5-sentence review of ‘Doctor Who: Flatline’


Doctor Who” | Series 8, Episode 9: “Flatline” | Date: Oct. 18, 2014

  1. The two-dimensional creatures that terrorize Bristol in “Flatline” were the most inventive monsters since the Weeping Angels and produced the scariest of the eighth series.
  2. We know the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) lies, but so does Clara (Clara Oswald) — and quite a lot, especially to her love Danny (Samuel Anderson), who specifically told her that was the one thing he would not tolerate.
  3. The twelfth incarnation of the Doctor finally has his hero moment — bursting forth from the newly restored TARDIS to banish the murderous two-dimensional monsters.
  4. It was a scene they gave the 11th Doctor in his first episode, but really made the audience wait for Capaldi in the role and, boy, it was worth it.
  5. Missy (Michelle Gomez), referred to in reports as “the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere,” watches the Doctor and Clara argue after the adventure and makes a vague comment that leads me to wonder: Is Clara the true villain of Series 8?

On TV: 5-sentence review of ‘Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express’


Doctor Who” | Series 8, Episode 8: “Mummy on the Orient Express”
| Date: Oct. 11, 2014

  1. I had hoped after her blow out with the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in the previous episode that this might be a Clara (Jenna Coleman) lite episode, but alas this was the time-travelling equivalent of break-up sex.
  2. The Doctor and Clara land on the Orient Express, a train that travels through space in homage to the famous European rail service.
  3. A mummy is killing people — once they see it they have 66 seconds to live — and some big bad named Gus is manipulating the Doctor and other experts aboard to try and capture the mummy.
  4. There’s a lot of “I wish I could quit you” out of Clara, which is tiresome, and a lot of “Sometimes I’m mean, but I’m just doing the best I can” out of the Doctor, which is a little bit more fun, but the note has been played enough that it’s time for it to mean something more than simple refrain.
  5. Clara lies and decides to keep travelling with the Doctor against her own instincts and the wishes of boyfriend, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), which is an interesting hypocrisy given her scolding the Doctor for his lies and manipulations.

On TV: Review of ‘Doctor Who: Kill the Moon’


Doctor Who” | Series 8, Episode 7:Kill the Moon” | Date: Oct. 4, 2014

“Kill the Moon” continued the improving trend of episode quality for the eighth series of the revived “Doctor Who.”

In the present day, Clara (Jenna Coleman) scolds the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) for making young Courtney (Ellis George) feel unspecial. Courtney has been acting out in school after her brief trip in the TARDIS. Apparently all youths need to be made to feel special or they’ll go all haywire.

The Doctor takes Courtney and Clara to the moon in an effort to make Courtney fell special as the first woman on the moon. But they overshoot into 2049, where they come into contact with some astronauts on a grim mission.

In 2049, the moon is gaining weight and breaking apart, causing all kinds of havoc with the tides on earth. Mankind has given up space travel. The last surviving Space Shuttle is sent to the moon with a classic human solution: Blow it up with nuclear weapons.

The Doctor and company explore an abandoned space station and are attacked by red-eyed spider-like creatures. Courtney cleverly (or accidentally) discovers how to kill them: anti-bacterial spray. The shifts in light and darkness and “what’s around the corner” bits are worthy the series’ more intense and frightening moments.

The story shifts into a moral dilemma. The Doctor discovers the moon is, in fact, a giant egg for a beautiful space dragon. The humans must decide: murder the space dragon and maybe earth survives or don’t murder it and maybe earth is destroyed. Or maybe it survives. They really don’t know.

And the Doctor isn’t telling. He says he cannot see the future. He may be lying. He does that. But he refuses to help Clara make the decision. In fact, he packs up in the TARDIS and leaves Courtney, the last surviving astronaut and Clara decide the fate of the moon and possibly human kind.

Clara uses a TV satellite to appeal to the world. If they want the unborn creature blown up, turn off their lights. If they want it to live, turn the lights on. The earth goes dark. Kill the creature. At the last moment, Clara stops the countdown on the nuclear missiles. The Doctor arrives and whisks away the trio.

The Doctor reveals that because humanity didn’t destroy the space dragon, they become curious about space again. They travel to the ends of the universe and survive to the end of time. Courtney participated in the salvation of the human race. How’s that for special?, the Doctor asks.

Clara, however, is furious. She feels as if the new Doctor is cold-hearted and manipulative. He looks down on humans and she’s had quite enough of it. She tells him to go away and leave her be. She returns to Coal Hill School and vents to Danny (Samuel Anderson), who tells her she is not quite ready to leave the Doctor yet because she’s angry. You can’t be done with someone who can still make you angry, Danny wisely says.

