Use of Clara
Season 9, Episode 9
Aired: Nov. 14, 2015
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Writer: Mark Gatiss
As this episode began, I was intrigued by the plot. I liked the “found footage” aesthetic and was into the “man meddling with nature” plot of a mad scientist who thought he could conquer sleep. It seemed like a wonderful setup for a Doctor Who episode.
Then the sandmen showed up. And the doctor explained that they were sentient eye boogers that were feeding off of humans for some reason. And that’s when the episode lost me.
I think the episode’s fatal mistake was making the threat an external one instead of an internal one. There was so much discussion about whether or not the sleep pods were a good thing. The Doctor kept insisting that sleep was natural and vital. I would have preferred an episode that examined this. Why do we need sleep? What happens when we don’t have it? Something a bit more psychological that got into the heads of the people who were sleep deprived (but “rested”) could have been really cool. Perhaps they could have had waking nightmares or hallucinations – something that dealt with their dreams leaking out into their real lives.
Instead, they were chased around by crusty, blind villains who never felt very imposing and never made much sense. And the episode attempted to be clever by having much of what we saw be for show and having a big twist at the end, but the overall plot was so muddled and boring that the reveal made no sense to me and came at a time well after I stopped caring what happened.
I’m still not entirely sure what happened. We get an intro by Gagan Rassmussen telling us not to watch the footage. Then the footage reveals the existence of the sandmen and their plot to get off the base in order to destroy all of humanity. But at the end of the footage, Rassmussen reveals that he’s been manipulating us and that he is, in fact, a sandman and that the video itself is encoded with the signal that will bring the sandmen to life.
First of all, this is a terrible plan. Why would he go to all those great lengths to manipulate the viewer only to give away his plan at the end? I suppose the logic is that you are already infected at that point, but he wants as many people as possible to view the tape. Wouldn’t it make more sense to not reveal everything so that the footage is more widely distributed and people are unaware of the coming threat?
Plus, even if I accept the idea that the dust particles are able to perfectly replicate Rassmussen, but for some reason chose instead to appear as white blobby monsters (or am I supposed to assume Rassmussen was a dust creature the whole time?), then the final reveal also means that the Doctor didn’t save the day and all of humanity is doomed. And since this is the first story this season that isn’t a two-parter, we won’t be checking in again to see what becomes of civilization.
It was just a messy episode all around that didn’t make much sense, lacked compelling monsters and didn’t really have anything else going to salvage it. This has been a fun season overall, so I’m willing to forgive this misstep, but it was definitely a clunker of an episode.
And another thing …
- One fun sidenote: Bethany Black, who played 474, is the first transgender actor to appear on Doctor Who. It was cool that she was cast in a cisgender role simply because she had the best audition.
- Since this is a one-off episode, I also imagine we won’t follow up on Clara being infected by the sandmen. I guess I’ll just assume she’s fine.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org