A Field of Fog
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Chance is a tricky thing, a fickle fiend yet as loyal a companion as one could find. Chances are like gambling bets if you will, desperately tricky to get right yet imbued with the promise of untethered goodwill should you succeed. A chance could very well mean the difference between life and death, as a young child finds at the beginning of a dark episode. Doctor Who has a penchant for turning existing ideas that are frightening enough and somehow exacerbating that terror and it’s no different here. Instead of land mines, the child finds himself trapped by hand mines, creatures with eyes in their hands that suck you down if they sense movement and grasp you. There’s a brilliant bait and switch that leaves this child utterly stranded, staring out into the foggy wasteland of war before the noise all so familiar reverberates throughout that air. The Doctor notes that the child has one chance in a thousand and one is all you need, but in that moment the Doctor himself has one chance in a thousand and it’s a far darker one. He’s standing at the precipice of a conundrum, staring forward at a dangerous fork in the road. The concept of going back in time, on the surface at least, arrives with the double-edged sword of hindsight bias. Knowledge is power, but power itself can be wielded to a terrifying effect.
The inevitable stipulation of hindsight bias grapples with the conundrum of overturning key events, eradicating key figures. In a show like Doctor Who, that question arrives constantly, wrapped often in a plethora of tragedy. To use a previous Capaldi episode, in The Fires of Pompeii Donna is horrified by the inevitability of the destruction of Pompeii, by the impending deaths of the very real people all around her. There the Doctor was able to save a singular family, but the civilization was doomed. It’s a question that has dogged every instance of time travel; if you have the ability to change history itself, should you do it? Should you prevent the sinking of the Titanic, the Atlantic slave trade, the genocides that have marred humanity itself? If you have the ability to eradicate the men and women responsible for the tragedies throughout histories, then what? Would exterminating the life of a single child who will lead a war prevent those deaths from occurring? Or does that act of evil simply lead to other devastating consequences? If Davros is murdered as a child, then presumably the Daleks would never rise, the universe wouldn’t be thrown into chaos, and the very existence of the Time War would be out of the question. But that doesn’t necessitate that other horrors of an equivalent tragedy wouldn’t simply replace the ones wiped out from history.
The Doctor from a certain point of view is a good man, if not a great one. He, for all of his numerous faults, has always displayed a sense of humanity in the most damning of circumstances. His strength of will and character is a testament to his goodness, but that strength does not arrive without its consequences. When those consequences hit, every time the Doctor’s face is clouded with guilt, with regret, with shame. He feels so often that his greatness ought to have averted those very consequences. The Doctor, no matter how feeling or unfeeling the incarnation, has a fierce sense of loyalty to those he cares the most deeply about, a loyalty that drives him close to the edge when it is endangered. It is in those moments the Doctor flirts with the darkness so heavily imbued within him. Missy, who may have my favorite introduction tagline of the series (seriously, “Hey Missy, you’re so fine!” is a gem), represents at least a semblance of that darkness. Her quirky mannerisms and glib jokes aside, Missy is not a Time Lady to be trifled with. While our beloved Doctor, no matter the incarnation, will do his utmost best to save as many lives as possible, Missy kills several guards without even the slightest hint of hesitation. She may partner with Clara to find the Doctor and inevitably help him (that’s just a given at this point), but she is by no means a force for good. Her disappointment when the Doctor names Davros his arch nemesis and not her is as clear an indication of such as there will be.
The conversation between the Davros of the Daleks and the Doctor is a fascinating one in its minutia, boiled down to a singular thesis. In the mind of his nemesis, the Doctor’s abandonment was the last blow against faith in humanity. His guilt over his abandonment of the child in the fields, however, reeks of inferiority. “Compassion,” he coos calmly. “It has always been your greatest indulgence.” Certainly the Doctor’s expression when Clara and Missy are in a room alone with the Daleks feeds into Davros’s expectations of that weakness, but it is the Doctor’s expression at the thought of losing his very best friend that’s key. He begs Davros to spare Clara as Missy is exterminated into the mist, but as so often the Doctor encounters, there is no mercy. As the episode draws to a close, the Doctor once more returns to the warring wasteland of mines, the TARDIS having jumped precariously close to the boy whom had asked for his help mere minutes ago. The Doctor looks at the child, his face contorted with fear, anger, and grief. The shame, regret, and guilt he felt that Clara had so easily read upon his visage was at that critical juncture crucially gone. There’s always a chance, even if it is one in a thousand. With that chance always comes a choice and in the Doctor’s own words that choice is survival. But if he succeeds and Clara and Missy survive, what will be left of him? He raises the Sonic Screwdriver and the air falls silent. And that’s where we are left. The Doctor says the word, but does he commit the deed?
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The soldier being sucked in instead of the child was a brilliant twist
+The Pan’s Labyrith homage
+“Survival is the choice.”
+“You have one chance in a thousand. One is all you need.”
+The Doctor: “Always behind you and one step ahead.”
+Jane Austen was a phenomenal kisser
+UNIT’s reappearance with Kate
+The Doctor’s Will
+Missy on Clara: “See that couple over there? You’re the puppy.”
+“He was a little girl.” Are we getting a female Doctor soon?
+The will opens when he’s dead – anyone else reminded of Harry Potter?
+The Doctor riding in on a tank while jamming on a guitar is beyond perfection
+Of course the Doctor used a daffodil as a broad sword
+“Hugging is a great way to hide your face, we both know this.”
+The Doctor on Missy: “The wicked stepmother.”
+“Are you dangerous, little man?”
+The democracy of snakes was one of the more original monsters I’ve seen from Who in a while
+Dalek in the Magician
+“I intended to accuse.”
+The illusion of space
+“You should never believe a man about a vehicle.”
+“You need me, a Time Lady.”
Episode Title: The Magician’s Apprentice
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Hettie MacDonald
Image Courtesy: Radio Times