Doctor Who #981: The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did

"Who, I wonder, is Quill when she's free?" "I am war itself."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.26 2016.

IN THIS ONE... Quill visits various heavens and hells to free herself from slavery.

REVIEW: While the kids are "Detained", Quill has a chance to get the enslaving arn out of her head in the absolute reverse of the previous episode. The first is about being trapped, this is about being freed; one is about making the characters hate each other, this one has the most hateful character find love; and while Detained is a bottle show, this episode sends us to various amazing locations via the Metaphysical Engine. This means of travel not only looks cool, it takes Quill, Ames, and a new (and already missed) character called Ballon to metaphysical places given reality by belief and imagination (see Theories for more).

Quill's quest for freedom thus takes her to arn heaven (whose blossoms really do look like the Rhodian homeworld we saw in the pilot, but she doesn't seem to recognize it; it may be outside the Quill experience), to Ballon's shapeshifter hell where souls are frozen in place, to the Quill's primordial nest, and finally to the Cabinet of Souls itself. Along the way, they fight gods and we learn a lot about the Quill culture/mindset, a terrific mix of epic and intimate. By the end, Quill WILL be freed of the arn's influence, and in spite of her war-like nature, uses that freedom to fall in love with Ballon, a kindred spirit. This Lorr, a shape-shifter locked in his shape and masquerading as a Zygon, is also on a quest to free himself (from that shape and from the Governors) and though a soldier like Quill, he is much wiser. I love how he relates to change, or lack of it, and sees in Quill also someone denied choice, which is crucial to change. He stops her from upending her life by hearing her goddess speak, in fear that she might become a sudden believer and precipitate a crisis of self, for example, and brings out the more honest side of her, which allows her to admit she's essentially been neutered by the arn, forced to shout at children all day as a parody of her righteous anger. Quill has never been more human (so to speak).

So when the Governors betray them both, stranding them in the Cabinet with only enough metaphysical charge to return one of them to the real world, forcing them to fight to the death, it's tragic. We all know Ballon can't be the one, and I think we grieve for him as intensely as Quill does. The fight, intercut with a discussion of why it can't be  avoided, is very well played, and once Ballon is dead, only then do the Rhodian souls show up and show Quill the way out. She doesn't use a metaphysical charge, just crawls through the Cabinet's doors. In other words, Ballon needn't have had to die. This is another case of the Rhodians taking something away from her. She tries to strangle one and pays for it with months of her life in a single second (explaining the longer hair) and we soon rejoin the other thread in the class room, where we are treated to a further twist: she's pregnant! Whoa!

THEORIES: Where does the Metaphysical Engine come from? Could it be Time Lord technology? Flotsam or jetsam of the Time War? The extracanonical Whoniverse has one reference to the TARDIS being a "metaphysical engine". The first Doctor, in the Short Trips short story "Every Day" by Stephen Fewell, says it was capable of entering into a person's mind and the imagination. On television, we do know it could enter the Land of Fiction (The Mind Robber). The Engine as presented has a special way of getting you inside, but is nevertheless "bigger on the inside" and while its markings aren't necessarily High Gallifreyan, there is a hexagonal motif that reminds me of the way the roundels looked in the RTD era.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A highly imaginative story that actually takes Quill from a shouty, annoying place to one making her my favorite character of the series.

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