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Category Archives: New Series reviews and rankings

My childhood version of the show reviewed and analysed. This’ll mainly be Twelfth Doctor, but expect more soon.

Twice Upon a Time review

What an exciting time to be a Whovian. We have a new showrunner and a female Doctor on the way, but before we get there, we had the final story of the highly interesting Peter Capaldi era, and by an extension Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner. By “interesting” I mean that no matter what you think of this past era, whether you think it’s a new Golden Age or a complete mess (I’ve seen strong arguments for both sides), it has been fascinating to watch. It has all come to an end with the incredibly low key adventure Twice Upon a Time. This story had a lot riding on it- it had to write off the Twelfth Doctor, give the First Doctor a good reason to regenerate, follow through on one of the absolute best Doctor Who stories and a very strong series and do all that whilst being cohesive. Did it do that? Mostly.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room here- this was not the First Doctor. Whilst I’m not denying that David Bradley did a great job recreating William Hartnell’s tics and mannerisms, Steven Moffat’s writing just really let the side down. I understand what he was trying to do- he was using the First Doctor as a way to critique 60’s attitudes and mentality and show how far the show has come. The issue is that it goes against the First Doctor’s character. Yes, in Season 1 he was incredibly condescending, rude and abrasive to everyone. But this is supposed to be the Tenth Planet First Doctor in Season 4, who is a lot more like his future selves and accepting of everyone. Any sexist or discriminatory remarks or actions were a product of the time the stories were made, not the character himself. The First Doctor has been established as being the same as the others in mentality, as all the references to his childhood on Gallifrey refer to the idea that Time Lords have no set gender. So why One would be condescending towards women?

Another issue is that Moffat’s intentions are good, but not necessary because the show has done a fantastic job of moving away from the 60’s mentality. Having a female Doctor is a strong enough statement to show that the show has come far from the idea that the female companion was second tier to the masculine Doctor and companions (even then, Barbara is an excellent character who is a very strong female companion in the 60’s). We’ve had strong, diverse characters and the show has made great leaps in progress. Moffat really didn’t need to emphasise the differences between the 60’s and now because people know. Fans know that Toberman from Tomb of the Cybermen is not equatable to Martha, Mickey and Bill and that the modern era’s strong female characters are evidence of the show changing.

So, other than that massive issue, how was the episode? Pretty decent.

Whilst I would have loved the Twelfth Doctor to regenerate in The Doctor Falls, I was pretty happy with this episode. The best aspect of it is how it fixed one of my biggest problems with the Capaldi era and actually brought together all three seasons of his era together. His era had felt disjointed and unconnected, with no real continuity between them. This is probably due to Moffat completely changing Twelve’s behaviour and story arcs after Series 8 flopped with many people. After that you had Series 9, seen as an improvement by some but more of the same for others. Following this there was Series 10 which had a completely different tone and style again. In contrast to the other New Series Doctors, Capaldi’s run hasn’t been the most connected or well thought out.

So when everything got connected here, I was happy. Rusty the Dalek was a great callback, the stupid stupid memory wipe was erased and Clara returned briefly, which despite everything I’ve said about her I really liked. It was a great way to connect the era and I liked how Bill and Nardole were incorporated as well, allowing Twelve to say goodbye to all his companions. I would have liked to see Missy as well so that the Doctor would know she ultimately died fighting for him but that’s a minor gripe. Capaldi’s era has been retroactively improved by the inclusion of Clara in this story and the removal of one of the worst aspects of Hell Bent. I might actually like it now. Emphasis on “might”.

The story itself was very interesting and it had great ideas. The Testimony are a great idea which I would like to see again, and it’s great that they weren’t a villain and the situation were a misunderstanding. Although I am desperate for truly evil and memorable villains in the show again. The inclusion of the General was great, as he added some gravitas to the story and connected the plot to the wider Whoniverse. The Christmas Truce was a great touch with real meaning and weight to it, although I saw it coming. There isn’t too much to the plot, as there isn’t really one, but I can forgive it as it was more of a character piece. But again, I am so desperate for in depth stories and monsters again. It’s also great how this story brought Bill back without ruining her departure in the finale, which I thought was excellent.

Despite having many issues with the First Doctor, I did like some aspects of his interactions with the Twelfth Doctor. I loved how he learnt about change and how seeing his future set him on the path to regenerate, and the opening scene with The Tenth Planet was amazing. The Twelfth Doctor was utter gold, and it’s one of his best portrayals. The Doctor Falls was all about the Doctor earning his rest after so many years of fighting, whilst Twice Upon a Time is about him deciding he doesn’t need it and that the universe would be worse off without him. To top it all off, we get an amazing final speech and one final, brilliant performance from Peter Capaldi. Even in his worst scripts, he has shone.

So in conclusion, pretty decent. This wouldn’t make my Top 10 Capaldi stories or my Top 5 Christmas Specials but it was pretty enjoyable on the whole. Can’t wait for the next series.

That’s it.

Wait, there was something else?

Oh yeah, Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.

I’ll be absolutely honest here and say that this is the quickest I have accepted a new Doctor. Excluding David Tennant, who was my first, it took me roughly around Vampires of Venice to truly “get” Matt Smith’s Doctor (now my favourite) and I don’t know when I accepted Peter Capaldi. It certainly took a while, but by The Zygon Inversion I truly got into his incarnation and until Series 10 before I consistently enjoyed him. With Jodie Whittaker, all it took for me to see her as the Doctor was her grin and proclaiming “Oh brilliant”, before being immediately thrown out of an exploding TARDIS in the most Doctorly sequence imaginable. I’m sold already.

Bring on Series 11.

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My 10 favourite Twelfth Doctor stories

To quote Tom Baker- “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.” We have one more Peter Capaldi story to go so what better time than to look back at the best of his era. It’s been a bumpy ride but the good ultimately outweighed the bad. so let’s not waste any time and dive straight in-

10. Listen

A very strong early Series 8 script, Listen is an incredibly atmospheric and clever standalone that is unlike any other story in the show’s history. The sequences in the children’s home and at the end of the universe are very well written and full of tension and the dialogue is strong throughout. I love the simplicity of the storytelling and how real tension and scares were crafted out of barely anything at all. The final scene where the Doctor’s childhood was revealed could have been terrible, but I think it added to the mythology of the show. I wonder if we’ll get a reference this Christmas.

The great thing about this episode is how everything is ambiguous. The whole concept of fear and whether monsters are real or a figment of people’s imagination is a fascinating concept and one I think the episode handles very well. Watching this was one of the first times I truly saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and I love stories where the Doctor is vulnerable or unsure of himself. The only story I can compare this to is The Edge of Destruction, another story with no villain and that focuses entirely on character relationships and atmosphere.

9. The Eaters of Light

One of several Series 10 stories that will pop up on this list, I really love this story. Whilst monster-of-the-week plots tend to fall flat, I found this one to be strong mainly because of the themes presented throughout, such as the theme of colonisation and also about the Doctor’s responsibilities. There are many similarities to Rona Munroe’s previous story Survival, as once again there are a group of youngsters thrown into a world they don’t understand and they have to fend for themselves. I just love stories which have more under the surface.

Having this be the story before the finale really helped in my opinion, as like Boom Town it was linked to the finale through common themes and character exploration. There’s the idea of time dilation, the Doctor and Bill being seperated and the Doctor’s willingness for sacrifice. The monster was great, the TARDIS team were great, especially Nardole, and I adore the pseudo-historical scripts in the show most of the time so this one was right up my alley. The mystical elements of the plot were also really well handled and added to the story rather than detracted.

8. Mummy on the Orient Express

One of the stronger stories from Capaldi’s first year, this story was a breath of fresh air in 2014 and is still entertaining now. On top of being a fun and well paced murder mystery with a Doctor Who vibe, this story is vital in fixing the Doctor and Clara’s relationship after the ending of Kill the Moon (the only good bit about Kill the Moon may I add) and does it very well. One of the best things about this episode was the ending, where the Doctor questions his own morals and comes to term with how Clara sees him. The character growth comes naturally from the story as opposed to being in the foreground, a common problem with this era.

