Doctor Who #980: Detained

"You are in no time. No space. You will not escape."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.19 2016.

IN THIS ONE... The kids are drawn into an alter-dimensional prison.

REVIEW: The Breakfast Club meets The Hand of Fear, Detained puts all the kids in detention, and the detention room in a non-time, non-space place, a psychic prison they share with a prisoner itself inside a glowing rock. Soon, the rock makes their collective anger flare up - is this a Red Kryptonite story? - and they must solve the puzzle of their predicament. The hitch, each clue the rock gives up costs them dearly as they are forced to tell a harsh truth about themselves and their feelings vis-à-vis one of more of the others. The more they learn, the less able they are to work together, but Charlie's alien nature makes him a little more resistant than the others (though not enough to avoid nose and eye bleeds), and he uses the extra time given him to confront and destroy the Prisoner. He has enough agency for this not to be simply a case of him being alien, and the stone then trying to imprison him as the murderer of its former captive is a fun wrinkle.

Some would say the plot doesn't really matter anyway, as Detained's only real function is to explore the characters with the "truth stone". Its success, then, may hinge on whether or not we learn anything new about them. We don't really. We already knew Tanya felt isolated from the rest of the group because of her age and race (mostly the former), and that she didn't feel like she belonged. We already knew Ram was in love with April, but she didn't feel as strongly as he did yet. We already knew Matteusz was in love with Charlie, but at the same time afraid of him. And it wasn't all that hard to guess Charlie really wants to kill the Shadows, but won't because he fears losing Matteusz and himself (that was pretty clear in the previous episode). We do learn Charlie is claustrophobic, but that's besides the point (and a red herring if you were thinking it was the source of his immunity). The reaction to these truths is more important. First, the phrase "well that's how it feels" recurs; in other words, one's perception is not a truth about others. Regardless, even that kind of truth can hurt, and though writer Patrick Ness mangles the Narnia story he gives Matteusz, he nevertheless touches on a truth that's even more acute in teenagers. The fear of being talked about, of being laughed at, of not belonging, of not being loved. If Class is about anything, it's about the hyper-emotionalism of puberty.

Charlie gets a strong climax, the likes of which he was denied in Brave-ish Heart, destroying a creature with his mind, resisting and showing royal gravitas, shouldering responsibility for his group and confessing truths before they are wrung out of him. Then it's all over and Quill walks in with a working gun, a scar, longer hair, and no dominating creature in her head, a terrific cliffhanger that promises much in the next episode. So all in all a pretty good bottle show, simple but emotional, with some crazy visuals to boot. I do think the rock could have looked less like Shadow stuff if it wasn't going to be related to it - it's a confusing reuse of effects - but I generally can't complain. The sound design adds a lot of atmosphere to shots of the rock literally and metaphorically boiling.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I'd like character-building episodes to actually add to characters, but Detained is a well-put together psychological bottle show regardless.

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