Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

Posts tagged ‘Last Word’

Deb’s Last Word – Episode 11


The Bechdel Test:  Where two women talk to each other about something other than a man. 

In this week’s podcast the conversations regarding the Bechdel Test surprised me a bit and I think we got a bit off track as to whether the conversation between Clara and Emma was probable as opposed to appropriate.  As I said, I tend to give Doctor Who a bit of a pass when it comes to this particular gender bias test simply because the companion is our entre to the Doctor and is often the one people turn to for an explanation as to what in the hell is going on with this mad man in a box.

But in this instance, I was bothered and still am.  Perhaps it is a generational or social context issue but I still stand by my claim that a woman’s opening gambit in MOST conversations with another woman isn’t who they fancy.  Typically, it’s irrelevant and usually the least interesting thing about a person.  However, I will concede that it is a probable conversation as my cohosts claim.

The real issue for me is, was it appropriate?  Clara and Emma were not sitting in a bar having a bit of girl talk over a glass of Pinot Noir, they were in a haunted house, on a stormy night in 1974, being scared spitless by a ghost.  Is that REALLY the most interesting thing that’s going to pop up in conversation?  I realize Clara was trying to calm and distract Emma but there were so many other things they could have talked about that didn’t include the ghost or her romantic interests.  Do I need to make a list?  Because I could.

So let’s tackle this from a storytelling perspective.  We already knew that Emma had feelings for the Professor and they were going nowhere.  The beautiful scene where Emma reaches for his fingers and he pulls away, hesitating slightly was packed with emotion.  We feel Emma’s longing, we know she wants to push the relationship forward and it is Professor Palmer who is pulling back.  It makes sense to explore that further but why put the burden on the female character – did Emma tell us anything new in her conversation with Clara?  Not at all.

Now flip this to the scene in the dark room where the Doctor is quizzing Professor Palmer.  We get all sorts of meaty backstory – a broken man whose war record has been hidden from sight, suffering from near crippling survivors guilt.  Sink your teeth into that manpain for it is delicious!  How hard would it have been to slip in a question, a half question even:  “So, Miss Grayling?”  He wouldn’t have even had to answer, Dougray Scott could have just looked at the Doctor with a broken expression, a slight shake of his head and we’d understand he doesn’t feel he deserves love.

But that didn’t happen.  We found out all sorts of interesting things about Professor Palmer but all we know about Emma is that she is an Empath In Love.  Do you know what makes this sting a little bit more?  Emma was the entire purpose of the trip.  According to the story being told, she was the most important element and she was merely a tool both in the storytelling and meta sense:  she was a tool to open the portal, a tool to move the “romantic” story line along and a tool to read Clara.

So why fuss over one conversation in a story that I otherwise really, really enjoyed?  Because it is the type of conversation between women that we’ve become so used to seeing on film we don’t even notice it any more. But it is, overwhelmingly, the type of conversation we ONLY see between women.  Watch carefully the next time you see two female characters on screen – what aspect of the plot are they being used to push forward?  Is it the emotional or romantic story or is it everything, anything else?  Do you want to guess how often the Bechdel test fails?  The problem with this casual, insidious gender bias is that it narrows the scope of female characters, reducing them to tools as opposed to fully actualized characters.  If there is any place we can shake up these assigned gender roles it should be in science fiction, particularly Doctor Who, where absolutely anything goes.  The disappointment is when it goes down all too familiar paths.

Erika’s Last Word – Episode 11

Doctor Who Hide PosterHide

As I said on the podcast, I adored this story.  But I don’t think I was quite as effervescent and squeeful as I should have been when we talked about it.  So here are the rest of my thoughts, presented in the yippie-skippy manner this story deserves.

The Good

TENSION!!  This was the theme of “Hide” for me.  I was completely and utterly gripped from moment one, and it did not let go.  That’s what was missing from “Cold War” last week.  I felt no sense of fear or dread during that story.  “Hide” had me literally on the edge of the couch, every muscle in my body tense.  I needed a deep-tissue massage when it was all over.  I realize that kind of thing is a matter of taste (plenty of people felt that way for “Cold War”), but for me, this one was a direct hit.

