An Englishman in LA: Doctor Who

An Englishman in LA: Doctor Who

Our man in Los Angeles, ROBERT CAVE, takes a look at the latest episode of the new series of Doctor Who

Doctor Who Series 9/ Season 35 Episode 9

p037l6jfHello everyone, you must NOT read this review, especially if you want to remain spoiler-free for episode nine of series nine of Doctor Who. Also don’t read this if you want to stop a scary new monster escaping out into the universe, but, yeah, mostly it’s about the spoilers.

Well, that was interesting. Format breaking-stuff. No title sequence, just title card that was so well integrated that I missed it on initial viewing. There was also a less prominent soundtrack, one that featured more incidental music and mysterious footage that didn’t come from any camera.

All of which will likely disappoint some fans, but I actually really liked it. This was Mark Gatiss’s high concept take on the “found footage” format, effectively splicing together elements from The Ring, The Thing and Aliens to create a whole tale marinated in a 1001 ghost stories.

The gun props and the Morpheus pods, the sandmen themselves all did seem a little unconvincing at times, but for me that felt like a further homage to televisual ghost stories of yore. The interactive graphics looked great, as did the sand disintegration and Neptune was utterly beautiful. Shockingly, in all of the show’s 52-year history the Doctor has never been to Neptune before!

Something else we haven’t seen much of in Who of the past is non-British space-farers, so the Indo-Japanese crew were an interesting change, one that hinted at wonderfully rich areas of the Doctor Who universe still to be explored. Another such hint was the grunt, 474. A powerful vat-grown, low-intelligence lifeform, treated, if not as a slave, at least like a lower form of life. Played by transgender comedian Bethany Black, 474 was referred to as “she”, but came across as not having a binary gender at all, just an attraction to crewmate Chopra. All of which poses more questions than it answers, and I hope to see more of the grunts in the future.

But this story was mostly about its closing reveal, and the other great format breaking moment, the Doctor failing to stop the monsters. He escapes, of course, just not from the space station, but from the dream, a dream that is encoded in the story we just watched. While I’m not so keen on the “escape from the dream” motif being used again so soon after Last Christmas, and its tendency to leach meaning from its surroundings. If what we have seen is just a dream, it has no consequences and therefore very little meaning. The only things that pull this back from the brink of being what my younger self would probably have referred to as “a meaningless dream story” are the hints of a richer outside universe I mentioned earlier, and the story’s sting in the tail: the creepy, straight-to camera revelation that the sandmen are encoded in the found footage dream and processed/produced when we sleep. If I understood it all correctly, the stuff in the corner of your eye when you wake is part of a monster propagated throughout the solar system by those watching the dream-footage that comprises this story. The dream you saw might not quite make sense, but this one will have consequences.

Until next time, sweet dreams.

Doctor Who – The Complete Series 8 [DVD] [2014]

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