Well, here we are, midway through the season and we get an episode that brings a lot of plot threads of this season together. We get to address Clara’s dual life, the Doctor’s meddlesome nature, and just what exactly is bugging Danny Pink. Plus a visit to the Nethersphere (as Seb calls it), an ominous appearance by Missy, a scene-stealing turn from the troublemaking Courtney Woods, and a surprising doppelgänger made this a fun episode.
So why was I pissed watching it? Because it wasted a major opportunity.
If you recall my review of “The Day Of The Doctor,” one of the biggest shocks of the episode was that Clara now worked as a teacher at Coal Hill School, which was not only the setting of the big 50th anniversary episode (and the 25th Anniversary episode “Remembrance Of The Daleks” – well, around the corner at 76 Trotter’s Lane) but is also the setting of the very first episode “An Unearthly Child”; the school that Susan Foreman (the Doctor’s granddaughter) attended, and where Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright taught at. So the fact that the Doctor isn’t acknowledging this return to one of the the most iconic settings in Doctor Who mythos is a major oversight on showrunner Steven Moffat and his episode co-writer Gareth Roberts.
It was this lack of acknowledgement of the significance of the setting that almost thwarts the episode. Roberts’ past episodes “The Lodger” and “Closing Time” were among the funniest from the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure as he tries to blend in with normal humans. So it’s fitting that for the Twelfth Doctor’s attempts at deep cover it would go horribly, hilariously wrong. Peter Capaldi nails the comedy of the situation as the Doctor has very little patience for anything. In another moment dripping with meta-commentary, when the Doctor finds out that Clara is dating one of her co-workers, he instantly assumes its her colleague Adrian, who bears an eery resemblance to the Eleventh incarnation.
When the Doctor finally meets Danny Pink, who’s a soldier and a maths teacher (!), he is livid in his insults. But Mr. Pink obviously had his big boy pants on that day and was not taking any bullshit from anyone; be it calling out the Dcotor’s behavior or Clara’s lying to him. And lest we forget, it’s Danny who ends up making the big play that saves the day and earns the Doctor’s begrudging respect. For now. Samuel Anderson brings a lot of strength to Danny that makes his standing up to the Doctor believable in a way that won’t let him be swept up in the Doctor’s sway (unlike say Mickey Smith or Rory Williams).
All of this leaves Clara stuck in the middle; lying to both men in her life and trying to make it work. If anything, it’s a continuation of a theme that goes all the way back to the Russell T. Davies era; that the companion is slowly turning into the Doctor. To quote the famous scene between Rose and Jackie Tyler in Season 2’s “Army Of Ghosts”:
JACKIE: You even look like him.
ROSE: How do you mean? I suppose I do, yeah.
JACKIE: You’ve changed so much.
ROSE: For the better.
JACKIE: I suppose.
ROSE: Mum, I used to work in a shop.
JACKIE: I’ve worked in shops. What’s wrong with that?
ROSE: No, I didn’t mean that.
JACKIE: I know what you meant. What happens when I’m gone?
ROSE: Don’t talk like that.
JACKIE: No, but really. When I’m dead and buried, you won’t have any reason to come back home. What happens then?
ROSE: I don’t know.
JACKIE: Do you think you’ll ever settle down?
ROSE: The Doctor never will, so I can’t. I’ll just keep on traveling.
JACKIE: And you’ll keep on changing. And in forty years time, fifty, there’ll be this woman, this strange woman, walking through the marketplace on some planet a billion miles from Earth. But she’s not Rose Tyler. Not anymore. She’s not even human.
It’s a slightly darker take on the shenanigans in the TARDIS, and I am excited to see where it’s going next!
* I loved the plot line with Courtney. Of course she and the Doctor would get along swimmingly, since they’re both so stubborn. Credit to Capaldi and Ellis George as Courtney for nailing their scenes together. I would take more of this please!
* The monster this week was a bit of a MacGuffin, no? In the end, a big old nothing.
* Given that “The Day Of The Doctor” established that Ian Chesterton is now the superintendent of Coal Hill school, why couldn’t they have called William Russell in to reprise his role? It would have been a fantastic moment, especially if he saw the Doctor after all these years.
* Speaking of former companions, the fantastic Katy Manning, who played the fantastic Jo Grant during the Third Doctor’s tenure, paid a visit to the set. After seeing this photo, and given how Capaldi is pulling a few notes from John Pertwee’s performance, it would be awesome to have Jo in an episode. (And as a side note: In my opinion, the Third Doctor had the best run of companions, hands down! From the bullshit-adverse Dr. Liz Shaw, to the empathically humane Jo Grant, to the one and only Sarah Jane Smith, they were the ones that turned the role from “Assistant” to “Companion.”)
NEXT WEEK: Space! And Spiders!
Photo & Video Credits: BBC, Katy Manning’s Twitter Account