goals are achieved in a creditable bordering extremely good episode… sadly after The Crimson Horror’s great advancement of the Clara/Doctor’s dynamic, this must be the least important story in the Impossible Girl arc. Not that she does do anything however; in fact Clara’s brush with power shows her rather too comfortable sending her troops to their inevitable doom. She’s quite the leader…

Current Clara theory: It’s all misdirection – she’s destined to become the Doctor’s greatest adversary. Could she be… the Rani reborn?

Standing on the Magic Carpet : The Name of the Doctor

“I’m the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor”

No, no Clara, no you weren’t. Like Rose before you, you created yourself and how much more tiring it must have been. Sat somewhere in the middle, how increasingly tragic does time-strapped, kidnapped and infertile Amelia Pond look…

The excitement when this episode aired on 18th May 2013 was palpable. Or was that just fear when some American DVDs jumped the traps a bit early?  In any event, we were possibly minutes away from learning the Doctor’s name (did anyone really think that may happen?), so close to wrapping up Clara’s inexplicable story and just 45 minutes away from the anniversary special. This is when we’d get all the answers, hurling vats of red herrings into the vortex.  But which one of these would make the episode memorable?

It kicks off brilliantly, with (logically presumed) Time Lords in the workshop on the day it all began, swearing under their breath at an idiot thief. There follows a ‘rather’ lovely montage of Clara chasing after every Doctor. If you look too deeply into it, it falls apart of course. I mean, she was there during that Dragonfire cliff-hanger? But still, it’s a nice and fan-consciously generous act.

Could there be the slightest bit of Moffat-Gaiman baiting going on here? An episode previously, Gaiman blew apart the Doctor’s attempt to remove himself from the time continuum with some cold logic dressed up as script. Here Moffat returns the grudge by contradicting one of The Doctor’s Wife’ssentiments. If it was Time Lady Clara who chose the Type 40 capsule, why the ill feeling Big Blue Box? Or is she after all a little more connected to the TARDIS than she seems..?

There follows 40 minutes of explaining the why, with the standard season ending rhyme and some outrageously good acting from a rather upset Matt Smith. Overall, this marks the biggest suspension of disbelief this series.  Steven Moffat’s desire (or Doctor Who’s need) to reach an emotional peak and move the plot forward seems a little forced, again in a single episode. It doesn’t have the neat, in-built plot device of The Angels Take Manhattan. The few disappointing non sequiturs include how the Great Intelligence mastered space and (presumably) temporal travel without any craft apparent, how the Doctor touches dead and hallucinatory River Song, how the TARDIS crew even gets from a corridors to the ‘exterior’ of the craft’s front door and how everyone instantly recovers from a heart squishing. Again, pointing out plot holes in a work of fiction is sinful, but frankly the list grows like a mourning TARDIS.  Only the Great Intelligence’s suicide stands as remotely understandable: Surely because he’d created the cliff-hanging short-cut in Dragonfire in the first place!

That said, there is a resolution and a reason given for the impossible Girl, all wrapped up this single episode. The list of irregularities fades against that and the host of new reveals. Because unlike her predecessors who were robbed of their main function in one season, Clara’s drawn the really short straw and resolved herself in half that. And all the time it was contrived to get her standing there in the quiet recess of the Doctor’s lifetime and unearth a darker, deeper mystery: the only Doctor who doesn’t ignore her, and isn’t a Doctor at all.

Real Clara fact: She’s a superhero, the Impossible Girl, born to save the Doctor on Trenzalore. She’ll never, ever need to have regeneration explained to her. The show-running Bible is quickly updated. 

Dawn Arrives

At the end of this preposterous journey it’s a bit of a shock to have a resolution, but it’s an immense disappointment that it’s merely a set-up to a BBC vision mixers wet dream. Ah well. We got a good companion out of it and the following two episodes were classics, so fair enough, right?

Well not quite. The riddle of the Impossible Girl is unfortunately one of the weakest arcs to grace the new show yet. It doesn’t seem to have had anywhere near as much attention as River’s did. Perhaps it’s a shame that so much of it lives extra-diegetically. Clara wasn’t just born into the story, but, nudge, nudge wink, wink her birth date was all part of the anniversary year itself.