The drama is well-played and, as usual, Capaldi and Coleman are top-flight. But I have grown weary of the self-righteous Clara. I could do with an episode away from her. In fact, I would be too tearful if she were to leave outright at Christmas as has been rumored.

The writers have woven Clara into the Doctor’s mythos so deeply that he seems less of a heroic character and more of an expression of Clara’s forceful personality. Clara wants the Doctor to be more empathetic to humans. But she lacks empathy for him.

She didn’t like the fact that he didn’t look like a boyfriend upon his regeneration. And she seems to forget that the Doctor once decided the fate of his own planet. It went poorly until he got a do-over through some timey-wimey business. Perhaps he simply wasn’t up for deciding the fate of an alien world.

A lot of critics, both mainstream and amateurs like me, have been rapturous in their praise of Coleman’s work as Clara and the overall in the eighth series. I am more measured. Coleman is great, to be sure. But this idea of her whispering courage into a young Doctor’s ear as cowered in his family barn on Gallifrey ticks me off.

This effort to make Clara the most important companion — the most important person — in the history of the Doctor rubs me the wrong way. It undermines the spirit of the Doctor. He could not, apparently, have come to any moral base of his own without the influence of Clara. How conceited on the part of the writers to feel the need to build up a character by hollowing out another.

Still, I’m 800 words deep in a blog post about the series. It is, at least, inspiring me to think. This is far more than most of the TV I watch. And I still dearly love seeing my favorite hero each week.

But somebody please stop Capaldi from wearing those polka-dotted shirts. If he thought the scarf was silly, those things are abysmal.

On TV: Review of ‘Doctor Who: The Caretaker’


Doctor Who” | Series 8, Episode 6: “The Caretaker” | Date: Sept. 27, 2014

The Caretaker” brought together some of the plot threads of the eight series of “Doctor Who.” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) finally meets Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) boyfriend, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), and disapproves of the soldier.

Danny offers Clara an interesting perspective on the Doctor: He’s aristocracy, an officer who pushes beyond their limits and puts her in danger without her realizing the potential consequences.

The Doctor’s newfound prejudice against soldiers remains murky. The revelations of the high cost of the Time War in “Day of the Doctor” may help decode this myster. Perhaps the Doctor feels self-loathing given he nearly obliterated his own people to end the war that threatened the world.

It was interesting that Danny instantly saw the good in the Doctor despite the Doctor’s bluster. He immediately noted that the Doctor scorned Danny so much because the Doctor wanted to make sure Danny was good enough for Clara.

Oh, there was also a giant killer robot that threatened the whole world. It was stopped, but it was largely a distraction from the Doctor-Clara-Danny plot.

I enjoyed “The Caretaker” the best of any episode so far this season. The title even had a double entendre, with the Doctor pretending to be the Coal Hill School’s caretaker and his larger role of caretaker for both earth and Clara.

The only nit I have to pick is this marks the halfway point of the season. I’m always in the mood for more Doctor.

On TV: 5-sentence review of ‘Doctor Who: Time Heist’


Doctor Who” | Season 8, Episode 5:Time Heist” | Date: Sept. 20, 2014

5. I’ve grown weary of the self-loathing Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in this series.

4. Oh, I still love Capaldi, his rat-ta-tat-tat delivery, his dour disposition, but I want my Doctor be a hero with the mojo to save the day rather than a brooding meanie dependant on his not-girlfriend, Clara (Jenna Coleman).

3. “Time Heist” was more fun than previous episodes of the series — I do love a good heist story, even when it’s not really a heist story — with a strong supporting cast of bug-eyed monsters, guilt-ridden rich people, a man with an electronic brain and a few brief nods to the classic series.

2. Still, the Doctor essentially admits he hates himself, which is a bit depressing and sad given all the good he’s accomplished.

1. I find myself thinking back over previous series and this is a theme producer Steven Moffat has used before — nobody hates the Doctor more than the Doctor — but if there’s a mystery here that I’m supposed to be picking up, the hooks have not set deep enough for me to be reeled in just yet.

On TV: 5-sentence review of ‘Doctor Who: Listen’


Doctor Who” | Series 7, Episode 4 | “Listen” | Sept. 13, 2014

5. Again I find myself at the end of another “Doctor Who” episode wondering when the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is going to do something — anything — interesting.

4. “Listen” finds the Doctor investigating the age-old mystery: What’s that under your bed?

3. The episode was gloriously shot, moody and well-produce, but the plot felt like a slightly darker version of “Monsters, Inc.,” and it again makes Clara (Jenna Coleman) the center of the universe.

2. Coleman is top-notch as Clara, but the series has become entire about how this woman — through the magic of time travel — has essentially created everything good in the Doctor’s character, from which TARDIS the Doctor stole to his heroic nature to curing his childhood fear of the dark.

