Even the best seasons need a dud, and Mark Gatiss helpfully stepped up to provide one. “Sleep No More,” last week’s episode, managed the impressive feat of being both terrifying – particularly the last scene – frustrating, and not that interesting. The found footage aspect is clearly intended to be groundbreaking, and it is if you assume that this episode takes place in an alternate universe where “The Blair Witch Project” didn’t happen, and the characters are largely standard archetypes.
In the grand tradition of despotic future bosses everywhere, Reese Shearsmith’s Professor Rassmussan (white actor bingo square, check off your exoticized name now) wants to improve the world’s efficiency by compressing sleep into 15 minute bursts that keep you going for days. Forget Missy, forget the Daleks, this is the most diabolical plan any “Who” villain has come up with. Get between my and my 8 hours a night and I’ll make Davros look like a slightly grumpy old man.
Sadly, the rest of an episode is a damp squib, proving that if you’re going to write an episode about sleep, make sure your audience won’t be nodding off.
But This Week!
Me is back! The immortal storyteller-turned-highwayman-turned-Mayor may have forgotten her old name, but she hasn’t forgotten the man who doomed her to eternal life. It’s also the episode where we say goodbye to Clara Oswald, schoolteacher, control freak and Impossible Girl in a heartbreaking and unexpected twist, but that’s too painful to dwell on, so let’s focus on something a bit happier for now. Can we talk about how good Capaldi looks in burgundy velvet? The words “damn” and “fine” spring to mind. Although some of the internet thinks it’s purple. They’re wrong. It’s Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor meets Paul Weller and it works. Don’t think about the upcoming sadness. Just focus on the jacket.
Hanging On The Telephone
There’s a wonderful moment when the TARDIS phone rings – Clara and the Doctor have the exact same face as anyone who gets called on their landline – confusion about this strange noise, surprise that it still works, and a horrible suspicion that it’s the bank calling to complain about your overdraft. But no – it’s Riggsy! Remember Riggsy? That minor character from an episode that was boring (even by last season’s standards) that we’re somehow supposed to care about? Well, he’s back and there’s an entire day he can’t remember, he didn’t show up to work and he has a tattoo he doesn’t remember getting. Dude, we’ve all been there. Some of us are there right now, drinking to numb the pain of what’s about to happen to Clara. This tattoo, however, is counting down to something – the time of his death, for a murder he swears he didn’t commit. And just to rub salt in the wound, he has a tiny baby daughter. Clara, don’t be a hero. Just don’t be a hero. Don’t – oh, OK then. Fine.
The bulk of “Face The Raven” is set in a Diagon Alley-style secret street that’s TARDIS-like in its ability to be both bigger than it seems and to sit completely undetected in the heart of London. It’s a refugee camp for aliens, but since they’re disguised as humans by some sort of tech wizardry, we relate to them as characters rather than as species archetypes. It’s a clever ploy, and one that harks back to the overarching theme of this season – the enemy and the friend blended together.
The Personal Is Political
For a show that loves its metaphors, this season has dealt with contemporary issues in a very specific fashion. From the Zygons raising questions about integration and radicalization to “Sleep No More’s” indictment of the capitalist obsession with productivity, it’s energized a show that can at its best tells us what it means to be human. In “Face The Raven,” we have a young black man accused of a crime, with the public baying for blood and the authorities (in the form of Me) stating that she doesn’t know if he is guilty and that it doesn’t matter anyway. Intentional or not, there is a context here and it offers powerful subtext. For a show that dealt with race so shoddily last season, this time around it’s gone some way to redeem itself.
The street itself is a refugee camp staffed with species that the Doctor has historical bad blood with. The old man sentenced to death for stealing medical supplies for his wife is a Cyberman, raising the uncomfortable question of whether or not one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies is capable of emotions. Is he just running away from the same foe that the Doctor has fought? Either way, he recognizes that these individuals are vulnerable and seeking sanctuary – any feuds he may have with their leaders are irrelevant here. The benefit of time travel is always being on the right side of history, and given current events we could do a lot worse than follow the Doctor’s example.
Me, Myself & I
The Doctor has his fair share of antagonists, and with Missy vaguely back on the scene, you could argue that he doesn’t need another one. That argument would be wrong, because Me is fantastic. She isn’t an outright villain – she brokered a peace deal between enemy races and made it work, and while she has lured the Doctor to her for reasons unknown, she is genuinely happy to see Clara. Maisie Williams, who is turning out to be one of our finest young actors, brings a level of assuredness to the part. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see her yet again this season, and hopefully for many more to come.
Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves
With two female antagonists, Clara, a female-led UNIT and the Sisterhood of Karn poised to make a return in the finale, has this been the most feminist season of “Doctor Who” yet? We’ve had not one but two female writers, a female director and a companion with real agency. Tonight’s episode had two out of the three minor characters as female – even the raven probably was. Frankly, it’s refreshing – and maybe it’s the reason for the upswing in quality this season.
*deep breath* OK, let’s do this.
It’s a bold move, killing the companion off with two episodes still to go — even bolder when you have her sacrificing herself by accident, having spent so long with the Doctor that she thinks that she too can outwit death. She’s been increasingly reckless over the course of the season, in denial about her grief for Danny, and it’s heartbreaking we finally realize that she wasn’t endangering her life because she wanted it to end — it’s because she thought she was invincible. She’s been channelling the Doctor and it finally goes too far when she convinced Riggsy to transfer his tattoo to her, along with his fate, because she thinks she can trick Me. This is, scientifically speaking, 1000 percent worse than if she had done it knowingly, because whilst she’s angry and grieving and generally acting like Bella Swan in “New Moon” when she gets a motorbike, she doesn’t want to die. Her dignity when she realizes it’s unavoidable is heartbreaking, and she walks towards death whispering “let me be brave.” And she was, just like always.
R.I.P Clara Oswald. You’ll be missed, impossible girl.
“Clara, go back to the TARDIS. Pick up all my most annoying stuff.” Does it really only fit into one box?
“You’ll find that it’s a very small universe when I’m angry with you.”
“Infinite lifespan, finite memory. It makes for an awkward social life.” – Me/Ashildir
“Don’t bring the new human, I’ll just get distracted.” Human babies are the Time Lord equivalent of kitten videos.
“I can do whatever the hell I like. You’ve read the stories, you know who I am.”
“The Doctor is no longer here! You are stuck with me.”
“I’m not asking you for a promise, I’m giving you an order.” Clara, bossy to the end.
“Let me be brave.”
Questions [That Aren’t “The Oldest Question”]
Does anyone need a hug?