I suppose, once again, I should start this blog with a couple of apologies. Firstly, despite encouraging you to join in the discussion in the comments section, it turns out that I didn’t know how the system worked – so if you posted something there and it didn’t turn up, I apologise (I think I’m on top of it now though and if I’m not commenting using the facebook account link should still work). Secondly, after promising last week to get this one up a bit sooner to the air-date, I’ve gone and left it just as long again. And I don’t even have the excuse of it being a complicated, thought provoking episode this time.
I expect part of my disappointment with the episode was due to not being able to watch it when it aired, so by the time I got round to it, I’d already seen/heard numerous reports about how it was a terrifying episode. It may well have been, especially for the children watching, but I can’t say I ever felt particularly unnerved by what was going on – some scares seemed a little too obvious, such as the Dusty Springfield record coming on unexpectedly (nice to see that vinyl will outlive MP3s as a format), and I felt like we knew too much about the nature of the doppelgängers too early on as it was established fairly quickly that they were essentially real people who quite reasonably wanted their own chance to live. Without wanting to dive too far into psychoanalytical theory, as that way boredom/pretension lies, there’s some interesting things about doppelgängers in Freud’s essay on the uncanny, so I get why the idea in itself is terrifying, but for the most part the ‘gangers’ here weren’t the mysterious, ghostly figures that he wrote about, but well-meaning, fully formed people. I expect they’ll get their chance to become more mysterious and hostile in the concluding part of the story, or at least I hope they will (although I also expect that somewhere along the way there’ll also be a condescending speech about how humans don’t think about the consequences of their actions, as that often seems to be the way that these things work out)
Which brings me onto the other thing that disappointed me about this week’s story – that there wasn’t that much of it. Essentially it was just a case of the Doctor, Amy and Rory turn up in the middle of a mining excavation and, after the crew run into problems with their equipment, all hell breaks loose. It didn’t drag as such, but when you consider that the default mode for Doctor Who stories is racing to fit in far more ideas than would normally fit into the running time (just look at last week’s episode, and Neil Gaiman’s references to the things he had to cut for time in his Q and A with the Guardian last week), it seemed a bit uneventful. Basically, if next week’s episode isn’t chock-full of revelations and plot developments then I’m going to be annoyed that they made this story a two-parter. They’ve already set up one very important reveal for next week, in the Doctor’s cryptic references to a previous encounter with ‘the flesh’ (I’ve racked my brains trying to think if they’re an old enemy that’s been brought back into the series, but I don’t remember them) but will there be more?
Of course, despite my grumpiness (put it down to me writing this when I should really be in bed), it wasn’t a bad episode. It’s certainly better than Matthew Graham’s last attempt at a Who story – series two’s Fear Her (the one set during the Olympics) which nobody seemed to like much. And there were quite a lot of things to like about it. For one, the supporting cast were very strong (even if one of them didn’t get much to do other than sneeze, which will probably turn out to be significant in the second part). Raquel Cassidy’s always good at playing a condescending bitch and it was nice to see Sarah Smart again – she never quite lived up to the next big thing tag that she got saddled with at one point – and hear a variety of pleasant ‘northern’ accents, even Matt Smith’s absurd one. The effects were rather good, not so much the solar ‘tsunami’, but the make-up. It may have looked a bit ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’ when Jennifer was running around in her unstable state (which might be another reason why I didn’t think it was scary), but elsewhere – Jennifer’s snake-like neck and Miranda twisting her head around specifically – it reminded me of the bonkers Japanese film Uzumaki. And Muse finally got their wish to soundtrack science fiction (I assume that’s what they’re trying to do now, what with the ever more over the top music they’re making) at the start of the episode.
There were also some great Rory and Amy moments – in particular Amy’s exchange with one of the miners (I can’t remember which one, as the men were fairly interchangeable) ‘I wouldn’t if I were you’ ‘Nor would I. But what can you do’, and Rory’s responding to Jennifer saying ‘Amy’s lucky to have you’ with ‘Yeah, she is’. Not much in the way of future plot development for the two this week though – other than another look at Amy’s pregnancy scan and a glimpse of Eye Patch Lady (as she is officially credited). I do wonder if Rory’s attentiveness to Jennifer is going to cause a bit of a rift between the couple, but I doubt that anything lasting will come from it.
Being yet another episode about miners in the future fiddling with things they don’t understand, it was hard not to relate it to past episodes (I guess that, as a plot device, it makes for an easy way to unleash a monster, and bring the ’science’ to science fiction). In particular The Impossible Planet but also The Hungry Earth (even if that was technically geology rather than mining) and The Waters of Mars (which might not have been about mining at all, but I think it was), I’m sure there are other mining based Who stories, probably something to do with all the quarries that they’ve had to film in over the years. Perhaps its time they considered giving the miners a bit of a rest?
So, those are my thoughts on the episode, disjointed and negative they may be. Feel free to leap to the episode’s defence and point out all the great things I missed in the comments section (or indeed agree with me that it was a bit of a disappointment).