In the Whoniverse, any coherent explanation of her story renders it so broad and coincidental as to make it pointless. It’s clearly inexplicable in the context of the show, and that’s accepting, to stress once again, that questioning plot holes in a work of fantastical fiction is totally redundant.

Conscious Companion

Take that early stop on Gallifrey. She must be a Time Lady, one who stayed on Gallifrey and quite probably is now living on in a pocket universe saved by the Doctor. We know she didn’t fade Quantum leap style when her tasks were complete as we’ve seen her die in timelines twice before. Now that would make more sense.  True, it’s not necessarily the case that our Clara was consciously aware of what she did on Gallifrey, but the fact she uses the name Doctor suggests she is, as does the fact she chases all the classic Doctors down. Come on, the classic series didn’t move that quickly! The montage shows a Clara, time specific, actively pursuing the Doctor. All we’d known previously is that she lived entire time spans, unaware – this almost makes her another City of Death-style Scaroth, this time faceted through time and space the universe.  In future or alien places she probably bumped into herself so what happened then?  If she’s a Time Lady and a Dalek is she also a Weeping Angel or a Fendahl? If she’s actively seeking the Doctor, how does that tie into the Clara of Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen who are unaware.  What if on this mission she doesn’t find the Doctor?  What if she lives entire  lifetimes, starts thousands of families on every known world.  Calm down.  It’s fine: Most paradoxes resolve themselves remember.

It’s a good thing that he whole and only real, compelling dramatic purpose is to delve into all the Doctors’ time streams, thus exposing his darkest secret: The War Doctor.

It was a relatively short arc, but one that says a lot about the modern show. The need to find a modern equivalent for those classic cliff-hangers is greater than ever; the need to convolute to create viewer involvement so strong that these mysteries need to overlap and spawn each other.  No more simple bad Wolf references for us.

Perhaps the Impossible Girl’s main function was extra-diegetic.  Perhaps subconsciously it was to confirm that the show’s a phenomenon after all. One Clara may well have broken through to our universe and make that Asylum of the Daleks appearance all the more important on both sides of the camera. That means of course, the Doctor could do the same – all part of that nice world of opportunity opened up by the Land of Fiction and continued through all sorts of meta-fiction, including the IDW comic The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who. PerhapsClara is actually Jenna Colman and it simply makes no odds if she is or isn’t.

When saved from a personal time stream that’s clearly and handily name dependent, that leaves a whole other issue that should, in a right-working universe, create opportunities and challenges for writers: there’s now no surprises left for Clara. She’s seen regeneration, some classic adventures, so perhaps she could become that greatest ever companion after all. That said, having seen all that, I would leave him and the TARDIS right now, wouldn’t you?

A Neater Puzzle

Thank goodness Clara didn’t leave him, even during the drawn out events of The Time of the Doctor. For all the faults and missed opportunities of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl arc, adding bureaucracy to the Daleks, seemingly wiping out one of the show’s most enduring, rediscovered monsters and defrocking Ice Warriors, it also left us with a fantastic companion.

The Dawn of the Impossible Girl had been linked to the Great Intelligence ever since Christmas 2012 served up The Snowmen, in the middle of a very drawn out series. Unfortunately that meant that, much like the Ponds’ fate was rather oddly linked up to the Weeping Angels, she was part of that entity’s story and that proved to be to her and the arc’s detriment.

The “Fall of the Eleventh” had a wealth of plotlines to tie up and miraculously it managed to do so quite well, but it just seems that it could have been so much neater. As the running theme through the Eleventh Doctor’s first two series it seems bizarre to have minimised the Silence/Silents in his last. And if you’re going to create the Whispermen anyway, why not use the Silents? Creatures with ready-made space technology would not only have solved logical issues but also dramatic problems that wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the events of The Time of the Doctor. That would surely have worked out far more satisfyingly and left the Great Intelligence as more than half-season footnote just as the Impossible Girl proved to be to the War Doctor.  Intelligence has fallen just doesn’t carry much mustard.  There’s a rather disapppointing truth in the new avatars of the GI we see in Name of the Doctor; unravelling and empty.

But then, in this new, brave age of the companion, whoever credited the Great Intelligence with being intelligent.

