Tuesday, 12 January 2016

My Death

                                                        News guy wept and told us…

The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images. - Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle


And so it’s the next day.

Yesterday I cried. It’s personal. It was for all of us; as my friend Joe described us, the Bowie Casualties. If you don’t get that you probably won’t need to read on.

I was struck by how, of all the eulogies which sprung up both on social media and the mainstream press, it was in the comments columns underneath, (usually the domain of trolls and smart asses with axes to grind) that the most heartfelt sentiments were expressed. Almost without dissent the claims that Bowie was writing specifically for them, that he somehow had access to his fans’ personal dreams, nightmares, and possibly secret teenage diaries were ubiquitous. Of course they were all wrong. He was writing, creating, performing exclusively for me.

So you’ll forgive me if I take his death personally.

I switched on the Today programme on Radio 4 which I used to do regularly every morning but have recently fallen out of the habit of doing.

“We’ll be back after the weather with more on the death of David Bowie…”

I stopped dead in my tracks. I really couldn’t move.

Yet all through that sad day I wasn’t interested in the BBC news or Channel 4’s coverage telling me about Life on Mars, the middle class answer to ‘what’s your favourite Bowie song?’ (with others with a passing interest in Bowie you might get “Heroes” if they’re of the stadium rock flag waving bent but they’ll never put the quotation marks round the word in their heads), and even Radio’s 1 and 6 creating a while you wait Cult Legacy Bowie theme park left me somehow cold. I certainly couldn’t care less about David bloody Cameron’s attempt to co-opt Bowie into a Tory spin buzz-quote. “He always did it right” and Jeremy Corbyn severely blotted his copy book in my eyes with his anodyne and mumbling “I’ll always think of Life on Mars” Hmmm. really Jezza? And every time I see the Eiffel Tower it always reminds me of Paris.

It’s important I think to start with the music.

That Bowie earned his place in the Pantheon of Rock gods is indisputable but his place at the table is hard to define. The history of Rock and Roll would certainly have gone on without him. The Beatles was inevitable, the Rolling Stones was inevitable, Led Zeppelin was inevitable. There was nothing inevitable about David Bowie. He created worlds inside and outside of Rock that would never have existed without his eclectic, magpie dilettantism. As his 1978 press campaign at the height of punk explained –

There’s Old Wave…There’s New Wave…and there’s David Bowie.

In Rock n Roll Suicide the final track of the Ziggy album, Bowie depicts his avatar unable to maintain his artistic and indeed physical reality, destroyed by very absurdity of the concept of himself as a Von Dannikanesque revolutionary rock star, but the suggestion is also of resurrection.

Bowie in the 1970s of course lived out his own mythos, nearly destroying himself in a narcotic haze of occult dabbling and neo fascistic messianic fantasy. But, incredibly he survived. Choosing to only almost burn out and then to move on, to come back, reinventing himself again and again. Yet I tire of references to Bowie as the ‘chameleon of rock’ there was never a chameleon so noticeable and self-promoting. This was a colour changing lizard whose raison d’etre was to draw attention to his moves.

As Phil Sandifer says on his blog about  Ziggy Stardust –

'Bowie …turns the fetishized spectacle of death into a mad celebration, this comeback is not his final move but his first. Of course death is no particular obstacle or stress for Ziggy. How could it be? Built out of the wasted salvage of death to begin with, Ziggy can make himself out of his own death as easily as anyone else's. Consume and burn out a rock star and another will take its place. The role survives its actor, and exists independently from him.'

But as I said this is personal. There’s a Bowie shaped hole in my life from yesterday. The idea of him not being around, lurking around the edges; poised and planning to unleash another bonkers drum n bass jazz odyssey or performance dance piece about some obscure new obsession seems incomprehensible. The world seems somehow diminished.

Bowie’s lasting artistic legacy will be not only his own work but also the influence he had on others. He influenced my every move as a teenager and well into my twenties and thirties. He was responsible for me forming bands, experimenting with music and noise and electronica, discovering the power of image, becoming an actor and creating a theatre company. I saw him live four times, on the Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke and Serious Moonlight tours. I just wish I could have thanked him personally for everything he gave me.