I love a good ghost story, and while we all knew this wouldn’t be an actual ghost, it was proper creepy.  The setting, the performances by the small cast, the excellent direction, it all worked together to make me a very happy (if tense) camper indeed.  (Watching it alone in the dark probably helped too.)  Weirdly, the part that scared me the absolute most was when the camera panned across all the photos of the ghost.  Something about that touched a frightened place deep inside.  It was deliciously terrifying.

Add to that the sheer horror of catching glimpses of the Crooked Man in the hallways and the (possibly deliberate?) similarity to Poltergeist (sliding down a rope through a portal into another, very scary, dimension), and you’ve got one heck of a ride.  Even the forest was chilling in its own eerily beautiful way.  This episode really pushed all my horror buttons.

I also quite enjoyed the writing.  Not only was the plot interesting and not entirely predictable, but the individual scenes and lines of dialogue were wonderful.  Admittedly, I didn’t love every bit of it—as we said, the Ghostbusters line was unnecessary, but it was more than balanced out by lines like “Doctor what?” “If you like.”  “We’re going always.” “Like a microphone…or a pooper-scooper,” or the Doctor waxing poetic about toggles or explaining how Emma won’t/might/will maybe feel pain while opening the portal.  Even the more somber moments were just lovely: “He’s a liar.” “Experience makes liars of us all.” “Don’t trust him. There’s a shard of ice in his heart.” And the scene in the TARDIS when Clara recognizes what the Doctor’s life is really like—heartbreaking.

The line “You are the only mystery worth solving” makes me wonder if the Doctor is really “back.”  The mystery surrounding Victorian-era Clara is what truly popped him out of his blue funk.  When or if (who am I kidding, it’s “when”) he solves that mystery, will he return to his galactic vagabond ways?  Or will he find another cloud to park on and mope some more?  I occasionally catch a whiff of grief peeking through under his adorable 11th Doctoreyness—like someone putting on a brave face while they’re still coping with a loss.  Though I suppose that’s a hallmark of every Doctor since the Time War.

Speaking of the Doctor, he was so fun to watch in this episode.  I love seeing the Doctor (any Doctor, but Matt Smith’s most of all) go all fanboy over a historical figure he admires.  (Though do not get me started on the freaking “Shakespeare Code.”)  The way he bounces around the room, exclaims over the professor, and fiddles with the equipment had me grinning from ear to ear.  Also, his assumed identity of someone from The Ministry elicited the kind of glee only a fan of the classic series can truly understand.  His delivery of “Geronimo” in this story is my favorite: matter-of-fact, resigned, understated.  When Matt Smith plays something that way (as opposed to his usual boisterous flailing), it has a lot more punch.  Well done.

I should also point out that I am still loving Clara!  As we said, there were a few moments when her performance seemed a shade off what it was in the past few episodes, but I chalked that up to fallout from her brush with dismembered bodies and an Ice Warrior.  It wasn’t until after I watched “Hide” that I found out it was the first ep she shot as Clara Oswald.  I still think there was a purposeful element of hesitation on her part as a result of her last adventure.  She’s afraid to search the house—not surprising, given she’s now seen what consequences adventures can have.  So she tells the Doctor to dare her.  How very Clara.  She’s got a good head on her shoulders, but she loves a challenge.  Later she even takes initiative and tries to bully the TARDIS into rescuing the Doctor.  (Not that I believe for one second the TARDIS can actually be bullied into anything by anyone other than the Doctor.)

The Bad

Okay so I wasn’t in love with every little bit of this story.  Kat is right that they needed to maintain a certain level of lightness for the kiddies, but every time they did that, it suffered for grown-up me.  The moment in the forest when the Doctor and Hila accidentally back into each other did not work for me.  It was supposed to lighten the tension, but it dragged me out of it too far.  And I will say again how much I HATED the very end the first time I watched it.  I enjoyed the adventure and the scares and the terror SO MUCH that when they effectively nerfed the boogeyman, I was outraged and felt completely cheated and betrayed.  I’m slowly getting over this by telling myself that they’re still terrifying creatures, they just happen to like being terrifying together.  Still though.  Nerfed.  Lame.