The villains in this were great, with the Foretold being a very memorable monster, and I love the Doctor going solo in this adventure and solving the mystery on his own. Perkins is a really watchable character and I have a hunch that Steven Moffat considered bringing him back as the second companion of Series 10 before settling on Nardole. I adore the steampunk setting and the macabre tone throughout, with the delightfully sadistic Gus being my favourite Series 8 villain. Overall a solid slice of Doctor Who that will be remembered as a highlight of Series 8.

7. Flatline

Considering this story focuses on Clara, I’m amazed I like this story as much as I do. It’s probably due to the incredibly tight script and the fascinating monsters combined with a simple but engaging plot. There are so many brilliant ideas here, such as the shrinking TARDIS, two dimensional beings, the companion becoming the Doctor and at the same time the Doctor learning how others see him through Clara. The best moment comes at the end, when the Doctor tells Clara that she was an “outstanding Doctor. Goodness had nothing to do with it”.

The Boneless are in my opinion the best original villain from the Capaldi era and I would like to see them return some day. This is easily my favourite Clara story, and whilst she’s my least favourite New Series companion I feel this story captured her character the best out of any story in her time as a companion. The whole episode just has a very original and fun vibe to it and it’s a blast every time I watch it. The sequence where the Doctor escapes from the train using his hand is simultaneously hilarious, tense and awesome.

6. Extremis

Despite the conclusion to this three parter being disappointing, Extremis still holds up as an incredibly dark and clever story. As a set up it’s perfect, with The Monks feeling like a true threat and the Doctor’s blindness adding a lot to the stakes in the story. The main plot about the Veritas is a strong enough mystery but it’s the final twist that gives a story a sense of scale and it’s executed perfectly, with the absurd plot (the Pope visiting the Doctor in person, the TARDIS not translating Italian and the gateways around the world) slotting together to make an immensely satisfying whole.

The subplot with Missy and the final act of heroism from the virtual Doctor also sets up the arc for the rest of the series. Nardole is a highlight here, adding humour to the dark story and this was the start of him progressing from an entertaining side character to an awesome companion. This is a very topical story for 2017, as it questions how people can survive in a world full of darkness and it raises questions about what’s real and what’s not. Can a post-Trump and Brexit world still have positives? This story confirms that as long as people do heroic things, it doesn’t matter what the world is like. Extremis is extremely poignant and very meta.

5. The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar

This story is proof that when Steven Moffat hits, he hits hard. The highlights of this two parter are Missy and the interactions between the Doctor and Davros, with the scenes between them being some of the best of the Capaldi era. Much like the Series 10 finale later on, this story manages to feel small scale and epic at the same time. It was great seeing Skaro again and even better than that was seeing Davros again, with this being one of his finest stories. Some may find the resolution unsatisfying and that all of his character development was erased, but the early scenes still have weight to them when you realise that Davros meant every word he said, even if he hadn’t truly turned good.

Missy’s inclusion helps give the sombre second half humour and she is absolutely hilarious throughout, making the scene where she makes the Doctor almost kills Clara inside the Dalek a hint towards her darker side. She’s my favourite Master and this story confirmed it and I desperately wanted her as a full time companion. I even enjoyed Clara in this story and seeing the other Daleks from the show’s past was brilliant. The whole story is about trust, redemption and regret, and it’s simply wonderful. Whilst Series 9 may have ended poorly, it began with a bang.

4. Oxygen

Otherwise known as “what Kill the Moon should have been”. Oxygen is great because it isn’t just a base under siege/horror story, as good as those aspects of it are, but because it makes a point and serves as a clever satire. There’s no real villain here as the suits are programmed to obey the unseen company controlling them and I appreciate the return to hard sci-fi. Unlike Kill the Moon, the story never forgets that it’s Doctor Who and keeps the satire to a subtext, focusing on the brilliant dynamics between the Doctor, Bill and Nardole and the intense atmosphere.

Having recently watched the Alien movies, rewatching this story allowed me to see the influences those movies had on Oxygen, with the idea of corrupt corporations and human lives being sacrificed for the sake of profit. I always love it when the show tackles interesting ideas and difficult subject matter without losing the core of what makes the show good, which is entertaining sci fi. The story is perfectly paced and features amazing direction and cinematography, with the scene of Bill losing oxygen one of Series 10’s best. A borderline perfect story made even better by its relevance to the arc.

3. Heaven Sent

This is one story. One. Putting aside what actually happened afterwards, let’s just focus on this amazing episode featuring probably the best performance by any Doctor in any story. This looked like it was doomed to failure- the Doctor on his own talking for 55 minutes, with not much plot or action. Despite this, Peter Capaldi completely sells the Doctor’s grief and determination and it’s this episode that solidifies him as probably the best actor to take the part. The whole episode serves as a magnificent analysis of the Doctor’s mind and how he works.

The music is incredible, the direction is some of the show’s best and the whole story is a breathtaking experience. It’s the kind of episode I strive to make one day. It’s not conventional Who at all, but it’s still brilliant and serves as a fantastic metaphor for grief and letting go. The final ten minutes with the billions of Doctors punching through the wall for 4.5 billion years is a scene that will go down in Doctor Who history, with one of the lowest points of the Doctor’s life suddenly turning into the most triumphant. Easily the best episode of Series 9, but my favourite is…

2. The Zygon Invasion/Inversion

This is much more conventional Who than Heaven Sent, but that doesn’t make it worse. Taking the weakest aspect of the 50th and making a two parter out of it was extremely well played on Moffat’s part and makes the 50th even better than it already is. Like the best Jon Pertwee stories, what this story does best is use the current world climate to create a very modern and relevant story. Osgood makes a much better companion than Clara ever did and the story is full of tiny moments that help flesh out the conflict such as the Zygon who kills himself as he wants peace and the implication that these kind of conflicts never achieve anything.

The intense subject matter and themes doesn’t stop it from being highly entertaining, with a great villain in Bonnie and UNIT being plain awesome. This hearkens back to the best of the Jon Pertwee era and as a massive fan of that era this story was obviously going to appeal to me. The gritty direction and sombre mood throughout makes this an immersive experience that’s a hard watch but one that’s very rewarding. Whilst the speech in The Zygon Inversion may overshadow the rest of the story, there’s enough to like in both parts to make this a modern classic.

  1. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls

I’ve gushed about this enough, but simply put this is now in my Top 10 stories of all time. Considering it had to write out two companions and featured two Masters, multiple versions of Cybermen and the Doctor’s impending regeneration, I would have been happy if this was merely good. The fact that it’s brilliant in every way is one of Moffat’s finest achievements, with a story which encapsulates who both the Doctor and the Master are. Everything about this story, from the acting to the music and the direction is pitch perfect.

The Cybermen get their best showing in New Who with their origins being masterfully handled and the sheer glee of seeing two Masters on screen is enough to make any fanboy happy. The story is about triumph and who the Doctor really is and his decision to stand and fight the Cybermen makes this a brilliant bookend to his good man arc in Series 8. The themes of the series and the era as a whole are expanded upon and made better by this story. It’s epic and intimate, incredibly dark but also incredibly optimistic and is perfect in every sense of the word.

My ranking of the Doctor Who Christmas specials

Well, it’s that time of year again. Christmas is only a week away, and we’re in for a massive Doctor Who episode this year. The Twelfth Doctor and the First Doctor along with Bill and of course, the first appearance of the Thirteenth Doctor. So let’s look back on the Doctor’s previous festive specials-

12. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

To quote the Cybermen from World Enough and Time- “Pain…pain…pain.” Matt Smith may be my favourite Doctor but he did have his fair share of bad or disappointing stories (although I seriously regret my list of bad Matt Smith stories I did back in 2013. How did Cold War, The Girl Who Waited, A Town Called Mercy and A Christmas Carol end up there but Curse of the Black Spot or Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS didn’t? Let’s scrap that entire list except for this story, Hide and the Ganger story) This is easily the worst Matt Smith story, and between this and In the Forest of the Night Doctor Who really needs to avoid tackling trees. It’s just extremely dull and childish with no real plot and it just meanders around doing nothing. I do like Steven Moffat’s fairy tale approach to the show but this was going way too far. I mean “mothership”, seriously? Most stories I dislike now I enjoyed when I was younger, but I didn’t like this one in 2011 and I don’t like it now. Avoid.

