Monday, 22 April 2013

I Just Crawled To Say I Love You

Doctor Who
Series Seven, Episode Nine

Oh dear.  Neil Cross again.

Okay, it's wrong to judge a book by its cover (although strictly speaking, that's what book covers are for), so it's probably wrong to think Hide will be rubbish just because I've seen The Rings Of Akhaten.  (Twice.)  Still, I won't deny I was concerned about getting, shall we say, a repeat performance.

Surprise!  It's not rubbish.  In fact, I'm not sure what it is.  This might be one of the most bizarrely all-over-the-place episodes of Doctor Who ever.

"Well what do you suggest I call it?
Night Of The Romantic Bogeymen?"
To start with, it's a scary movie, with four people trapped in a haunted house.  There are numerous nods to The Haunting, which is nice as that's a film I love.  We have a woman overly invested in a ghost, a cold spot, writing on the wall, one room being the "heart" of the house, a mysterious banging on the doors, even a "Whose hand was I holding?" scene.  The trouble with all those references, though, is there's not a smudge of originality between them, and none of it bothers to go for the jugular like it should, because the tone's several miles away from unsettling.

The moment the Doctor and Clara turn up, from a winceful Ghostbusters reference to that plinky-plonk comedy music Murray Gold must be able to do in his sleep by now, the tension largely disappears.  When we get to the hand-holding bit, a moment of oh-dear-god-aaaaaargh! in Robert Wise's movie, it's played like a pantomime.  Couldn't we tone down the zany, just a little bit?  It is actually okay to frighten your audience without pouring on a gallon of Matt Smith Kookiness to make it all better.  (It's even more okay to give Matt Smith more to do than just smug kookiness.)

We veer back towards scary later on, after it transpires the ghost isn't the problem: it's just a stranded time-traveller running away from something else.  Okay.  To be honest, this being Doctor Who I suspected it would turn out to be some sort of victim trapped in something wibbly-wobbly, because there's always a sci-fi explanation for everything, be it ghosts, werewolves, vampires.  Call me old fashioned, but I find this has the same effect as revealing the Wizard of Oz to be a useless old fart with a smoke machine.  If everything is either aliens or timey-wimey, then everything becomes ordinary after a while.

Anyway, the monster is nothing short of brilliant.  Bizarre to look at, never seen either fully or directly, and the jittery way it moves brings to mind old-timey stop motion.  It is terrifying, and yes, more like it, please.  So it's a shame this all turns out to be a gigglesome misunderstanding, and the monster is harmless – to use the Doctor's words, "This isn't a ghost story, it's a love story."  Oh, goodie.  Your mileage may vary on this: if you're a hopeless romantic, the way Hide concludes may leave a sappy grin on your face.  Being a cantankerous fanboy curmudgeon, I was left thinking, "How the hell is this going to frighten anyone the second time round?"

Oh well.  Like it or not, it's a love story.  Actually, it's three: the ghost-hunting Professor and his psychic assistant are in love, or so a lot of clumsy dialogue and starey "glances" tell us (in fifty foot neon lettering); the psychic assistant and the ghost/time traveller are actually distant relatives, and their psychic bond is a familial one; and the scary monster is actually a lovesick scary monster, longing to get back to its lady counterpart.  (Scaring the crap out of everyone it meets is apparently unintentional.)

"Phew, caught up with you at last!
So, do you want to like, go to a movie or something?"
You spend most of Hide putting up with the first of these, which exists seemingly because Alec is a man and Emma is a woman and they're in the same house.  (With respect to Dougray Scott and Jessica Rayne, they're both playing it so straight with Neil Cross's yakkety-yak dialogue that it's like two hatstands being told they're betrothed.)  When the ending comes along and lets rip the other two love stories, it's too much.  How did the Doctor magically figure out Emma and Hila are related?  And was there no less random way of the Doctor figuring out the monster's intentions than having him suddenly stop in his tracks and experience a flashback?  It's like Neil Cross leaned into frame and shouted, "You forgot the last bit!"