I also think “Hide” is a bit  silly and useless as a title.  Something as grand and spooky as this story deserved something equally grand and spooky.  Maybe something mentioning “Caliburn House”?  Oh well, far too late now.

The Random

The ghost is called the witch of the well.  Why?  Ok, so the well was the time well Hila was trapped in, but who figured that out?  Was some empathic psychic hundreds of years ago savvy enough to figure that out?  Or pick it up from Hila somehow?  Seems unlikely and a bit thin.

The Doctor states that the witch only appears in photographs in the presence of an empath.  That’s all well and good, but why does she appear when the Doctor travels to “always” and takes her picture all those times?  Is he supposed to be an empath?  Is the TARDIS?  That’s never made clear.

Metebelis!  Oh the controversy!  (Controversy: another word with multiple accepted pronunciations.)  To be honest, for many years I’d only seen the word written.  (I saw Planet of the Spiders as a youngling, but I forgot it entirely.)  I assumed for many years that it was pronounced as Matt Smith said it.  I only found out I was wrong within the last year.  I now feel a not-insignificant sense of vindication. *smug*

Since we recorded, I’ve been thinking more about Deb’s assertion that the are-you-and-he-an-item conversation was unrealistic, and I’ve realized it’s happened even more than I thought when we recorded.  I’ve asked the question fewer times than I’ve been asked, but that makes sense given my level of introversion most of my life.  I honestly can’t count the number of times some random person asked me if I was dating the guy I was with.  (I lived with eight guys in college, so I was almost always hanging out with one fellow or another.)  And these were not all in situations where hitting on someone was a goal or even an option.  That conversation has happened with people both male and female, single and married (or in committed relationships).  Generally it just comes across as general curiosity—no more personal than “so where do you live?” or “where did you go to school?”  All those questions are personal.  Why is it taboo ‘cause it’s asking about a relationship?  It never came across that way in Madison society over the past decade or so.  Then again, it is Madison.  We’re not described as “77 square miles surrounded by reality” for nothing.

The Wrap-Up

It seems my theory about my mood hugely affecting what I watch needs to be tossed out the window.  I was in a terrible mood when I reluctantly sat down to watch “Hide.”  Apparently that didn’t matter.  I wasn’t kidding when I said this story is up there with my absolute favorites of all New Who.  Whatever happens in the rest of 7b (and I’m quite excited for whatever does), it’s already won my heart and probably earned top status of all the New Who series.  Seriously.

Episode 10 – Last Word: Erika

Doctor Who - Series 7BCold War

I’ve been thinking about Mark Gatiss’ “Cold War” since we recorded, and I think I’ve put my finger on the number one reason it disappointed me.  I can sum it up in one word: tension.  Actually, it was the lack thereof, so it’s three words.  Anyway, I’ve seen lots of people say they were gripped by this episode, but I was so far from the edge of my seat, I was literally reclining.

The story felt very by-the-numbers.  Sometimes that’s okay in horror—you really do need to include certain elements or it ceases to be horror, but when you’re going to stick to those numbers very closely, you need to do something else that’s compelling to get me to buy in.  This story lacked anything resembling that.  I thought maybe the return of a classic villain might do it for me.  Alas, it did not.

One of the “numbers” was the friend-turned-enemy subplot with Lieutenant Stepashin.  Yes, I disliked him the way I was supposed to, but then that plot didn’t really go anywhere.  Maybe killing him off so soon and suddenly was Gatiss’ attempt to get away from “the numbers,” but if so, it failed.  Perhaps with more time to play out, it would’ve worked well.  I come back to my assertion (while recording) that this felt like a classic episode of Who shoved into a new-Who time-slot.

