The Boob Tube Review: Doctor Who's Many, Many Questions by Adam Bunch

[Spoiler alert] Well, for the first few seconds I thought I was watching a Rogers Wireless commercial, but before long the first episode of the 50th anniversary year turned out to be a typical Doctor Who romp. Lots of action. Lots of silly fun. And lots of modern London — including a goofy motorcycle ride up the side of the skyline's newest icon: The Shard.

As a stand-alone episode, this wasn't quite the TV equivalent of that towering landmark. The premise — that people who click on the wrong wi-fi connection risk being uploaded into alien technology — was creepy in a Hitchcockian make-the-mundane-scary kind of a way and also an Orwellian surveillance-state-panopticon kind of a way. But there really is a limit on just how exciting you can make any scene that involves lots of typing into a computer (remember The Net? Sandra Bullock hopes you don't) and those Spoonheads were far from the scariest danger the Doctor has faced. (I mean, not every monster can be the scariest monster ever, but this episode was written by head honcho Steven Moffat — the same guy responsible for some of the show's most terrifying creatures: the Weeping Angels, the "Are you my mummy?" gas mask kid; the carnivorous shadows on that library planet; the freaky robots attacking Versailles in the days of Madame de Pompadour.) And it wasn't really the most memorable introduction to a new companion, either. (Moffat also wrote that glorious fairy tale episode in which we first met Amelia Pond.)

But really, that's fine. This episode wasn't so much about introducing us to Clara Oswald as it was about re-re-introducing us to her. (The real introduction — the "Asylum of the Daleks" episode  from last year — was plenty memorable.) And it wasn't so much about the stand-alone story as it was about piquing our curiosity for the big anniversary year ahead.

A few months ago, I saw Ira Glass give a talk about storytelling at Massey Hall. And he spoke about something Roland Barthes said — that telling stories is, at heart, all about raising questions and then answering them. It's something I think about a lot while I'm watching Doctor Who — the show is absolutely brilliant at it. And the purpose of this episode was clearly to do plenty of question-raising.

So here are some of the many, many questions I've got rattling around in my head after this week's episode:

The big giant obvious one: Who is Clara Oswald? Is she human? An alien? A Dalek? A Time Lord? A trick? A puzzle? Has she been shattered through time like the Scaroth the Jagaroth was back in an episode from 1979? Why didn't she die this time around? What does it mean that she's a governess... again? And for a family whose mother just died... again? And that she's a computer genius... again? And why does one of the kids she's looking after have a friend named Nina — the same nickname Clara flirtatiously gave Rory when they were on the planet of the insane Daleks? Is any of it related to Rory and Amy? Or do I need to let them go? And although it didn't come up this time around, why does she love souffl├ęs so much?

Is the Great Intelligence this year's big bad? After 44 years — the longest absence by any recurring Doctor Who villain ever — "he" has been in the last two episodes in a row. So it certainly seems like he's this year's big threat. But the Silence are still out there somewhere. And given that it's the 50th anniversary, you'd expect the Daleks and maybe the Cybermen to play a pretty big role too.

Are there going to be Robot Yetis? Apparently, the Great Intelligence used to have Robot Yeti henchmen. I haven't seen any of those old episodes (I've just recently started watching from the beginning of the original series — spoiler: the first Doctor is a total dick) but they sound pretty awesome. I mean, Robot Yetis!


Who was "the woman in the shop" who gave Clara the phone number for the TARDIS? Not even the Doctor knows that number. Was it River Song? She does know a shitload about that time travelling phone box — even more than the Doctor sometimes — so she does seem to be the most obvious answer. But some people on the Internet are saying it could be Rose. (After all, she has been known to complain about working in a shop... plus we know Billie Piper will be appearing in the 50th anniversary special.)

If it wasn't River, where is she while all this Doctor-flirting-with-the-new-companion stuff is going on? I mean, I'm no River fan, but the Doctor IS a married man. And more importantly, could she be off somewhere regenerating so that we never have to hear that grating voice say "Hello sweetie!" or "Spoilers!" ever again? (To be fair, I ask myself this question every episode.) Next time we see her, could she be an entirely different woman? (Or man for that matter? For a futuristic race of god-like super-beings, when it comes to regenerations, the Time Lords sure do seem to stick to traditional notions of a gender dichotomy.)