Come to think of it, the Doctor is less than dazzling in this one, like when he has the wit to ask "The Witch Of The Well?  So where's the well?" after we've seen it written down right in front of him.  And when he clocks what's really been banging on those doors, it's a good minute or two after it already became thuddingly apparent to the viewer.  Keep up, Doc!  Elsewhere, he's tediously omniscient and smug about everyone and everything, producing names and dates so readily that he must have peeked at this week's script.  He's inconsistent and, strangely for Matt Smith, really quite irritating.  (Speaking of which: it's the 50th Anniversary year, with references aplenty, and no one told Matt how to pronounce "Metebelis 3"?)

Clara has plenty to do, for once.  Apart from some thankless bonding with Emma (because they're both girls and them's the rules), there's the remarkable scene where the Doctor inadvertantly shows her all of Earth's history, birth-to-death.  Well, not that remarkable – it's Rose seeing the Earth get roasted, essentially – but it stops the episode in its tracks and raised my eyebrows.  Matt Smith gets to put across the full alienness of the Doctor (asked if it's okay that humanity just perished, he answers: "Yes"), Clara gets to react to it.  It's necessary stuff (yet more of it, the price of constantly changing the cast), but it's the Best Thing Here.

We also get more of Clara's uneasy relationship with the TARDIS, which really doesn't like her.  It even says so, using a voice interface thingie.  (I'm not sure I like that bit, as it renders the Doctor's chat with the TARDIS in The Doctor's Wife a lot less special, but it only seems to be here because the script hit a brick wall.)  Of all the Clara Who hints, this is the one I'm most interested in, and I hope there's more to come.  As for finding out more about her, despite the secret purpose of this episode being a way to find out more about her, we still don't.  Thanks for that, again.

So, what of Neil Cross's writing, post-Rings Of Akhaten?  There are a couple of real gems here, although television being a collaborative effort we don't necessarily know whodunit.  I'd like to know who to thank for "Collapsing universe, you and me dead, no time complete sentences, abandon planet!", what with "Ignorance is Carlisle" sounding so much like Steven Moffat.  Elsewhere, though, some of that Ringsy loquaciousness is a problem.  The characters talk too zarking much.  When Alec starts psychoanalysing the Doctor the moment he's out of the room, you want to reach into the screen and smack him.  He's not even the psychic one!

Okay, this is cool, but seriously now:
you need keys.
It's not rocket science.
As for the plotting, well, if you're going to set up that the TARDIS can't rescue the Doctor without draining its batteries, a problem so dreadful you have to invent a voice interface to tell Clara about it, don't promptly do it anyway with no consequences.  (Twice.)  Similarly, when Emma uses her psychic link to make all this possible (I think), it's stated that she can't keep it up without serious harm to herself.  A quick pep talk from Alec, however, and she just decides to make the effort.  Well, is it dangerous, or isn't it?  (Now what episode does that remind you of?)  As for the Doctor literally hitching a ride on the TARDIS, and Clara being able to fly it just by asking it nicely... no thanks.  And might I add, grrr.

Hide is many things, predominantly somewhat of a mess.  There's far more going on here than there was in Rings, or Cold War for that matter, and for sheer variety it's quite a memorable episode.  The monster's certainly excellent, and some people are going to want to hug the ending to little gooey pieces.  There are good bits dotted throughout.  I don't know, though.  I like scary things to remain predominantly scary.

Maybe I'll feel better disposed to it some other day.  For now, I'd rather rewatch The Haunting.

Nice Warrior

Doctor Who
Cold War
Series Seven, Episode Eight

You pretty much know what to expect from this one.  There's a monster loose on a nuclear submarine.  So, that's slithering in corridors, crew picked off one by one, and a desperate scramble to stop the bombs from flying.  It's a monster movie, and it's competently done, but that's about the nicest thing you can say about it.  It's written by Mark Gatiss, and you pretty much know what to expect from him, too.