The bright side of “Cold War” (excepting the set and direction, of course: drool) was Clara, but as she wasn’t exactly shining here, that didn’t make up for much.  And I can’t say I was fond of the exchange between Clara and the Doctor when she says “Saved the world then.  That’s what we do.”  It made them sound like a superhero team.  I’m not sure how I feel about the Doctor’s interference being so blatantly referred to that way.  I know that’s what the show has become, and maybe one can’t blame Clara for seeing it like that after only a few encounters, but I much prefer the Doctor to bumble along and save people almost incidentally.  And I should stress *people*.  Saving the world/universe/all of time is wearing a bit thin for me.

Nits to pick:

  • Why does that dude unthaw the Ice Warrior?  Like the TARDIS’s disappearance, I find this annoyingly convenient.  I realize that both elements are necessary for the story to move forward, but I think that both could’ve been handled more gracefully.  The unthawing bit in particular smacks of brute-force storytelling.  That’s not something I automatically associate with Mark Gatiss, but perhaps I should now that I think about some of his previous stories.  (Spitfires in space, anyone?)
  • Gosh, those chains on Skaldak must have loosened an awful lot to let the armor open enough for him to escape.  Even if you argue that he can completely flatten himself, we *see* the armor open when Clara looks at it, and it opens pretty darn wide.  Is everyone on this sub incompetent?
  • As Tansy said, that poor grunt is lifted up just like Paul McGann in Alien-cubed, but to where is he lifted?  It’s such a cramped space, that scene seems unlikely.  Maybe subs have between-deck hidey-holes.  I don’t know.  I’m not a submariner.

Happy bits:

  • I do like that the Doctor comes clean about being a time-traveler so quickly.  It’s an approach so rare as to be a refreshing change.  A little gem amongst some dull rocks.
  • Clara of course.  Her curiosity at the Ice Warrior when it first appears is amusing as she creeps up behind the Doctor to see it better.  I think that bright curiosity fades a bit by the end of the story, and I like that too.  After she realizes how real things are she’s more hesitant, but perhaps wiser.
  • I think it was Tansy who said she liked individual bits of the writing last week.  I felt that way to some extent this week.  I liked the exchange about speaking Russian, and I loved the line from the Professor about Skaldak wanting to talk to the organ grinder and not the monkey (not to mention Clara’s reaction to it).  The dialogue was mostly pretty decent, it was the framework upon which it hung that sagged.
  • Speaking of the wacky professor, I loved him.  When the Doctor says “I could kiss you” and he responds with “If you insist,”  I smiled hugely.  I’m going to insert a small complaint here in the pros section, and that’s that I wish there was more done with this character.  He seemed like he probably had a really interesting, full backstory that we didn’t get to see (again—this story felt squished).  I want that backstory.  Some have theorized that David Warner will return.  I hope that’s the case.  I want more of this guy.

So that’s my slightly-more-than-two-cents about “Cold War.”  If you’re interested in a couple other reviews that reflect my views (at least in part), I highly recommend checking out episode 303 of Two-Minute Time Lord and Kyle Anderson‘s review over at Nerdist.

Episode 9 – Last Word: Erika


As we said on Verity! episode 9, “The Rings of Akhaten” was kinda dumb in some ways.  And like I said, I don’t care!  But these “Last Word” posts are supposed to be where we include the thoughts we didn’t get a chance to voice, so I’ll try to avoid retreading too much.  Bottom line: I really enjoyed this story.

Now on to what I didn’t get a chance to say.  (Sometimes an hour is just not long enough to talk about Doctor Who—actually, an hour is *never* long enough to talk about Doctor Who!)

Doctor Who often walks a fine line for me between silly and over-the-top silly.  This story straddled that line.  I enjoyed cute phrases like “tactical boo-boo,” but the ridiculous moments in the marketplace were just too much for me.  I didn’t need to see the Doctor thrusting his hips at a random alien.  (I’m sure there’s plenty of fic out there where he does just that, but I don’t want to see it!)  Nor did I love the bit where he and Clara bark at the moped rental clerk.  And why isn’t the TARDIS translating all this anyway?  That circuit is on the fritz nearly as often as the steering.  The other moment I had real trouble with was the two of them bursting into the arena late.  It’s supposed to be this lovely, solemn occasion.  Of course that’s where the comedy is supposed to come from, but it fell flat for me.