11. Last Christmas

This is just incredibly disappointing. A story involving layers of dreams sounds like something Steven Moffat can do easily, and Futurama did a similar concept brilliantly in The Sting (my favourite Futurama episode). The problem with this story is that once again, there’s no real plot or anything of consequence. Having a more subdued story and a story dealing with grief and the idea of dreams has so much potential, but it just fizzled out completely. Was having about five layers of dream really necessary? This isn’t like Extremis where the simulation reveal happens towards the end and changes the viewer’s perspective on the story, this is just twist after twist after twist from the beginning. It’s confusing and the Dream Crabs are a very weak villain and cannot sustain the plot. Add on top of that a completely wasted base under siege plot and confused tonal shifts and we have a very underwhelming story which is ultimately pointless due to Clara staying for Series 9, making her “ending” in this story mean nothing.

10. The Runaway Bride

Now this is more like it. The low placement of this story doesn’t mean this story is bad, it’s just not as good as the other specials. This is a much better story in hindsight, as whilst Donna is annoying in this story, the fact that she became the best New Series companion and the events of the amazing Turn Left pivot around this story make it an important and much better story than it was at first. I just love the absurdity of this story and whilst it has many problems such as really jarring tonal shifts and a nonsensical plot, it’s so entertaining and watchable that the flaws just fly by. A flaw that cannot be ignored however is the Racnoss. She looks cool and has a brilliant backstory but does nothing but yell and is barely in the episode. What a waste of a cool monster and I hope the species returns some day. There’s also a lot of recycling from the Christmas Invasion but like I said, when a story is entertaining I don’t mind problems as much as I would with a boring story. Flawed but fun.

9. The Next Doctor

Dumb? Yes. Wasted premise? Yes. Do I care? Not really. Once again we have a story that could be better but could be worse. There’s a lot to like about this story such as a great villain, Cybermen storming around Victorian London and a fun dynamic between the Tenth Doctor and who he believes to be a future incarnation. I will agree that the core premise is wasted (and done better in the Big Finish story The One Doctor) but the Cyberman plot is incredibly fun and engaging and it’s just a fun time. Keeping in mind that the previous stories were the incredibly dark Midnight, Turn Left and Journey’s End, it’s good to have an old fashioned adventure where the Doctor gets a victory and saves the day. As the start of David Tennant’s final run of episodes, it’s a good slice of psedo-historical adventure that never fails to entertain me.

8. The Husbands of River Song

Another story that’s better in hindsight- who would have thought a relatively minor character from this story would end up as a companion in the following series? I’ve always liked River Song and it was great to see her story end and end well (I’m looking at you Clara). This story is hilarious, from the scene above where the Doctor gets to pretend he’s a companion as well as many of River’s quips. The story is simple but it works, and I really enjoy King Hydroflax as a villain. After a series of disappointing original villains, to have one so entertaining to watch was great. The story’s imaginative, fast paced and gets surprisingly poignant at the end. It’s a very jarring shift from slapstick comedy to an emotional goodbye, but River and the Doctor’s final scene together was the first time since The Day of the Doctor where I was completely invested in a story. It makes other stories better, sets the stage for Series 10 and also provides a fun time. What’s not to like?

7. The Return of Doctor Mysterio

After a whole year off air, Doctor Who returned with a really fun and lighthearted adventure that brilliantly homages superheroes as well as doing a great job of continuing the Twelfth Doctor’s arc. This is a very entertaining story. There’s humour, heart and some fantastic character moments as well as intriguing villains. Nardole is awesome, the Doctor is having so much fun and it’s impossible not to be swept up in the adventure. I’ve heard people complain that this is too silly, and to them I say watch The Romans or The Unicorn and the Wasp then tell me this is too silly. I cannot stress how much fun this story was and it was great seeing the Twelfth Doctor travel with someone who wasn’t Clara. My favourite aspect of the episode is how it constantly makes fun of itself and is perfectly aware it’s a silly superhero romp. As an appetiser before Series 10, I can safely say this episode was a return to form for the series and the series that followed was even better.

6. Voyage of the Damned

This is a massive guilty pleasure for me. It’s one of my fondest memories of the Tennant era and I distinctly remember watching this on Christmas Day 2007 at my grandparent’s house being completely memerised throughout and then excitedly reciting the plot to my mum afterwards. Putting nostalgia aside, this episode is pretty dumb, but it’s so entertainingly dumb I can’t help but love it. I mean, this is a story where the Doctor is on a space version of the Titanic only for it to hijacked by a cyborg and his army of robotic angels. If that isn’t Doctor Who, I don’t know what is. It has flaws, don’t get me wrong, and on a scripting level it’s a pretty poor story, but if all bad scripts were this entertaining we wouldn’t have a situation where Kill the Moon exists. The direction is fantastic, the episode is full of awesome moments and the scene where the Doctor flies the Titanic away from Buckingham Palace and being thanked by an obvious Queen impersonator is perhaps the stupidest awesome scene in the show’s history. I love this one.

5. The Time of the Doctor

Yes, this story is a mess. But considering the circumstances Moffat was in having to write Matt Smith’s final story as well as writing the 50th anniversary, it’s a miracle this story wasn’t a total disaster. Whilst a lot of the story could have been improved, such as making the villains seem like actual threats, fixing some plot holes and establishing a better motivation for the Siege of Trenzalore, it works so well on a character level. The Eleventh Doctor’s arc is about running, and here he settles down and defends a small town for 900 years. It’s perfect and as a farewell to my favourite Doctor I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. I loved the way the cracks and the Silence were reintroduced and whilst this story is no War Games or Caves of Androzani, we once again have to consider the immense pressure Moffat was under whilst writing this, as Matt Smith was originally planned to stay on for Series 8. This story could have failed so hard, and on a plot level it does to an extent, but as a character piece it’s phenomenal.

4. The End of Time

An epic story that I remember fondly, The End of Time gave David Tennant a brilliant send off that while flawed succeeded in telling a fantastic story. Whilst the Master can get too over the top in this story, he is a great villain and Rassilon’s presence gives the story weight and adds to the mythos of the show. Practically everything about this story works, from the Doctor and Wilf’s dynamic to the amazing action and story that was overblown I agree, but also had time to have incredibly quiet moments and gave time to give every Russel T Davies character goodbye. I could watch the scene where Rassilon, the Doctor and the Master face off all day- it’s a stunningly good scene. It has flaws- I’m not a fan of the mysterious woman who may or may not be the Doctor’s mother, the Doctor’s refusal to regenerate, whilst justified given Time of the Doctor, was handled poorly and there’s massive leaps in logic. Despite this, I still find this story immensely satisfying.

3. The Christmas Invasion

From Tennant’s last story to his first. This is a very enjoyable and well told story that introduces the world to the Tenth Doctor perfectly. Taking the Doctor out of the action was genius, as it put other characters such as Rose, Mickey, Jackie and Harriet Jones (yes we know who she is) in the forefront whilst building anticipation for the Doctor’s grand entrance. There’s a very strong alien menace in the Sycorax, who are surprisingly fleshed out and given depth for a one story villain. I love how this story builds- there’s the crisis over the new Doctor, then the robot Santas attack, then the Sycorax arrive and enslave the world. By the time the characters are captured on the Sycorax ship, you are waiting for the Doctor to wake up and save the day, and his entrance is so satisfying. He defeats the Sycorax and after Harriet Jones destroys the spaceship, the first signs of the Time Lord Victorious emerges and he sets up her defeat in office, leading to the Master being able to take over. It’s great how this story set the stage for the entire Tennant era.