So let’s get down to cases

It’s 1978. I’m getting married and living in Edinburgh. In the wedding photos Sarah is wearing a satin jump suit and I’m desperately trying to look like Bowie but probably end up looking more like Bamber Gascoigne.

It's 1999 I'm appearing in Selfridges window in Oxford St London as Andy Warhol. Living art as promotion for my play Andy and Edie. As I walk from the tube station I find myself singing The London Boys "Bright lights, Soho, Wardour Street, You hope you make friends with the guys that you meet." and contemplating Warhol's advice, via Bowie about constantly re-creating yourself.

It’s 1976. Thanks to my friend Pamela recently re-inventing herself, Bowie style, with Mondrian inspired face paint and gravity defying spiky beehive as Punk scene queen Jordan  I’m on Malcolm Maclaren’s guest list for the Sex Pistols gig at the 100 club. I pose around in a black plastic T shirt made for me by a girlfriend. My hair is an approximation of Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth. A few days later NME write about me. A short paragraph between descriptions of the Clash and Souxsie and the Banshees’ first gig (Sid Vicious on drums). According to them I am ‘A Bowie lookalike. As doppelgangers go he gangs more doppel than most’. This remains one of the highlights of my life.

It’s 1986 I’m performing on stage at the Zap club with my group The Last Decade (an offshoot of EJK454F my Bowie and Eno inspired avant- rock bedroom band). I am channelling Ziggy Stardust while fronting a rapidly disintegrating experimental electro noise concept and friendship with my guitarist (A whole other story. There was a woman).

It’s 1972 I have experienced the epiphany that is Ziggy Stardust on Top of the Pops and asked a hairdresser neighbour, the mother of my girl-next-door schoolboy crush, to savagely crop my long corkscrew curls into a kind of Peter Pantomime pixie cut which I then proceeded to, gradually, incrementally in my Nan’s bathroom using Loreal hair die from Boots, die bright pillar box red.

It’s 1973. I am seeing Bowie for the first time live on stage at the Brighton Dome. I spend the whole gig fixating Bowie with an unwavering stare from row three (I queued five hours for tickets). I wish that when he gets to the line ‘perhaps the strange ones in the Dome…’ from Drive in Saturday he will gesture around the auditorium. He doesn’t. I conclude that ‘I could do better than that’ and that ‘I could make it all worthwhile as a rock n roll star’.

It’s 2000. I am playing Prospero on top of a thirty foot scissor lift on the deck of an oil dredging platform which my theatre company – Fireraisers have had towed onto Brighton beach for our free Millennial show This Rough Magic. An adaptation of The Tempest with stunt helicopter skydivers and a specially composed drum n bass soundtrack. There are 40,000 people watching from the beach and the promenade. My arms are outstretched. I am thinking ‘this is my Bowie at Hammersmith Odeon moment’

It is 1980. I am walking through the lanes with some friends and find myself singing “the little green wheels are following me” from Ashes to Ashes. “Only Bowie could get away with that lyric” I say.

It is 1974. I am dancing with myself to Jean Genie on an empty dance floor in a hotel nightclub that my mate Steve DJs at. I’m in full Bowie drag. Mime moves and everything. I have beer thrown over me at the bar and later will be beaten up in the street on the way home. The lumpen proles have seen the future and they don’t like the cut of its jib. For myself I have seen A Clockwork Orange and so fully understand their pain as well as the barely hidden animosity of the policemen who, later, help me, barely older or distinguishable from the thugs who attacked me.

It’s 1975 I discover that, while not homosexual, I can find sanctuary in the burgeoning Gay club scene. Ironically I meet and initiate relationships with some beautiful girlfriends there. fag hags and fruit flies all. Soon my outrageous style becomes too much even for the old queens hanging on to a lifestyle whose coded moves are under threat from legitimisation and I escape into the arms of Punk Rock.

It’s 1982. There are ‘Bowie nights’ springing up in nightclubs across the UK. Finally social interaction and style have caught up with us. Me and Bowie. He then releases a slew of mediocre commercial albums and I lose some enthusiasm for the thin white one but he’s always there on the periphery.

