Snack Size TARDIS
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Holy cow, that was an awesome episode. Series 8 has clearly gotten over its earlier hiccups as it’s now delivering one solid, phenomenal outing after another. While Flatline wasn’t as sublime as last week’s episode, this was the best monster episode of the entire season. To be fair, it wasn’t that much of a battle to begin with, as this season has largely been about character work and quieter, more psychological monsters that torment individuals. But with Flatline, we get straight up monsters who can converge from a 2-D to 3-D format instantly and it’s terrifying. Doctor Who has a great track record with monsters created from the simplest of concepts and the ultimately named the Boneless are another great addition to Who lore. This hour is the deconstruction of a monster, an alien so out there it’s not even three-dimensional. Yet even more so this hour is about Clara assuming the role of the Doctor and coming to grips with how difficult it is to be the one with the Sonic Screwdriver and the decisions at hand. It’s emulative of Season 2’s Fear Her, but it works better perhaps not just because the production values have gotten better, but also because this is the fourth consistent episode that primarily focuses on the relationship between the Doctor and Clara over everything else.
The opening sequence is terrifying and it reminded me of the clowns on floating Britain in a horrible sort of way (good for the show, though). The shot of the man just disappearing is excellent and then Douglas Mackinnon just lets his camera rest as his phone just bounces back and forth. It’s a quiet, eerie moment right before the camera moves towards an eerie spot on the wall, revealing the man’s face etched into the wall. The TARDIS has it usual quacks and arrives in Bristol, only a hundred or so miles off of where they needed to be so Clara could have her lunch with Danny. As it turns out, there’s something that’s draining the energy from the TARDIS and its exterior is shrinking. The Doctor climbs inside just in time for Clara to come back and find a Mini, Snack Size TARDIS. He gives her a swanky camera/communication chip for easier contact. It doesn’t take them long to find some trouble and in this case it’s puzzling. She finds a guy named Rigsy doing community service, who informs her of this mystery while wondering who she is. “I’m the Doctor,” she announces excitedly, “Doctor Oswald.” So Rigsy and Dr. Oswald go on the hunt for what is making all of these people painted on the murals disappear. They find themselves locked in an apartment where the handle has been flattened and the kind police officer who was helping them out is terrifyingly dragged into the carpet. It’s a terrifying scene that shows how the Boneless remove dimensionality as they come closer and closer to their prey.
The police apparently haven’t done anything about the disappearances and Rigsy makes a meta point about how that specific estate really doesn’t mean much to the police. Doctor Who has never shied away from making larger points and I love the implication here that the police just left this poorer neighborhood be ransacked because it just didn’t matter as much in the grand scheme of things. Clara gets more in tuned with the guest group of the week, which frankly is the episode’s weakest point. Only Rigsy manages to imbue some semblance of a layered personality while Feston just comes off across as an irate arse who just despises most people under his thinly veiled contempt for the community service workers. There’s a racist undertone as well, as he notes how the scum were the ones who were sacrificed for the greater good. It’s a point that riles the Doctor, but more on that in a bit. As it turns out, the Boneless were from another dimension, preying on the human beings as they quickly evolve into three-dimensional beings. There really isn’t given a reason as to what they’re doing beyond their desire for quick evolution, and the story frankly really doesn’t need it. The hour’s packed enough and not every predator needs multiple explanations as to why it’s finding its prey. The Doctor and Clara for a moment believe that the monsters may just be misunderstood, but that has happened multiple times already this season and for once they’re not. They’re predators.
The Doctor and Clara’s relationship continues to be absolutely fascinating. This time around it’s Clara in the shoes of the Doctor, the one who must be the fearless leader of the group, the one who holds the Sonic Screwdriver, the one who must make those life and death decisions. But her solution to the monsters isn’t one that the Doctor tells her. It’s certainly true that she takes the Doctor’s philosophy of using your enemy’s weakness against them, but Clara takes agency into her own hands. It’s her ingenuity, her intelligence, and her strength that saves the day. Even though the Doctor is the one who does the final hurrah with the Sonic Screwdriver, it’s Clara who gets them there. She has to recognize that it’s her agency that would save the day and it’s primarily because of her relationship with this Doctor that she recognizes that fact. There’s perhaps no better moment that encapsulates their relationship than the moment where she tosses the Sonic Screwdriver to him through the air and he grabs it to get them all to victory. Yet at the end there is a bit of childish joy in Clara that her tenure as the Doctor was successful, even though uniquely the Doctor is the one who reminds her of the innocents lost. Feston makes a cruel observation of how the scum were the ones that died in the tunnels, a “for the greater good” observation that the Doctor is rankled by. It’s perhaps a more evil note of what he’s been saying so often this season, but to see him so rankled by what he’s been saying himself is an interesting note to play. Has he been exaggerating his philosophy this season to make a larger point or is truly something that is forcing him to think about what he’s been saying himself? Or is it a mix of both? Perhaps something else entirely? “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara, but goodness has nothing to do with it.” he notes somberly with notes of pride and resolution mixed in.
At the beginning of the season, I was hopeful that this pairing would be more fruitful than the previous one and it’s paying off with aplomb. Clara and Capaldi are truly tailor made for each other and it’s such a treat to see them evolving together and because of each other. Jamie Matheison’s script is phenomenal in this regard and almost everything else is executed to perfection. Considering his script last week and this episode, they should keep him on retainer for basically forever. Mackinnon’s direction is absolutely flawless and he smartly keeps the Boneless in the shadows as much as possible, which allows them to be as terrifying as possible without being overbearing and silly. Much to his credit, Mackinnon is amazing at capturing the atmosphere of the settings around the characters and keeping that in mind, the decision to take the characters into the tunnels was a brilliant one. There’s humor expertly mixed in, with the greatest moment when Danny calls Clara and she’s with Rigsy, trying to escape the Boneless in the apartment but it sounds like sex.“Sounds active,” he notes with a quizzical expression on his face. And he doesn’t assume that Clara’s cheating on him, which makes me love these two even more. As the episode comes to a close, we meet Missy one more time as she notes: “Clara. My Clara. I have chosen well.” Oh, dear.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Stopped listening a while ago…”
+Screw Google Glass. That earpiece from the Doctor is swanky.
+I love how the script turns people’s stereotypes about black men and community service onto its head. Clever writing, there.
+“I just picked up the title because it makes me sound important.”
+“Oh he’s a bright one, hang on to him.”
+Psychic blank paper not working
+Clara on Pocket TARDIS: “That is so adorable.” Truer words have never been spoken, Clara.
+“You really throw your companions into the deep-end, don’t you?”
+“This is why we run.”
+The nervous system on the wall is all that was left of the officer
+The Doctor moving the TARDIS on the train tracks
+Clara asserting her authority: “I’m the one chance you’ve got of styling alive.”
The Doctor: “Well done.”
+Clara: “I just hope I can keep them alive.”
The Doctor: “Welcome to my world”
+Clara: “Do you really believe that?”
The Doctor: “I hope that.”
+Clara saving Rigsy from his self-sacrifice
+“What would you do now?…No. What will I do now?”
+“But you were good, and you made a mighty fine Doctor.”
Written By: Jamie Mathieson
Directed By: Douglas Mackinnon
Image Courtesy: IGN