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22 September 2014 @ 02:10 pm
some Doctor Who thoughts  
Hmm. Two episodes, back to back, about things in the Twelfth Doctor’s psyche that he’s hiding from himself or has forgotten…

This morning I was thinking about episodes that, for whatever reason, feel to me to “belong” specifically to their Doctors – an episode with Ten that I can’t imagine Nine in, etc. The first of these to come to mind was “Vincent and the Doctor,” because I’d already thought of the episode in those terms before: I’d said that I couldn’t imagine Ten being kind to Vincent in the way Eleven is, not given the way he’d treated the people who should have been closest to him, like Mickey and Martha and Jack. And after “The Day of the Doctor,” I’m even less able to imagine Ten giving Amy Eleven’s “pile of good things” speech, because Ten can’t think that way; still mired in his grief over Gallifrey, he’s horrified by and scornful of the mere idea that Eleven has found a way to come to terms with that loss, because he can’t imagine a way of healing that doesn’t entail forgetting. How could he ever say to Amy that the bad things don’t make the good things unimportant, when he can’t imagine anything beyond the terrible thing that’s happened to him?

(Weirdly, even though I know that the plot was originally developed in a comic starring Ten and Mickey, I can’t imagine Ten in “The Lodger,” either – this time because so much of the episode is about how alien the Doctor is, and Ten spent so much time trying to pretend that he knew everything about humans and could easily “pass” for one. Can you imagine Ten racing to defend Craig still shower-slick, hair in wild disarray, wielding an electric toothbrush instead of the sonic screwdriver? Or saying, “Can you hold, please? I have to eat a biscuit”? Can you imagine him being so unselfconscious about how uncool he’s being in those moments? – It is also the case that I can’t imagine him gently taking care of Craig and telling him that he’s important, either, even when Craig has no desire to travel to London let alone the stars: not Mister “Not her; she’d only hold us up” and “You’re not special, or important,” but I am actually trying to let that go, despite appearances.)

The point of all of that, though, is that I can’t quite imagine Eleven in either “Listen” or “Time Heist.” (I can imagine him in “Robots of Sherwood,” though he’d be far more likely to grin and share Robin’s daffy glee than to seem fatally allergic to it as Twelve does.) “Listen” seems to rely not just on the idea that the Doctor keeps secrets even from himself – I can believe that of Eleven, and Ten, and Nine too – but that he would go looking for the thing he’s afraid of, want to figure it out and face it. I can’t imagine Eleven (or Ten; jury’s out on Nine) wanting to spend enough time in his own psyche to do that.

One of the interesting things to me about “Listen” is the way that it works as the inversion of a typical Moffat episode. So many of Moffat’s ‘villains’ involve taking the nameless dread you’ve always rationalized away and giving it a concrete form and a name. This is probably the most clear with the Vashta Nerada, where the Doctor even says that all creatures have an irrational fear of the dark that isn’t irrational, because that is where those hungry shadows wait. But this is also true of the Weeping Angels, who hide in plain sight and mock our frightened attempts to tell ourselves that they’re only statues; and the Silents, which are every unexplained gap in our memories given flesh, the thing that’s always been there making the hair stand up on the back of our necks; and even Prisoner Zero, which is the thing that’s paced alongside Amy as she grew up, hiding in her own house, the thing always waiting just out of sight, in the corner of her eye.

“Listen” looks like it’s about to take that same shape as an episode, and tell us that we’ve never, ever been alone – that when we talk to ourselves, it’s because there’s always been something else out there, listening. All our nameless, primal, instinctive reactions and fears have reasons in Moffat’s episodes, after all: there’s never nothing there. But instead, “Listen” never answers the question of whether anything was there at all – and tells the Doctor that he’s never, ever been alone because there was always someone there, listening to him cry and telling him it was all right to be afraid. And even though Eleven was often incredibly vulnerable, open to feeling his pain and fears so deeply, perhaps his frequent role as the protector of children – from his first day on the job to his last, and highlighted for us in “The Beast Below”* – means that it’s much harder for me to imagine his being the one to need that childhood comfort rather than to give it. And despite Twelve’s much more gruffly distant personality, he is also the one who pleads to Clara to see him – which is still hard for her, even after Eleven’s phone call (more on this in a second, with “Time Heist”), but here she manages by literally seeing the little boy behind the man.

*One of the things that is so heartbreaking about the whole Pond saga is that Melody always remains that child that Eleven couldn’t protect. Taking a child and turning her into a weapon against him would be a terrible punishment for any Doctor, but it feels targeted at Eleven in a way that it wouldn’t feel targeted at someone else.

“Time Heist” feels like it couldn’t belong to Eleven in that way, to me, because the Doctor needs to be “the enemy” in two different ways, and I think Eleven could only have done one of them. There are some clear similarities between this episode and “Amy’s Choice,” especially the Doctor’s acknowledging that he hates a villain who turns out to be himself. (“No idea how you can be here, but there’s only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do.” Ouch, my heart; that still hurts, years on.) But again, whereas Eleven knows by then that somehow, the Dream Lord must be him, Twelve has misplaced this knowledge when he first declares that he hates the Architect. (And Saibra’s response to that is so interesting, when the Doctor tells her that he hates the Architect but can’t promise to kill him: “A good man. I’ve left it late to meet one of those.” There are so many grace notes in this episode about what kind of man the Doctor is, and whether we know the answer to that anymore.) (Also, this continues the theme of Twelve’s forgetting or not knowing his past and who he is: his scrambled and missing memories in “Deep Breath”; his not being able to figure out why his subconscious chose a face for him that he already knew; the childhood fear of “Listen”; even his not being able to understand when Clara began believing that larger-than-life heroes might be real.)