1. Capaldi is still commanding when he is allowed on screen, but the Clara storyline has essentially wiped out any of the Doctor’s role in choosing his own destiny; every moment in his life seems to have been orchestrated by Clara — either by accident or purpose — and it feels like the Doctor has been hollowed out as a character, a big nothing without Clara’s influence.

Morning Mixtape: ‘Doctor Look Out’ by Orbital

morning mixtape logo

In the early 2000s, influenced by my friend David, I explored electronica music. One group I discovered Orbital, an English band. My favorite track by them was a remix of the “Doctor Who” theme called “Doctor Look Out.” Here’s one version of the song, mixed with clips from the first 50 years of the program. Enjoy.

On TV: ‘Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood’


“Doctor Who” | Series 8, Episode 3: “Robot of Sherwood” | Date: Sept. 6, 2014

I was predisposed against the subject matter of “Robot of Sherwood,” the third episode of the eight series of “Doctor Who.” I just don’t go in for all that Robin Hood stuff. I’ve never much cared for knights, medieval claptrap and whatnot.

And so with that baggage, it’s little surprise the episode did little for me. I continue to enjoy Peter Capaldi’s dour take on the Doctor, but he seemed a bit player in what is becoming the Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) show.

Coleman was excellent for her part. And guest Ben Miller, who played the Sheriff of Nottingham, reminded me of Anthony Ainley as the Master.

But the Doctor spent most of the episode squabbling with Robin Hood (Tom Riley), which began amusing and quickly moved to tedious and repetitive.

There was another reference to “the Promised Land,” the ongoing mystery of Series 8. And yet again, the Doctor denied he was a hero, which may explain his grim demeanor.

Still, I await a kapow moment from the new Doctor — that moment when he stands up and becomes the hero, saves the day and makes us all glad we took a ride with the madman in his box.

Nothing yet. But I keep watching and, by and large, I am entertained.

On TV: ‘Doctor Who: Into the Dalek’



Into the Dalek” was weaker than the season opener of “Doctor Who.”

The Daleks are headline bad guys in the fiction of “Doctor Who,” but there hasn’t been a good Dalek story since “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” the two-part capper to Series 4. There they were scary and deadly, nearly indestructible.

But in the era of show runner Steven Moffat, the Daleks blow up like Christmas crackers. Sometimes they serve tea to Winston Churchill during World War II (“Victory of the Daleks“) and often they’re getting run over by a flying TARDIS (“Day of the Doctor.”)

This time, a Dalek has gotten sick. And now it’s a good guy. It sees its own race as a terrible, destructive force that must be stopped. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) arrives. He’s miniaturized with a couple soldiers and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and they journey inside the Dalek, a direct rip off of “Fantastic Voyage,” which the Doctor references either in homage or apology.

Capaldi is still a master craftsman. He renders his Doctor as harsh, detached and rude. He delivers sharp, staccato and sometimes ruthlessly funny dialogue as if the episode were written by Aaron Sorkin.

But the Doctor is the hero of this piece. Much of the time, though, he’s an ass. He’s so much of an ass that Clara properly slaps him.

The Doctor and crew repair the Dalek, which promptly turns evil and starts killing all the regular-sized people in the spaceship. Clara convinces the Doctor to try and get the Dalek to be good. He tries, but the Dalek, whom the Doctor calls “Rusty,” looks into the Doctor’s soul and sees beauty, divinity and hatred — especially for the Daleks.

Rusty murders his Dalek compatriots and pledges to return to the Dalek ship to do more murdering. The Doctor is sullen, realizing his own hatred has fueled more killing.

One character whom we scarcely meet, sacrifices herself to aid Clara and the Doctor inside the Dalek. The woman, Gretchen, reappears in the mysterious “heaven” — the same spot where the Two-Headed Man popped up at the end of the season opener — in time for tea with the equally baffling, Missy, a plot thread to be picked up later, one supposes.

Another character, Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), asks to join the Doctor in his travels. He says no, because she’s a soldier and apparently he doesn’t like soldiers anymore. He spent years working with the Brigadier, but he’s dead now. So it is a mystery for another episode, too.

We also meet Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). He teaches at the school with Clara. He was a soldier and the experience has made him very sad. He and Clara decide to go out for drinks.

The special effects, which have generally been very strong in the revived series, were dodgy in this. When the Doctor confronts the one-eyed biological mass at the heart of Rusty, it looks like the kind of rubbish green screen work one would expect from “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and not one of the most successful programs on BBC.

I’m still enjoying Capaldi’s Doctor, even if he is cruel and distant. And even a below-average episode of “Doctor Who” is still better than most of the dreck on my idiot box.

But it was disappointing. For having a new Doctor in only his second full episode, it felt very much like I had seen most of this before.

