For the first time in a long time, I thought I was going to be left unsatisfied. This was just a “meh” episode for the first half – interesting, I suppose, in some respects, but I felt like we’ve seen this before. Scary monsters, clueless humans, brilliant doctor, spunky Clara. I don’t have any problem with it being a “throwaway” – not connected to any great story arc – a lot of those episodes are quite fun (Season 4’s Midnight is one). And having a respite from the Daleks and the Cybermen is a good idea. (For the uninitiated, my scale doesn’t go 0-4 – it’s “waste,” “meh,” “hmmm,” “oooh.” And if you wonder why you’ve never seen this before, it’s because… well, I just made it up.)
Parts of the beginning were fairly interesting – I liked the Doctor’s new pants. Since he started playing the guitar, he’s gotten loads more casual with t-shirts, hoodies, and pants with prints. And the sonic glasses, of course, which didn’t last long this episode. They still came in slightly handy, but I wondered if the biggest mystery of the night would be how would sonic technology return? IF it returned?
And the much-hyped guest star – Maisie Williams, GOT’s Arya Stark – this character wasn’t too far off of that character, but likable, nonetheless. She was cute, she was plucky, she’s very small. As someone who can never remember anybody’s names, I sympathized with the Doctor when he decided to rename each of the Vikings. (My older son used to perform magic shows at birthday parties, and one gag was always to ask his “helper” what his name was, and then call him “Jimmy” for the entire show, no matter what his actual name was.)
And of course the Doctor can speak baby! After all, he was able to communicate with baby Melody Pond… although baby Melody didn’t demonstrate the ability for language that we came to see from her adult River self; and who knew that babies could be so poetic, eloquent, and ultimately depressing?
(One of my friends, Kyle Miller, offered some Doctor Who historical insights for this episode: “The pants may be a nod to either the first or second Doctor, both of whom wore checked pants. The diary belonged to the second Doctor, except it was only a 500 year diary when he held it. The yo-yo is clearly a nod to the fourth doctor (Peter Capaldi actually mentions Tom Baker by name while attempting to demonstrate his yo-yo skills to Maisie Williams behind the scenes.) And who can forget his first ‘I speak baby’ moment with Stormageddon, the Dark Lord of All in ‘The Lodger?'”)
The Mire – under their giant masks, did they look like any of the other monsters you’ve seen? Sure they did. They sort of resembled the Saturnyns (“Vampires of Venice”), and maybe the Hoix (I’ve got a Monsters book). They feed on testosterone – that’s kinda cool, but instead of being back in Viking times, don’t you think they’d do better around a 21st century gym?
But what happened to elevate my admittedly personal rating? We had a clue early on, when Clara tells the doctor, “You’re always talking about what you can and can’t do, but you never tell me the rules.” He answers, “We’re time travelers. We tread softly. It’s ok to make ripples but not tidal waves.” But the doctor has created tidal waves before – and just may have done it again. All of a sudden, he’s had a revelation, upon seeing his face in water. “Why did I choose this face?” he asks. “There’s nothing I can’t do.”
At first, honestly, this didn’t make much sense to me, so I went to my Doctor Who guru, Tom Gardiner (for whom I am filling in as Doctor Who reviewer), for his take on this. And the answer was enlightening. “In Pompeii,” he said, “Donna convinced the Doctor to break his rule and save Caecilius, even though everyone in Pompeii should’ve died. When he saved ‘one person’ and the time stream didn’t go nuts, he used Caecilius’ face as a constant reminder that sometimes you can break the rules and save one person without destroying the continuity of time. He basically did as much with Clara in Before the Flood. My bet is there will be much more ‘rule breaking’ in the future, eventually resulting in some catastrophe.” This makes sense – Odin said there would be retribution; Ashildr is now immortal; and something is coming (besides Clara Oswald’s exit – or maybe that’s it!). How can one act – the Butterfly Effect – cause major changes to universal outcomes? Wait and see!
And now, like Ashildr, these quotey quotes will never die. (But this week’s audio, coupled with the overly mixed music, the Doctor rushing his lines and his Scottish accent, made some of the bits very difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Sorry if my interpretation of lip reading doesn’t match yours.)
Viking: You’re coming with us.
Doctor: No, I’m not. And you want to know why? On my face, right now, more advanced technology than your species will manage in the next 9 million years.
(Viking breaks sonic glasses.)
D: Clara. We’re going with the Vikings.
D: I do have a plan.
Clara: That’s what you keep saying. For two days. In a longboat.
D: Only because you were a little bit worried.
C: Do you know her?
D: Never seen her before in my life.
C: OK. So why are you staring at her?
D: Don’t know. Too much time travel. It happens.
C: What happens?
D: People talk about premonition as if it’s something that’s strange. It’s not. It’s just remembering in the wrong direction.
D: OK, plan. We meet him and do the usual.
C: Which is?
D: Replace him. To the primitive mind, advanced technology can seem like magic
C: It’s going to be the yoyo again, isn’t it?
D: It’s in my pocket. (holds up shackles and yoyo)
C: How’d you do that?
C: So this is an invasion.
D: No, this is a harvest. The strongest, the fittest. The weak and the young they’ll leave behind.
D: Stop it. Stop right now. You’re an intelligent species. Stop lying to yourselves right now.
Viking: Choose your words carefully, false Odin.
D: Yes, I am a false Odin. That’s exactly right. The big fella in the sky, he lied too. You all know it! Because what’s the one thing gods never do? Gods never actually show up! Guess what? You got raided? Guess what else? I lost someone who mattered to me.
Ashildr: Why are we still alive?
Odin: Because of this! (holding up half of the sonic glasses) Explain!
C: I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to make you afraid!
Odin: I have no reason to fear you.