2. The Snowmen

Not the best story ever but one of the most entertaining ever. Everything that should be in a Doctor Who episode is present here and this is without a doubt the best version of Clara. Why couldn’t this one travel with the Doctor? The Great Intelligence makes a welcome return, Matt Smith is at his best and the Paternoster Gang are brilliant. Spin off! The script is incredibly well put together with the story focusing on the Doctor recovering from the loss of the Ponds and Clara’s inquisitive nature and the compelling mystery about the snowmen bringing him back to saving the day. It’s endlessly rewatchable and hugely quotable with every character standing out. There are problems- the solution is a bit too convenient and the snowmen themselves don’t do much- but the positives far outweigh the negatives in my opinion and the result is a story that had me completely hooked on first viewing. As a scene setter for Series 7 Part 2 it’s flawless and whilst the show would experience a slight dip in quality when Clara joined full time, this story still holds up.

  1. A Christmas Carol

OK, how did I dislike this in 2010? Why did I put this on my worst Matt Smith stories? One of the stories I’ve changed my mind on the most, this has gone from a boring talky episode to the best Christmas special ever and one of my favourite stories in general. It’s a perfect retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and retells it with a brilliant Doctor Who twist. This is just evidence that Steven Moffat’s strengths as a writer is when he writes subtlety- the universe isn’t at risk and there isn’t really a villain in this episode, just a man who can be changed by the Doctor. Sardick is a fantastic character and one of the best written Moffat characters and the time travel in this story is just genius. Having Sardick be his own Ghost of Christmas Future is one of my favourite reveals in the show and the whole story just oozes originality, from the unique steampunk designs to the sky sharks and the idea of people as currency. There’s so many ideas thrown in here but none of them feel underused and they all service the story magnificently. A true masterpiece and one I rewatch every Christmas.

So, how will Twice Upon a Time hold up? Let’s hope it’s near the top of the list and not at the bottom, as I’d hate Peter Capaldi’s era to end on a whimper when The Doctor Falls was so good. We’ll find out in a week.

Every New Who series ranked- Whocember!

It’s the start of Whocember! This month I’ll be going through some Doctor Who posts, including a ranking of the Christmas specials, my favourite Twelfth Doctor stories, a review of Twice Upon a Time and perhaps some other stuff. There’ll be a brief Star Wars interlude as I review The Last Jedi but I shall mostly be focusing on Doctor Who, and every week starting from today we’ll have a Doctor Who post, starting today and ending with New Year’s Day with my Twice Upon a Time review.

As one era ends, another begins and what better time than to look back on all the previous runs of New Who (I would also do Classic Who but we would be here forever otherwise. Although I have just thought another post for Whocember…). I love all the seasons of New Who but there are some that are better than others and some I enjoyed more. Let’s start…

10. Series 7

This series has many strong episodes, such as The Rings of Akhaten, A Town Called Mercy, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Name of the Doctor, as well as many pretty good ones such as The Power of Three, The Angels Take Manhatten, Cold War and The Crimson Horror. If we include the specials, there’s a very strong Christmas episode, the awesome 50th anniversary and a pretty decent end to Matt Smith’s Doctor. The issues lie with the inconsistent nature of the series, lack of truly classic episodes, some pretty poor episodes such as Hide and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, a weak companion in Clara as well as rushed endings, hardly any good villains and no two parters. I still like the series overall though, and Matt Smith remains my favourite Doctor.

9. Series 9

I know, it’s bizarre that I complain about no two parters in Series 7 and then have the series full of two parters next. Whilst many episodes such as the opening Dalek story, the Zygon story and especially Heaven Sent were strong, I have many issues with this series. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor had a complete 180 character turn and turned into an older, less fun Matt Smith and Clara just annoyed me. Quite why she was in this series when she essentially did nothing for most of the stories and then died before coming back to life in the worst way possible completely baffles me. The stories were mostly fine but once again had very few strong villains and Hell Bent was just… bad. Did Steven Moffat think that was an adequate ending to a companion who should have already left one series ago? The finale is the reason why this is lower on the list, as a better final episode could have propelled this series much higher.

8. Series 2

There are three absolute gems in this series- School Reunion, The Girl in the Fireplace and The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. The problems however are similar to Series 9’s, with an inconsistent Doctor, a companion who got gradually more annoying as time went on and some very poor stories in New Earth, Love & Monsters and Fear Her. This is easily the most inconsistent Russel T Davies series and there are flaws with the arc such as the implied romance between Ten and Rose (which should have never been allowed to happen). That said, episodes like Tooth and Claw remain nostalgic classics to me and the series is very fun on the whole. The finale isn’t the best but it wrapped up the series well and how can a Dalek/Cyberman war not be cool?

7. Series 8

Ignoring the awful Kill the Moon and In the Forest of the Night (tied with Hell Bent and Love and Monsters as the worse New Series story), this series is mostly very good. It’s Clara’s best series and there are some fantastic episodes such as Listen, Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline and the finale. I also have a soft spot for the hilarious Robot of Sherwood. My main problem with the series is how unlikeable and uncharismatic Twelve is (The Sixth Doctor was equally unlikeable but was much more fun to watch) and how the series got dragged down by an inferior version of the Amy/Rory relationship. The positives far outweigh the negatives though, as my favourite Master owns the final two episodes. It’s just not a series I rewatch as much as the others, hence its placement.

6. Series 6

I will forever defend this series. It’s not perfect (the Flesh two parter and Curse of the Black Spot are noticeably bland) but the highs of this series are incredible. My all time favourite story, The God Complex, is in this series. So much of Matt Smith’s run is made better by that story- it’s like a reverse Hell Bent. Other gems include The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The Doctor’s Wife and A Good Man Goes to War (I would also like to issue an apology to The Girl Who Waited. It’s not my favourite story ever but it’s decent and it’s not the worst story ever, no matter what my ten year old self says). The arc is compelling, the regulars are fantastic and whilst The Wedding of River Song is mediocre, it still wraps things up moderately well. Not perfect, but a series I love to rewatch.

5. Series 1

Apology number two- The Parting of the Ways. Quite why I hated this story baffles me. It’s fantastic! The series as a whole was a very, very strong start to the new show. The Ninth Doctor isn’t my favourite Doctor but his arc over thirteen episodes was very well done and immensely satisfying. My favourites of this series are Dalek, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Father’s Day. Rose was very likeable in this series and serves as a great audience surrogate. In terms of flaws, I still find the story arc lazy, the resolution of Parting of the Ways to be terrible and I find the Slitheen two parter quite weak, but this is a very impressive run of episodes on the whole and it was wrapped up very well indeed. Underrated gems include The Unquiet Dead and Boom Town. The series has dated quite a bit but the writing still holds up and it’s a joy to rewatch.

4. Series 3

What a strong series this is. After an inconsistent last series, Russel T Davies knocked it out of the park with this series. The arc is one of the best in New Who, with every episode being tied into the finale in a very clever and well though out manner. The standouts of this series were easily Human Nature/The Family of Blood (one of my favourite stories ever) and the magnificent Gridlock. Blink, Utopia, the finale, 42… so many fantastic episodes were in this series and Martha is one of my favourite New Who companions, with a great arc and character development. The only wobble this series had was the pretty poor Dalek two parter, but it’s not horrible and it’s still entertaining, not to mention it sets up Series 4. I honestly don’t think this series had any major stumbles the way Series 7, 9, 2 and 8 had and I need to move on before I gush too much about Gridlock and the finale.

3. Series 4

Easily the best David Tennant series. A brilliant run of episodes with so many knockout episodes- The Fires of Pompeii, Planet of the Ood, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, Midnight and Turn Left constitute half the series and they are all amazing. The other half is very strong, with the weakest being the pretty fun and inoffensive The Doctor’s Daughter. I will admit that Journey’s End is quite melodramatic and overindulgent but I can’t hate a story that brings together Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood together. I haven’t even mentioned Donna, the best New Series companion, who manages to ground the Doctor in a way very few companions do. I adore this series, but there’s two more I love even more.

2. Series 10

Recency bias? Nah, this series is incredible. After years of Clara we finally had a fun, well developed companion again in Bill and we were lucky enough to have also have Nardole, the most unexpectedly awesome character to ever come out of Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi was finally given a good balance of grouchiness and fun that had been missing previously and the Twelfth Doctor came alive in many great stories. Oxygen and Extremis are absolute classics and the finale got a place in my top ten favourite stories ever. The fun energy and sense of renewal that the series had missed returned and it was glorious. We got two Masters, Mondasian Cybermen, Ice Warriors and even the First Doctor. The only stumbling block the series had (and the only reason why this is number two) was the disappointing and messy ending to the Monk trilogy. Other than that, this series was superb, with Steven Moffat going out on a high.