Great Paragraphs: On eyebrows and Scots

It’s all right up until the eyebrows. Then it goes haywire. Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows. You could take bottle tops off with these. They’re cross! They’re crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross! They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own state of eyebrows! … That’s Scot! I’m Scottish. I’ve gone Scottish. Oh, no, that’s good. Oh. It’s good I’m Scottish. I’m Scottish. I can complain about things. I can really complain about things now.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), “Deep Breath

On TV: Peter Capaldi shines in ‘Doctor Who’ Series 8 premier



Peter Capaldi makes a magnificent debut in the title role of “Doctor Who.” While predecessors Matt Smith and David Tennant, and to a lesser extent Christopher Eccleston, hid their menace behind cheerful, boyish faces, Capaldi lets his rage and anguish boil right on the top.

The departure is wonderful. Capaldi’s Doctor is fierce, feisty and quarrelsome. He calls Earth the “plant of the pudding brains.” His catchphrase seems to be “Shut up!” He isn’t afraid to be harshly critical of dainty Clara (Jenna Coleman), who had a flirtatious relationship with Smith’s Doctor.

The story, “Deep Breath,” is more character building than adventure. The straightforward approach, though, is welcome. The Doctor is discombobulated after his regeneration. The TARDIS crash lands in Victorian London, accidentally dragging a Tyrannosaurus Rex into the future.

The trio of detectives — ancient Silurian lizard Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and the dim-witted, dome-headed Strax (Dan Starkey), a Sontaran warrior turned nurse and carriage driver — arrive to find the Doctor confused and helpless.

Clara is angry with the Doctor because he can’t remember her name and has somehow turned into an older man, with gray hair and a wrinkled face. Vastra confronts Clara on her vanity and suppositions about the true nature of the Doctor.

Vastra supposes the Doctor has worn the face of a younger man to gain acceptance in a world that would reject him. Clara rumples at this, but the truth of it damning. Clara is just as shallow as the rest of us humans.

And the boyish face of the Doctor made her feel beautiful and wonderful as they shared adventures. But the face of a codger throws off the dynamic and the bubbling romantic feelings she denied having now have nowhere to go.

“Deep Breath” is excellently written by show runner Steven Moffat. He and Capaldi have a delightful time describing his new face, in terms both sad and farcical. Capaldi delivers a rant about his own eyebrows that is uproariously funny. He follows that with a delightful celebration of his own Scottish heritage. It’s a high point in the episode.

Another great moment comes when Clara and the Doctor meet in a restaurant and bicker over who is vain, manipulative and self-centered. The back-and-forth is, at times, harsh. The Doctor uses a hair he rudely plucks from Clara’s head to discover they’re surrounded by killer robots. Clara protests. The Doctor snaps, “Sorry, it was the only one that was place. I’m sure that you would want it killed.”

I think that was the moment I fell in love with Capaldi’s Doctor.

The new Doctor is rougher. At one point, when he and Clara attempt to escape killer robots, she is trapped. The Doctor attempts to raise the door she’s stuck behind but stops. “Sorry, no point in us both getting caught.” She pleads with him to give her his sonic screwdriver. “I might need it.” Then he wanders off, leaving Clara to fend for herself.

It’s a cruel act and my heart sank when he did it, but it was yet more beautiful writing. Our hero is the same hero, only completely different. Clara, left to fend for herself, learns lessons taught her by the Doctor and her own life as a schoolteacher to keep the villain at bay and doling out information.

The Doctor, of course, rescues her with the help of Vastra, Jenny and Strax. And he is beginning to sound like he knows who he is, threatening to destroy the robots’ power source if he sees “one thing I don’t like. And that includes karaoke and mimes, so take no chances.”

The Doctor goes to confront the villain, a robot who has become more man than machine. And a cold, calculating moment, the Doctor sits at a table and pours two drinks. The machine man asks what he’s doing. The Doctor replies, “I’ve got the horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first.”

The villain is defeated, of course. The day is saved.

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor admits he’s made many mistakes in his 2,000-year life. “Clara,” he says directly, “I’m not your boyfriend.” She protests, as women do, that she never said he was. The Doctor, politely replies, “I never said it was your mistake.”

Clara decides she can’t handle the new, darker Doctor. But she receives a phone call on her mobile. It’s Matt Smith’s Doctor moments before his regeneration on Trenzalore. He pleads with Clara to help his future self.

The Capaldi Doctor is saddened that Clara cannot see him for the man he is beyond his features. She softens and hugs him. She decides to stay, at least for now. And the two friends go off for coffee.

Capaldi’s delivery is wonderful. He fully and masterfully embodies one of the biggest characters in all of television and genre fiction. He is what the Doctor always needs to be: the most interesting man in the universe.