THE END?  OF COURSE NOT…

 

Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part One)

Impossible Girl Great Intelligence Jokertoon

Impossible Girl 1

Today marks one year since the mystery of the Impossible Girl was unravelled like a multi-incarnation time stream in a giant overgrown TARDIS crypt… After the Doctor’s longest companion was whisked back in time, how did the riddle of the Doctor’s most mysterious companion unwind?

A look at the latest companion entrance…  Guaranteed to feature Spoilers.

IT’S A YEAR SINCE TWO MOMENTOUS THINGS HAPPENED IN THE WHONIVERSE: The riddle of the Impossible Girl was solved and a new, yet long hidden, incarnation of the Doctor was born.

Irresistible riddles

The Doctor’s had mysterious companions before of course, but not like this.  Amy came with a riddle of her wedding, the Pandorica and went on to spawn the backwards riddle of Melody Pond/River Song.  River was the incarnation of Steven Moffat’s correct assertion that a show about time travel should be just that.  She was all about the journey, a backwards that provided some great moments but as an inverted stroll it doesn’t quite add up and is unfortunate to sit so roundly during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure.  Rose ran out of mystery after one season, but that didn’t stop the Bad Wolf riddle being stretched and redeveloped all the way up to last year’s 50th anniversary special.  Rose created herself after all.  Further back, Turlough was spy on the TARDIS, but his Faustian pact was revealed from the start and the truth of his alien roots weren’t that compelling…

Companions Only Die Twice

Few companions have had the build-up of Clara warranted; three appearances to join the TARDIS.  We’d seen her die twice before… Or had we?  That’s what this arc was all about.  Whittling down all the Whos, Whys and Hows…

Her first appearance was a wonderful cameo in the Season Seven opener.  A bold start to a season that lived up to its claim that it would serve ups a blockbuster a week.  Unfortunately, while it was a far cry from the dull, washed out Season Five but never quite reached the heights of the first half of Season Six.  In part that was down to the ‘blockbuster’ intention that manifested itself not in boldness but derivation.  Slavish copies of actual blockbusters: The Thing, Jurassic Park, Batman packed out the first half as the Clara question set-up in Asylum of the Daleks was left to stewThat was partly because, as with theWar Doctor’s later introduction, it was a riddle on-screen as off.  Jenna Colman’s appearance hung on her recently announced casting, not the experiences of the two travelling companions to be.  Fans would have to wait until Christmas for a resolution.

Von-Trapped: The Snowmen 

“Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember…”

The Snowmen was a wonderful festival special that did everything the show should do at Christmas.  Huge guest stars, snow, magic, the return of an old, old monster and utterly gruesome deaths.  While it could only improve on the haplessly dull The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe that offended screens the Christmas before, it was weakened by choosing multiple influences rather than the more streamlined plot of A Christmas Carol and The Time of the Doctor.  Unfortunately, Clara was right in the middle of that confusion.  Moffat dug deep into The Sound of Music, the Ice Queen, Edward Scissorhands and Sherlock Holmes for inspiration; far too many influences to bolster a plot in the right way.  While the governess storyline would become a valid red-herring, it wasted the unrequited Von-Trapp love of Tom Ward’s character and rendered Clara’s pub wench role pointless.

In particular, The Snowmen should be applauded for being so horrific.  The scared and crying family at Christmas, Clara’s prolonged death, Simeon’s demise… It’s surely the Doctor’s most melancholy festive adventure. And it was an adventure wisely telling its own story, rather than solving Clara’s.  Just as well since she faced an uphill struggle bringing this Doctor round from his hermitage after Amy Pond’s considerable efforts to avoid it.  But the end of The Time of the Angels was forgotten…  Only the Doctor’s dress sense had improved.

Current Clara theory:  With the reveal that Clara – or at least one aspect of her – was born on 23rd November, the 50th anniversary was written all over her. She’s nothing less than the show itself!

Wireless:  The Bells of St John 

“The woman twice dead. And her final message…”

Oh, and now the Doctor is an actual hermit.  But not a monk.  After three sensational season openers, it was about time to return to the Davies method of ‘season build-up’.  For the most part, The Bells of St John trod a very safe road, more Partners in Crime than The Impossible Astronaut.  It also took safety in some classic Who tropes – the hidden danger in the every day, the contemporary setting, the evil at the top of the tower as well as some light satire and the chance to kick social media.