Gatiss wanted to bring back the Ice Warriors.  Fair enough: the list of recurring monsters in Doctor Who's history dwindled dramatically after we got Daleks and Cybermen, and the Ice Warriors haven't had a story all to themselves since the '60s.  He goes about this quite sensibly, giving us just one (like in Dalek) and having it run amok in a confined space (like in Dalek).  The costume's the same as ever, only more badass.  (See Dalek.)  The thing is strangely beautiful to look at, and yet completely intimidating, especially in close quarters.  (Dalek!)  It's covered in chains at one point, and...  Okay, it's safe to say Mark Gatiss saw Dalek.  But that approach worked before, so it ought to work again.

At least, to an extent.  Whose bright idea was it to throw away what little we know about Ice Warriors and say hey, the armour's just a robotic suit, and really there's a slithery wee alien inside?  Sure, this works for the Daleks, but isn't that precisely why you shouldn't do it all over again?  It's like when the Daleks randomly started converting people into Daleks, immediately (one would hope) prompting a strongly-worded letter from the Cybermen's legal department.  It's been done!  It really is a shame, as the one thing you might conceivably wonder about an Ice Warrior what it looks like without the helmet has already been revealed, in their first New Series adventure.  On top of which, it looks like complete rubbish.

Anyway, this crew of Soviets are running nuclear drills.  (They're also drilling for oil, which seems like a completely random job for a nuclear sub, but maybe that's just me.  Perhaps the Soviet motto is something like: "If it involves drilling of any kind, keep us Soviets in mind!")  They have in their possession a Thing From Another World-style ice block, and in a spectacular example of assigning the wrong man for the job just to advance the plot, an over-zealous crewman is asked to watch over it, and then decides to de-frost it with a blowtorch.  Oh, idiot crewman, we hardly knew ye.

Once the Doctor and Clara arrive, skipping spiritedly through the who-are-you-and-how-did-you-get-heres, it's a question of finding out what the Ice Warrior wants and trying to stop it blowing everything up.  In other words, Dalek, with tracts of Alien and (to use a dusty old Who reference, which I'm sure Gatiss would appreciate as he dredges up the TARDIS's wacky HADS system from 1969), it's a bit like Horror Of Fang Rock.  That's a Tom Baker story where a bunch of people are trapped in a lighthouse with a monster.  It's like this one, except scary.

There's very little wrong with all this.  Well, it's worked before, hasn't it?  The trouble is, there's little to mark it out from anything else.  Mark Gatiss's perfunctory dialogue doesn't help: you've seen and heard it all before.  ("He's finding out your strengths... and your weaknesses."  Darn.  Who else had "and your favourite colour"?)

Take Clara, who's still going through the companiony motions.  TARDIS translates foreign languages?  Tick.  History can be changed?  Tick.  Travelling with the Doctor means dead bodies by the truckload?  Tick.  Yes, it's necessary, but we've been there, so very done that.  Jenna Louise-Coleman attacks it with her usual cute-as-a-buttonness, particularly in the less-than-convincing "this is all getting a bit real" scene, but it still adds nothing to my understanding of what Clara is like as a person, or what really marks her out from Amy, Donna, Martha, Rose and the rest.

On top of which, she feels like a third wheel.  The bit where she takes it upon herself to speak to Grand Marshal Skaldak (le Ice Warrior) requires a torturous bit of chin-wag between the Doctor and the sub's Captain an obvious, desperate bid to find something for her to do.  Why not just have the Doctor talk to him instead?  Matt Smith, incidentally, is in a mostly comedic mood this week.  This is fun to watch, but he's capable of a lot more.  He really isn't challenged often enough these days.

In Clara's defence, how cute is that salute?
The monster goes downhill as soon as the, er, genie's out of the bottle.  Creative camerawork is used to keep it out of sight, but is this done to heighten the tension, or to disguise its rubbishness?  With its silly rubber arms and not-particularly-memorable CGI head, I'm leaning towards the latter.  At least it kills a few people  actually kills them, dead, in modern Doctor Who! but even that feels like small potatoes in the shadow of nuclear war, not to mention the tonally bizarre ending.

