The Lab scenes worked really well, though.
J. K. Rowling
I loved the series of human errors that lead to the contagion, I love how it was obviously signposted to the audience while we waited for the Doctor to catch up. The contrivances and logical leaps the Doctor took to work it out, however, were about as naff and unconvincing as the rest of the story. The advantage of keeping Whithouse for the closing third was that, for all his faults, he is good at dramatic set pieces and villain confrontations. That they usually fall flat due to a lack of ideas underpinning them shouldn't have been a problem with Moffatt and Harness sketching out those ideas beforehand.
But as is, I think they've left him woefully unprepared to deliver a satisfying conclusion. We still know about as little about the Monks as we did last week, except insofar as we know that they're unlikely to be developed into anything interesting. Unless Whithouse pulls a rabbit out of a hat, this three parter is going to be a bit of a sad blip and wasted opportunity for the series. Oxygen 2. Extremis 3. Thin Ice 4.
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The Pilot 5. Knock Knock 6. Smile 7. It was just one of a number of tediously obvious and unconvincing Big Choices made to progress the plot" I was genuinely expecting the twist to be that the Doctor solves the lab's ridiculous insecurity measures, everything's sorted out and then, oops, Nardole opens the TARDIS doors and it's all happening anyway Which would probably have been a bit cheap, but at least would have followed on from the set-up.
I think that my favorite part of the episode was the way that it highlighted how the Doctor's evolved since Kill the Moon, in a way that relates to Harness's nervousness about democracy. Clara rightly pointed out how incredibly stupid and patronizing that was, and here he takes it to heart. Not only does he know what the correct choice is, he takes responsibility and refuses to let the humans here make the wrong choice. It still isn't his planet, but he takes Clara's role and says no. That it doesn't work doesn't really change the legitimacy of that. As expected, Phil, your best review of the year is the one where you're talking about the Harness episode.
Something about him seems to bring about the best in you. They write our teleology and measure out our days. Chilling stuff. I really enjoyed this episode while watching it. It was tense, the stakes felt high and the Monks were suitably creepy.
But thinking about the episode later, I feel like there were a bit too many plot contrivances that it turn made the whole thing feel a little hollow. The lab's very bad security measures are the biggest culprit here. The "broken glasses" and "hangover" scenes gave the impression that the end of the world would be caused by little human errors piling up. But then the male lab worker completely disregarded any safety protocols in a way that can't be explained by his hangover.
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The airlock in the lab allowed for both doors to be simultaineously opened, defeating its entire purpose. And the air filtration system is somehow designed to just vent chemicals into the atmosphere? I don't mind the shoddy science, it's "Doctor Who", but all these plot-motivated lab design choices made it feel contrived.
It was like the "takes-two-to-operate" booth that killed the Doctor in "The End of Time": a very visible plot device. And that, in turn, made me question why the Doctor couldn't just take a photo of the door mechanism with his glasses and ask Bill for help. I don't normally look for real world logic in DW, but this episode actively invited me to do so with its setpieces.
I feel like these contrivances for plot's sake are a general weakness of Harness's writing. I had similar reaction to both Zygon episodes and "Kill the Moon". He grounds his episodes in the aesthetics of a serious political thriller I'm also a little disappointed by the way the Doctor's blindness factored into the plot. I completely buy his reluctance to admit he's weaker now and I enjoyed how it resulted in Bill selling the world to the Monks but it didn't really amount to much. The device he used last episode to steal the sight from his future regenerations felt like the proper price to pay for overcoming this serious injury.
But here he just got his sight back with no problems whatsoever. Sure, it cost him the Earth, but we all know he'll fix that in 45 minutes next week. I didn't expect the Doctor to stay blind forever or anything but I dunno, I guess I was hoping for more. Having said all that, I still really enjoyed the episode and I'm excited for the final one in this little triptych. Pearl was fantastic and so was Capaldi. And Nardole fits so seamlessly now into the story now that it feels like he's always been there.
Which is great. More Nardole please! The airlock that doesn't lock at least one door at a time, and the fume hoods that allow fumes to come out the front are just the pinnacle of terrible containment that makes a school science lab look secure. I thought of Erica and Douglas' lab as a sly argument against privatizing all dangerous research, or expecting potentially dangerous scientific research companies to regulate their own safety procedures. Corporate probably decided that they could save a ton of money by cutting the crap out of safety and security.
I see the same idiotic attitude in the Canadian oil industry. Same goes for their having hired a clearly irresponsible idiot like Douglas who'd get super drunk the night before he had to be at work handling substances he should have known were dangerous as all hell. He probably couldn't get hired anywhere that paid better, so he ended up with these corner cutting dicks where his unprofessionalism ended up costing him his life. Riggio: maybe. But none of that was in the episode itself. If it was meant as a critique or parody, surely they could've added some lines about greedy suits to set it up, couldn't they?
They did just that in "Oxygen", after all. Come on, writers, at least handwave it with a deadlock or something This suggest that we should treat the lab as "like reality unless noted" as the TvTropes would call it. And that's precisely the problem. This lab couldn't be real. Not with so many obviously terrible security measures.
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It should've been either an old, decrepit lab with outdated equipment that malfunctions plus human errors or a modern, visibly secure one that gets compromised in a one-in-a-million-chance by some small flaw in the system plus human errors. Both of those would be believable within the political thriller genre. Instead we got this weird middle ground: a modern, supposedly secure lab that operates like it was designed by an idiot, staffed by idiots. To me that just screams "plot device". My husband's reaction was much the same. He was enjoying the episode until the Doctor got his sight back.
Why do the the Monks need consent but can mess around with him getting his sight back? He feels that these inconsistencies with teh internal logic of the plot are getting too numerous, and has been burnt too many times before assuming that there is an in-universe explanation. It was just too obviously not in keeping with the previously established setting that it jerked him out of his suspension of disbelief.
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