Doctor Who: Series 1 Part 2 Retrospective

Main Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness)
Recurring: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler) and Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell)

The Long Game by Russell T Davies

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From left to right: Adam (Bruno Langley), The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) investigate the dark secrets of Satellite 5. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Adam arrive in the year 200,000 aboard Satellite Five; the hub of all news in the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. But something isn’t right. Humanity’s development has fallen behind. Someone, or something, is purposefully keeping back Mankind’s evolution. As the Doctor and Rose attempt to discover why, Adam succumbs to the temptations that the far future offers.

The Long Game is one of those episodes that’s fine while you’re watching it but is otherwise completely forgettable. Which isn’t to say The Long Game is bad, it just suffers from being sandwiched between two of the best episodes of Series 1. There’s some great ideas presented in The Long Game, but the episode never really lingers on any of them enough to give them the proper time they deserve. A political commentary on how much the news shapes and manipulates the people is an excellent choice, but sadly it never gets enough time to breathe. It’s a great concept for a Doctor Who episode, but it’s not done justice here.

Adam’s fall into temptation meanwhile is also rushed. While it’s effective, the episode is pretty brutal in its treatment of Adam being very quick to brush him off as selfish and utterly unredeemable. While the episode makes a good point, not everyone is cut out to travel in the TARDIS, the episode never quite makes us connect with Adam; as the temptation is something a lot of us would fall into. A nice touch however is the Doctor seemingly offering Adam a second chance, by asking him to come clean, making the Doctor and Rose not entirely unsympathetic.

Simon Pegg is a delight as the Editor, bringing to life what would otherwise be a rather one note villain. It’s a shame that Pegg was cast in this episode, as his acting talents are wasted playing a one-off villain, especially one that plays second fiddle to a CGI beastie that does nothing but growl and roar.

Russell T Davies’s script is fine functionally and the episode is at the very least entertaining. However I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something that just didn’t quite click with The Long Game. Did it try to do too much? Was its CGI antagonist just not threatening enough? Is it the fact the episode is mainly set up for the two part finale, thus not allowing it to carve out an identity of its own? Whatever it was, it makes The Long Game leave a sour taste in the mouth and emerge as the weakest episode of Series 1.

5/10

Father’s Day by Paul Cornell

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The Doctor attempts to save Rose from a Reaper. Copyright: BBC

Rose asks the Doctor to take her back in time to the day her father died, allowing her to meet the man she never met and be with him at his death. However, Rose changes her mind and instead saves her father’s life creating a massive paradox and a wound in time. As monstrous creatures known as Reapers arrive to sterilise the wound; by devouring everyone and everything, the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. Can the Doctor and Rose save the world and her father?

Father’s Day is just a fantastic episode. The first episode of the New Series to really focus on the consequences and temptations of time travel, after touching on them with Adam in the previous episode, Father’s Day is perhaps the most emotionally touching episode of the entire series. Who wouldn’t go back and spend just a few more minutes with a dearly departed loved one if they had a time machine? Rose’s motives are incredibly sympathetic in this episode and it’s the scenes following her decision to save her father, where Rose discovers that her father doesn’t quite live up to the one she created in her mind, that emerge as some of the best of the episode. Rose’s anger upon learning her Dad may have had an affair is wonderful to see, with this episode perhaps having Billie Piper’s strongest performance of the series. Guest star Shaun Dingwall, playing Rose’s father Pete, puts in a brilliant performance as well and it’s the scenes with the two of them together that really make this episode shine. The two are completely believable as father and daughter and Cornell crafts some wonderful dialogue for the two. The episode is worth watching for these two alone.

The Reapers are an amazing creation; utterly chilling and threatening, they are one of the more ingenious Doctor Who monsters. It’s a shame they haven’t been revisited because they are great antagonists, despite being apparently mindless beasts. This episode has to be commended for its high body count; possibly one of the largest in a single episode as the Reapers apparently devour everyone on Earth. While this is reversed at the end of the episode, it is still a terrifying thought when one thinks of these creatures swooping in and eating everyone in sight.

