I think that was probably Toby Whithouse’s best DW script yet. I also think that that’s not saying much. Pretty entertaining, but fairly unsatisfying. Solid, but lacking in plot, innovation or characterisation. Quick rundown of my thoughts:
- It’s very jarring to watch an episode where it feels like there’s an element or scene that’s been lifted wholesale from another story every few minutes. I counted bits from The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, 42, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, The Waters of Mars and The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. I was getting constant deja vu.
- Maybe this means they got the wrong guy in to do it, but I felt that even with the justification that she was enjoying herself too much, Clara was way out of character. I could be wrong and it could be narratively significant, but it didn’t feel like that. It wasn’t a natural development from Flatline or The Witch’s Familiar. It felt like Rose Tyler and Sarah Jane in School Reunion, like Amy Pond in The God Complex, and like Gwen Cooper in Greeks Bearing Gifts. It felt like every time Whithouse got to do a take on a companion or significant female character written by anyone else and wrote a considerably different character instead. So if I was supposed to be convinced by Clara being out of character for a narrative reason, it has backfired because I’m going to assume it’s the writer failing again. I did say there was nobody I trusted less with this premise.
- I suspect he could only write a companion well if he had one of his own, which should (IMO) never happen.
- ‘She once had an argument with Gandhi’ sounded way more like Amy or Rose than Clara for some reason, which is apt, because that’s who her characterisation seemed to bounce between (I think Whithouse may have got Clara closer to Amy than he managed with the actual Amy, which is amusing)
- Pretty good work on the representation front. Slightly marred by the ‘black guy dies first’ trope, which is unfortunate.
- I feel so happy for deaf children watching this episode seeing Cass being told she’s ‘the smartest person in the room’. She is, and she’s all around awesome. Her lip-reading skills being crucial is a beautiful touch. Sophie Stone gives an excellent performance.
- Unfortunately, Cass is the only member of the team to be fleshed out beyond one dimensional. Pritchard is Strackman Lux from Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead without any depth, and Lunn and Bennett are adorkable (and hot in Bennett’s case), but beyond that…nothing, really. For this reason, it’s difficult to feel anything for them and several scenes seem unearned, particularly the scene where the Doctor rallies everyone to explore the Church. Of course they’re all going to stay, because apart from Cass they’re barely more than ciphers.
- We’d better be getting pre-ghost Prentis next episode. You don’t waste Paul Kaye on that.
- The direction was pretty gorgeous. Loved the aesthetic, Daniel O’Hara is great.
- The action themes were a nice evolution from Murray’s Into the Dalek work.
- I’m not sure what to think of the cards, really. (And do we take it that Clara’s been preparing him for a future meeting with Sarah Jane? Ow.)
- The noise Lunn made when running away from the ghost gives me life
- ‘It’s impossible, I hate it, it’s evil, it’s astonishing!’ Now we know the context, this strike anyone else as a bit hyperbolic?
- Great cliffhanger, changes the game for next week nicely
- Average but inoffensive is at least a significant improvement on two fronts for Whithouse’s last time out
I understand the idea that Clara might not be acting in character and I will withhold final judgement on that until I see how it works within the entire series, but I feel it might be pretty much in line with what we were warned about in The Caretaker and what the ending of Mummy on the Orient Express heralded as well. It feels much more rooted in these episodes than Flatline and I think that’s justified in spite of the episode order – Flatline was Clara acting like the Doctor, I fear this might just be Clara acting as herself. It’s also notabe that Jenna can work with any script and it ultimately felt very genuine due to that, if nothing else.
(I do not see Amy or Rose there at all. In fact, I’m not sure I saw a companion, because Clara seems to have either shed the role completely or performs it in a pitifully perfunctory way, like substituting real empathy and engagement with other people with cards. I kept thinking that this might have been an impossible story to tell, in any believable manner, with anybody else.)
I agree that with the exception of Cass, the side characters were not fleshed out. Considering that Cass was easily one of the most spectacular side characters we’ve had, that’s almost forgivable. And it is also a problem of interaction – Clara was so singularly focused on adventure that she never made a connection, we didn’t really see the side characters interact, and the Doctor really only engaged with Cass (and beautifully so there).
With Clara alone on the base with the team in the following episode, I hope two of these problems will be solved – utilising Clara’s to a much fuller extent and allowing the other side-characters to move up from the painfully one-dimensional category. All while hopefully still realising that Sophie Stone’s Cass is the most brilliant thing he has done for the Whoniverse since introducing Rita. (Actually, no, make that EVER.)