Doctor Who Recap: A Space Pope? We’ll never work again.

Hi Trashmii!

In the time since I last did a post, I’ve come to think that’s the better greeting. Like I did once before, then I started using ‘Trashies’ again. So we’ll see how long it lasts – but at least it does give a nod to our history.

Pretty much like this Christmas Special of Doctor Who, ‘The Time of the Doctor’. I had intended to cover the 50th anniversary ‘Day of the Doctor’ too, but I got halfway through before getting sidetracked with real life. No, even I have one. Ok I pretend to have one. That special was more a celebration of the last 50 years of Doctor Who, with lots of callbacks to old stuff and a companion programme with all the old Doctors in (that are still alive).

‘The Time of the Doctor’ is the swansong of the 11th Doctor, and the introduction of the 12th. Although previous  series minimized the role of regeneration, the modern relaunch treats it as a much more dramatic occasion. No more regens like the 6th to the 7th Doctor, where the reason for it wasn’t shown, it just happened in the first 30 seconds of the episode. No. Now we have a long goodbye, for good or ill. I’m still not sure which way I think it went in the end, so that rules out ‘really really well’ by implication.

A brief overview – this (and the previous special) sums up everything that is currently right and wrong about Doctor Who. It mixes up too many milestones at once, doesn’t really provide reasons for a lot that happens – but it is dramatic and exciting. It also shows some good undercurrents from a long term fan’s point of view. It tries, and partially succeeds, to roll up the Matt Smith 11th Doctor Era, to leave a clean slate for the next one.

We start off with a voice over about ‘the man who stayed for Christmas’. Uh oh. They’re going with the Christmas theme. I suppose it unrealistic of me to think they wouldn’t, but I had hoped. This sums up my attitude to Christmas this year:

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Fuck off before I cook your lamb in a curry

Why? Well I’ve never believed in Father Christmas, being a deeply cynical child, and if you need a special festival each year to remind you to be a nice person then you’re a bigger bastard than I am. On the plus side, I like the food and the time off work, so its swings and roundabouts.

The main plot point is that a planet has being giving off a message that the whole universe can hear (or at least all the nasty species can) and they’ve come to see what it is, as they don’t understand it.

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A message we don’t understand? Quick, send our whole fleet to investigate! Don’t ask why!

The Doctor has come to investigate too, and is on board a ship with a Dalek Proboscis, as proof of his courage, and to see what the owners want.

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Do the spheres on those columns look like Dalek spheres Doctor? 

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It’s a Dalek ship, and he runs for it. The Daleks that are shown are the old style ones, not the newer designs from two series ago that appear now to have been shuffled under the carpet for good. Maybe the action figure sales weren’t great. (That’s why they were introduced, the part of the BBC that deals with merchandising agreed to fund Doctor Who through the massive BBC budget cuts if they made more new Daleks they could sell as action figures.) But the Doctor escapes. We won’t ask the particulars, as if we did we’d be bitterly disappointed.

He seems to have picked up an irrelevant sidekick for some reason. If that’s a Cyberman though, that means it’s a cyborg, and that’s a humanoid head in that helmet, not a robot. Pretty creepy.

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The Doctor’s new friend

The Doctor can’t translate the message, but now he gets interrupted by his real companion, Clara. The original screenie I took didn’t come out well, so I’ve substituted an alternative.

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Ms Peel 2.0.3

I’m as angry about that as you are.

No she doesn’t wear that stuff in the show, after the Leela episodes the BBC have steered away from that. Ok she’s not Sarah Jane Smith, the companion of companions, or Donna Noble,the best of the new breed by far. But she is quite good so far, and very hot. Sorry can’t help that. But the 11th Doctor was really defined by sticking with Amy Pond the whole time, so she’s despite her dramatic storyline she’s still somewhat overshadowed.

Clara’s problem turns out to be she wants a boyfriend to show off at Lunch to her family. The Doctor fills in, and an incredibly contrived and silly joke ensues. The Doctor is nude! And instead of getting dressed, he decides to wear holographic clothes. What? Why? Wait there’s more – they’re special holographic clothes that have to be keyed to the person who sees them, or else your still nude! So the contrived joke lumbers over the horizon with all the subtlety of a rampaging elephant. Clara takes a nude Doctor to lunch – but without realizing it. What larks.

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That’s how I feel right now.

I won’t say kill me now, but I’m up for killing the writer. I mean whilst we’re visiting the 1970s for comedy, why not have Clara’s grandmother say ‘Have you seen my pussy’ and hold up a cat?

There’s a few minutes of alleged hilarity as this joke plays out. It ends with Clara deciding to cook her turkey in the TARDIS. Why? Who knows or cares. During this excruciating exchange he mentions that the Cyberman head is purely robotic now after all. A few minutes ago that would have interested me, but now I just want this to get better.