I suppose this is a good place to segue into the things my nerd-brain couldn’t help but notice.  Yes, it’s time for nit-picky stuff that I really should ignore.  For one, the leaf.  It would be completely dust by this time!  Yes, leaves can last a while when you press them between paper, but unless you wax them (which is really easy to do, and highly recommended if you want to keep dead vegetation for a long time), they’ll crumble when you try to take them out of that book 25 years later!

It’s also never completely clear why the song stops.  Mary thinks it’s her fault, though the cloaked dude seemed to stop singing first (or at least simultaneously).  Did he stop because he saw the “alarm clock” move?  Or did him stopping cause it to move?  The Doctor tosses off a line saying it was simply “time to wake up.”  Which are we supposed to believe?  As pretty as the direction of this story was, it fell short in keeping us apprised of what was happening and why.

I also have a specific complaint about the rather anti-climactic confrontation between the Doctor and the giant solar-jack-o-lantern.  I already mentioned my confusion about whether it was removing his memories (a failure of the writing or directing—or both), but regardless of how long and interesting a life the Doctor has had (and it’s been amazing, I grant that), why would his stories come close to filling the pumpkin?  It’s about to “eat” the entire system full of people.  One very exciting thousand-year life is still a drop in the bucket compared to millions (billions? or even just thousands?) of folks with normal lives.  This monster would have to stop for a post-Thanksgiving-style nap after every neighborhood it munched.  An oft-napping alien is somewhat less terrifying.

But enough of that.  Let’s get back to squeeing.  I still do (audibly) every time I watch the opening credits.  I LOVE the new sequence.  The colors, the music, Matt Smith’s face.  It all makes me SO. HAPPY.  I also forgot to point out the fact that Clara’s mum died on March 5th, 2005.  Ok, her death doesn’t make me happy, but that’s the day Rose met the Ninth Doctor, which is neat.  Perhaps Clara’s mum was killed by Autons?  And I know I mentioned this on the episode, but it bears repeating: the Doctor mentions his granddaughter!  I’m not expecting to see Susan turn up during the 50th or anything (amazing as that would be), but I adore the fact they’re acknowledging it.  It makes me wonder what other tidbits we’re going to get in throwaway lines later this season.  Yay for the anniversary year!  I will eat up that fan service nonsense with a giant spoon!

Ok, what else can I squee about—oh yeah.  Clara!  Let’s get back to her.  One of my favorite moments is in the TARDIS at the beginning when the Doctor asks her where she wants to go, and she totally blanks.  I am loving how Clara is smart and witty and doesn’t always have the perfect answer.  She’s so real.  There’s a balance to her character that I’m completely into.  She’s strong, but she doesn’t bluster.  She’s matter of fact about her indecision and fear, and she lets neither hold her back from doing what she wants and contributing when she feels she can.  I think the line about getting lost was heart-breakingly beautiful: “The world ended, my heart broke—then my mum found me.”  She experiences fear, but she doesn’t let it rule her.  She lets it go and moves on to the next challenge.  I want to be Clara Oswald when I grow up.

Okay, I’ve babbled lots (and lots) here.  I’ll end with a few random observations.

A part of me wonders if this episode is Steven Moffatt thumbing his nose at all the 40-something fanboys who said they’d stop watching the show if Doctor Who ever did a musical episode.  This isn’t strictly that, but it’s as close as we’re likely to get!

When the Doctor is feeding his stories to the Great Pumpkin, he says “Take it all baby!”  I’m a big fan of the movie Center Stage.  There’s a certain joke told in that film that this line reminded me of.  If you know what I’m talking about, you won’t be able to un-see (hear) it.  (Sorry.)

