Doctor Who 8.12 – Death in Heaven

At the risk of leaving our son out of these posts, I’ll start tonight by mentioning that while we were on vacation, the condo we rented had a previous occupant’s Hulu account logged in, so the kid sat down to a few hours of Animaniacs. I interrupted him to play him the notorious “Frozen Peas” tape of Orson Welles having a series of tantrums while recording commercials in the UK for Findus. Then we looked at the Pinky & the Brain installment “Yes, Always.” Famously, the Brain’s voice actor, Maurice LaMarche, perfected his Orson Welles impersonation by playing and replaying the “Frozen Peas” tape, and in “Yes, Always,” the Brain does an overdub session for some previous episode or other. The script is a mildly edited transcript of the “Frozen Peas” tape, ensuring that a generation of kids knows that a gonk is a bang from outside.

Returning home, that led me to dusting off Tim Burton’s masterpiece Ed Wood, in which LaMarche was called to overdub Vincent D’Onofrio in the role of Welles himself, because no matter how much we love D’Onofrio in so many great parts, especially Detective Bobby Goren, no living actor can do Welles as well as LaMarche. So he and I talked about how and why overdubs like this work, and then I let him know that Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez performed the lines from the previous episode revealing the Master’s identity silently, so nobody in the crowd on location would learn the secret, and overdubbed them later. So see, I’m always looking for coincidences and connections. Narf.

Something really, really funny happened on November 8, 2014.

Did you know we have a food blog? There’s a link on the right-hand side, right down at the bottom of the page. It’s mostly dormant, in part from burnout and in part because we just don’t travel with food and old restaurants as our principal destination anymore, but we had lots and lots of fun and learned so many stories from 2010-2018. I used to be in the habit of taking off for two days of just driving around listening to loud music and eating barbecue many, many miles from home.

And so at 11 AM that November 8, I entered the Skylight Inn in Ayden NC for the very first time and had the best plate of barbecue I’ve ever had. I’ve taken Marie – and our son – back twice, in 2017 and in 2019. It was mindblowing and perfect, and, if I do say so myself, it resulted in such a delightfully quirky and silly blog post that it is, in all honesty, my favorite of all the hundreds of food posts I’ve written.

So there it was. At eleven that morning, I found my all-time favorite restaurant. And twelve hours later, back in Atlanta, at eleven that evening, I sat down to the encore presentation of Steven Moffat’s “Death in Heaven” and found my all-time least favorite episode of Doctor Who.

It is an absolutely appalling piece of television. It out-Timelashes “The Twin Dilemma” and it under-Underworlds “Fear Her”. It is a towering icon of terrible taste and absolutely brainless narrative decisions, of which, making the Doctor the president of Earth might just be the pinnacle. No, it’s the Cyber-Brig. No, it’s something else. It resolves the “Am I a good man?” and “the Doctor hates soldiers” storylines by swinging a sledgehammer around them so that they need never be discussed again. I’ll grant you that had this been Jenna Coleman’s final episode, then the farewell scene with the Doctor and Clara lying their goodbyes to each other would have been something new, but it ends up not mattering since she comes back in seven weeks.

But the weirdest thing actually showed up a few years later. Something about this, atop all its other misfires, really didn’t sit well with me that dark and disappointing night in 2014. It’s that now that the Master is a female, she reveals that she did all the evil things that she has done for the benefit of the male hero. She wants her friend back. I said that felt wrong at the time, that the female villain shouldn’t be reduced to needing a male lead’s approval. And then, on January 15, 2017, in the absolutely execrable final episode of Moffat’s Sherlock, which I swear I enjoyed nine out of thirteen times, we meet Sherlock and Mycroft’s younger sister Eurus, who reveals that she did all the evil things that she has done for the benefit of the male hero. She wants her brother back. The female villain shouldn’t be reduced to needing a male lead’s approval, and here it was again.

I’ve been back to the Skylight Inn twice and it was every bit as amazing as I remember it. I watched “Death in Heaven” for the second time tonight and it was every bit as terrible as I remember it. It was a funny day, that November 8.