Back to the plot, and the planet sending out the message is identified as Gallifrey by Handles, the Cyber head, but the Doctor immediately says it isn’t. Having grown up there I guess he would know.

Then the Space Pope shows up. I wish I was kidding.

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“A Space Pope? We’ll never work again.”

It turns out the whole nude thing was that the Space Pope only lets you on board if you’re nude. Chortle. Except that absolutely everyone on board her ship, and, (as it becomes clear she’s the head of the Church that the 11th Doctor has had run in’s with through out his entire regeneration) every member of the church ever shown so far has been fully clothed, this seems to be a lie.

But at least this is some storyline tying up. It introduces Tasha Yem, the Space Pope, or more correctly, Matriarch. The actress does a good job of portraying her with some panache though. Turns out she shielded the planet to stabilize the situation and prevent a bloodbath. Whilst the Doctor chats with her, Clara meets with one of the Silence.

Now hold on  tight there’s a lot of plot coming very fast now – the planet being protected is an agrarian backwater, and the Daleks and Cybermen could land if they really wanted to, they just don’t want to pay the cost in casualties it’d cost.(so far) All in a minute. Phew. I really wish they’d spent less time on nude jokes and more on plot exposition. Oh and Space Pope can see through Holograms.She wants them to go down to the planet and check out what’s going on.

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The Woman who can see through Light. Presumably using Light.

There’s a few minutes of messing about on the planet, where one of the few truly scary new Dr Who monsters become reduced to a few seconds distraction – the Weeping Angels. They run past them and we don’t see them again. Don’t blink, run, and that’s them done with. Has the writer got a monster checklist to tick off? Yes, it seems like it.

There’s a town and it’s called Christmas, so its always Christmas here. Why? We never know. Or, again, care.

The Doctor now discovers you have to tell the truth in Christmas. The town. I mean if that held true with the holiday there’d be even more family fights by 3pm than usual. Although this year as I cooked lunch there were fewer arguments, as I’m a dictator in the kitchen and brook no dissent. One row did break out when Dad, my sous chef this year, tried to feed a Muslim pork as it turns out he didn’t know that was a no no. But we’re fat grumpy Welsh men so for us arguing is just what we do to pass the time, and the rest of the family turned off the tv so they could laugh at us, so it all ended well. But back in Christmas the truth field has made Clara admit she only hangs out with the Doctor as she fancies him.

The writer gets Clara to ask ‘how can a town be called Christmas?’. Well by people calling it ‘Christmas’, Clara. That’s the system so far adopted by all of humanity so I presume you’re aware of it.

The Doctor does point this out, but really would any intelligent person ever ask this question? There’s a village near me called ‘Thong’ but people don’t stop and say ‘But how can that village be called Thong?’, they just snigger and accept it. And there’s a town in France called ‘Poil’ and ‘a poil’ means ‘wearing nothing but your hair’ (nude!) but enough of that.

This all leads on to a reappearance of the ‘time crack’ – no not more nudity, that is over now – that happened a few years ago when the 11th Doctor started. Gallifrey is trying to return to this universe through the weak points that whole crisis left behind. Much like they did in the 10th Doctor’s last episode. Surely they aren’t going to rehash that?

Then the Doctor mentions the Seal of the High Council he lifted off the Master in the Death Zone. A nice call back to ‘The Five Doctors’, which aired way back in 1983, when he actually did that. It almost makes up for the nude jokes. Anyway, it turns out the message is for the Doctor, ‘Doctor, Who are you?’ Except they only play the ‘Doctor who…’ bit. As only the Doctor (and er, River Song) knows his true name, so the truth field is to make sure it’s him and then they’ll come through. Last dramatic development, the planet is Trenzalore – and suddenly the Doctor realizes he’s come to his last battlefield. From this point on, things start to get a lot better.

Tasha Yem, Space Pope, works it out at the same time – the return of the Time Lords means the return of the Time War. Even if they come in peace this time, they will be attacked and they’ll have to use their superior tech to defend themselves, and so it’ll all start again. This gives some layers to her motivation, and explains ‘The Silence’. She dedicates the whole Church to being the ‘Church of the Silence’ and ‘Silence will fall’. So that explains all that lot, and the whole ‘Question’ thing that has been knocking about for the last few years. Perhaps a little too off pat, again the writers could have cut the 1970’s comedy and utterly pointless Christmas references to give a bit more time to the story.

The Doctor pings Clara back to her home, which she doesn’t like, and installs himself as the town’s protector. Whilst he stays here, the Question doesn’t have to be asked, and the town doesn’t get turned to ash by the Daleks or the Church to prevent the Time Lords coming back.