C: Except you’ve already analyzed that. And you know it’s from a civilization vastly more powerful than your own. And you may also have noticed, I’m wearing a space suit. So I’m not from around here. And it’s highly unlikely that I would come alone. You see, you haven’t killed us, because killing us would start a fight you didn’t come here to have. And you’re not sure you could win. Time for your medication?
Odin: Testosterone. Extracted from the finest warriors. Nectar.
C: OK. Crush the Vikings to make warrior juice. Nice. Why play God?
Odin: What is a god but the cattle’s name for farmer? What is Heaven but the gilded door of the abbatoir?
C: You’re not a farmer. You’re a thief, caught in the act. Go. Go now. Go find Vikings on other planets. The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me, it’s unbearable. We won’t follow you. See? We don’t need to fight.
D: I looked them up in my 2000 year diary. They’re called The Mire. One of the deadliest warrior races in the entire galaxy. But they’re practical. They get what they want and then they go. You persuaded them to go, didn’t you! I knew that you would.
C: The deadliest warrior race in the galaxy.
D: One of them, yeah. Why?
C: Because I think this village just declared war on them.
Einor: She thinks she brings us bad luck.
D: What bad luck? You haven’t had any bad luck. You’re fine.
Viking: We’re about to be attacked by…
D: Yes, yes. with a whole day to spare. So leave! Hop it. Take off. Into the woods, split up, hide. Hang about there for a week, come back, make billions of babies. That’s pretty much what you do, isn’t it?
Einor: We cannot leave this village.
D: Yes you can! Just pick a direction. Fly like a bird. Run like a nose. It’s probably a Vikings thing. I would check that.
Viking: No. We will fight.
D: Really. I don’t know if you remember, but they actually took away all your fighters. What are you? Farmers. Fishermen. Web designers. Maybe not that last one.
D: The Mire are coming. for each and every one of you. What are you going to do? Raise crops at them?
Viking: If necessary!
Viking 2: I think he was being sarcastic.
Baby (through Doctor): I am afraid. Hold me, mother. I am afraid.
C: He speaks baby.
Baby: Turn your face toward me mother, for you … you are beautiful. And I will sing for you. I am afraid. But I will sing. Babies sing with laughter. Did you know that? I applaud your courage, but I deplore your stupidity. I will mourn your deaths, which will be terrifying. Painful, and without honor.
D: I told you to run. That’s all the help you need. And that’s all the help you’ll get.
D: The earth is safe, humanity is not in danger. It’s just one village. Suppose I save it. By some miracle. No sonic, no Tardis. Just one village defeats the Mire. What then? Word gets around. The earth becomes a target of strategic value, and the Mire comes back. And god knows what else. Ripples into tidal waves, until everybody dies.
C: Tell me.
D: Mother, I hear thunder. Mother, I hear shouting. You’re my world, but I hear other worlds now. Beyond the unfolding of your smile, is there other kindness? I’m afraid. Will they be kind? The sky is crying now. Fire in the water. Fire in the …
C: You just decided to stay. The baby stopped crying.
Lofty: My name’s not actually Lofty, it’s…
D: No, it’s Lofty. I’ve got too much to think about without everybody having their own names. So it’s Lofty. You’re Lofty, you’re Daphne, you’re Noggin the Nog, ZZ Top, and you’re… uh, Heidi. So we’ll try that again. Lofty, what is it?
Lofty: Excuse me, sir, but why aren’t we practicing with real swords?
D: Yes. Perhaps you’d like to field this one, Limpy.
Limpy: Because we can’t be trusted with them.
D: That’s right, yes. You’ll be given your real swords back when you can prove you can wave them around wihtout lopping bits off yourself. Heidi! Why are your eyes closed?
Heidi: Sorry, sir, just not that good with the sight of blood.
D: No.Of course you’re not.
Heidi: What happened?
D: The Big Bang. Dinosaurs, bipeds, and a mounting sense of futility.
C: Or, more recently, Chuckles hit Lofty over the head, on his helmet, with a sword, there was a little bit of blood, which you saw, and… (thunk), did that. Only the first time you did it, you knocked a torch onto some hay, which spooked a horse who kicked open a gate, and um, surely you can find the rest.
C: Weird sounding thunder.
D: It’s not thunder. It’s the weapon forges of the Mire. Making sure we hear them. Well, Heidi faints at the mention of blood, not just the sight any more; I’ve actually upgraded his phobia. Chuckles, he questions every single order you give,which is going to be alittle bit difficult, a little tricky, in the heat of battle.
C: I keep waiting to hear what your real plan is.
D: Teach them to fight, that’s the only plan I’ve got.
C: Turn them into fighters, that’s not like you.
D: Yeah. I used to believe that too.
C: What happened?
D: You. Or, Clara Oswald, what I’ve made of you.
D: Human race. You’re obsessed. You need to get a hobby.
C: I’ve already got a hobby, thanks. It’s you, by the way.
D: Well, get a new one. Tomorrow’s going to be a bloodbath. You’re going to die hundreds of years before you were born.
C: I’m not running.
D: I’ve got a duty of care.
C: No you don’t, because I never asked for that.
D: Every time we do something like this, I keep thinking, what if something happens to you?
C: Then stop thinking of me. And start thinking of them. Because you’re missing something.
C: How you’re going to win. You always miss it. Right up until the last minute. So put down your sword, and stop playing soldier, and … look for it. Start winning, Doctor. It’s what you’re good at.
Ashildr: We meet again, fake Odin. Valhalla burns around you. Your army is destroyed. And now, it is time for you to die!
D: (clears throat)
Ashildr: How long have you been there?
D: Just in time for the puppet. I love puppets!
Ashildr: I make puppets sometimes when I’m…
Ashildr: When the raiding parties go out, I make up stories about their battles.