Doctor Who 8.11 – Dark Water

And then there was that day, that terrible, terrible day in 2014. We’d come to the end of an absolutely remarkable story. It was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay, who seemed like she wanted to kick down the doors and demand that she be considered in any discussion about who might be the very best of all Doctor Who‘s directors. It started with Danny Pink dying in a freak accident, continued through Clara willing to betray the Doctor to change her timeline, and provided a brilliant one-off chance to smile in this dark story when the Doctor asks, quite rationally, whether the scientist who detected human speech in some of that white noise / EVP rubbish was an idiot. Then the Cybermen showed up, on the steps of St. Paul’s, even!

It was so, so good. And then Missy revealed herself.

It could have been worse. A good friend of mine confessed that she’d spent several minutes in horrified silence afraid that Missy was Romana, gone bad.

I’ve got no problem with Time Lords changing gender. Beginning with season nine, Michelle Gomez would become second only to Delgado as my favorite Master, ever. But she does nothing in these two episodes to impress – and what Moffat makes the Master do in the second part is going to prompt a pretty pained response in tomorrow’s post – and the cliffhanger landed with a thud with me because the Master has been completely and utterly uninteresting since 1976. All the promise, all the mystery about this strange woman and the Nethersphere, all the possibilities… and it’s the Master?

It’ll get better. But it’s going to get worse first.

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.5 – Blast from the Past

For a show that’s more about Limbo and the afterlife than we’ve ever seen in either series before, “Blast from the Past” is a lot more down to earth than the lunacy in the previous story. Paul Whitehouse, another compatriot of Reeves, Mortimer, and Higson from The Fast Show and their various sketch comedies, plays the ghost of a criminal who had died on the run from Marty’s policeman father in 1970. The ghost then began haunting his brother, but since the brother took a bullet himself a few years later, the ghost has been locked in Limbo unable to make a connection with the mortal world.

But despite the fantasy storyline and focus on the rules of the spirit world, this one’s played completely straight. The only real giggle the adults got was a tiny little use of some archive footage of Mike Pratt to wink at the original series, although there were some silly special effects that had our son chuckling. But that’s not a bad thing, because it’s a fine dramatic story with an interesting mystery in the real world. Familiar face Dudley Sutton has a tiny part in it. He may be the first actor that I’ve noticed to have appeared in both the original series and the remake.

The very last shot of the episode – it’s the second and last one directed by Rachel Talalay – is a pretty gruesome image that hints at what fates the afterlife may have in store for people who don’t deserve a cloud and a harp. It’s a terrific little surprise that left our favorite eight year-old viewer wincing with his eyes wide. That image might just linger in his brain a little longer than any of the goofy afterlife animation gags.

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) 1.2 – Mental Apparition Disorder

Our son asked “Hey, is that one of the Doctors?” and the world smiled, or at least we did. Good to see him recognizing a favorite. Tom Baker starts a recurring role in this episode. He plays Wyvern, a “spirit guide” in Limbo who helps Marty get accustomed to the afterlife and learn his trade.

Baker’s part of a powerhouse cast this week. Hugh Laurie plays the villain, and in smaller parts, there’s Martin Clunes, Richard Todd, and Wanda Ventham. I should probably know these three from other roles than in eighties Who, but I’m like that. Another Who connection: it’s one of two episodes from this series to be directed by Rachel Talalay, who would later direct seven episodes in the Peter Capaldi years. Earlier, she’d directed the Tank Girl movie and she’s more recently been calling the shots on several of the CW’s superhero series.

“Mental Apparition Disorder” is a loose rewrite of a celebrated episode from the original run, “A Disturbing Case,” and that episode’s co-writers, Mike Pratt and Ian Wilson, get a credit at the end. They don’t spend nearly as much screen time on Marty impersonating the criminal hypnotist-psychiatrist in this version as in the original, and it isn’t as funny, but it involves a lot more hypnotized patients, so it has its own charm. Our son made the very disturbing observation that he even liked it better than the original, but in fairness, this one does include a lot more shouting. That said, an earlier scene where Marty tries to get the hypnotized Jeff’s attention by bellowing in his ear really is funny.