Father’s Day also excels in dealing with the consequences of time travel and teaching Rose, and the audience, a valuable lesson; time can’t be changed on a whim. The death of Rose’s father is apparently a fixed point in time; because his death defines Rose’s life. He has to die so Rose can become the woman she is. It’s nice for a Doctor Who episode to deal with a matter like this; that sometimes bad things have to happen so something good can happen.

Father’s Day is an excellent episode and in any other series would be the standout episode. As it is, Father’s Day emerges as one of the best episodes of the series, but not quite the best. But only because the competition is incredibly fierce.

10/10

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances by Steven Moffat

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The Doctor and Rose encounter Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) Copyright: BBC

Following a crashing object through time and space, the Doctor and Rose arrive in 1941; the height of the Blitz. Encountering the Rogue Time Agent Jack Harkness, the Doctor and Rose discover that the streets of London are under threat by not just Nazi bombs. For a young boy in a gas mask prowls the streets, asking for his mummy…

Steven Moffat, who would go on to write more episodes of Doctor Who than any other writer before him, makes his Doctor Who debut with an utterly terrifying but beautiful story. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances perfectly encapsulates everything that is so great about Moffat’s writing. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s exciting yet it’s also incredibly heart-warming and emotional. I’ve long stood by the opinion that Moffat is one of the best writers to ever write for the show and this story is complete proof of that.

The episode’s scares are truly terrifying. The lone child in a gasmask calling for his mummy remains one of Doctor Who’s most memorable, and most terrifying, creations; still striking fear into the hearts of children across the world. It’s such an atmospheric idea. Moffat has always had an eye for creating terrifying Doctor Who villains, and the Empty Child is up there with the best of them.

This episode also introduces us to Captain Jack Harkness; an iconic figure in the Doctor Who universe. At once Barrowman is a blast on screen, fitting easily into the TARDIS team. It’s a shame that this is the only time Moffat wrote for Jack, as Moffat’s dialogue and Barrowman’s acting goes hand in hand.

For that’s another thing about this story, despite its scares it’s also incredibly funny, with a throwaway gag of the Doctor destroying a weapons factory and planting a banana grove in its place is a favourite of mine. Moffat has a unique talent to make Doctor Who both terrifying and hilarious at the same time and its here that it really shines. From one minute the Doctor and co can be running for their life and the next they can be laughing and joking. Moffat’s trademark risqué humour is also at full force here; including the surprising joke of a married man sleeping with a local butcher for extra rations.

This story is also incredibly heart-warming, with the late game twist that the story is of a young mother in wartime Britain, it makes the conclusion incredibly beautiful; especially as it allows the Doctor to have a victory this series that he rarely has: to win without anyone dying. For as the Doctor says; “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once! Everybody lives!”

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances is an excellent story and perhaps one of Doctor Who’s first true masterpieces in the modern era.

10/10

Boom Town by Russell T Davies

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Margaret Blaine/Slitheen (Annette Badland) details her plan to Rose. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Jack arrive in present day Cardiff and reunite with Mickey. They soon make a shocking discovery; Margaret Blaine, the last of the Slitheen, has survived. Quickly capturing her, the team plan to take her back to her home planet. Upon the reveal that she will be executed as soon as she arrives, tensions begin to rise in the TARDIS. Rose and Mickey’s relationship is put to its ultimate test while the Doctor is forced to consider if he can really be judge, jury and executioner.

Boom Town may seem like a passable episode on the surface and may not be an award winner, but it emerges as one of my favourite episodes of the series. While it may just be a filler comedy episode at first glance, the episode contains some excellent character development.

Rose and Mickey’s relationship is placed in full focus, with the strain her travelling with the Doctor puts on them being brought to attention. As Mickey and Rose start out having a pleasant enough evening only for the night to quickly dissolve into a mess is a little saddening to see; proving once and for all that as long as the Doctor is around, Rose and Mickey will never work. As Rose is unable to stop talking about the Doctor and Mickey admits he’s been seeing someone else, Billie Piper and Noel Clarke perfectly portray a young couple breaking down.