Okay, so Skaldak is about to launch the nuke when the Doctor tries to convince him that mankind is young and innocent, and deserves a second chance.  (We saw that before in The Christmas Invasion.)  Then Clara uses her companiony pixie dust to remind Skaldak of his daughter, and how much he misses her, and how proud she'll be if he turns the other cheek.  (I think I saw that in my nightmares.)  Then a spaceship full of Ice Warriors beams up the Grand Marshal and, after much impotent wishing and hoping from the Doctor, graciously disarms the nukes as well.  (Smith And Jones hops to mind.)  The Warriors go on their way as our heroes smile, crack jokes, and nod heartily to their new alien friends.

Uh, guys?  Didn't Skaldak murder at least six people?  Are we really saying he's an all right sort of guy just because he couldn't be bothered to obliterate the Earth?  By Cold War's end, you just don't know if you're supposed to be afraid of the Ice Warriors.  That's an understandable message in a war story, but it's a seriously damp ending, and it robs them of future menace.  (Something similar, only much better, happened in The Curse Of Peladon.  In that one, however, they left all the murdering and monstering to the stories where they really were the bad guys, because y'know, it sort of muddies the issue.)

So what's to like?  The Ice Warrior looks awesome, if only on the outside.  Nick Briggs does a decent voice, even if it is a bit like a Juddoon crossed with Stock Grizzled Monster Noise.  (With added lisp.)  All the Alien-y corridor scenes are tense, if familiar, and easily let down by the sight of those silly rubber claws.  (Oh no!  Not rubber claws!) 

Perhaps the greatest asset is the cast.  Liam Cunningham brings the required level-headedness to the sub's Captain.  Tobias Menzies does what he can with The Slippery Lieutenant Destined To Get Killed.  But never mind all that: David Warner's in it!  It's great just having him here, which is just as well, as his character has almost nothing to do.  (He's supposedly a professor, but other than knowing how long Skaldak's been in the ice he could easily be the janitor.)  Warner has a warmth and exuberance that makes every scene more fun to watch, and makes me wish he still had a shot at playing the Doctor.  In his scenes with Clara, when he's not yammering on about Ultravox, he could be a more rough and tumble Patrick Troughton.  It's a waste of talent, undoubtedly, but it's a marginally better episode because of him.

Cold War's based on such a familiar, tried-and-tested framework that it can't entirely miss, in a meat-and-potatoes sort of way.  For some people, no doubt, this kind of bog standardness is exactly the point of Doctor Who.  There'll certainly be more like it.  For me, that vital spark isn't there – quite possibly because Mark Gatiss is – so it's not one I'll revisit.  Oh well: it's still better than last week's.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Bored Of The Rings

Doctor Who
The Rings Of Akhaten
Series Seven, Episode Seven

The writing staff for Doctor Who seems to be getting smaller these days, with the same few names being drawn over and over, presumably from a fez.  It's cause for celebration when a new one pops up, and knowing nothing about Neil Cross before The Rings Of Akhaten, I was optimistic.  Finally, some fresh blood!

Well, you can put away the party hats.  Rings Of Akhaten sucks.  Not only is it yet another boring, wishy-washy, will-that-do? sort of episode, but it heralds the arrival of yet another Doctor Who scriptwriter who evidently doesn't bring very much to the table.

The opus gets off to a questionable start, showing us the meet-cute that brought Clara's parents together.  Her dad was hit in the face by a leaf and, naturally, stumbles in front of a car, only to be rescued by his soon-to-be missus.  It's a bit like Father's Day, without any of the emotional power or ring of truth.  (Do people really say "Oh my stars"?  Has anyone ever reacted that much to a leaf in the face?)  This is followed by a so-naff-Richard-Curtis-wouldn't-touch-it speech about the universal importance of that leaf, and then a montage of Clara's childhood which tells us such vital information as, Clara had parents, and a childhood, and then she grew up.  Her mum dies at some point, which would be much sadder if we knew anything about her besides her apparent fondness for total morons, and tendency towards exclaming things clumsily.