It’s 1971. I’m on my way home on the night bus. A pretty teenage girl in hot pant dungarees and platform boots who I vaguely know and casually fancy spots my new haircut and sits next to me saying
“Anton, you’re looking more and more like David Bowie every time I see you”
An idea forms in my mind. I can use this. I will find love and adulation for my creative genius through Bowie. But I will do it by becoming myself.

It’s 1990. I become a performance artist. Untrained and somewhat slightly dazed. Basing most of my strategies and ‘alienated other’ performance persona on Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

It’s 2016. I have written a children’s novel. Had two disastrous relationships in the space of the last three years have survived another Christmas and New Year. I am 60 years old and

“We’ll be back after the weather with more on the death of David Bowie…”

I stopped dead in my tracks. I really couldn’t move.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year

‘I don’t fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future’

                                                                                         Patti Smith

Here’s the thing. 
I’m more a believer in revolutions than resolutions.
But  this is the traditional time to take stock and strategize the future
So allow me these words

Yeah that was a year.
Somehow magical and mundane.
It was in the cards from the start
I fell in and out of love and found my ability to judge character needs some work
I made some friends and lost some too.
I realised that family is both more and less than blood.

I still believe in magic.

Here’s the plan. It’s my plan. You can share it if you wish.
I wish.
I wish for the usual. I wish for the unusual. 
I wish for peace and love to come. I wish for hate and war to go.
This is my will that I will
This year I will.
Find and embrace positive change. Get my book published. 
Find a better place to live. Fulfill my creative dreams. 
Find a job that earns me good money and utilises my talents and skills.

All will be well in my world.
I hope it will be in yours too

Happy 2016.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 Xmas Special

Doctor Who Christmas Special_The Husbands of River Song

The Husbands of River Song  
I suppose a temporal adventurer must take her ‘Happily Ever Afters’ where and perhaps more relevantly, when she can;  what’s more, if you’re going to attempt a relationship with another time traveler then it’s probably best to keep your stories straight and your diary updated.  Because, as we know, ‘we’re all stories in the end’ and if your parents were also time travelers and you’re a sort of Hybrid possibly with a Time-Head conceived in a TARDIS and born on an asteroid called Demon’s Run then it falls to you to make it a good one.

Yes The Husbands of River Song was a little continuity heavy but was all the better for it (despite the fact my favourite argument is that Doctor Who is a delightful continuing serial precisely because it has no continuity). Having said that, it took a subsequent, post-Christmas viewing free from the hazy effects of alcohol and mince pies to really appreciate what it was doing. That is, to present us with the lovely Christmas present of a dénouement for the bitter sweet romance that has been the Doctor and River (Otherwise known as The Time Traveler's Wife which makes this story’s title even more meta-ironic).

I think we can safely ignore the first 40 or so minutes which consisted of a moderately enjoyable screwball comedy space romp with multi-headed androids and stunt-cast comedians. Although the meta-symbolism of River marrying a series of replacement heads alongside her unfolding picture wallet of previous Doctor’s head shots (In handy chronological order) probably warrants a closer reading at some point. 

So, although it’s not strictly the case that their time lines have been travelling in opposite directions the Doctor and River’s parallel narratives have often been about beginnings and endings. Way back in 2008's Silence in the Library, River Song’s last meeting with the Doctor and his first meeting with her (hold on to something secure, any passing monolith will do, this is going to get complicated) she greets the tenth Doctor with a ‘Hello Sweetie’, mentions having dated an android and then checking her diary ascertains that it's early days for the Doctor because he ‘looks so young’ and  that he hasn’t yet experienced the Crash of the Byzantium or the Picnic at Asgard all of which are referenced again in The Husbands of River Song. In Forest of the Dead, the second part of the story, River’s final speech is this -

‘Funny thing is, this means you've always known how I was going to die. All the time we've been together, you knew I was coming here. The last time I saw you, the real you, the future you, I mean, you turned up on my doorstep, with a new haircut and a suit. You took me to Darillium to see the Singing Towers. What a night that was. The Towers sang, and you cried’.

All of which we see come to pass in this episode where the Doctor’s final speech to River is -

‘Nobody really understands where the music comes from. It's probably something to do with the precise positions, the distance between both towers. Even the locals aren't sure. All anyone will ever tell you is that when the wind stands fair and the night is perfect, when you least expect it but always when you need it the most there is a song’.