Christopher Eccleston is also excellent in this episode, as the Doctor is forced to confront a foe he’s willing to escort to her death. The dinner scene between the Doctor and Margaret Slitheen is the best scene of the episode, ranging from being utterly hilarious (as Margaret attempts to kill the Doctor multiple times) to emotional and touching as Margaret pleads for her life. This is one of the many episodes in Series 1 where the Doctor is forced to confront what sort of man the Time War made him into; and try and decide if that’s the sort of man he wants to be. Christopher Eccleston and guest star Annette Badland do a fantastic job in this episode and emerge as the highlights.

Another thing to be mentioned is how hilarious Boom Town is. I’d go down and say that this is probably one of Russell T Davies’s funniest scripts for the show. There are laughs galore; the entire sequence where Margaret attempts to escape from the Doctor manages to make me laugh every time.

Boom Town may not be a fantastic episode, but it’s still a great one. Funny and filled with some very funny moments, it’s a must watch for Series 1. Especially seeing as it’s the perfect breather before the finale.

8/10

Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor confronts the Daleks. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Jack find themselves kidnapped and forced to compete in high stakes reality TV shows where the only rule is win; or die. As the Doctor attempts to unravel exactly what’s going on, an old enemy stirs in the shadows, manipulating events from afar. Earth faces total annihilation, Jack prepares to fight off the threat and the Doctor prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice while Rose faces her destiny. Whatever happens, this is the end and not everyone will make it out alive.

The series 1 finale is a masterpiece plain and simple. Starting off with a brilliant loving parody to Britain’s obsession with reality TV shows; seeing the Doctor trapped in the Big Brother house, Rose on the Weakest Link and Jack on What Not To Wear is excellent stuff and absolutely hilarious. At least until the games turn killer.

The Doctor and Rose are separated throughout most of the two parter, which works in the story’s favour. The Doctor meanwhile is partnered up with Lynda for most of the first part with Lynda filling the part of companion very well. Keeping the Doctor and Rose apart is an excellent choice as it makes their reunion all the better.

The way the first part of the story builds up the dread of something unseen in the shadows is excellent. If their presence hadn’t already been spoiled by the trailer at the end of Boom Town, the reveal that the Daleks are the masterminds would have been utterly mind-blowing. This leads to the strongest scene of the two parter; the cliffhanger to part 1 which I’m just going to leave here.

If Bad Wolf is fantastic, then Parting of the Ways is even more so. A remarkable thing is just how hopeless this finale feels. The Daleks have the upper hand, there’s very little hope for the Doctor and his friends to survive. The closest thing to a victory achieved for most of this episode is the Doctor sending Rose home in order to save her. This leads to one of the most heart-breaking scenes of the episode, as Rose desperately begs the TARDIS to take her home and a recording of the Doctor, beautifully played by Eccleston, implores Rose that the best way to honour his memory is to live a fantastic life. It’s such a wonderful scene.

This is followed by the sheer brutality of the Dalek’s assault on the Game Station, with pretty much the entire supporting cast being killed by them; including Jack. This is intercut with the Doctor conversing with the Dalek Emperor, who has gone mad and has proclaimed himself the god of all Daleks for bringing the Daleks back from extinction. This scenes are some of the best of the episode, as the Dalek Emperor questions the Doctor’s morality, questioning that if he is god the “bringer of life”, then perhaps that makes the Doctor the devil. This is followed by one of the most powerful moments in the entire series as the Dalek Emperor dares the Doctor to activate the Delta Wave (which will kill not just the Daleks but all humans on Earth); asking him to decide if he’s a coward or killer. The Doctor, after a few moments agonising over the decision, decides not to activate the wave and says “Coward. Always”. This is a defining moment for the Doctor’s character; not only is this the moment the Doctor finally decides what kind of man he wants to be in the wake of the Time War, but the moment that settles once and for all that the Doctor absolutely couldn’t have destroyed Gallifrey. It’s just not in his character, which inadvertently sets up the reveal he didn’t in The Day of the Doctor.