As Clara’s third introduction – having already used one great TARDIS line – it’s not surprising that the sails weren’t catching the same wind as previous Smith openers.  Those include The Eleventh Hour, the greatest ever companion and Doctor introduction and one that Moffat must have been mulling over for decades.  Bells often comes across as a soft rehash of Blink, with Spoonheads that may as well be Smilers or… Whispermen.  There are some nice links and further red herrings in Clara’s proper first story though.  The computer literacy of Asylum is played with and solved – could we be watching the creation of the girl we saw die on her first appearance?  As well as being a modern governess, she also has a book by one Amelia Williams…  That it’s the character from the old companion’s book that tries to kill the new one is nice, dark stuff.

The rest is a tonal hotchpotch.  The little darkness there is doesn’t mesh well with the comedy, particularly the creep-filled ending and Mahler’s misjudged question to UNIT.  But having learned from the Rory misfire, it’s refreshing that Clara won’t be dying every time we meet her.  That would have been very tiresome indeed.  While Doctor’s tics when putting her to bed recall the nadir of Wardrobe, it’s helps to show that Clara will make a great companion.  Let’s hope some smaller questions are tied up in the answers to her conundrum: Just who was the woman in the shop?

Current Clara theory:  With GI infused programming skills, Clara’s a giant trap of the great intelligence’s making. Remember: “The abattoir is not a contradiction”.

Space Opera: The Rings of Akhaten

“There’s always a way”

Neil Cross was the writing revelation of the Seventh Season as you might expect.  His first episode divided the critics, but there’s a haunting newness to this episode which makes me one of its staunch defenders.   It pushed Clara the companion to the fore while the Doctor also got his moment in the sun.  For all the Mos Eisley feel and generally effective stabs at humour, it’s nicely alien and quite unlike other recent Who stories.  The homage quotient is less than recent episodes, but still include Indiana Jones and religion-baiting and really the only thing that lets it down is some sorry-budget necessitated clumsy editing.

The Impossible Girl?  She floats in on a leaf of course.  It’s a stretched and whimsical metaphor, but it holds together. It helps highlight the darker side of the puzzle as well: While this ridiculous Doctor could be taken straight out of the Beano he is actually stalking his companion – new and quite sinister territory.  But with that kind of start, it also starts to show the strain.  “She’s not possible” exclaims the Doctor, quickly reminding us of the Series Six is she/isn’t she pregnant storyline. Perhaps more tellingly for Clara, while other companions had to compete with their predecessors she has the unenviable task of competing with herself.  If the basic question of why escorting Clara through time and space will help solve her riddle remains, Akhaten isn’t going to answer it.

The root of this episode is a semantic mistake and great mythical concepts.  “Consume the seven worlds” chat is wonderful stuff and as soon as the travellers arrive on that planet, the villain of the piece is in plain sight.  Amid the good old fashioned space opera, red herrings are alive and well, along with a sneaky reference to the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, surely not a coincidence in a story about a Queen and a “grandfather”.

The separation of Clara and the Doctor is weak, but that’s not uncommon in five decades of Who.  In fact, it allow Clara some time to breathe; her empathy with the young Queen not only develops the companion but also triggers the plot itself.  Clara just gets more and more likeable, unless you’re the TARDIS.  The arrival of the bads may knock the tone off a bit, but that adds to its off-kilter appeal.

”You don’t walk away” is the clear message here; fate is the undercurrent from the leaf to the religious aspects.  Here the Doctor becomes slightly more like his predecessor, defiant but oddly blasé when a chorister is killed.  Perhaps when the Doctor exclaims ”We don’t walk away when we are holding something precious…”  he’s justifying his stalkerish pursuit of Clara.  Although he seems a little fallible amid the tonal shifts, one question really bugs: hasn’t the Doctor met an intelligent celestial body before?  Hasn’t he read Alan Moore’s brilliant Mogo doesn’t Socialize? Even with the life lessons and themes Cross builds in here, he would get more right with his second story.