Echoing River’s final voice over in the coda of Forest of the Dead

‘Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call…Everybody lives'

The secret of this tale though, to be discovered like a sixpence in a plum pudding or a diamond in a brain, was hidden in plain sight and found at the end. Indeed at the risk of invoking that most irritating of River’s catch-phrases “Spoilers!” we need to look beyond the end of the narrative and examine the final caption.

Of course it’s there to cement the concept of River and the Doctor’s love story being like a fairy tale and naturally invokes its companion caption ‘Once upon a Time’ a favourite trope of show runner Steven Moffat. But isn’t every Doctor Who story about ‘once upon a time’ or at least ‘time’? Once again we get the concept of a discrete pocket of time like the two billion years inside the Confession Dial in Heaven Sent, the space between heartbeats of Clara’s post death adventures and the fateful immortality of Maisie William’s Ashildr. This time it’s the 24 year long night at the Singing Towers of Darillium where the Doctor and River get to share their happiness.
Actually the idea of ‘Ever After’ is interesting in itself. Suggesting a time that comes after time, the contradiction of a continuation of the story after the narrative has ended.

And They Both Lived Happily Ever After

This then wipes in a disintegration of snow or stardust to leave -

And They Both Lived Happily…………

Then finally the only word left is -

…………………….. Happily……………

Then this, like the other words, eventually disintegrates into stardust. 

As must we all eventually, even if we live to see the End of Time, which, incidentally, the Doctor has visited on numerous occasions, most recently in this very series finale. It must be getting a bit crowded there, if only with versions of himself.

So if there was a moral to this sweet Xmas truffle of an episode with a bitter sweet coating it might just be that everybody's story has its beginning and its ending but not necessarily in that order and time-travelling adventurer or not, in matters of the heart it’s very easy to lose your head.
DOCTOR: Every night is the last night for something. Every Christmas is the last Christmas ... Times end, River, because they have to. Because there's no such thing as happy ever after. It's just a lie we tell ourselves because the truth is so hard. 

RIVER: No, Doctor, you're wrong. Happy ever after doesn't mean forever. It just means time. A little time. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

                       Doctor Who Season 9 Overview

“Now, the real question is: Where did he get the cup of tea? Answer: I'm the Doctor. Just accept it.”

As viewers we’ve been asked to accept quite a lot of things because ‘I’m The Doctor’ during Steven Moffatt’s tenure as show runner so it’s probably inevitable that in this ninth series we begin to question just what ‘Being the Doctor’ might mean.

It’s a well-worn truism that the role of the Doctor is ‘actor proof’. That, with varying degrees of success, “any old fucker with an Equity card” (© Mark Gattis 1999) can have a go at the time-travelling eccentric. Indeed there’s always been an element of the thespian to the character of the Doctor. The casting, two years ago of as well respected and talented an actor as Peter Capaldi in the role has recently tended to spotlight the performativity of the role.

One of the things a lot of actors enjoy is breaking the fourth wall - the direct address to the audience. In classic drama Hamlet’s famous monologue is often played this way. The effect can also be seen in pantomime and most obviously in stand-up comedy. Last year we briefly had Capaldi addressing the audience directly in the episode Listen. This series gave us the most blatant example in the cold open for Before the Flood with his monologue direct to camera explaining the ‘Bootstrap Paradox’. The fact that over the years we’ve had countless Doctor Who stories employing that old time travel chestnut ‘the Bootstrap Paradox’, most often in stories written by Steven Moffatt, without feeling the need to give us a fourth wall breaking mini-lecture must have significance. I think it’s all about agency, showing us the performer suspended inside the narrative and the narrative suspended within the performance.

In The Witch’s Familiar Clara hanging upside down and tied up was perhaps a magickal reference to the Tarot card The Hanged Man, it being an image of initiation. The 'Magician's Apprentice' becomes the 'Witch's Familiar' and is put through various trials before achieving enlightenment. Clara being pushed off a ledge and surviving a twenty foot drop being just one of a number of 'leaps of faith' given her by Missy. But might her initiation also be read diegetically as a preparation for her graduating to the role of the Doctor and outside the narrative to the actor herself achieving that agency? I think this is the key to decoding this series.  