What follows is pure brilliance as Rose, finding the hidden message in the Bad Wolf meme, absorbs the heart of the TARDIS and returns; using the power of the vortex to destroy the Emperor and the Daleks and to resurrect Jack. However this power is beginning to kill Rose, so the Doctor absorbs the energy from her and the two take off in the TARDIS.

Eccleston then delivers a fantastic performance for his closing moments, as he says farewell to Rose (and the show) in an incredibly touching scene before he regenerates.

Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways is an utter masterpiece. It’s utterly flawless and is one of the pinnacles of what Doctor Who can achieve in the modern era.

10/10

Doctor Who Series 1 Part 2 Average Score:  8.6/10

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The Doctor in the TARDIS. Copyright: BBC

And it is with the conclusion of Series 1 that we bid farewell to Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. During this rewatch I gained a newfound love for Eccleston’s Doctor. Truly undervalued, Eccleston was utterly fantastic in the role and it’s a shame that we never got more episodes with him. Eccleston and Piper’s chemistry was fantastic and it’s a shame this wonderful TARDIS team only got one series to shine. Here’s hoping for lots of Big Finish with the two in the future.

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Doctor Who: Series 1 Part 1 Retrospective

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The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Copyright: BBC

With a long wait until Christmas when incumbent Doctor Peter Capaldi will depart and new Doctor Jodie Whittaker will debut, I thought it high time to revisit the past of Doctor Who, with a rewatch of the new series starting with Series 1 (or Series 27 if you’re getting technical); starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

The first half of Series 1 gets off to a very strong start. Showrunner Russell T Davies writes four of these six episodes so without further ado let’s get underway.

Main Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
Recurring: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), and Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell)

 Rose by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor and Rose hunt for the Nestene’s lair. Copyright: BBC

Staying late at work one night, shop worker Rose Tyler is attacked by living plastic dummies and rescued by a mysterious man called the Doctor. As Rose continues to bump into the Doctor and his continuing battles against the living plastic, she attempts to find out more about him but is soon sucked into the Doctor’s dangerous world and finds an adventure she will never forget.

Rose had a massive task to fulfil. Not only did the episode mark the return of the series to screens for the first time in 16 years (9 years if you count the movie starring Paul McGann), but it also had to appeal to classic series watchers and to people who had never seen Doctor Who before. In this manner it succeeds, in various levels. Which isn’t to say Rose is bad in any form, it’s just not exactly a very good way of selling exactly what the show excels at. But that said, Rose is still a very strong start to the series. Much like many companion introduction episodes, the Doctor himself appears in a reduced capacity in this episode; being kept mostly off-screen until the back half of the episode. Billie Piper however shows strong acting talent and is able to carry the episode herself until the Doctor steps in to take over. We aren’t given much chance to get to know Eccleston’s Doctor in this episode; with lines indicating that he has only recently regenerated allowing us to see the Ninth Doctor at the beginning of his life; oddly not showing the “regeneration sickness” his later incarnations would show (which usually amounts to a great deal of confusion as the Doctor’s mind adjusts to his new body). Eccleston manages to make an impression though and he and Piper share a wonderful chemistry that is a joy to watch on screen.

The episode itself has a rather simple plot, seeing the Doctor dealing with an attempted invasion by the Nestene Consciousness and Rose getting caught up in the middle of it. This is one of those episodes where it doesn’t really matter who the monster is; they’re here just to provide some form of threat for the Doctor and Rose to overcome and seal their friendship. But what shines through in this script is Russell T Davies’s absolute love for Doctor Who; the conspiracy theorist Clive is a loving nod to the fans, the TARDIS is treated with almost reverence within the script, the Doctor’s personality is like a “best of” of previous Doctors and the script is filled with small nods that fans can pick up on. While Rose may not be RTD’s strongest script, it’s one that serves its purposes well and is still very entertaining to watch; in spite of it being rather forgettable overall.

