SPOILER ALERT: This week’s topic is Doctor Who. If you don’t watch the show, you probably won’t like the column. Also, if you’re saving this season to binge watch and haven’t seen any of the episodes yet, there may be some spoilers. Fair warning.
We’re several weeks now into the new season of Doctor Who featuring the latest incarnation of the Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi. While our own Vinnie Bartilucci has been doing splendid recaps/reviews here on ComicMix, I’d like to look at Capaldi’s Doctor overall and weigh in.
He’s not like the past several incarnations. Capaldi said he wanted his Doctor to be more of an alien and he’s succeeded. This Doctor also has something of an empathy problem and his social skills are rather lacking. David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, was famous for telling people, “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.” Especially when something terrible was going to happen or did happen to them that he couldn’t prevent. I can’t imagine those words even occurring to Capaldi’s incarnation.
However, what distinguishes this Doctor most to me is – he’s cranky. He’s Doctor McCrankypants.
Start with the eyes. Our first glimpse of him showed an almost angry glare and fierce, fierce eyebrows. He scowls more than he smiles. Suffer fools gladly? This Doctor doesn’t suffer them at all. He doesn’t like being hugged and, when his companion insisted, did it very awkwardly. He almost looked as if he was in pain.
He is ruthlessly pragmatic. On “Mummy on the Orient Express,” the mummy appears only to those it is about to kill. They have 66 seconds to live. The Doctor insistently pumps one of the victims before their death for a description and any other information in an effort to learn what they are dealing with. He knows there is no chance of saving the terrified man and doesn’t try.
In the first of the new episodes, the Doctor and his companion, Clara, are fleeing automatons. A door comes down between them with only a porthole in it. “No sense in both of us getting caught,” says the Doctor and runs off, leaving Clara to survive as best she can. You can see her sense of betrayal. The Doctor does return with help and does later rescue Clara but his actions are very atypical of the Doctor.
There can also be amusing side-effects to the Doctor’s crankiness. He offers to take Clara anywhere she wants to meet anyone she wants and she asks to meet Robin Hood whom the Doctor insists never existed. They go anyway and, of course, the first person the Doctor sees is Robin Hood. Refusing to admit he’s wrong, the Doctor insists this is an imposter or a robot or a hologram or something but definitely not Robin Hood. Caught and thrown into a dungeon, the Doctor and Robin have a hysterical bickering session.
In a later episode, the Doctor goes “undercover” as a caretaker at the school where Clara teaches when she is not off traipsing through all of time and space. He pretends to be human and thinks he can get away with it. He is so tone deaf to his social ineptness that it really is very funny.
All of this makes him different from his immediate predecessors. He lacks the puppy dog verbosity of Matt Smith or the emo boyishness of David Tennant or the mannish, blunt charms of Christopher Eccleston. In fact, the only Doctor I can think of who has been as cranky was the first Doctor, William Hartnell. Maybe not even him.
I wonder how the fans who have only joined the show since Eccleston and Tennant will react to Capaldi’s Doctor? He’s older and, well, crankier. Myself – I like him. A lot. In many ways, I relate to him more. As I get older, I get – well – crankier. “Hey, you kids – get away from my TARDIS!”
So – here’s to Doctor McCrankypants. Long may he travel through space and time, alienating friends and enemies alike. Go get em, Doctor.
There’s one of two things you can be almost guaranteed of when you see a story that takes place on a train – romance, or a murder.
MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
By Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
As a farewell fling, The Doctor takes Clara on a trip aboard the Orient Express in space, exactingly copied from the original, except for the bit about being spaceworthy. It becomes quickly apparent that all is not well on the craft – a mysterious unseen beast is killing people exactly 66 seconds after the victim sees it – and no one else does. It turns out this particular journey is a massive two-fold trap – the ship is filled with scientists versed in areas of research that pertain to the beast, and are pressed into service to capture it, by any means necessary.
The Doctor quickly joins the press gang, understanding that the only way to gain data is to have the next victim detail as much as they can before they are killed. Clara does not take well to this process, but when she is asked to bring to him the person they predict to be the next victim, she does what all The Doctor’s friends do – what she’s told.
A tight thriller with a new look at a classic monster, with a massively emotional line running through the story, resulting in one of the most naked-baring dialogue at the end ever seen. The new season of the series of amazingly dark, especially in the analysis of the relationship between The Doctor and his friends. By story’s end, we realize Clara has been doing something all season, and is totally at peace with it – lying.
GUEST STAR REPORT – It’s an interesting week, with only one exception, the entire major guest cast has appeared on Doctor Who in one form or another in the past, including the audio plays.
Frank Skinner (Perkins) is a well-known stand-up comic, TV presenter, and regular on Britain’s massive number of panel shows like QI and Have I Got News For You. A long-time fan of Doctor Who, he’s been campaigning for a role on the show since its inception. He had a cameo in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot as a Dalek operator. He’s also a major fan of British music hall legend George Formby, and hosted a documentary about the man in 2011.
Foxes (lounge singer) is a pop singer making quite a name for herself in the UK with her experimental style electronic pop. She appeared on the song “Clarify” by Zedd, which won the 2014 Grammy for Best Dance Recording. Her latest album, Glorious”, came out in February to positive reviews.
David Bamber (Captain Quell) appeared with David Walliams and Mark Williams in the adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings, and in the recent project by the two thirds of the League of Gentlemen who aren’t Mark Gatiss, Psychoville.
Christopher Villiers (Professor Moorhouse) is one of a pair of Who-lumni this episode, appearing in The King’s Demons from the original series. He played Sir Kay in First Knight, and a favorite in our house Nigel in Top Secret! (“How do we know he’s NOT Mel Torme?”)
