When a show has been running for over 52 years, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to make an episode that shakes up the format once in a while. Breaking with the traditional format prevents a series from becoming stale. That’s what writer Mark Gatiss tries to do with “Sleep No More,”an episode that takes the form of found footage put together by Gagan Rasmussen (Reece Shearsmith), inventor of Morpheus and sole surviving crewmember on the Le Verrier lab in orbit around Neptune. Morpheus is a device that replaces a month’s worth of sleep with just five minutes spent inside the Morpheus machine, invented primarily to allow laborers to work longer shifts. The Doctor’s response to Rasmussen’s Morpheus machine is characteristically flamboyant: “Congratulations, Professor! You’ve revolutionized the labor market! You’ve conquered nature! You’ve also created an abomination.” Our response to “Sleep No More” parallels the Doctor’s response to Morpheus. Congratulations, Gatiss! You’ve revolutionized the episode format! You’ve conquered repetition! You’ve also created an abomination.
What would you do if any of your friends or family could be a shapeshifting alien who wants to kill you and your species? What would you do if you were a shapeshifter whose homeworld was destroyed and who just wanted to blend into an alien society and live peacefully, but you knew if your true identity was ever revealed to the xenophobic inhabitants of that alien world you would surely be shunned, persecuted, and likely killed? These questions drive the conflict in Doctor Who’s “The Zygon Invasion” and its sequel “The Zygon Inversion.” This brilliant two-part episode explores such contemporary (and in some ways timeless) issues as terrorism, immigration, xenophobia, and war. It features witty writing, breathtaking acting, and a villain whose plan and motivations actually make sense (something a bit too rare in Doctor Who). This two-parter is the highlight of an above average season, which has yet to have a bad episode but also has yet to have a standout one. “The Zygon Inversion” in particular is the best episode of Capaldi’s Doctor thus far and undoubtedly one of the top ten episodes of Nu Who. Continue reading War! What is it good for?
What could be bad about living forever? Most of us mortals don’t even get to contemplate immortality in the first place. But in the latest season of Doctor Who, two back to back episodes—“The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived”—grapple with this question. Naturally, we assume it would be better not to die. In “The Woman Who Lived,” however, we get a less than rosy picture of what an eternal life might hold; of what it might drive any reasonable person to do. As the Doctor eloquently puts it, “Immortality isn’t living forever. That’s not what it feels like. Immortality is everybody else dying.”
Has “travelling with the Doctor changed you, or were you always happy to put other people’s lives at risk?”
The relationship between the Doctor and his companions plays a much more central role in Nu Who than it did in Classic Who, a pattern that certainly holds true for “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood,” the recent two-part episode of “Doctor Who,” Season 9 (on BBC and BBC America). Will the Doctor put the lives of his companions at risk? Will he put other people’s lives at risk? How are the companions changed by their travels with the Doctor? Like many of the episodes Toby Whithouse has written (from the rather underwhelming “Vampires of Venice” to the enjoyable but less than legendary “School Reunion”), the character development and the relationships between characters form the best part of these episodes. Peter Capaldi (The Doctor) and Jenna Coleman (Clara) deliver impassioned performances, as usual, but it’s a new villain featured in these episodes, played by Neil Fingleton (known for playing White Walkers in “Game of Thrones”) who embodies the two-parter’s creepy tone. The new nemesis, called the Fisher King, looks amazing and sounds terrifying, even if his villainous plot comes across as contrived. Overall we are happy to report that, thanks to intriguing character development, Season 9 stands alone in Nu Who for its consistently above-average episodes, making it well worth your time to watch.
“Listen, if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?” This question drives the two-part opening of “Doctor Who” season 9. In a manner perfectly suited to the show’s timey-wimey nature, these episodes provide a splendid example of how sci-fi can explore deep questions rather than just showcase explosions and mayhem (cough, Star Trek: Into Darkness, cough).