7/10

The End of the World by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor and Rose prepare to witness the Earth’s destruction. Copyright: BBC

For her first trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor takes Rose to a space platform in the far future where the rich and powerful have all gathered to witness the end of the world itself. But one of the guests has a killer ulterior motive and soon it’s a race against time to save everyone on board before they are all destroyed along with the Earth.

In what has now become Doctor Who tradition, The End of the World takes new companion Rose to the far future for one of her first trips in the TARDIS and confronting a dark truth about the human race; with no humans doing anything to stop the destruction of the Earth and the implication that none of them even care. The episode also sees Rose come face to face with an eventual future of the human race; while other humans have mingled with other species so to speak, the Lady Cassandra has resorted to surgery in order to keep herself “pure”; now being nothing more than “skin with lipstick” as Rose puts it nicely. The fears of “plastic surgery gone mad” are still very relevant today, so to see the show make its first major attempt at social commentary was nice to see.

This episode also saw the debut of some wonderful alien designs and concepts; most of which were never seen again after this episode. It would have been nice if some of these alien characters could have gone on to become recurring characters, but the team did a fantastic job with the costumes. Eccleston is again fantastic in the role, but the episode makes the poor choice of keeping the Doctor and Rose apart for most of the episode; when allowing the Doctor and Rose’s relationship to grow would have been a smarter move. The plot of the episode then isn’t exactly great. It’s functional, but it’s nothing really memorable; a very “safe” episode of Doctor Who. As the show was still trying to establish itself, this was perhaps a smart idea even if it makes the episode a little forgettable overall and really only memorable for a few specific moments. The episode’s guest cast fare a little better with Zoe Wannamaker being a delight as Cassandra while Yasmin Bannerman really impresses as Jabe of the Forest of Cheem. There’s also a handful of rather hilarious jokes; of note is Cassandra wheeling out a jukebox and proclaiming it to be an “IPod”. The End of the World is an entertaining enough second outing for Eccleston’s Doctor, but really isn’t one fans will find themselves revisiting all that often.

7/10

The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss

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The Gelth appear via a psychic link with Gwyneth (Eve Myles). Copyright: BBC

Arriving in 1869 Cardiff on Christmas, the Doctor and Rose encounter Charles Dickens. A nearby Undertakers though has a problem; the dead just won’t stay dead. With the help of Dickens and a young maid with a peculiar ability, the Doctor and Rose discover the cause of the “undead”. Can these mysterious beings be trusted?

The “unofficial Christmas Special”, The Unquiet Dead is not only the first Doctor Who script by Mark Gatiss nor the first script not written by Russell T Davies in the new series, but it’s also the New Series’ first attempt at a “celebrity historical” and a horror episode. A “celebrity historical” is a term used to describe when an episode focuses on the Doctor meeting an iconic figure from history, in this case Charles Dickens, played marvellously by Simon Callow. Callow’s Dickens is perhaps the highlight of the episode and delivers some of the episode’s best lines (“What the Shakespeare?!”). Incidentally, the episode started the trend of having a famous writer from history encounter what they were famous for writing; with Dickens encountering ghosts and, in later episodes, Shakespeare encountering witches (The Shakespeare Code) and Agatha Christie being involved in a murder mystery (The Unicorn and the Wasp).

This episode is a chilling experience to watch, perhaps the first truly scary episode of the show. The antagonists, the Gelth, are a macabre idea and truly one that could only have come from the mind of Mark Gatiss. This episode is incredibly dark and gothic, yet also has that tinge of humour that Gatiss is known for. The Unquiet Dead is a fantastic script and perhaps one of the best in this first batch of episodes. It’s also bolstered by a fantastic guest cast; with a pre-Torchwood Eve Myles being of particular note. The Unquiet Dead is an episode I often find myself drawn to watching and that is perhaps it’s an utterly unique episode; there hasn’t been an episode quite like it since.

