Doctor Who #978: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart

"People don't set out to be monsters. They start getting a little taste for it, and then they like it so they taste some more, and then before you know it..."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.5 2016.

IN THIS ONE... April's connection to the Shadow King causes problems just as her dad is released from prison.

REVIEW: April is dealing with the heart she shares with the Shadow King earlier than I might have imagined, in what turns out to be the first of a two-part story. There's now unexpected transference between the two, as April develops the ability to zap bugs and pull shadow swords out of thin air whenever she gets a bad case of redeye. And that's a fine metaphor for teenage frustration and anger, especially for the tightly controlled April. But I'm sorry, it doesn't matter how many special effects they throw onto the Shadowkin, they look like people in rubber suits to me (I know this is Doctor Who, but the production seems desperate to make it NOT seem silly). It gets worse when April and Ram have sex and the connection makes the Shadow King rut with his new chief scientist. They're hard to take seriously in that moment. (Which is perhaps part of the King' point, that he can't very well conquer the universe with a little girl's heart half-beating in his chest - neat visual too.)

As usual, Ness' writing is pretty thematically consistent. The idea of shared hearts cannot only be found in the main plot, but in April and Ram pairing off, and Charlie opening HIS heart up to Matteusz and telling him he's been lying about how empty the Cabinet of Souls is. This sadly leads to mistrust on the latter's part; what else has Charlie been lying about? Tanya calls out the prince on his domination of Quill - forcing her to play the mom at parent's night - a possible comedy bit turned sour when she calls it slavery and gets really quite huffy about it. Just like April is "becoming" a Shadow, Charlie could be in danger of becoming a monster. He essentially owns a slave and a genocidal weapon, and doesn't see anything wrong with that. April's father also taps into that theme, a folk singer who dove into a bottle and destroyed his family. In the past two episodes, Ram's coach was turned into a monster by ambition and a living tattoo, and we saw a monster masquerade as people's loved ones, so this may be the theme of the show entire. Only Quill stands to go in reverse, a lethal killer slowly turning into a hero... but that's as maybe.

It may depend on who the mysterious Governors are, actually. In this episode, they replace the head teacher with their own plant, Dorothea Ames, who is very honest about the robot from the previous episode, and who seems to know everything about the entire Class. She tries to recruit Quill into helping her fix the B-plot, a swarm of vampire flowers multiplying in the school yard, in exchange for her freedom from Charlie's power. But is she (and therefore the Governors) hero or villain? Her manner is sinister, but are the Governors actually a peace-keeping force like UNIT or Torchwood? Is this the future of Class, where the kids might be given more resources to fight alien incursions? Or are there other agendas at play here?

Unclear, as the episode ends in a cliffhanger. It's a good one, with April cutting through reality and jumping to the Underneath to confront the Shadow King and retrieve her half of the heart, and Ram jumps in after her. I'm perhaps less keen on April healing her mom's disability because first, what's happening isn't really explained, and second, the miracle robs the show of some diversity casting. Not that we couldn't have the scene of the mom having the "talk" with April and Ram after catching them in bed without the wheelchair, but I'm not sure what it does to the bad dad subplot or how such a fix helps the character or the show. It's going to take another episode for me to have a definite opinion on this.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The episode's structure means the plot is all over the place, though the themes flow through nicely.



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