A new, less-than-impressive Doctor Who monster is born.
The Doctor is present for all of this, because he's trying to learn more about Clara, apparently in the creepiest way possible.  He's not doing any better than we are, incidentally: he now knows Clara was born.  Wow.  Thanks for that.  (And seriously, enough with the Doctor meeting people at random points in their lives.  It's getting so other writers are doing Steven Moffat's ideas to death.)

Hopping back to the present, Clara wants to go somewhere "awesome", so the Doctor selects Akhaten: a multi-alien society that's a great excuse for the props and costume departments (and Murray Gold) to go crazy.  What follows is a bit like The End Of The World, if the companion's reaction to alien life was a lot less interesting, and no one was in any immediate danger.  Clara deals with everything quite well: she's quite enthusiastic, quite friendly, quite... dull, actually.  When does she get good?

Anyway, she comes to the aid of a little girl, Merry, who must sing to a god in order to keep it from waking up.  This god feeds on stories (as in, psychically-infused objects that have personal meaning, though your memories alone will do; see also, "nonsense", "piffle", and "total bollocks").  If it wakes up it will presumably do so on a larger scale, or... something?  It's never really clear.

Merry's song goes awry, or so I'm guessing, and she's sucked into the god's temple with what looks like a ravenous mummy.  Ooh, human sacrifice, it's about to get good!  Except the mummy is there just to wake up the real god a huge carnivorous star and serves no other purpose.  Same goes for the Vigil, three incredibly scary-voiced thingummies that stalk around trying to ensure Merry goes through with the ritual.  Good grief, they are brilliant!  But weren't there a couple of hooded guys doing that job earlier?  Well, that was a waste of a good monster.  (Incidentally, they can be defeated by sonic screwdriver abuse.  Sigh.)

The only danger facing the girl is that her "soul" will be eaten, but since that consists of "stories", and since the monster eats those all the time even when it's asleep, with no detrimental effect on anyone, just what the blethering poppycock is actually at stake?  (Besides Clara, whom Merry inexplicably offers to the mummy in place of herself.  At least, that's what I think was going on in one scene.  WTF?  Why doesn't Clara react to that?)

It's around here you notice that over half the episode has elapsed, and yes, this really is it.  All that's going on is standing in a room talking about some sort of doom possibly happening.  (Oh no, the mummy's going to get out of its glass cage!  Okay, it hasn't, but I'm sure it will!  Eventually!  Golly, that glass sure is thick!)  Some of the dialogue works: the Doctor's speech to Merry about how life started in the universe, for example, actually sounds like some thought went into it, and it makes a nice, spiritual-yet-scientific statement about the beauty of life.  Good speech!  A few earlier comments raise a smile as well, like Clara not being able to think of anywhere to go in the TARDIS, and the Doctor saying (after he finally drops a companion off precisely where and when they wanted him to), "Hole in one!"  But most of it's just talking, lurching into speechifying, interspersed with sonic-screwdriver-squeezing.  It's an episode in which tumbleweeds would have made a welcome distraction.

"You know what would liven things up?
Stalking through your childhood."
When the Doctor finally confronts the god/star/giant internet smiley (what were they thinking?), having finally run out of ways to point the sonic screwdriver at stuff, he offers it his memories in the hope of overfeeding it to death.  There's a real moment where you think "Oh no!  He's giving up his identity to save these people!  That's horrible!  What a huge effect that will have on the series!", etc., etc.  But after the god soaks up all that Doctory goodness, guess who's still got all his memories and is completely fine?