Series 9 has been all about the acting. Characters openly playing roles. Playing at Vikings, playing at highwaymen, 

The Doctor playing the Doctor -

“There's no such thing as the Doctor. I’m just a bloke in a box telling stories”

Missy playing the pantomime drag Master

“It's the Wicked Stepmother! Everyone… hiss!”

The Doctor playing Davros

“Proposition. Davros is an insane, paranoid genius who has survived among several billion trigger-happy mini-tanks for centuries. Conclusion? I'm definitely having his chair”.

And a lot of people giving us their versions of the Doctor.

Missy, within Michelle Gomez’s delightfully hat-stand performance showing us what would happen if the Doctor let his madness get the upper hand. Davros demonstrating how love of racial purity is certainly not an ideal for a renegade Time Lord to aim for, Ashildr/Me showing us the lonely immortal, Kate Stewart depicting the Third Doctoresque scientific/military option*, Rasmussen in Sleep No More giving us the teller of dangerous shaggy dog stories and finally Clara demonstrating the Tardis thief and reckless adventurer.

*Incidentally Redgrave is remarkable and what she is doing as an actor is quite subtle. It's nothing to do with any fan-imagined legacy of the Brigadier; who was mostly written as a Monty Python cliche army character for the Doctor to anti-militarily snark at. (That the character transcended this is in the classic series was mostly down to Nicholas Courtney's professional skill) and I doubt she has much knowledge of the fan worship and head-canon that the character enjoyed other than what Moffat has told her. Instead I believe she is attempting something totally in keeping with the traditions of Doctor Who, that is, to juxtapose one genre convention against another to see what will happen. Redgrave is playing Kate Stewart naturalistically (using acting techniques more suited to docu-drama or performed reconstruction using reported speech) as a real person caught up in chaotic and surreal events who is forced to employ an unreal chaotic person (the Doctor) to restore order. Her coping option is to remain calm in the eye of the storm. If she appears detached, that is the result of the juxtaposition she has created. A calm reflection of the Doctor's manic energies. I find it fascinating to watch Matt Smith and now Capaldi clearly enjoying being exasperated at her coolness just as Pertwee and Baker were exasperated by the Brig's unflappability.

Anyway, those themes of performativity and role playing established lets have a look at the series as a whole.

So to start at the end…

The grand finale. Finales are odd things, an old vaudeville tradition somehow clinging on to the TV drama mini-series format, replacing the variety song and dance act with the razzmatazz of explosions, conflict resolution, death and closure. Which is exactly what Steven Moffat doesn’t give us in Hell Bent the final episode of series 9.  In a classic piece of rug pulling he changes the kind of story we’re watching from epic revenge tragedy to spaghetti western and leaves us with Thelma and Louise in Space.
And once again we get a piece of pure theatricality, another breaking of the fourth wall. The Doctor playing Clara her own signature tune, in the American diner set from season six’s Impossible Astronaut. How much more post-modern do you want to get? Capaldi’s guitar playing effectively drags Murray Gold’s Clara’s Theme onto the stage to take a bow, moving it from the extra-diegetic, right into the foreground of the narrative. Just as the Doctor started series 9 himself, entering that most theatrical of settings - the medieval castle - playing a distorted rock version of the classic Doctor Who title theme. The twanging reverb of the electric guitar recalling an Ennio Morricone soundtrack laying the sonic groundwork for the spaghetti western tropes we will be treated to when we finally return to Gallifrey. But we're racing ahead of ourselves.

So, taking each story in turn chronologically, what do we see?

The Magicians Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar

Having the sins of the past or unfinished business from days gone by come back to haunt you must be, not only an occupational hazard, but the most uncanny and disturbing aspect of time travel and the opening two-parter was all about things coming back to bite the Doctor’s arse.

The Doctor had to face and attempt to fix some of things he did or failed to do in his own time-line. Will we ever understand how it all fits together? As the man said -

I try never to understand. It’s called an open mind.”