Janet Henfrey (Mrs. Pitt) Last appeared in Doctor Who as Miss Hardaker in The Curse of Fenric. She had a part in the revamped version of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), a show that featured the work of a large number of people who went on to work on Doctor Who. She’ll next appear with matt Smith in the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (and Zombies).
John Sessions (Gus) was a regular panelist on the original British version of Whose Line is it Anyway, and is a recurring guest on QI. He’s done quite a lot of voice work for Doctor Who, in the Big Finish audio plays and the webcast Death Comes to Time. He’ll be playing Hunpty Dumpty in the upcoming Alice in Wonderland sequel. He joins a growing number of well-known actors to lend their voice only to the series.
THE MONSTER FILES – The Foretold is a wonderful example of taking a classic monster and giving it a modern sci-fi twist. The Doctor has seen his share of Mummies in the past. The Osiran race took up residence on Mars (a very popular planet in the series’ history) and influenced the growth of Egyptian culture, an influence that attempted to make a jump to the present in Pyramids of Mars. We’ve seen other classic Universal monsters as well – werewolves in Victorian England (Tooth and Claw) alien races who were quite pleasant when they weren’t in their alternate form (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) and various other wolf-like transformations like from Inferno and Planet of Evil. He even met Frankenstein’s Monsters, albeit only an android copy, in a disused fun fair during The Chase.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS –
KILL THE QUEEN! – The lounge singer performing what is by now a centuries old song (“Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen) which is certainly supposed to represent the contemporary music of the period of the original Orient Express is a callback to Lady Cassandra playing a “traditional ballad” during The End of the World, namely Britney Spears’ “Toxic”.
BOW TIES ARE…WELL… – The Doctor is wearing a bow tie again, but it’s the style he wore back in the Hartnell years, keeping with the style of dress he’s been wearing all season.
WOULD YOU LIKE A… – Eschewing the traditional rumpled paper bag, The Doctor now carries his Jelly Babies in a dashing cigarette case. That’s not the only Tom Baker reference in the episode – when The Doctor has the conversation with himself, his “other voice” takes on just a tinge of the booming tone of the fourth Doctor.
HOW LONG CAN YOU HOLD YOUR BREATH? – The Doctor can go without oxygen for quite some time, thanks to the Gallifreyan respiratory bypass system, first referenced in the Tom Baker adventure The Ark in Space.
“It’s a sad smile, it’s two emotions at once” – The Doctor once admitted to be confused at “happy crying” in the company of the Ponds. He’s had trouble understanding Human emotion in the past, he’s just made more of a career of it this season.
“The number of evil twice over” – While most modern people acquaint 666 with evil, 33 appears in a number of religious doctrines, and pops up in an interesting number of coincidental places in a plurality of schools of knowledge. This website lists a great deal of them.
“It’s full of…bubble wrap” – Bubble wrap has a long association with the series, usually as a material for making monsters and sets. Most famously it made up much of the skin of the growing Wirrn creatures in The Ark In Space.
“Even the smallest details might help us save the next one” – Once again, we’re seeing The Doctor having no remorse of sadness for someone’s passing, wishing only to use them as a tool to solve a larger problem. It’s what Clara assumes he’ll do to Maisie later in the story.
“Are you my mummy?” – I honestly thought they might choose not to go with this line. A reference to the Eccleston thriller The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances, he made a similar joke while wearing a gas mask in The Poison Sky.
“That job could change a man” – Perkins was referring to how travelling like that could change passengers in the TARDIS, and The Doctor was referring to himself. Both are correct.
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – Danny is only heard from via the phone, but once again, his and Clara’s relationship are where the big moves in the narrative take place. While there’s still a dangling mystery as to the identity of Gus, there’s no being sure that he’s working with Missy, Queen of Heaven.
“He even phoned the TARDIS” – The Doctor got a call at the end of The Big Bang about an incident on the Orient Express In Space. The details were a bit off from what we’re seeing here, but the point it clear – Gus has been trying to get The Doctor’s attention to solve this problem for a very long time, and is fully aware of who he is. We’ve had mention of the difficulty of getting the number to the TARDIS already, so this person has access to very secret information.
“But thanks for lying” – It’s the second line spoken by The Doctor in the episode – and it’s the main theme of the episode. It’s spoken about, referred to, and joked about right through to the end of the story. Maisie accuses The Doctor of lying as soon as she hears the first thing out of his mouth, The Doctor Lies about why he asks Clara to eventually actually lie to Maisie. The Doctor claims he’s lying about getting everyone way safely, but he’s lying about that. And at the end, Clara flat out lies to The Doctor about her turnaround about travelling with him, which means she will go right on lying to Danny about not doing it anymore.
“I am so sorry”– It’s key to note that now it’d The Doctor’s companion who is doing the apologizing, what Ten used to do so often it became a meme.
“So you were pretending to be heartless” – There such amazing levels going on in these final scenes. The Doctor has clearly gotten more brunt in his attitude, using dying people as stepping stones to a solution. But in the next moment we learn something important – for a guy who claims to be terrible with names, he remembers the name of each person he couldn’t same. He’s still keeping count, even through he’s hiding it better than ever.
“Is it like…an addiction?” – Let’s analyze Clara’s behavior throughout the season. She’s keeps trying to convince herself that she can “handle it”. She attempts to restrict her access by only doing it occasionally. She puts herself in danger to get what she wants. She lies to those she loves about what she’s doing, and after swearing this is the last time, she decides it’s not. So…you tell me; how good is her analysis?
NEXT ON DOCTOR WHO! Experimentation by an unknown alien source is leaving some people feeling a little…Oh, I just can’t DO it!. Flatline, coming this Saturday.