Just how important is that book the kid was reading? The author was Amelia Williams — a nod to Amy Pond's new life in the past with Rory. Was it just a fun Easter egg for Easter weekend? Or a product placement-y marketing ploy? (You can actually buy the book in real life — just like the Melody Malone novel from "The Angels Take Manhattan".) Or was it something more meaningful? Is it just a coincidence that the book is called Summer Falls, or could it have something to do with the catchphrase the Great Intelligence kept repeating in the Christmas special: "Winter is coming"?


Which brings me to my most important question: has Steven Moffat seriously never seen or read Game of Thrones?! Is he completely unaware of the fact that his show is totally ripping off their catchphrase? Or is he an Elf Power fan?

Is shit about to get sad up in here? When Clara sees the kid reading Summer Falls, he tells her he's on Chapter Ten. "Eleven's the best," she says, "You'll cry your eyes out." That seems to be a cute reference to the fact that Matt Smith is the Eleventh Doctor. Was the crying a reference to Amy and Rory having to leave? Or is there more misery to come?

What happened to Clara when she was 16 and 23 years old? Those two years are missing from the list of ages she wrote down on the inside jacket of her copy of 101 Places To See. Does it matter that she wrote 12 in red ink? (Red seems to be her colour, too — she's worn it in each of the three episodes so far.)


And speaking of red: what's the deal with the red leaf? At the end of the episode, when the Doctor asks her about it, she says "That wasn't a leaf, that was page one." The Doctor seems confused and intrigued — just like he did when he licked the leaf earlier. Online, some people have suggested the leaf might be from the short prequel minisode in which Clara met the Doctor as a child — it was autumn and there was a red tree in the background. Or could it be from the red tree outside the house where she's working as a governess? Both of those possibilities seem like they might be a little too simple. So is it something else altogether?

Is UNIT going to be a bigger deal on the show? The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (recently renamed the UNified Intelligence Taskforce because the real-life U.N. apparently didn't like being associated with the greatest television series of all-time) shows up at the end of the episode to take control of The Shard. They were in the recent "Slow Invasion" episode with all those black cubes, too. It's been a long time since we've heard anything from Torchwood — will UNIT be filling that role? Or could they even bring Torchwood back into the series? (UNIT and Torchwood have been known to cooperate on things.) Is a coincidence that Clara's necklace looks a bit like the UNIT logo?




Is it going to be important that the birthdate listed on Clara's headstone at the end of the Christmas special was November 23rd? That's the same day the very first episode of Doctor Who premiered back in 1963. (The day after Kennedy was shot.) And it's also the same day the 50th anniversary special is scheduled to air this year.

And while we're on questions leftover from the Christmas special: something that stuck with me from the first time the Doctor meets the 1800s version of Clara. After they chat and flirt he walks away and she calls after him, "Oy, where are you going? I thought we was just getting acquainted." His response? A knowing smile and the line, "Those were the days." As if he knows they've met before. But it's not until waaaaay later in the episode that he finally realizes she's the same woman from "The Asylum of the Daleks". What's the deal with that? Was he popping in from a future timeline — like he did with Amy back in that forest full of Weeping Angels? And, of course, the Christmas special was full of other little hints that something BIG might be going on, like that the pub where Clara works is called the Rose & Crown, and her use of the word "Pond" to get him to help her.

What's the deal with that painting of Clara that the Doctor has with him in the monastery in the 1200s? "If he truly is mad, then this is his madness," the monk says. Could the Doctor be mad? Or could this all possibly tie into my own pet theory (which I'm sure is wrong): that the Doctor is currently trapped or imprisoned or in an alternative reality and just doesn't realize it yet? (He seemed to linger on the line "We all carry our prisons with us," back in the Town of Mercy episode. And there's something that sticks with me about the way the hotel's Minotaur prison guard called the Doctor "an ancient creature... drifting through space in an endless shifting maze".) As some people have pointed out online, there are a lot of references to memory and remembering on the show these days. Clara's repeating phrase, "Run you clever boy, and remember" certainly ties into that. And so does the inscription on her headstone from the end of the Christmas special: "Remember me, for we shall meet again". Could it be that the Doctor needs to remember something or someone in much the same way that Amy had to remember him at her wedding?

Fucked if I know. But I'm sure as hell looking forward to finding out.

And I'm also looking forward to watching some more new episodes that are less about the over-arching storyline and more about stand-alone storytelling — so I can be a little bit less obsessive and sit back and enjoy a new companion who seems to be plenty likeable and have some awesome chemistry with the Doctor.



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Next recap: Doctor Who & The Value of Stories.

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at adam@littleredumbrella.com.


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