We begin with a cold-open to end all cold-opens, the revelation of the child Davros. In last year's Listen we learnt that the Doctor's childhood fear was having his ankle grabbed by a disembodied hand. Now we get hand mines, whose modus operandi is to grab you by the ankle. No wonder the Doctor was so disturbed to witness the kid Davros being scared by them.

Back at Coal Hill school Clara’s outing of Jane Austin was a deliciously throwaway piece of literary name dropping. Once again she’s adopting the Doctor’s traits. This will have consequences.

Moffat sneaking in Missy's reference to the Doctor as a 'little girl' here must shut down once and for all any remaining deniers of the Doctor's trans-gender potential by calmly stating that it's already happened. Yes of course Moffat left it open to interpretation. The "One of those things was a lie" statement was a delicious piece of self-trolling but...we all know it's true really don't we? And now, in Hell Bent we have the General’s regeneration not only changing his gender but his skin colour too.

The whole sewer sequence, as well as being a classic 'journey through the underworld' rescue was also a call back to Ian and Barbara's interminable journey (at least three episodes) through tunnels to the Dalek city with the Thals in the first Dalek story. (A lovely reference to Hartnell to compliment Capaldi's trousers).

 The relationship that Missy suggested she and the Doctor enjoyed was remarkable too. For the first time we got a glimpse of how beings who 'walk in eternity' (© the Fourth Doctor) might relate to each other.

Under The Lake/ Before the Flood

Not my favourite story of the season. It seemed like two episodes of Doctor Who written by someone who'd never seen Doctor Who but had only had it described to them. Which, in a way, given the themes of language and translation in the narrative is oddly apt. 

There's a really good Doctor Who two-parter to be written where the second part has the Doctor travel back in time to affect the events of the first. Unfortunately this wasn’t it. Also, I can handwave the dodgy astronomy but why would aliens name a constellation 'Orion's Sword' in the first place? Unless we're suggesting that Greco/Roman mythology is universal. Which would be a whole lot more interesting than what we've got in this story. I think, maybe if the fake Soviet village had been a night shoot it would have achieved the atmosphere the director was looking for. Maybe. 

I can only assume Whithouse heard a reference to the Fisher King story once, thought it sounded a cool name but couldn't be bothered to actually do any research. Anything, the vaguest reference to Arthurian myth, the wounded God archetype or the Grail legend would have done but no. Nothing. Just a cool name that now, for me because of this, is just that little bit less cool. This outdoes last series’ In the Forest of the Night for gratuitous referencing with no pay off.

Why was Prentis dressed as a Victorian undertaker? This I suspect is the real Bootstrap Paradox - Whithouse has an idea for 'cool' visual, i.e. a Gothic ghost in a futuristic base and then decides to be clever and retcon the plot within its own narrative to explain it. Except the explanation never quite lands and he ends up with an anachronistic visual motif which could easily be explained using time travel but is instead 'explained' using space travel. I mean...why? Whithouse has said in an interview that the original script was even more 'timey wimey' (Gods help us) before Moffat edited it. I mean, can you imagine?

The Girl Who Died/ The Woman Who Lived

The writer of The Girl Who Lived Jamie Mathieson said in an interview "of course this is Doctor Who so we're doing horned Viking helmets even though they're wrong." 

This is lovely. It’s my opinion that when the TARDIS leaves ‘Space’ and moves back into ‘History’ it time travels psychochronographically. Not to ‘real’ historical times but to a kind of collectively agreed upon version of history and most often a peculiarly British one that has more to say about mining the stories we tell ourselves than any attempt at digging for truths. For instance, the various WWIIs the Doctor has visited are formed from a kind of gestalt British folk memory of the era (Churchill in Victory of the Daleks, the “Are you my mummy” gas mask kid and barrage balloons over Big Ben in The Empty Child, etc.) and a quite child oriented one at that due to the show's origins as a children's 'educational' series. The Tardis' first voyage was from Coal Hill school to a prehistoric Britain straight out of a year 6 history primer. Last year’s Robot of Sherwood addressed this issue well, I thought, albeit within the confines of a not very good story. Remember Amy's childhood picture book of Roman centurions being the memory that created the Pandorica setting and Rory's resurrection? Probably not very historically accurate, but a vivid image that every British school kid is taught.