Clara’s (musical) theme is much less intrusive this time.  I even quite liked how it played at the beginning of the episode to tip us off the couple were Clara’s parents.

I’m not a great fan of children in Doctor Who, but that little girl was AMAZING.  Thoroughly adorable, a competent actor, and I quite enjoyed the character—frightened, but able to call upon inner strength to either defend her people (zapping Clara to the mummy cage) or do her part to help save them (leading the crowd in song to help the Doctor).

I’ll close with this week’s “Wendy Update.”  Wendy started watching Doctor Who last week with “The Snowmen” and “The Bells of Saint John.”  For those curious, I happily report she is still firmly on board.  I think she liked “The Rings of Akhaten” even more than I did!  I got a bit misty during this episode, but I caught Wendy using a napkin to dab at running mascara.  She’s well on her way to becoming one of us!  Huzzah!


Episode 8 – Last Word: Erika

Hallo Verity! fans.  I think it’s about time to give you something we promised in the very first episode: a “Last Word” post.  This is where we have a chance to rattle off all the bits and bobs we forgot (or didn’t have time) to mention while we were recording the most recent Verity! episode.  It turns out I’ve got a few more things to say about “The Bells of Saint John.”  So without further ado, here are my as-yet unaired observations, in no particular order:

The Doctor’s coat!  I mentioned it was just “okaaay,” mostly ‘cause I thought it was so long it bordered on cloak-ey.  It’s since grown on me, so costumers, please direct no vitriol my way.  I’m now onboard with the new look.  Purple really does work for Matt Smith.  I was a bit worried after the promo poster looked SO purple it was almost cartoonish.  In reality, it’s quite nice.

Possibly the most important thing I forgot to mention is that the denouement was the most fun and Doctorish I’ve seen in some time.  The spoonhead-Doctor caught me by surprise—twice!  I had that delicious moths-in-the-stomach dread when it first spun its head to upload Clara.  I love it when they can get me like that.  But the Doctorish bit I most adored was when he hacked the server to go confront the baddies in his place.  A lovely example of the Doctor using brains over brawn and turning the tools of the villians against themselves.  Classic.  And as I said, I didn’t see it coming, which is fantastic.

This episode saw yet another mention of Twitter.  Is this the third now?  I know some people don’t like Doctor Who to date itself that way, but the Doctor talking about Twitter always makes me smile—perhaps because it was Twitter that led me to my Doctor Who friends and podcasts (not to mention my spouse!).  I have a lot to thank Twitter for when it comes to Doctor Who, so I will smile with glee each and every time it pops up on the show.

The one bit I didn’t like so much was the sequence with the motorbike.  I know I mentioned this on the ep, but I forgot to say how squirmy the beginning of that scene made me.  The TARDIS appears in plain sight, and then the Doctor and Clara beg for change for breakfast?  That just struck me as tawdry.

On the bright side, Matt Smith was glorious in this story.  I think his chemistry with Jenna Louise Coleman sparkles.  The moment that made me blurt out the most laughter was when he mimed dancing at the coffee shop.  I’m nigh cracking up just thinking of it.  That kind of thing is so ridiculous I kinda want to hate it, but I *can’t* because he’s just. So. GOOD.

Before I sign off, I want to make a quick mention of fan service.  As Lynne said, there’s oodles of it in this episode, and I have no complaints about that.  Give me more!  What I want to point out is that it didn’t present a problem for a total newb.  My roommate Wendy is about as new to Who as you can get, and she loved “The Bells of Saint John.”  She found it incredibly accessible, and I think that’s a great indicator of how deftly Steven Moffat sprinkled the fan service into the story.  You never needed to understand any of the callbacks; they were simply a bonus for those in the know.  (Though Deb did say they threw her out of the story a bit, so perhaps there’s a minor down-side, depending on how you watch the show.)  I’m still firmly in the more-fanwank-please camp!  I suspect this 50th anniversary year will be rife with the stuff, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

…Nearly as happy as I am about having new Doctor Who back on my screen every week!  Hurrah!