Blurgh.  So Matt Smith acts himself to tears against a green screen, lumbering through one of the most overwritten (and frankly, unoriginal) speeches ever to clog up his inbox, and for what?  The whole situation deals in such vague, abstract notions that it just doesn't matter.  Not.  One.  Bit.  It's never explained why the monster's such a threat.  It's never explained why the Doctor's memories (which it "eats" but still somehow leaves in tact) are not enough to destroy it.  And when Clara produces the all-important-leaf, which is apparently charged with the "infinite" energy of all the days her mother might have lived, just because she says so... well, I haven't got a sodding clue how that works, either.  (Nor do I know how she retrieved the leaf at all, since the TARDIS was deliberately refusing her entry earlier.  Hey, great scene, and a lovely tease for whatever's going on with Clara – but hello, editor?)

What's this episode supposed to achieve?  I'm guessing some clarification on what Clara is all about.  Sadly, it offers no help, beyond a garden variety tragic past.  She says "I'm not a bargain basement stand-in for somebody else", but just saying that doesn't magically make it true.  Close your eyes and picture any other Doctor Who companion here, and what's the difference?  As for the Doctor's relationship with Clara, besides creepily stalking his way through her entire childhood, he regards her with as much interest as he'd normally reserve for a mysterious petri dish.  This isn't a friendship, it's a project.  Is that different?  I don't think so (see Amy), but it sure isn't fun to watch.

There's little else to say about an episode that attempts to sing its audience to sleep, other than: it succeeds.

The Interwebs Of Fear

Doctor Who
The Bells Of Saint John
Series Seven, Episode Six

Doctor Who's back!  And we're getting more than just five episodes and a Christmas Special!  Fortunately, I'm not remotely bitter about the sharp decrease in Doctor Who reaching our screens these days.  Nope, not me.

Anyway, kicking off this momentous (as in oh-well-at-least-there's-slightly-more-of-it-this-year) anniversary year is The Bells Of Saint John, which despite being mid-way through a series feels like one of Russell T Davies' series-openers.  It's frothy, likeable enough, not much going on upstairs.

The plot revolves around Wi-Fi, downloads and typing.  It's all very modern, with Sherlock-style graphics and lines like "Did you just hack me?" in between social media namechecks, but it's perhaps a teensy bit over-excited about the internet, apparently hoping for gasps of horror at the mere mention of Wi-Fi, and whoops of glee at a climax that amounts to the bad guys hitting "Undo".

Hey, it's great when Doctor Who can take something everyday and turn it sinister, but it doesn't always work.  For me, no doubt for others, Wi-Fi and the internet are handy, functional but-not-actually-interesting parts of daily life.  The same goes for laptops, typing, downloads and Facebook.  Sometimes, just because you recognise a thing doesn't mean it'll make good drama, and no amount of Murray Gold horn-blaring and on-screen graphics can make typing exciting to watch.

"Hey, the loading bar's gone down!"
There are monsters: mobile Wi-Fi providers called Spoonheads, so named because of their concave revolving skulls.  (Duh!)  They're a mish-mash of stuff we've seen before (robot doppelganger from Wedding Of River Song, spinning heads from The Beast Below, talking spoon-bots from Silence In The Library, weird speech-patterns from Library again), but then that's a problem with the story as a whole  I've heard it before.

An alien gobbling people's minds via a snazzy human envoy is two parts Idiot's Lantern, one Partners In Crime.  (And let's just say Silence In The Library again for good measure.)  Popping between timezones (here the modern day and the 13th Century) is just standard Steven-Moffat-showing-off-for-no-reason.  We've seen London landmarks too many times to count, and when it turns out we're dealing with the same baddie as in the previous episode, well, doesn't that just take the biscuit?  (And now you mention it, Jammie Dodgers and fezzes make yet another appearance.  Must we charactarise Matt Smith's fabulous Doctor by numbers?)  For an episode all about modern innovation, it's a bit light on new stuff.

In between all the hipster references and loading bars, there's very little human angle to what's going on, which no doubt explains the clumsy info-dump at the start.  A random extra tells us that people are clicking a dodgy Wi-Fi provider and their minds are being downloaded.  (We later discover it's all being added to the Great Intelligence, which makes sense until you realise it's increasing some people's intelligence in order to make them compatible.  Huh?)  Something's wrong with your script when you have to invent someone to deliver the information directly to camera.  But if he didn't, would any of this really seem to matter?

