The best part of the ninth season premier of Doctor Who was the 6 minute prequel, The Doctor’s Meditation. I saw it for the first time when I went to see the eighth season’s two part finale (Dark Water/Death in Heaven) in theaters in 3D. I went with friends which made for an enjoyable evening. I will admit, I initially thought it would be the premier of the new season in theaters but I may have been confused with the new footage of the prequel. The re-watch of the last two episodes of the previous season were helpful in the fact that it refreshed my memory of the details that occurred prior to the Doctor and Clara parting ways. It was good to see Missy again, I do enjoy her character, I just wish there was more to her and we could see a better extent of her character than just the villain she is pegged as in the finale.
While it was interesting to see these two episodes now rendered in 3D, the most interesting portion of the evening was the Wil Wheaton interview and the prequel. It was great to see Wil back on the screen after the cancellation of his TV show. He interviewed both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman about the upcoming season of Doctor Who and about the two episodes we had just watched, as this interview had been specifically recorded to be paired with the theater premier of the two part finale. While they were quite vague on details of the new season and the new character to be introduced, played by Game of Thrones alum Maisie Williams, they did reveal that the Doctor would be playing an instrument in the premier episode: the electric guitar.
It’s really no surprise that the Doctor would choose a guitar as his instrument of choice. It is well known that Peter Capaldi once headed a punk band called the Dream Boys where he was lead singer and guitarist. Fun fact, Craig Ferguson was the band’s drummer, a fellow Scot and host of the Late Late Show. Capaldi told Wil Wheaton that rather than taking inspiration for his Doctor from the eleven actors who have come before him, he would rather have the Doctor be more of himself. Rather than being the Doctor the Doctor would be him. This frame of thinking was clear when it was decided that Capaldi’s Doctor would have his Scottish accent. The second Scot to play the Doctor, Capaldi is the first to use his native accent, where fellow Scot and Whovian, David Tennant used a British Accent. So, long story short, the Doctor is a rocker with an electric guitar and man can Capaldi still play. More of that soon.
Getting back to the prequel, we find the Doctor in medieval England, inside a castle. Several camera angles show the Doctor sitting on the floor before a roaring fire, the camera then settles on a man in period clothing entering the room in the back ground. The Doctor turns to the man and asks, “How many days have I been here?” The man hesitates and replies, “About three hours?” “Three hours?” the Doctor responds in annoyance, “Well, very nearly.” The Doctor suffering from his ever constant lack of the concept of time is trying to meditate and not doing very well at it.
Fans know it is very difficult for the Doctor to keep still, this was very evident with the previous Doctor (Matt Smith) and a series of short clips featuring the Ponds. The Doctor attempted to live out a day in their lives: doing chores, playing video games etc. He was a ball of energy worse than a hyper child.
The Doctor, our current one, makes a point to say that Clara was right about him not being able to focus and stating that he has attention deficit….something or other, he wasn’t even paying attention when Clara was explaining a possible explanation for his restlessness. We come to find out that the man’s name is Bors and he is indebted to the Doctor for saving his life…from a splinter. Clearly the first minute of the prequel relies heavily on a comedic charm, which carries through the entire short. We come to learn that the Doctor is supposed to meet with someone, someone who is sick and dying, someone he’s known for a very long time. The doctor is cryptic and avoids giving Bors any real answers though he does ask. The Doctor spends three weeks in this place: instigating a mad hunt for a place to dig a well for better water to meditate with, determining the well needs a visitors’ center, even plans a throne room extension with added sun roof.
After all of that, Bors–who we are led to believe is of simple mind–asks the important question–the whole point of this little side adventure of the Doctor. “What is it that you dread?” The Doctor denies this and he continues, “You’re always making jokes, you never sit still. You’re like a man in fear of days to come.” The Doctor responds, with a joke, telling Bors that he thought he was an idiot which Bors thought as well. But the mere fact that this stranger who has only know the Doctor for a short time, has hit the nail on the head. He’s figured out that the Doctor is doing what the Doctor does best: hiding out until he’s figured out what he’s going to do, or gathering the strength to do exactly what he knows he has to do when it could mean something terrible.
The prequel ends with Bors finally convincing the Doctor to tell him his story–why he came to this place and now feels compelled to leave it. The Doctor tells him that he was looking for a bookstore and stumbled across a battle field. It is the scene of this battle field where the prequel leaves off and the premier episode picks back up.
The opening scenes of the episode were very good. It was a smoke filled, muddy terrain. Men running through mud during what I assume was the daylight, what little filtered in through the clouds and smoke. It is very clear this is a foreign place, another world perhaps, but definitely another time. The men have primitive weapons (bows and arrows) but the double winged prop plane fires on them with laser guns. The first few minutes you’re thinking what the hell are those hands with eyeballs and how is this kid going to get out of this alive when they just sucked a grown man under the ground. The opening does well to pose a hopeless scenario and who better to help with a hopeless scenario than the Doctor. I love that you have no idea he’s even arrived, your first glimpse is that of the sonic screwdriver landing at the boy’s feet. The Doctor proceeds, as any passerby looking for a book shop but finding a war zone would, by giving the boy a speech about survival. You think, alright the Doctor is here now and everything is going to be ok. The Doctor will save this boy. The sonic screwdriver has a setting for creepy hand things. Then the bomb is dropped, not literally, a name is given. The Doctor wants to know the name of the boy he has convinced to live, that he will try to save: Davros.