I'll have to admit I struggled to enjoy the second half of Ashildr’s story. I really wanted to love it but it was let down by so many things. Maisie Williams gave it her best shot but was sometimes a little out of her depth. The writer, Catherine Tregenna, was clearly aiming for a 'Wicked Lady' meets 'Interview with a Vampire' vibe but unfortunately Williams doesn't yet have the experience to negotiate the swift turns of the script from haughty immortal to rollicking highwayman. This often left her looking vulnerable and exposed, though Capaldi did a generous job of catching her each time and giving her plenty to react to.  As to Leo the cuddly space lion with laser eyes...if ever there was an argument for ditching unnecessary alien invasion plots from the 'Historicals' this was it. 

The overall tone was strangely one-note and the pacing was also all over the place but Ed Bazelgette's direction overall was superb, particularly the interior scenes. I feel a lot of the blame for the weakness of this episode should be aimed at the editing which, in some instances, was positively amateurish. A number of instances of 'crossing the line', badly matched reverse shots and clumsy transitions. The sound design was murky too apart from Murray Gold's musical score and I think the 'girl does man's voice' conceit would be less concerning (it was expertly and cheekily handwaved diegetically) if the voice had matched the ambiance of Maisie's own voice rather than sounding like a guy sitting in a recording booth. There was the same problem with the Fisher King's voice in Before the FloodOh and the tacked on coda in the TARDIS was appalling. Who gives a selfie as a present? Why does Clara show it to the Doctor on her own phone rather than send it to him? Was this bit written by Moffat? Does he know what a selfie is?

The Zygon Invasion/ The Zygon Inversion

 Just when I was beginning to lose faith in Doctor Who's ability to still deliver the goods Peter Harness gives us the Zygon Invasion/Inversion and it certainly doesn't disappoint. 

On first viewing what really stood out for me was the beautiful brazenness of its metaphors. To the extent that I see the main complaint among its detractors is the 'obviousness' of the 'immigrants/radicalisation/assimilation allegory. As though a message somehow loses potency by being easy to read and that could somehow be a valid critique. I fear the real reason people are annoyed by the story's simple theme is that, in fact, they don't agree with its implications. 

I love how the Osgood/Zygon question is not only sidestepped (the fact of her being alive is as obvious as the rest of the allegories and really not an interesting puzzle to obsess over, any more than where the Doctor got his cup of tea or how he escaped the invisible clones) but pressed into service to unexpectedly make the most political point in the story. No it shouldn't matter whether you identify the person you are talking to as human or alien, Christian or Muslim, male or female. Perhaps listening to what they're saying is more important than value judging.

I think a child watching this story might actually take away a vague echo of the concepts of 'morality' of 'decency' and 'fair play' which, while obvious paper tigers and false ideals here, are nonetheless not inherently bad things to wish for. As the situationists say ‘Be reasonable – demand the impossible’. Moffatt and Harness here are ascribing entirely to keeping politics childish but I think the attempt falls down because the writers have built a ridiculous straw man argument and attempted to clothe it in 'concerns torn from today's headlines'. Equating an invading force of octopoid, electro stinger wielding, sucker covered blobby creatures FROM ANOTHER PLANET with concerns around immigration in the UK and the US and then also throwing in ISIS for good measure is at best naive allegory and at worst bloody stupid. 

I still love Doctor Who but they do make that hard to justify sometimes.
It's easy of course to argue that the politics were (with I feel I can safely say the best of intentions) a little skewed but this was always going to be inevitable given the show’s fun-for-all-the-family remit. The decision to shift the dramatic tension from the epic to the personal was the only way the various potential pitfalls of an oversimplified dialectic could be avoided. (And I'm not saying all of them were). This was effortlessly handled in the first few moments by having the cliffhanger be resolved within Clara's struggle to control her own identity. Mirroring the main theme of assimilation v the violent assertion of individuality and of course, bringing into focus again the main themes of agency and role playing.