  1. Series 5

It only seems natural that my favourite Doctor should be in my favourite series. Series 5 is perfectly done in practically every way. When a series’s weakest story is the alright Victory of the Daleks, then it’s a very strong series indeed. The arc that was built up in this series and the relationships the characters had were unparalleled in the show before and since. The finale is spectacular and makes everything so much better on rewatch. There’s the genius Amy’s Choice, the brilliant and underrated Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, the awesome Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone and the phenomenal Vincent and the Doctor, which is my second favourite New Series story, with the other episodes being very strong. Steven Moffat may have had his wobbles, but his first series remains an outstanding run of episodes that I still love to this day.

Can Series 11 beat Series 5? Will Twice Upon a Time be a strong send off to the Moffat era? Will I ever issue more apologies to episodes? Who knows? What I do know is that we have had five fantastic seasons, three very good seasons and two good seasons of Doctor Who since 2005 and I expect we’ll get many more to come.

The Doctor Falls: One of my new favourite stories ever

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I have loved Series 10 of Doctor Who but as always, the quality of the series would always depend on the strength on how it was wrapped up in the finale. Just look at last series, where a mostly strong run of episodes was let down by the incredibly disappointing and lacklustre Hell Bent, making the entire series feel pointless in hindsight. Here however, we have the exact opposite happen, as Steven Moffat has learnt from his mistakes in the past and created a truly brilliant finale that has taken a place in my favourite stories list.

Let’s talk set up first because obviously this is a two parter. World Enough and Time (no idea what that title means but oh well) was a great set up with pitch perfect pacing and an incredibly macabre tone throughout. As a huge Cyberman fan I loved seeing the New Series utilise the body horror aspect, with the emotional inhibitors not preventing the pain of conversion, merely preventing it. The time dilation also added a huge amount of tension to the episode, as every second the Doctor, Nardole and Missy spent at the top of the ship meant the closer Bill got to full conversion, which of course eventually happened. Like most part ones, it was mainly set up for The Doctor Falls, but it was fantastic nonetheless. Missy was brilliant as always (I love her sonic umbrella) and seeing John Simm return was glorious. I figured out that Razor was the Master by about his second scene, but that didn’t stop the reveal being executed perfectly. If the BBC hadn’t let the news be leaked beforehand, then I reckon the Master’s reveal would go down as one of the finest twists in the show.

Part two was where the main meat of the story comes into play, as the Masters are forced to work with the Doctor due to the Cybermen turning on them. It was a simple story and what I loved about it was that the universe wasn’t under threat: it was just one floor of a spaceship. This didn’t stop the story from feeling truly epic in scope however. This story really capitalises on who the Doctor really is, as his phenomenal speech to the Masters shows. He doesn’t travel the universe to win or to fight villains- he travels the universe and helps people because it’s right. I see this speech as Peter Capaldi’s defining moment, and John Simm’s reaction is hilarious.

The best finales in New Who- The Big Bang, Last of the Time Lords, Death in Heaven and this- not only tell a great story but make the entire series connect together thematically and making every story feel like part of a bigger picture. The Doctor Falls is no exception, as the themes of the series are explored in full. The idea of the value of individual lives from Oxygen is brought back, the idea of time dilation and the Doctor’s willingness to throw his life away from others from The Eaters of Light are expanded upon and the Monk trilogy is linked with Bill’s resistance to Cyber conversion. There’s also been Missy’s redemption arc which started in Extremis and of course the resolution to Bill’s story from The Pilot. This story just made re watching Series 10 so much better.

I’ll admit I’ve never enjoyed the Twelfth Doctor as much as the Tenth or Eleventh Doctors, despite still being great (mainly due to Clara hogging up two thirds of his era) even though Series 10 has made me love him more and more thanks to companions who weren’t irritating, but for this two parter, Peter Capaldi was quite possibly the best Doctor ever. Seriously, I wish this would have been the regeneration story, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the Christmas Special is a worthy send off for the Twelfth Doctor. I’m curious as to why he refuses to regenerate, but we’ll have to wait till Christmas. I’m so happy the cause of regeneration for him was a Cyberman, as I’ve wanted them to actually kill a Doctor. His arc in this episode is superb as he will do whatever it takes to defeat the Cybermen, even if it means his death. I cannot wait to see how this incarnation leaves. I have a feeling the Christmas special will be standalone but linked to this story in the same way Waters of Mars and Day of the Doctor were linked to the regeneration stories of Ten and Eleven.

Another one of the best aspects of the story was how Missy’s arc was handled. She’s been my favourite Master since Death in Heaven (although Roger Delgado will always be the best Master) and she got a superb send off. I love how the arc of the series has evolved from what’s in the vault to the question of whether Missy will truly change. Her scenes in Lie of the Land were the highlight of that episode and she’s a highlight here, with her final scene of self sacrifice and redemption being masterful (pun totally intended). I love how in Series 8 she tried to turn the Doctor onto her side, whilst throughout this series the Doctor is trying to turn her onto his side. It just show that even between all the fighting, they ultimately care for each other deeply. I adore the conversation the Doctor has with Bill in World Enough and Time about how he and the Master were friends, as it shows Steven Moffat understands the incredibly deep relationship the two characters have. Her arc this series was beautiful and wonderfully done, as she stands with the Doctor at the end and kills her previous self before dying herself. It’s a perfect end for the character and the fact that the Doctor may never know she turned good is utterly devastating yet appropriate.

Now onto John Simm. I’ve read some reviews that have said he was underused, but I disagree. He serves many purposes in the story such as being the catalyst of the Cyberman plot as well as to serve as a contrast to Missy. Moffat understands the Tennant era Master stories and from those stories it’s pretty obvious that the Master is without redemption. In Last of the Time Lords he chooses to die rather than be forgiven and in the End of Time he fights Rassilon out of revenge, not redemption. In The Doctor Falls, his only motive is to return to his TARDIS due to his plan failing. He doesn’t care about the Doctor’s struggle and his death and offscreen regeneration into who we assume is Missy is appropriate for this incarnation. In one last moment of evil, he essentially kills himself due to his refusal to turn good. I love the Tennant Master stories but this is definitely the best story to feature John Simm’s Master, and his Delgado-esque beard and rubbish disguise in the first part are brilliant Classic Series references. His presence in this also adds to one of the themes of the story- much like how the Doctor and Bill do not wish to live if they couldn’t be themselves, the Master would rather die than see himself changed.

This series has had not one but two awesome companions, and they both got great send offs here (well, Nardole got a send off. I’ve heard Bill is coming back in some form for the Christmas special). One of the surprise highlights of the series has been Nardole. I’ve always loved companions who are different from the norm and Nardole was certainly that. He was able to give many incredibly dark stories some humour and levity. His mini-arc in this story is subtly done but great, as he ends his travels with the Doctor to act as a protector, much like he’s done throughout the series. I wish his backstory was expanded upon, but there’s always Big Finish. Who would of thought that the bumbling fool from Husbands of River Song could end up blowing up Cybermen with a rifle and some computer hacking?

As awesome as Nardole was throughout the series, he wasn’t the main companion. Bill has become my second favourite New Series companion after Donna and I feel like this story was a good ending for her. I would have liked another series with her but Donna didn’t get another series so it’s fine. I was concerned that Bill’s Cyber conversion would be ignored but it was a major part of The Doctor Falls, utilising the psychological aspects of the Cybermen. I’m once again going to defend a controversial aspect of the episode and say that I really liked Bill’s departure. It didn’t undo her conversion and I feel like it wrapped up her arc well. It is similar to Clara’s, but to me Clara’s departure in Hell Bent was pointless as she already had a perfectly good ending in Face the Raven that was the perfect end to her character arc. Bringing her back just felt unnecessary. In contrast, Bill’s arc all series is all about her eagerness to explore the universe. What happened to her wasn’t her fault and no one, not even Adric, deserved a Cyber conversion without any sort of reward at the end. Killing Bill off would have been going against her character and the spirit of the show, as her death wouldn’t have been a heroic sacrifice like Adric’s or Clara’s. Now, she’s allowed to travel the universe with a new perspective thanks to her travels with the Doctor. That said, what kind of an alien race has the resources to make immortal, intelligent all-powerful oil? If the oil from the spaceship is that powerful, how powerful must the aliens themselves be? Sequel, Chibnall, sequel! It also helps that The Doctor Falls didn’t spend the majority of its run time saying goodbye to a companion who had already left three times and instead actually told a story.