8.5/10

Aliens of London/World War Three by Russell T Davies

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The Slitheen plot in Downing Street. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor takes Rose home to visit her mother, only for him to accidentally bring her home one year after she left where in the time since, Rose has been missing presumed dead. But that’s not all, an alien spacecraft crashes into the Thames and with the Prime Minister nowhere to be found, an acting Prime Minister is named and the Earth’s greatest alien experts (along with the Doctor) are called in to help. But this is all a sinister trap and the Doctor must soon make a difficult choice.

The first two-parter in the new series also sees the debut of one of the most iconic new series monsters; the Slitheen. Despite it’s, at times, immature humour; there’s a well written script here in a (very) thinly veiled criticism of Tony Blair’s government with many high ranking government officials revealed to be Slitheen in disguise. While most may remember this story for “farting aliens”, there’s a bit more to it than that. This was the first story to really examine the effect on the people left behind when the Doctor takes his companion away. Specifically; we see Rose’s family and friends searching for her and suspecting she’s been murdered by her boyfriend Mickey, due to the Doctor getting the dates wrong and taking Rose home 12 months later and not 12 hours. Seeing the effect this has on Jackie is almost heart-breaking. Camille Coduri delivers a fantastic performance across this two parter, being able to make us laugh and cry at the drop of a hat.

This two parter is where Series 1 really begins to hit its stride; with the personalities and dynamic between the Doctor and Rose fully established; allowing Eccleston and Piper to fully let loose with the roles. Penelope Wilton does a fantastic job as Harriet Jones, with her emerging as one of the episode’s strongest points – an MP that actually wants to help people.

The reveal that most high ranking officials are actually giant green aliens in skinsuits is the stuff conspiracy theorists dream of and the Slitheen are certainly memorable antagonists, mainly because unlike other Doctor Who villains, the Slitheen just want to make a profit, not invade. Many may deride them for the running fart jokes, but considering Doctor Who is primarily a family show it has to be a little silly at times. Especially since it leads to one of Eccleston’s best lines in the entire show; “Do you mind not farting while I’m saving the world?” The Slitheen are a truly fantastic monster design, despite very obvious changes from the costume to the CGI version. This storyline is a particularly great one; the entire climax featuring the Doctor having to choose between Rose and the world is great stuff. I feel this two parter often gets forgotten or pushed to the wayside for its perceived immaturity, for even though the episode is littered with fart jokes galore it helps hide a rather great story focusing on first contact between humans and aliens; and makes us wonder how much we can actually trust that those in power aren’t just aliens in skinsuits wanting to sell the Earth off to the highest bidder (one wonders what fun RTD could have had with Theresa May’s government). The story also has a great heart, focusing on just what effects running off to see the universe has on the family you leave behind. Aliens of London/World War Three is highly recommended. Oh, and keep a look out for an early appearance by Torchwood character Toshiko Sato.

Aliens of London – 8/10
World War Three – 8.5/10

Dalek by Robert Shearman

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Rose encounters the “last” Dalek. Copyright: BBC

Answering a distress call, the Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground museum devoted to aliens and alien artefacts owned by billionaire Henry van Statten. As Rose forms a close bond with one of van Statten’s employees; young genius Adam, the Doctor discovers the source of the distress call. For deep within van Statten’s base lies his prize exhibit… one of the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies.

And here we are at last; the long-awaited new series debut of the Doctor’s most iconic foes. Dalek is a fantastic episode, easily one of the better episodes in Series 1 as a whole and the best in this first batch of episodes. This is the first episode to truly focus on the Time War and the sequence where the Doctor and the Dalek discuss being the only survivors (or so they thought at the time) of the Time War is a fantastic sequence. This episode features perhaps Eccleston’s finest performance as the Doctor, within this first half of the series anyway. The pain visible on the Doctor’s face as he discusses the Time Lords being all but gone is clear to see and Eccleston manages to convey a complex set of emotions all at once; regret, anger and sorrow.