Sleep No More

I'm genuinely at a loss to say what I felt about this episode. I know it's going to divide opinion but I'm oddly unsure what side of the divide I'm falling on. Which probably means it's great. Certainly a surprising bit of writing from Gattis. I liked the lack of a credit sequence which effectively made the entire episode a cold open; or the way it turned the, (much used in the classic era particularly by Second Doctor Patrick Troughton), 'staring directly at us out of a TV screen' trope (itself a kind of visual fourth wall breaking) into the mise en scene of the story. The Sandmen, dust golems made of eye gunk, are probably the best and simultaneously the most ridiculous pseudo-science monsters we've had but, as such, seemed to belong more to season eight with the Foretold and the Boneless and the moon egg hatched space dragon. Didn’t Gattiss get the memo? ‘Fairy Tale’ was last year, this series it’s ‘Agency’ and ‘Role Playing’. 

Face the Raven
So Clara gets her own 'companion' in Rigsy and the question becomes, will the Doctor be able to wrest control of his own character from Miss Oswald 'curing' Clara of her reckless bravery before it kills her?

Heaven Sent

 See, the thing I like about experimental theatre (and I've been responsible for quite a bit of it in my time) is often not the end result (the 'product' of the experiment if you like) but the odd, quirky, imagery and juxtapositions thrown up along the way. Experimentation (in drama terms) is not just about gratuitously 'being weird' but in the creation of hybrids. New forms of discourse formed by rubbing disparate concepts together to make fire. Or gold. Alchemy. Sometimes this must be achieved by smashing through the tougher than diamond wall of control to challenge the authorities on the other side. 

So, while Heaven Sent is, in many ways, an experimental take on experimentalism it's also very much a traditional Doctor Who experiment of rubbing one genre up against another. In this case A Beckettian existential one hander (The confession dial as Krapps Last Tape) and a classic locked room mystery (with the added twist that the victim is also the detective). Add a touch of Edgar Allen Poe (I thought 'BIRD' was a clue about Facing the Raven) and you've got Doctor Who gold.

And here we are back to the finale ( the long way round)

Hell Bent

Without being a total re-reboot the final episode pretty much rewrote the Doctor's history as we knew it, put it back together a bit wonkily, twice and then added some Clara/Me shipping fanfic. I bloody loved it. I loved that the Hybrid could still be Susan or River or the Doctor or Me or Harry bloody Potter and it really doesn't matter because the Time Lords and their obsession with their idiotic prophecies turned out once again to be barking up the wrong tree. 

My personal theory is that the Sisterhood of Karn are an analog of the Bene Gesserit in Dune and are playing a long game. They've been trying to create the Hybrid for millennia in order to take down the Time Lords and rule the multiverse. The Doctor, like Paul Atriedes in Dune is one of their experiments gone rogue. 

Incidentally, those who are, inevitably, calling for a Clara and Me spin-off series are misinterpreting the nature and purpose of the open ended character escape. As long as we never see them, Clara's adventures in Space and Time preserve her character, suspended like a fly in amber between her last heartbeats. Just as she was suspended upside down in The Witch’s Familiar. If we show them it devalues the currency and she becomes a lesser character. She needs to remain a tantalising might-have-been out there somewhere in the swirling vortex of the Land of Fiction along with Jenny, Susan and the Meddling Monk. Of course your reaction to this retcon of Face the Raven depends entirely on whether you consider Clara’s character to be running away from her death or towards a new life. If nothing else the Russian Roulette of who gets mind-wiped seemed to be a lovely redemption of the awful fate of Donna Noble, forced against her will to forget the tenth Doctor and all their adventures together, but I’m not buying this. No-one lost any memories here did they? There are too many clues that suggest the Doctor and Clara ended this season just like they did the last one ­– playing their roles and lying to each other.

I thought it was a fitting end for Clara as a character and a suitable tribute to Jenna Coleman as an actor.

So we end as we began, with Clara taking agency as her own version of the time-travelling eccentric Tardis thief along with her own immortal travelling companion in Ashildr/Me. It’s hard to say which one is playing ‘The Doctor’ though. 

They might both do well to remember Clara’s own advice from Face the Raven –

“You. You listen to me. You're going to be alone now, and you're very bad at that. You're going to be furious, and you're going to be sad, but listen to me. Don't let this change you. No, listen. Whatever happens next, wherever she is sending you, I know what you're capable of. You don't be a warrior. Promise me you'll be a Doctor."