This would be the moment where I lost my shit and yelled obscenities at my television. I missed half the opening credits while I tried to make sense of what I’d just heard. My heart sunk and I’m fairly certain I mirrored the Doctor’s own ‘Oh Shit’ face. Those five minutes were fantastic and elicited the exact response Moffat was aiming for, I’m sure. How could the Doctor possibly save the boy who would one day grow up to be the creator of one of the most feared enemies of the Doctor? The same enemy responsible for the Time War and the near destruction of the entire planet of Gallifrey (thanks to Day of the Doctor, we know Gallifrey is safe just elsewhere). I am of course referring to the Daleks. We later find out he doesn’t save the boy, he gets the hell out of dodge. He leaves behind the boy and with him his sonic screwdriver.
I did also like the tour of worlds we got to see after the credits: The Maldovarium, The Shadow Proclamation, the planet of Karn. We are also introduced to another weird looking creature, the Colony Sarff, who is hell bent on locating the Doctor for his master. You guessed it, Davros, dark lord of Skaro. We see the Doctor hiding on Karn where clearly the Sisterhood of Karn has some mojo to keep Colony Sarff at bay. He hears the message that is to be delivered to the Doctor. Davros wants to see him, for the last time. Now of course, you’re probably thinking much as I was, does this message mean that it will be the last time because Davros is dying or because he plans to kill the Doctor during their final meeting? They have been enemies for centuries and more, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this meeting would be a trap to lure the Doctor to his end at the hand of an old nemesis. Now we know why the Doctor hung out with Bors and co. for three weeks digging wells and building visitors’ centers. If you heard your old enemy wanted to see you one last time and sent some weirdo messenger around to all your old haunts, you would want to lay low and hide out somewhere safe too. Somewhere you could think about your next steps and at the same time have a bit of a party with a guitar and a tank. We’ll get to that.
But that’s where the episode starts to lose it’s excellence for me. When we find ourselves on Earth, once again in classroom Oswald. We discover that all the planes in the world have stopped in the air and aren’t moving. Unit calls in Clara to try and get hold of the Doctor. He isn’t answering his phone–we know it’s for reasons of well digging and medieval partying–but of course Unit’s plan B is to call Clara. But can someone please tell me why all of sudden Clara is acting head of Unit? She’s asking all the questions and telling them they can’t just go running to the Doctor without all the facts. She shuts down Kate, the actual head of Unit, like she’s some know nothing newbie. I can appreciate that Clara knows things, having traveled with the Doctor, you pick things up. But along with the knowledge she also apparently picked up quite the ego. We know Clara to be bossy when she wants to be, but where were the signs that she also had a hankering for wanting to run Unit? Thank god Clara is here to do all the heavy thinking, who needs the Doctor when the ex-impossible girl is here to figure out the planes are just someone trying to get their attention. Way to solve the problem Clara…while also being really annoying. I cheered when she got exterminated later. But, I am once again getting ahead of myself.
We find out that Missy, yes The Mistress formerly The Master, is back and wasn’t actually killed in the finale. She’s come to meet with Clara to discuss the Doctor and his last will and testament. The same will and testament that is to be delivered to his closest friend, Missy, not his puppy, Clara. Missy explaining Clara’s role in the Doctor’s life, in her opinion, made me snicker. It’s true, Clara has known the Doctor for but a fraction of his life when he and Missy have known each other for all of theirs. It only makes sense that his confession dial would be delivered to Missy, which would make her want to seek him out of concern, but who ever really knows with her. She certainly showed Clara to never assume her motives were anything resembling someone who’s turned good (or gewd). But Missy does relinquish control of the planes to use Clara’s assistance in locating the Doctor on Earth, but when is he?
Flash back to our medieval setting of the prequel, with a crowd cheering and clapping as Bors stands in an arena holding an ax. He is prepared to fight and awaiting his opponent. At the same exact time, Clara and Missy determine the Doctor would not be hiding at a crisis but instead at a party. Missy transports them immediately to the exact location using vortex manipulators (Captain Jack Harness’ own favorite cheap and nasty form of time travel), in time to hear some sweet guitar riffs, while the Doctor rides into the arena on a tank. Bors wanted an ax fight, so the Doctor faces him with an electric guitar playing none other than the show’s very own theme song while wearing sunglasses and telling some bad jokes that nobody will get for a few hundred years. Until he spots Clara and Missy in the crowd and plays the first few lines of Pretty Woman. He explains to the crowd that despite all his accomplishments the past three weeks, including introducing the word dude centuries early and having the crowd demonstrate it “You’re a dragon fighting…” “DUDE!!”, he would be leaving them that night.