No one gets hurt or seems remotely concerned about this stuff – even when they're possessed by the evil Miss Kislet, in a not-too-shabby twist on the bad-guy monologue, they don't know about it afterwards.  There are deaths, but they're all off-screen and we don't feel any of them.  It's all just a bit easy; persuading the nasty people to stop what they're doing, for example, takes little more than a tap of an iPad.  Thrilling ain't the word.  (That goes double for when the action slows down so badly, the Doctor has time to get changed.)

"Release them!" "No!" *presses button* "Okay!"
Okay, let's talk about the good stuff.  One scene, where Wi-Fi is used to divert a plane towards our heroes, is terrifying.  Suddenly you think, are they really going to do planes-as-weapons?  The shock of seeing something like that on TV is worth a hundred Weeping Angels.  The Doctor's method of intercepting it with the TARDIS, meanwhile, is an absolute hoot.

And big surprise, Matt Smith is very good, although with his new Willy Wonka costume and flying motorbike we're certainly leaning more towards whimsy than gravitas.  Hey ho: there's a great gag about bicycles, and the Doctor's "young people" mime is hilarious.  Smith still gets the occasional really good inflection in there, such as a brilliantly delivered "Sorry, what?" when Clara offers to solve a problem he can't, and the inevitable showdown with villainness Celia Imrie.  She's good too, but there's nothing for her to do besides wander round an office looking at people's computer screens.  (Oh well.  Her fate, at the hands of The Great Bored Looking Richard E. Grant, is chillingly memorable.)

At the end of the day, The Bells Of Saint John is really here to introduce the new companion.  So never mind all that whiz-bang techie stuff: it's Meet Clara Oswald, Take #3.  Not the same Clara Oswald we met last time, or the one before (or is it?  No, stop now!  Don't you ever learn?), but in all important aspects it's the same girl.  Setting aside tedious questions of what's going on here, what do we know about her?

She's feisty, flirty, sarcastic.  (So quite a bit like Every Moffat Female, then.)  She doesn't fancy the Doctor!  (Although she makes enough references to that sort of thing to suggest it's on her mind.)  She's really bad with computers, until some plot happens, and then she's really good with computers.  (That's kind of the Random Word Generator approach to character development, but oh well.)  She also, erm, wants to travel?  Which puts her in the same boat as roughly 98% of the Doctor's companions.  What else?

Clara Who.
From the makers of River Who.
Uh. Oh.
Jenna Louise-Coleman's very pretty, and she delivers all the dialogue with the right amount of flirt and confidence, but there isn't really anything there besides a standard Moffat Mystery and some sexy windowdressing.  And all timey-wimey aside, this is the third time we've met her, and it's an episode about her.  Shouldn't we come away from this with more than a vague sketch of who she is?  Russell T Davies used to cram gobs of this stuff into a couple of minutes.  Rushed, yes, but at least he made the effort, and we knew who we were dealing with.

Like Amy, another companion we never really got to know despite reams of plotty muchness, the Doctor scoops Clara up because he can sense this mystery around her.  So we've had that already.  With Amy, however, there also came a sense of obligation from affecting her life in terrible ways; a kinship from meeting her right after he regenerated; and she had an equally understandable fascination with him in both cases.  That bit helps.  It's certainly "different" having a companion who can take or leave the Doctor, which seems to be Clara's "thing" if there is one, but why take him, then?

There are whiffs of more going on here, particularly the Doctor's urge to protect her.  The bit where he parks outside her house and refuses to budge is an obvious highlight, and hopefully a sign of genuine friendship to come.  But so far, he's doing all this because he wants to find out what happens next.  On that score, I've simply been disappointed too often to share his curiosity.  All that nonsense with River, and Amy, and Rory's mysterious many-deaths-for-no-reason?  Sorry, but fool me once...