As well, I'm reading for pleasure the first book I've encountered by Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian novelist who isn't too famous in this hemisphere, but has a style that I'd characterize as kaleidoscopic micro-paranoia. I'm almost halfway finished her short novel The Passion According to G.H., and the title character has spent the last 40 (of 160 total) pages staring at the oozing corpse of a cockroach she's just killed as she cleans up the quarters of her former live-in maid who hated her. Breathlessly fearless.
You Were My Friend is also going well. The audiences still aren't the size that I'd like, even though my social media work has been furious and my postering campaign has covered a good chunk of downtown Hamilton. The audiences we do get are all moved nearly to tears. So the people love us, and with five shows left, there had better be more people.
But the main purpose of this post is a summation of my Doctor Who reviews. I didn't really address the quality of episodes in each of my reviews, although I think my assessment of their quality can become clear from reading my posts. I'll give them a provisional letter grade as well, so you can get a sense of how generally wonderful I thought this season was just from the list. Where episodes get the same letter grade, their rank on the list indicates how they stack up in finer distinctions of quality than the grade can express.
1. The Caretaker (A+)
2. Dark Water / Death in Heaven (A+)
3. Listen (A)
4. In the Forest of the Night (A)
5. Deep Breath (A)
6. Into the Dalek (A)
7. Kill the Moon (A-)
8. Flatline (B+)
9. Mummy on the Orient Express (B)
10. Robot of Sherwood (C)
11. Time Heist (C-)
|My personal vote for the best episode of Doctor Who|
this year, The Caretaker.
Kill the Moon would have been unequivocally brilliant if the production crew hadn't so badly bungled the language that suggested an anti-choice ideology on abortion, particularly the cinematographer's decision to de-emphasize the Doctor's praise of the space wasp as a beautiful and unique creature, and focus on Courtney's simple declaration "But it's a baby!" Wonder is a far better ideology for Doctor Who than reproductive futurism.
After that, it's all varying levels of praise. Rusty the Dalek is a fascinating character, and Into the Dalek has some of the most amazing imagery of the entire history of the show (even Flatline can't beat it, because Flatline has only one amazing image concept, where Into the Dalek has something like 10).
Deep Breath is perfectly executed modern Doctor Who, succeeding without a single hitch. Forest has the best writing for children in the entire history of Doctor Who, along with a cracking narrative without a true villain (a wonderful idea for a show that used to be a xenophobic monster fighting serial), wonderful progress in the Danny-Clara plot, and a beautiful underlying concept about the power of ecologies to brutalize and provide a safe home. Listen is a gripping tale of paranoia, sprinkled with dark humour and ending with a brilliant meta-fictional twist.
Dark Water / Death in Heaven is the greatest season finale in the whole of Doctor Who, beating my previous favourite, The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang. It's the best Cyberman story, using them as creeping terrors, and Danny's story (and that face!) displays the fullest sense of horror in the Cyber-nization process. It's the best Master story ever, with Michelle Gomez essentially becoming a modern Joker to the Doctor, an agent of pure malicious joy in willful destruction who can barely contain her own shattered soul. It also has a tragic companion departure, all the more devastating for how subtle and quiet it is. Danny's story is weaved with fascinating philosophical threads, and climaxes with moving pathos. As well, it isn't afraid to make Danny, as much as we now miss him, inherently flawed, essentially committing suicide and irreparably wounding Clara because his guilt over his wartime mistakes ultimately matters more to him than his love for her and any ethical redemption that could offer.
So with all that in mind, why do I rank The Caretaker over the finale, and declare it my favourite story of the season? The Caretaker keeps its heart. The finale is ultimately a tragedy of needless death. It needs Santa popping in at the end to keep the show from ending in a deep, nihilistic hopelessness. Danny, whose love for Clara is so powerful that it overcomes the Cyber hive mind, remains so overcome by guilt that he still embraces death. Danny forces Clara to experience his death for a third time because he lets his guilt overcome him. Clara's end in Doctor Who is, therefore, in death, guilt, self-hatred.
The Caretaker is just as deft as the finale in handling its themes and narrative. The conflict between the Doctor and Danny plays out with humour, and the class dynamic of the episode is something that Doctor Who hasn't really dealt with before. Here, it displays its politics on its sleeve, critiquing the Doctor for his attitudes, even though we understand that the critique is not quite right. The Doctor is rightly upbraided for his relative self-absorption and sarcasm, but Danny is also off the mark, seeing an oblivious officer and a nihilist in the Doctor that isn't true to the core of the character. The episode, brutal though it can be, plays out with a tone of farce. Doctor Who has met the sitcom genre, and Gareth Roberts writes it perfectly. And all this still comes to a happy, hopeful ending. Danny and Clara are still in love, and even though her double life and its shenanigans will continue, the men in her life have reached a kind of mutual respect.
And, if not the Doctor's actual next companion, then I think with Courtney we see the template for the kind of personality Capaldi's Doctor will attract. It also serves, implicitly, as a rebuke to Danny's critique of the Doctor's imperious nature. Aside from Clara, the person the Doctor gets along with best in this story is a juvenile delinquent from a troubled home. Courtney is smart, practical, intelligent, difficult, and a willful shit-disturber (as we used to say in the old country). She faces race, class, and institutional disadvantages with sarcasm and sabotage. Capaldi's Doctor is an imp, and his next companion should be the same.