On top of all the character development and themes, this story doesn’t forget to just be awesome. Three types of Cybermen (I would have liked to see the Eeeexcellent Cybermen from the 80’s but it doesn’t matter), two Masters and even a surprise First Doctor cameo! The scene where the Doctor blows up the Cybermen is nothing short of breathtaking. Not only is it symbolic of the Doctor’s final stand and packed with continuity references, but it’s just plain awesome to watch. The scene of the Cybermen flying up from the bottom of the ship is all kinds of cool and the soundtrack throughout the episode is glorious. As much as I like Death in Heaven, the Cybermen were ultimately superfluous to the story, whereas they were the main enemy here. This story was in the end a base under siege and wasn’t over complicated or convoluted- just a simple story.

In conclusion, World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls has easily earned a place in my top ten Doctor Who stories of all time. The pitfalls of the era have been forgiven due to this absolutely magnificent story that felt epic but at the same time restrained. Everything I’ve wanted in the Capaldi era from the beginning was present here, and as much as I’ve loved a lot of his era, no story (not even Heaven Sent, which was let down by what followed) was as amazing as the best of David Tennant and Matt Smith until now. This story is up there with The God Complex, Waters of Mars, Kinda and Inferno as the show hitting on all cylinders and with everything working. I cannot wait for Christmas and cannot wait to write up my Top 10 Peter Capaldi episodes afterwards.

The Eaters of Light review

Well, I’ve finished my exams and have no school for twelve glorious weeks. While I could spend that time going out enjoying the sun, I’m going to spend my time reviewing Doctor Who because of course I am. I’ve missed a few episodes so I’ll sum up my thoughts in brief: Extremis was excellent, Pyramid at the End of the Long Title was pretty good, Lie of the Land was disappointing (especially given the build up) and Empress of Mars was an absolute blast with the greatest cameo ever.

So how does The Eaters of Light stack up with the high quality of the series? In short, I thought it was excellent, and it’s one of my favourites this year along with Oxygen and Thin Ice. With the finale this week, it would have been easy for this episode to be bad and have the finale make up for it (also known as the In the Forest of the Night/Fear Her/Sleep No More effect) but fortunately there’s enough in this episode to make it stand out.

I love historical stories and this is one of the best in recent memory. Like Thin Ice, the story is focused more on the history and the setting rather than the sci fi, and weaves the sci fi to make it support the history rather than have the history support the sci fi, as is often the case. Both historical stories this year are reminiscent of Vincent and the Doctor, one of my favourite stories, in this way.

That’s not to say the sci fi is bad. I would complain that the monster is underused, but after a whole series of misunderstood creatures and underwhelming threats, to have a monster simply want to eat everyone is quite refreshing. The Eater of Light is probably the best designed monster since the Teller and whilst the budget restraints prevented the monster from appearing too much, it appeared enough to be a satisfying threat. In a series lacking in strong monsters, we finally have one. It reminded me of something from Merlin, which is always good as that show was awesome.

I don’t care how old I am, I want this monster as a toy. I still have my toy Werewolf and Pyroville, and I think I have a Prisoner Zero lying around somewhere.

The monster wasn’t the main focus though, which was once again on character. I love the Doctor and Nardole team up and wish they had more solo stories together, and having them together in this one served as a good contrast to last week, which was severely lacking Nardole. He’s become one of my favourite companions, and I can’t believe I would say that when I first heard the news that he was returning. I would like an episode dealing with his past though, which should hopefully happen next series.

The parallels to Rona Munro’s previous story, the excellent Survival (which I also watched last night and gets better every time I watch it) are clear with Bill. Like Ace in that story, Bill has to lead a team of scared young people to fight off an impossible threat, showing how the Doctor has influenced her. It’s important that the two leads are seperated before the finale so we can get the best out of both characters.

How refreshing is it to actually have a TARDIS materialisation scene?

Another similarity to Survival is the excellent pacing. With the exception of Oxygen all the other stories have had pacing issues but The Eaters of Light was perfectly paced, with a strong, satisfying resolution. Whilst the epilogue with Missy did feel completely seperate from the rest of the episode, I felt it was necessary to build hype for this week’s bonkers finale. I actually feel like Missy could be a good, Turlough-esque companion for a few episodes.

Honestly, there’s not really much to discuss here. This was just an incredibly atmospheric and fun standalone story which gave the Twelfth Doctor one last bit of adventure before the guaranteed seriousness of the finale. I loved the fantastical tone of the story, which reminded me of Torchwood’s Small Worlds and as I mentioned, Merlin. When Doctor Who tackles fantasy it can sometimes fall flat but this series has had a really good understanding of fantasy, as this episode and Knock Knock are both more about unexplained, slightly supernatural occurrences rather than science. It works as long as the atmosphere is right.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the Doctor/Nardole dynamic really reminds of the Second Doctor and Jamie. I love their constant snarks at each other and how the Doctor constantly insults Nardole.

If I had to criticise, it’s that the stuff about the crows was just… odd. That was In the Forest of the Night levels of fantasy there and that is not good. As I mentioned, I would have liked to have seen the monster more and have a bit more tense moments with it. The modern day pre-credits was also unnecessary and too similar to last week’s. Which leads me onto a bit of a tangent, but here goes-

Am I the only one who feels like the second half of the series has been paced weirdly? Oxygen and Extremis had built up such a strong sense of hype but the other two Monk episodes failed to escalate the tension, killing the flow. We then got two standalones with similar plots (two warring sides working together, Bill falling down a hole, a Classic Who feel, caves). If I was structuring the series, I would have had Episode 6 deal with the Doctor’s blindness and reveal Missy in the vault, then this episode with the epilogue removed making it a complete standalone, a standalone Episode 8 focusing on Nardole, Empress of Mars with this episode’s epilogue and then Extremis could have served as a Turn Left-esque story where the Mondasian Cybermen are practising an invasion of Earth via a simulation, which would lead straight into the finale. I would have saved the other Monk episodes for another series with the same writer on all parts and Lie of the Land being stretched into two parts.

But back to The Eaters of Light. Overall, this is another very strong episode in what’s shaping up to be the strongest series since Series 5 (Lie of the Land wasn’t the best but it wasn’t a Hell Bent/Kill the Moon disaster). As long as the finale is amazing then Series 10 will likely go down as one of New Who’s best.

Next week it’s the return of John Simm’s Master and the Mondasian Cybermen. As cool as it is to have a multi Master story, I just love the original Cybermen and look forward to their reappearance more. I recommend watching The Tenth Planet and listening to the fantastic Big Finish audio Spare Parts in anticipation.

 

Oxygen review: This series just gets better and better

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Well, this is slightly late.

In my feeble defense I have been doing exams and fortunately we have a three parter coming up so I can take a break from writing until the Monk story is finished. For now though, we have the best story in the series so far and the best in the show overall since probably Heaven Sent or Flatline.

This is just a spectacular episode in every way. For the first time this series the characters were in real danger and the tension was brilliant. There’s just a sense that the characters could die at any point and thanks to the brilliant final reveal this story has a lasting effect on the Doctor. Finally, the danger of the Whoniverse is back.

Look at this. Just look at this. This is such an awesome ship.

Even the mere premise is genius. The idea of oxygen as money is a fascinating idea similar to the ideas of Sleep No More last series, however Jamie Mathieson actually utilised his ideas well and incorporated them into the story without making the episode any less entertaining or tense. Doctor Who has done satire before- The Sun Makers springs to mind immediately- but New Who doing a very topical satire attacking capitalism (although the writers of Doctor Who didn’t know there would be an upcoming election otherwise we’d have a Peladon story) is not something that happens often. Unlike Kill the Moon, which stopped being a Troughton-esque base under siege halfway through, Oxygen never loses sight of the space zombies or the scares.