This becomes one of the better parts of the story – the Doctor lives here so long that he ages. It becomes the ‘Siege of Trenzalore’ – where he finally dies and Clara becomes the Impossible Girl. Except we know that he’s going to regenerate into the 12th Doctor, so my interest has been resurrected at last. It’s still set in the land of perpetual Christmas but I’m doing my best to ignore that.

We get a montage of monsters attacking, including a ridiculous wooden Cyberman, who gets tricked into shooting himself. Herself? The Doctor announces his sonic screwdriver doesn’t work on wood – news to me that wood is immune to sound. And last episode where the three incarnations used them to shatter a wooden door. But hey. If we start down that road, we’d be asking exactly why the Cybermen thought equipping their wooden agent with a flamethrower was a good idea. Or if he’s ‘low tech’ how a wooden Cyberman manages to work at all.

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The Wooden Cyberman – rank stupidity was just one of it’s many drawbacks

Clara and the TARDIS now reappear, 300 years after they were sent away. By hitching a ride back Clara slowed it down, but the Doctor wasn’t leaving anyway because of the impasse.

They watch a sunrise and the pace slows down for a chat between Clara and the Doctor, which is quite sweet. Then, the Doctor drops a bombshell – he might only be the 11th Doctor, but he’s the thirteenth incarnation, making him the last one. We knew about the ‘War Doctor’ being a previously unknown incarnation, but it turns out that when the 10th Doctor partially regenerated to save his life at the end of series 4, he had actually regenerated but refused to change – but it counted against his total. Well he kept that quiet.

There has been a lot of press and fan speculation over this, mainly being ‘is Peter Capaldi the last ever Doctor?’ Well of course the answer is no, or at least, not because of the 12 regenerations rule. Even way back in ‘Brain of Morbius’ it was shown to be an entirely arbitrary rule that the Time Lords imposed on themselves – 12 just being picked as a nice number, as no one should be immortal. They can and have awarded new regenerations, the Master getting a whole new set in the Time War being a recent case in point. Of course, the Time Lords aren’t in a position to do that so the Doctor thinks he’s toast. Even if he could change now, he won’t because he can’t abandon the town.

I liked this a lot, because it fitted with the 10th Doctor being shown to get increasingly vain and manipulative, and also means the issue is getting put to bed for the foreseeable future with this episode. I liked this twist so much, the earlier sticky issues are forgiven. (and one really silly one that is coming up. )

Space Pope calls up the Doctor for a chat. Turns out she’s immortal or something, so she hasn’t aged. And yet another creepy monster becomes reduced to nothing – the Silence. Turns out they’re just genetically engineered humans that make you forget anything you tell them, making them (according to the Church) popular confession priests. I’m already running over, so we’ll have to skate over why that makes absolutely no sense at all alone. But it’s another monster out from behind its curtain, and once Oz did that he lost all his mystery and power.

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We used to be friends, a long time ago

So Space Pope and the Doctor settle down for their chat, and we see that the Church is in trouble. They’ve been subverted by the Daleks, and this parlay is a trap. It’s good to see the Daleks being sneaky, and also not just letting the Church tell them what to do. But did we need this?

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How could you tell we’re Dalek agents?

No, we have to get hit over the head with it. Still, its a minor grumble.

Space Pope is busy tying up yet more plot lines – the chapter that has been plaguing the Doctor the last few years was a splinter faction of the Church that wanted to take more aggressive action. In a very nice and sinister line, she announces that the Daleks attacked three days ago – and when Clara asks how they stopped them, she replies ‘Stop them? They slaughtered us. I died screaming your name’. A genuinely creepy and effective moment.

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Oops. Again.

The blag that one of Clara’s multiple identities set up a while back to make the Dalek’s forget about the Doctor has now failed, they’ve re-acquired the knowledge from Tasha Yem. (Space Pope). But it’s still an impasse, the Daleks daren’t kill him as they’re scared of the Time Lords.

And once again the Daleks show that although they’re genocidal maniacs, they rarely think things through – they try to threaten the Doctor with killing Clara if he answers the Question, but she points out they’d just kill her afterwards anyway. The Daleks don’t even try to deny it. The Doctor provokes Space Pope into fighting their control and she uses some nifty hand/palm lasers to toast the Daleks.

And then Doctor snogs her as a reward. Pardon? What? I suppose he’s old and gone a bit fruity now, and Tasha Yem is very attractive even if she is a bit of a psycho. But Clara seems to be a bit miffed. I suppose you’d think shattering your existence into hundreds of alternate lives – many of which die horribly – just to try and protect the guy you fancy – and then spending 300 years frozen to the TARDIS door in a time vortex – might buy you some face time. But not for Clara it doesn’t.