Current Clara theory:  She is a mystery in plain sight, and a well known one at that.  She could be the TARDIS, or an aberration like Jack Harkness…  but no, surely not – she’s Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter– why else would the Doctor have mentioned her!

Frozen Out:  Cold War 

“We’ll negotiate but from a position of strength”

The next episode was ready-made for developing Clara.  And oh dear, what hope rested on a strong, if slightly obvious return of the Who Martians?  I’m not a fan of the return of the Ice Warriors, partly because of derivative, desperate plot silliness and partly because they take their kit off.  Apart from that they wasted two Game of Thrones actors, unforgivably squandered Doctor Who Unbound David Warner and relied on a misjudged combination of CGI and poorly made rubber hands…

Still, there are moments of great direction – see the (again, wasted) David Warner in the porthole.  Just as well considering this plot is pure Thing – with added HADS-type and lost sonic screwdriver contrivance.

After the fate-obsessed Akhaten, Cold War signals the strongest indication that all bets are off when it comes to fixed time.  Ironically, that puts it in direct opposition with Waters of Mars. Surely such time-crunching has something to do with the Impossible Girl?  The Doctor’s more prominent than his companion in this simple tale, even though they are literally both in the same boat.  When Clara does offer herself as a sacrificial lamb, Jenna Colman makes the most of some great moments despite Skaldak’s escape being well signalled.  By the end she’s Clara’s role is superfluous as the Doctor appeals to Skaldak and all that remains is a lament for the missing Lego hands of these still cryptically cyber-enhanced Martians.  Not a classic for anyone.

Current Clara theory:  “Stay here, don’t argue!” “Okay”.  Clara is the perfect companion, formed and sent by the universe in readiness for the Doctor’s Day. 

Ghostbusters : Hide

“We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing”

Welcome back Mr Cross.  Hide is fantastic. On grounds of originality and confidence, content and direction, could it pip The Crimson Horror as episode of the series?  Hmm, wait and see.  With pop referencing relish, the travellers are thrust into a plot that puts the TARDIS crew in a haunted house with bizarro copy of themselves.  If anything that means romance is going to be the main comparison.  Hide contains some of the greatest moments of Modern Who, both hard science-fiction meets horror and comedy (“I’m not holding your hand!).  While the ending requires a suspension of logic, and certain plot points refuse to make any sense (the writing on the wall, how the other alien arrived…) Cross handles pace changes expertly – particularly the chat between Clara and Emma Grayling.

In the Moffat era, that skill is a must.  With some terrifying moments (what a shame it was broadcast in April), the holding hands sequence rates as one of Who’s funniest moments. Love is the main concern here, but there’s always that “sliver of ice in his heart”.  The empath works both ways of course, and the Doctor has the chance to ask about his companion.  So, Clara is a perfectly normal girl – it’s just coincidence their equivalents were made for each other all along. .?  We’ll see.

This isn’t the first time that Clara’s been made innocent of her riddle and allowed to be a companion in turmoil.  But it’s one of the most effective.  Special praise must go to the neat links built in, from the use of Ten’s orange space suit to the new pronunciation of Metabelis III.  Regarding the past, there’s another confirmation that the Whoniverse’s treatment of time has changed – could it have been after The Big Bang’s reset?  “Paradoxes resolve themselves by and large” says the Doctor at one point – a strange thing to say the more you think about it.  In any other episode, that wasn’t quite so good, that comment would have jaws on the floor.  Don’t event try to rationalise that with The Angels Take Manhattan just a few episodes earlier in the series.  Even worse, the Doctor later mentions fixed points in time which clashes horribly with with the previous episode.

If one dramatic balance comes a cropper it’s the level of fear the Doctor shows.  That’s why companions are there, so the Doctor can go on the hunt for a solution rather than be petrified.  Overall though, it’s astonishing what’s packed into Hide; brilliant sci-fi and an undeniable love story on many levels…  It’s just a shame that, in the year Jessica Raine played Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time, there couldn’t be a neat 50th anniversary link up here…

Current Clara theory:  Simple – She’s just another companion head over hills in love with the Time Lord.   

Did Clara find her purpose?  Did the Doctor chill out?  Well, if it’s good enough for a Who Series…  See how the series concluded in part two of  The Dawn of the Impossible Girl!

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