Wow, I’ve gone about the themes but haven’t even discussed the characters yet. This is easily the best the Twelfth Doctor has been since the Zygon two parter (like the Third Doctor, Twelve seems to fire on all cylinders during political scripts). He’s funny, cold, serious and most importantly, vulnerable. Even before he’s blind he is out of his comfort zone with no TARDIS and no sonic. After he is blind, the story’s stakes are raised to an even higher degree than before. It’s just like 42, where David Tennant being possessed by Toraji gave the episode a dramatic edge which made for truly compelling viewing. There is a reason Oxygen is so tense in the second half and that’s due to the vulnerability the Doctor is in. This episode also demonstrates one of the Doctor’s best aspects- his willingness to help anyone regardless of who they are.

The Doctor’s ability to survive in space has been established before but there’s never been consequences.

The companions were also on top form. This is Nardole’s first true adventure as a companion since the Christmas special and he worked very well in the already established Doctor/Bill dynamic. It’s so refreshing to have an alien companion and whilst many people feared Nardole would only be a comedic character, this episode proved them wrong. He has a defined purpose in the team and it looks like he’ll be taking a central role tonight. He’s easily the most unique New Series companion and I hope he sticks around. Bill continued to be the best companion since Donna and I can’t express how good it is to have a companion who experiences fear and can help the audience connect with what’s going on. I snarked whilst watching that she had died after the incredible losing oxygen scene but I honestly feel some kids probably thought she had died. That’s a mark of a great episode, where you care about characters you know will survive.

Honestly, with one exception which I’ll discuss later, I don’t think there was a single problem with the episode. It was perfectly based, the zombies were great (no aliens again but the faceless bureaucrats behind the killings were a great villain) and the direction was fantastic. The opening was perfect, with a scene of two astronauts being picked off by the zombies, setting the scene perfectly for the scares ahead. I personally wasn’t too scared but I can imagine kids being pretty terrified and unlike Knock Knock there was no happy ending. This was hard core sci-fi at its best.

These are the scariest monsters since the Foretold. The fact that they’re human is even scarier.

So, the one problem I had? I think the villain should have been Gus from Mummy on the Orient Express. It would have added continuity, made a great episode even better and solved a loose plot thread. The themes from Oxygen would not have been lost and it would have given the episode a tangible threat. Don’t get me wrong, I love the twist that there was no hack and the suits were just doing what they were programmed to do but Gus could have easily been controlling them. That said, it wasn’t an objective problem and not everyone would have liked that so I admit this is just a personal gripe that doesn’t actually make the episode worse.

What else is there to talk about? I feel I’ve discussed everything…

Oh yeah, the final scene.

What a genius idea this is. Making the Doctor blind will just make the upcoming episodes so much better if Moffat runs with it well. It also makes the question of how Peter Capaldi will regenerate much more interesting. As if the return of Missy and the promise of a three parter wasn’t already enough to hype me for tonight, we now have a blind Doctor and whoever is in the Vault will know that. I thought Knock Knock would be the arc based one whilst this would be standalone but I was completely wrong, as this episode will have lasting consequences on the series, making a fantastic episode even better.

So, a three parter with actual villains and Missy? Sign me up. I’ll be back in early June to tackle the biggest story since Series 3.

Doctor Who Knock Knock review

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We’re a third of the way through the series already- where’s the time gone? To be realistic, the weeks are going slowly due to my upcoming exams (HELP!) and Doctor Who is the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.

I’ve made it no secret I’ve found this run of episodes to be very strong so far, but much like Series 8 and 9 we’ll have to wait to see if a dud comes around at some point towards the end (let’s hope not). Knock Knock continues the series’s strong run so far, and is reminiscent of stories like Ghost Light and Image of the Fendahl, two of my favourite stories. Whilst not as strong as those stories, this is still a very entertaining and well written addition to the already strong Series 10. It’s probably my favourite so far.

This is the first time this series where the Doctor and Bill are separated and this is where the episode shines. We see how far Bill has come in just four episodes as she basically tells the Doctor to go away and let her live her life, which is great although I’m not a fan of how Steven Moffat always has companions pop in and out of their daily lives. Whilst I like The Caretaker, we really didn’t need another similar episode in Series 10 dealing with the companion’s dual life so I’m glad that wasn’t the focus this week. Scaring children (and my mum who only watched because of David Suchet) and creating an entertaining story was the focus. It wasn’t as character based as last week, but I’m sensing themes and arcs throughout the series I’ll discuss later.

Haunted house, creepy bugs, body horror. This episode truly feels like a Guillermo del Toro film.

The Doctor was again fantastic (let’s hope Mike Bartlett is invited back in Chris Chibnall’s run) and I always love seeing him work independently and with other characters that aren’t the companion. He gets great lines (“Don’t be scared. It doesn’t help”) and I’m enjoying him every week. Thee most interesting aspect of his character is his interactions with whoever’s in the vault, which I’ll get back to later. Overall, another strong outing for the Twelfth Doctor, who is shaping up to be a truly great Doctor in his final series and it only looks better from here.

The best part of the episode for me was the Landlord. He’s the first truly complex villain of the series and I love how by the end of the episode you truly feel sympathy for him despite his villainous actions. His motives are understandable and he really is a tragic figure, as he’s so caught up with keeping his mother alive that he’s forgotten to live a life, in contrast to both the Doctor and Bill who have experienced loss and moved on. We’ve now had two human villains this series and the Landlord is a lot better than Sutcliffe last week. I’d honestly call the Landlord my favourite original villain since House from The Doctor’s Wife. To think I believed him to be a major character in the whole series when he’s just a one-off character.

One major criticism is that I wish all of Bill’s friends stayed dead (morbid I know but a kid died last week) or at least some of them didn’t come back. Maybe they’ll come back later in the series but I just wish there were some deaths in the episode to increase the stakes. Another problem which the episode shares with the rest of the series so far is the slightly rushed ending. The scenes with Eliza are the best of the series so far with brilliant writing, acting and emotion but there isn’t enough to let the emotions sink in before the tease about the vault. There’s also a lack of explanation about where the woodlice creatures come from or the full extent of their powers. The rushed endings have been a constant problem this series and I really wish the episodes were an hour long. There’s a three parter coming and a two part finale so I doubt this will be a constant problem but it’s been a recurring issue so far.

Not the episode’s fault, but I wish the marketing hadn’t given away Eliza in the trailer. It would have made the reveal in the episode terrifying.

A positive element of all the episodes have been the introduction of themes and character arcs I think will be expanded upon later on in the series. The main theme I think so far is about how to move on from loss or trauma, as it’s popped up in every episode so far-

  • The Pilot: Bill has to let go of Heather and the Doctor has to let go of his oath to accept his new companion.
  • Smile: The Vardi cannot let go of the grief that the colonists faced when the oldest member died and see grief as a virus.
  • Thin Ice: One of the main themes of the episode. Bill moves on from her trauma at seeing someone die and the Doctor admits that he moves on all the time.
  • Knock Knock: The Landlord is unable to move on from the promise he makes to his mother.

Could this go anywhere? I think so, and Steven Moffat is smart enough to bring together all the episodes thematically like he did with Series 5, 8 and to an extent 6. I think it could be to do with what’s in the vault, which I think could either be Missy, The Master, the Myrka, Frobisher the Penguin or Susan. Two of those guesses will definitely not be happening.

“And then there was that time when I fought the Abzorbaloff, but we don’t talk about that…”

In conclusion, Knock Knock is a great story that’s better on rewatch once you know what’s going on. I find it far superior to Hide but not as good as the Classic Who stories I mentioned earlier. This week it’s Oxygen, which looks so awesome I’ve decided to not read or watch anything linked with it. I want to go in completely blind.

Doctor Who Series 10: Thin Ice Review

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With it being slightly frosty this week, yesterday’s episode was very appropriate for the weather. Regardless of weather, this episode still continues the trend of fantastic stories from Series 10. I’m serious, if these early episodes are supposed to be the “weaker” ones, then I just can’t wait for the upcoming ones.