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No Doctor, don’t mind me. You bastard.

I think she’s justified in feeling a bit hard done by here. Still its a nice touch, The Doctor has a bit of a thing with old Tasha Yem the Space Pope but not Clara, who he clearly sees as more of a daughter figure.

Despite her rather dodgy tactics, Space Pope is shown to be dedicated to keeping the peace, but now its over and war breaks out. Clara makes a quick stop to get the turkey from earlier, and the Doctor promises not to send her away, right as he sends her back in time to her home. Another plus point, he thinks he’s facing his last ever battle, and if Clara is there she’ll die, so he lies to her to protect her.

And another montage begins. The remaining Church troops side with the Doctor, against everyone else. But it narrows down to a fight between the Doctor and the Church, and the Daleks. There’s no indication of how long this takes.

Meantime, back in Clara’s timeline she is dealing with being dumped by the Doctor. Her mum turns out to be a huge bitch, and almost taking pleasure in her daughter’s pain. Her Gran saves the emotional day with a story – I wasn’t really clear on exactly what the message here was. All mom’s are evil but become good later in life? Actually it dawns on me that Clara doesn’t just fancy the Doctor, she’s in love with him. Sometimes I’m so dense. Wow that makes the Doctor snogging Space Pope even worse, poor Clara.

The scene gets interrupted by TARDIS engine noise, and Space Pope has come to take Clara to be with the Doctor when he dies. He’s older now, so the war has been going on for some time it would seem, with the Daleks finally getting the upper hand.

They come for him, and he says his time is up – but he wants to save Clara’s life as one last victory. She stays behind in the Doctors workshop, and she exhorts the Time Lords to intervene through the time crack. The only visible response is the crack closes.

Outside the Doctor is mocking the Daleks for letting him die of old age. Just as it seems the Daleks are about to attack, the time crack reappears outside and a golden energy flows from it into the Doctor.

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Hmm, lemony.

It’s regeneration energy – the Time Lords have gifted him with at least one more life. It turns out to be a big one, and the resultant energy burst – which in the past has been shown to knacker a TARDIS, is especially big. Presumably the Time Lords calculated it so the Daleks could be destroyed in the process.

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Arguably the town of Christmas is going to be less keen on the slightly apocalyptic results

Of course, exactly why the Time Lords do this isn’t known – they’ve never been shown as particularly nice people, so they might just be keeping the Doctor alive so they keep their hopes of returning alive too.

So the ‘Doctor dies at Trenzalore’ thing seems to have been nullified – and the Time Lords have given him a whole new regeneration cycle, so he gets another 13 lives. He does a little speech about change, and sees Amy Pond. Or hallucinates her? Anyway its a nice touch as Amy was his main companion, and so its fitting that Karen Gillan gets to reprise the role one last time to say goodbye to her Raggedy Man. And as both her and Matt Smith had shaved their heads recently for other acting roles, its a wigfest.

And finally after all the waiting, he changes in a heartbeat – just as Clara is pleading with her unrequited love to stay –  into Peter Capaldi! That must be a jarring moment.

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No one can look as intense as Capaldi can

With that first shot, the difference between the 11th and 12th Doctors is firmly marked out, in a way they never quite managed to do with the 10th and 11th. Clara then experiences the joy that the Doctor seems to be experiencing post regeneration amnesia! Jenna Coleman gets to use her shocked face again. Poor girl seems to have spent a lot of time this episode doing reaction shots to whatever the Doctor was up to. The thankless life of a companion.

So that’s that. Bye bye 11th Doctor, hello 12th. Or technically, the 14th incarnation. A curates egg of an episode, but ultimately slightly better than bad. Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman make excellent leads, but the material was, at times, dire. The inclusion of the Christmas motif was a mistake – Doctor Who can pull that off, but not when it’s also trying to tie up 3 series worth of plotlines and introduce a new Doctor, all in one hour. The fact that they managed to pull it off at all is quite remarkable.

If they’d lost the first  30 minutes and I’dve been a lot happier – the last bits were great, with some touching, unspoken, development of Clara in particular – and Matt Smith doing a grand job of bowing out.

I’m looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s stint in the TARDIS. It’s likely he was chosen as he’s a safe pair of hands – proven popularity and a wealth of acting experience in both dramatic and comedy roles. He brings a depth and range to any role, so this should be good. Most notably, in recent years, he’s been in ‘The Thick of it’, which is well worth a look if you get the chance. Unless you’re offended by swearing, as at times it makes an HBO stuff look like Sesame Street by comparison.

And just to settle one last Christmas argument, the Doctor has often had post-regeneration amnesia Mum. Yes it has happened before despite what you claim. I’m right, you’re wrong. Merry Christmas.

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