I will admit I enjoyed this portion of the episode; for the interactions between the Doctor, Bors, and the crowd. His introduction of Missy as the evil Stepmother, plus his homages to former Doctors, “Yesterday I wore a bow tie, today a long scarf. This is my party and all of me is invited.” Bow tie referring to the Eleventh Doctor who thought they were cool and the long scarf belonging to the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker). Davros’ messenger thing shows up in time to announce that the Doctor’s friends had finally led him to the Doctor. He returns the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and the Doctor stares at it with shame. This leads Clara to ask the question: “What have you done?” We then find out exactly what he did or in this case did not do and why he no longer had that screw driver. A little boy on a battle field calls for help and gets no reply except for the sound of the TARDIS as it disappears.
With quick thinking, the Doctor agrees to go with Colony Sarff to see Davros, if no one dies and likewise Clara and Missy immediately request to be taken with him. The Doctor refuses and loses to a democratic vote by a bunch of snakes. They all teleport to snake man’s awaiting space craft. But what do we find out then? Our dear simple minded Bors has been a plant the entire time, a Dalek humanoid plant. Why? Why was that necessary? Just to show us that the Daleks found the TARDIS? If the messenger found his way there, would it have been too much to have him find the TARDIS and bring it along when he hand delivered the Doctor? Or just have it be assumed? There was no need to explain how the TARDIS wound up on Skaro with the Doctor. I think we would be smart enough to figure out that it was found and taken there just like the Doctor was. I liked Bors when he was just some ax wielding medieval dude who was smart enough to know the Doctor was dreading something. Instead he’s mindlessly looking for the TARDIS in a trunk, under a table, finally finding it behind a tapestry which clearly is the only thing large enough to hide a big blue box. Again, I was annoyed.
We soon come to find out after the three have arrived, thanks to gravity, that they are not in a space station but actually on a planet. Missy explains this to Clara after the Doctor is taken away, by opening an airlock which doesn’t kill them but would have probably been better than the alternative. Not only was the Doctor taken to see Davros; but all three of them were now guests on the planet Skaro (home planet of the Daleks). If one could really call them guests when surrounded by creatures who would sooner exterminate them than serve them tea and biscuits.
The Doctor is brought to Davros and the two strike up a conversation. But I’m sorry, can someone give Davros a neck support? I know he’s dying but how ridiculous is it for him to sit there talking with the Doctor–what should be a serious conversation–but he looks like a bored teenager holding his head up with his hand on his chin. He’s the dark lord of Skaro for pete’s sake! He is surrounded by all sorts of machines and cables, but he has to flail his arm around on the controls like a baby with no motor function, then prop up his head again so he can watch the Doctor during the montage of their past. But not just that, one second he holding his chin and the next second his arm is down and then he’s holding up his head on his own. But wait, then he’s holding his chin again and then he’s not. Oh my god, can we just pick one and stick with it? This ruined the entire conversation. I was more focused on his inconsistent bursts of strength where he could hold his head up and actually look like an arch nemesis.
Meanwhile, Missy and Clara are found by a Dalek and taken to where the TARDIS is being kept in…you guessed it, a room full of Daleks. Missy naturally tries to save her own skin by convincing the Daleks that with her help they can use the TARDIS as a weapon to rage war anytime and anywhere. This works all of three second before…exterminate! Bye bye Missy. Followed very quickly by Clara Oswald as she tries to make a run for it and is shot in the back. Woo hoo…I mean…poor puppy. What hurt the most was seeing the TARDIS hit by a beam of laser and supposedly being destroyed. How could they do that to Sexy?!
But if the TARDIS was destroyed how did the Doctor get back to the battle field to speak to the boy again? How was he able to be there to tell him he wasn’t going to save him but save his friend? How could he say the one word I never thought I would ever hear him speak while raising a weapon? Exterminate. What the hell Moffat?! You and your damn cliff hangers leaving me shouting obscenities at the TV again. Could the Doctor be capable of killing the boy? Of course, he has killed before, been responsible for the deaths of others, it has been a dark part of his life that has followed him for centuries. But I don’t want him to be capable of saying that word and meaning it. Ever.
My theory based on the scenes of the next episode: Davros is the one that sends the Doctor back to that boy in the muddy field of war. He wants to see if the Doctor is capable of “pulling the trigger” and killing a child and making it so that the Dalek race never existed. Why else would he ask the Doctor is he was ready? Plus that would explain the Dalek type weapon that the Doctor appears with.
So my overall opinion of the premier episode: I was unimpressed, especially for a season premier. It had its enjoyable moments and for that I give it a C. I did not have high hopes coming into it which helped, but the rest of the season is going to have to do much better. We shall see.