One of the best things about this episode is how it’s completely different from last week. We’ve gone from a sci-fi mystery with robots and lasers to a Regency-era costume drama with a big fish/snake thing. It’s this kind of juxtaposition that I love from Doctor Who, and this is probably the biggest contrast for consecutive episodes since Rings of Akhaten/Cold War.

The character work was superb this week, as both regulars got huge amounts of development. Sarah Dollard really knows how to write the Twelfth Doctor and he gets one of his best outings in a while, with his characteristic snarking, humour and cynicism mixed with humanity and warmth. The highlights are when he punched Sutcliffe for his treatment of Bill (I’ve seen people complain about this, but trust me, the Doctor is NOT a pacifist. Just watch any Jon Pertwee or Colin Baker story) and his speech about human progress.

Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age, that’s… what defines a species.

There’s also the continued development of Bill, and this episode once again shows what Moffat and co should have done with Clara in Series 7- show that travelling with the Doctor was not always fun. In this story, she sees a child die (pretty dark considering Doctor Who is a family show) and is understandably upset about it. There were hints of this in Cold War when Skaldak was killing the redshirts, but Clara never had a moment to reflect on what she saw. By having Bill realise the darker side of the Doctor and respond in a realistic way, it makes her more human and relatable. There are plenty of fantastic scenes between them and all three episodes so far have essentially been just her and the Doctor learning about each other. I feel like beginning from Knock Knock, the stories will get larger and more plot based.

I really liked the villain, Lord Sutcliffe, and he was basically exactly what I wanted after two weeks with no villains. I said I liked him when it’s really more “love to hate”, as in he’s so evil and careless that I just couldn’t help but like him and hate him at the same time. He’s essentially a villain from the Jon Pertwee era and as a massive fan of that era, I appreciated the return the stingy, metaphorically moustache twirling, condescending, obnoxious figure of high power that just irritates the Doctor and the audience. He’s so evil that his death is immensely satisfying. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent human villain on Doctor Who, and Sutcliffe is probably the best since Solomon from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I’d have liked to see more of him though and have his plan expanded.

I’d love to see this guy spar with Edmund Blackadder, considering he was also in Regency London. I’d call the episode Fish and Finality. I reckon Sutcliffe would not be able to stand a chance against Blackadder.

There’s so much more to love about this story. One of the best aspects was how it handled the racism of 1814 and taught the children watching that it is never appropriate to be racist, regardless of what time period someone’s from (just because nearly everyone in 1814 was racist doesn’t excuse it). Whilst I love the Shakespeare Code, it didn’t really deal with the obvious issues that Martha would be dealing with in the 16th century. Thin Ice deals with the issue of Bill facing racism in the past a lot better, even if it was just by the Doctor knocking Sutcliffe unconscious in anger. Part of Doctor Who’s original goal was to educate the kids, and this was a good way to do it. Throwing in a real historical event and giving it a Doctor Who twist also makes the historical aspect of the show stand out more than just stories which happen to be in the past (what did the Vikings and Stuart settings add to the Ashildr stories last season?)

Another interesting element was the lack of aliens (again). It’s never really confirmed whether the sea serpent is from Earth or not and I like it that way. Whilst it is yet another misunderstood creature, the presence of Sutcliffe means there was an actual villain, although I really want the monsters this week to be the “we will kill you all” kind. Comparisons to The Beast Below are obvious as well as the Torchwood episode Meat (I’ve only recently gotten into Torchwood and I’ve been watching the good ones with my dad). There were also elements of Kill the Moon (companion makes a choice that revolves around a moral dilemma) but it’s handled better here because there weren’t any one sided dilemmas and no giant flying moon babies.

Ice to meet you (I know, I know, puns are terrible. Eye won’t make any more)

Overall, we have yet another strong episode. I feel like I’m in the minority when I say Smile is my favourite of this opening trilogy (its sci-fi aspects, clever twists and great dialogue sell it for me) but Thin Ice comes a very close second. As one of my most anticipated episodes pre broadcast it didn’t disappoint. There wasn’t much about the story arc, but we got a hint towards what’s in the vault (my Master theory is getting stronger) and it appears that Nardole will become a regular from next week.

Speaking of next week, we have a mysterious landlord, a haunted house, tree dudes and things in the wall. It feels like Ghost Light and the SJA story The Eternity Trap combined. Before that though, I’ll be reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.

Smile review: All is forgiven Frank

Well, another week, another Doctor Who. After the fast paced frenzy of last week and the introduction of a great new companion, this week took a much slower pace with an episode that evoked Classic Who, in particular The Ark in Space and The Happiness Patrol.

As I said in my Series 10 hype post, this was the episode I was the most worried about, considering Frank Cottrell Boyce’s only other Doctor Who script was In the Forest of the Night. Fortunately, Smile was a lot better, and I enjoyed it even more than The Pilot.

A big part of this was because of the Doctor and Bill’s interactions, with Nardole completely disappearing from the episode in the first scene. The episode played out like a Part One of Classic Who, where the characters explore the setting by themselves. This was especially important as we needed to know how this new TARDIS team functioned and how Bill adjusted to life in the TARDIS. Having no real action or supporting characters meant the story could have been dull, but due to the interactions and continued character development I was entertained throughout.

My thoughts on the episode in a nutshell.

I love the structure of this story, with the pieces slowly being unravelled and the plot slowly fitting together to form a very enticing mystery. Each plot point made sense and felt necessary, with every aspect of the story slotting into place by the end. I’ll admit the ending was a bit weak, with the Doctor essentially rebooting the robots with his sonic screwdriver, but the resolution still ultimately left me satisfied due to the great build up.

The emojibots worked well in my opinion. They weren’t particularly scary but I don’t think they were meant to be, especially considering the whole story was just a misunderstanding between the Vardis and the humans. It was quite brave to have a story with no real villain (The Edge of Destruction, Listen and to an extent Gridlock all show how a story with no villain can work, as does Smile) and I appreciated the small scale nature of the story and due to the lack of a real antagonist the emojibots served their purpose well as a physical threat to keep the story from being too boring. This is the second story in a row with no actual villain, so I’m hoping this week we see the return of the evil, slightly hammy doomsday villain, because sometimes that’s good.

This frowny face is hilarious and is basically my reaction to there being yet another election I can’t vote in.

I found the Doctor’s characterisation in this episode spot on. It’s so refreshing to have the Doctor not know what’s going on and he has to solve everything by slowly investigating the situation and putting the pieces together. Something even rarer was the Doctor making a massive mistake and almost blowing up the cryogenic chambers. The Doctor rarely makes mistakes and seeing him make one was very refreshing, especially in comparison to the know-it-all persona that Steven Moffat loves. The balance between the gruff Doctor of Series 8 and the more quirky Doctor in Series 9 has been very well balanced, so it’s once again a shame that this is Peter Capaldi’s final series. I call it Peter Davison syndrome, where a Doctor only really comes into his own in his final series.

The story had a very William Hartnell vibe, from the slow pace to the Doctor miscalculating to the awesome link to Thin Ice at the end. Much like a William Hartnell story, we have a story which is more about the characters and the setting than the alien threat. The supporting characters however weren’t the best, and they only really popped up in the final third. This is where the story dips slightly, as In the Forest of the Night syndrome hits and we get some forced moralising, albeit more subtly. I wish the story developed the misunderstanding more and delved more deeply into the ideas of emotion and grief, which was the instigator of the whole story. The more I think about it, the more Smile is really just a more macarbe Inside Out.

I love the contrast between the clean city and dirty spaceship. This whole set looks like something out of the Tom Baker era.

 

SMILE OR DIE!

However, these are just a few flaws in what is a very enjoyable story. Bill continues to be great (in a few episodes time she may end up being my second favourite New Who companion, if not number one) and if the quality remains this good, we could have the best New Who series, surpassing even Series 4 and 5. Considering Smile had the most potential out of all the episodes to be bad, the fact that it’s good bodes very well for the episodes that looked great from the start.

Such as this week, featuring elephants and a frozen Thames. I cannot wait for this Saturday.