Like “Amy’s Choice,” “Time Heist” turns out upon rereading to have been about the Doctor’s psyche all the time, with the funhouse-mirror version of all his worst parts on display in some other “character” that even mirrors his names and titles: Dream Lord for Time Lord; the Architect for the Doctor. But this episode sees Twelve consciously, deliberately manipulate his voice, his image; there’s no accidental grain of pollen to do it for him. And the reason that I think Eleven could only have pulled off half of this episode’s villainy (if that’s even the right word) is that in “Amy’s Choice,” Eleven is always firmly and steadfastly on the side of his companions – racing to save them when he can barely walk, gathering up vanloads of people to keep them safe, even in a dream. Twelve’s plan highlights (maybe even relies on) the coldness that Psi remarks on (“Is that why you can yourself ‘the Doctor’? The professional detachment”), that prompts him to say to Clara that they need to prioritize their own survival over mourning Saibra. What’s fascinating to me is that not once, but twice, River Song has to tell previous incarnations of the Doctor to do just that (even as, in one case, she makes everyone stand by and listen to Miss Evangelista’s last words), because they need his clearest focus to keep the rest of the crew alive: the Doctor is capable of that prioritization, but in the S4 Library episodes and the S5 Angels two-parter, it doesn’t come naturally to him; he needs the outside reminder. This Doctor doesn’t. And even though we know he cared for Saibra, he…well, he prioritizes: Clara tells Psi that he has to promise her not to use the “atomic shredder,” no matter what; she’s miracle-minded, for her there’s always another way out. But Twelve looks at Saibra and doesn’t argue when she asks for the “exit strategy,” because he doesn’t have any more tricks up his sleeve and knows that all he can save her from now is a fate worse than death.

And then the Doctor thinks like the Architect, horrifying Clara still more – looking for the “logic” that would have led the Architect to use Saibra and Psi like expendable game pieces, instead of trying to honor Psi’s sacrifice. He’s capable of seeing how the Architect could have seen Saibra and Psi as expendable game pieces, when Clara can’t. And of course he can think that way, since he’s the Architect – calculating, manipulating, keeping secrets. (Eleven could do all those things too, of course. But he took everything just a bit too personally to speak of logic right after hearing someone’s death. – Remember Rita? There’s a touch of “The God Complex” here, too, with the Minotaur-like Teller who feeds on guilt instead of belief.) But, because he’s the Architect, it turns out that he did have one more trick up his sleeve, and “exit strategy” doesn’t mean what Saibra thought it did, at all. It’s not a callous euphemism for death; it’s literally another way out – and it’s life after seeming death, it’s the grace that this Doctor is incapable of expecting the world to give him. (Of all the things that my brain keeps turning over, his complete inability to process that Saibra and Psi aren’t dead is one of the most interesting: Clara accepts it readily and joyfully, but Twelve responds with shocked bewilderment – there are no miracles, that’s not how this world works.) (And this is one of the things I think I find to be the strangest about Twelve’s character: why has he responded to all the miraculous things of Eleven’s tenure, including the return of Gallifrey, by being so sure – from Sherwood to here – that heroes and miracles can’t be real? Does he think he used them all up?)

I feel like I might need to come back to this episode again to actually think about it as an episode, rather than as meta. But I found the other “villain” of the piece really interesting: it turns out that we’ve been watching a clone for most of the time – not someone who grew up and made choices about what kind of person she wanted to be, but someone who was created for the work she had to do – which doesn’t let her off the hook, exactly, but it changed what I thought I was seeing all along (especially since the clones seem specifically “bred” not to protest or resist). I would have liked more development of the woman behind the clones, though: while I can believe in the idea of deathbed remorse, I still don’t have an explanation for the rest of her character, for what kind of person is so driven by greed and possessiveness that she would design a whole unbreakable bank around herself, making herself the Minotaur at the heart of the maze. But I really, really liked Saibra and Psi: her flinching away from any touch, the way she takes Clara’s hand with hesitance and shame written in her body language when she shows them all what she can do – contrasted with the warmth of the hug she gives the Doctor once she’s taken the gene suppressant, and can finally touch another person and remain herself; his cocky wariness that’s built on the fact that he can no longer even remember ever having been loved. What does that do to who you are? (“I suppose I must have loved them”: the casualness of that line, and the fact that he can only guess because he doesn’t remember, broke my heart.) (Another rereading: the fact that Saibra’s and Psi’s rewards actually exist in the vault is something that doesn’t make sense at first, if the Architect is as callous and cold as he seems: if he didn’t expect them to make it to the vault, why would he bother actually acquiring what they’d asked for? And at first it seems like he’s dangling these things in their sight – everyone has a price – but afterward it feels like the Doctor – well, being a doctor: giving them what they need to live happy, human lives. They both want things that will allow them to feel connection.)

(Of course, the episode as a whole turns out to be about connection and companionship. The heist turns out to be a rescue mission – and perhaps the private vault still does contain what the Doctor wants most, after all: not to be the last of his kind. The Doctor says “Solitude is the only peace,” but he’s watching two creatures walk off together and happy as he says it. And the almost-last lines of the episode: “Don’t rob any banks.” “Don’t rob any banks what?” “Without me!” He keeps dropping into her life unannounced, potentially spoiling her plans, all brusque and unconcerned, because he needs her, and the only way for him to admit it is to be a nuisance.)