Doctor Who #979: Brave-ish Heart

"Life tries to kill you the moment you are born."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.12 2016.

IN THIS ONE... April fights the Shadow King; Charlie has to use the Cabinet of Souls on vampiric flowers.

REVIEW: If I wasn't a big fan of the set-up, the second part of this double-bind offers a pretty epic resolution. To a point. I'll get to my reservations in due course. But to start, April and Ram's journey into the Underneath, which is apparently "under the universe" (a part of me is excited that this series can go interdimensional and leave proper time and space to the Doctor), looks pretty cool, and ends in a badass duel between her and the Shadow King that sees April crowned King herself. She gets some great lines in that fight, including her answer to "they won't be led by a maggot": "why not? they are now", and her dad, who up to that point had been an annoying, grimacing, over-acted comedy relief character, actually has an impassioned speech that resonates with her and keeps her from losing herself by killing the Shadow King. Between that insane backdrop (loved Ram's Lord of the Rings reference) and the stakes that would give April the ability to fix what's going on at Coal Hill as well.

But April's larger-than-life story undermines that second strand quite a bit. It THAT story, the human race could be wiped out by vampiric flowers that will multiply and suffocate anyone who isn't bled dry first, like tiny, delicate (but indestructible) tribbles. The Board of Governors, through Mrs. Ames, tries to force Charlie to use the Cabinet of Souls to destroy the "petals", while Quill insists it be used on the Shadows, but because they telegraph the possibility of the Shadows destroying the flowers, and that of April taking over as their leader, that we know Charlie won't actually have to activate his WMD. So all the angst about destroying the souls of his people in the process, together with the delaying tactic of an overlong and repetitive ceremony to do so only serves to buy time. There's no real tension in it. It does give Quill a chance to emote more than usual - it's still anger, but it can bring her to tears - and Matteusz to show his resourceful as part of the group, but Ames' essentially laughing this off at the end, saying the Governors had figured April would fix everything, really does feel like this was an anti-climax.

The strongest theme in the episode is that of belief, which can be found in a father's faith in his daughter, Quill's justification for her terroristic crimes, or Charlie's role a shepherd of his people's souls. But writer Patrick Ness also uses the episode to discuss matters of faith. He gives the Shadows a religion, and has April and Ram discuss their own worldviews. Ram's father is a Sikh, but Ram is himself more of a humanist. April is more self-reliant. Quill's is a harsh belief system that thinks nothing of committing suicide for a cause, and appeals to Charlie to be the best and LAST leader of their world. The Governors have an almost supernatural confidence, a form of belief too, and we do learn that they are not governmental. What belief and motivation do they espouse? And at the end of the episode, the confirmation of a miracle, as April's mom walks again. I said last time I wasn't too sure what to make of it, and I do like that mum here states that she had accepted her disability and didn't feel lessened by it, and yet it is still undone. Jury's still out, but they at least have the decency to have her legs atrophied. Speaking of undoing things, the Shadow King does somehow cut her off from the Underneath after his incarceration, so she can't call a deus ex machina up every time she needs one. She still has half a heart though, so that story may not yet be over.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - If a better balance had been achieved between the two stories, we might be looking at a High here. The episode has some great lines, epic resolutions, and important character moments.



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