But perhaps what this episode is best remembered for is the Dalek itself; and boy does it deliver. The Dalek is truly terrifying as it slowly makes its way through Van Statten’s base floor by floor killing everyone it encounters (over 200 people according to one character). This is one of the few times the Daleks have been utterly terrifying and it’s amazing. The episode brings the Doctor’s iconic foe back to life in the best way it could.

What’s most interesting is Rose and her interactions with the Dalek. With the Dalek having absorbed Rose’s DNA to restore itself, the Dalek finds itself changing and Rose begins to see parallels between the Doctor and the Dalek. And we the audience do too; for Rose not only healed the Doctor (metaphorically) but she also healed the Dalek.

Composer Murray Gold also debuts his iconic Dalek theme in this episode and it’s still just as bone chilling 12 years on. The episode’s guest cast is fine but not particularly memorable. Bruno Langley does fine as Adam and paves the way for a bigger role in the next episode. Nicholas Briggs meanwhile manages to bring the Dalek’s screechy voice to life and takes it to the next level, giving us a voice that will haunt nightmares for years to come.

All this would be lost without some truly fantastic directing by Joe Ahearne and a marvellous script by Robert Shearman (it’s a crime that he has yet to return to the show). Dalek is one of those Doctor Who episodes where everything comes together perfectly delivering an absolute masterpiece. Dalek is supreme. All hail Dalek.

10/10

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The Doctor and Rose. Copyright: BBC. 

This first crop of episodes are a great start to Series 1, with not one weak link amongst them. Russell T Davies did the impossible here; he brought Doctor Who back and make it sleeker and bigger than ever without losing the show’s magic touch and charm. The only real flaw in this bunch is the budget; CGI has not aged well and the mastering on the episodes has equally not aged well; the episodes just don’t look as shiny or sleek on flat screen 4K TVs – perhaps indicating BBC should consider a full remaster of the episodes in years to come. But aside from that, the show looks fantastic for its time and this run of episodes is a fantastic way to start the series. Check back next week for retrospectives on the next 7 episodes of Series 1! And check back weekly for new Doctor Who retrospectives all the way until Christmas.

Doctor Who Series 1 Part 1 Average Score: 8.1/10

Doctor Who S10E12 “The Doctor Falls” Review

14983950848970One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. – The First Doctor, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, 1964

Well that was really something. Steven Moffat seemed to throw in everything and the kitchen sink for what was perhaps one of the most thrilling episodes of the series. Two Masters, lots and lots of Cybermen, epic action, regeneration AND the First Doctor? Say what you will about Moffat, at least he knows how to throw a party.

The Doctor Falls was one of the best series finales the show has ever done. Magical, tear jerking, funny and action packed. It delivered everything and was perhaps the most powerful episode of the series.

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The episode framed itself brilliantly around the concept of “denying change”. The Doctor, slowly regenerating, refuses to change. Bill has to struggle with her change into a Cyberman and her refusal to continue living as such. Missy was struggling with her slow change to good while the Master was adamantly against any such change. It was an interesting idea to build the episode around and it worked brilliantly; providing a satisfying ending to most of the character’s arcs. If this was to be the final ever episode of the show, if you remove the cliffhanger, it would have been perfect.

Missy’s character arc was particularly perfect. Missy’s main goal throughout most of her appearances over the last few years was to get her “best friend back”. In Series 8, she tried giving him an army of Cybermen as the means to right all wrongs in the universe for his birthday. In Series 9, she tried to bring the Doctor round to her way of thinking by trying to trick him into killing Clara. And finally in Series 10, when faced with death as the only other option Missy decided to try another way; to try the Doctor’s way of thinking even if it meant eternal imprisonment. During the series, Missy has slowly discovered empathy she never knew she had; such as crying when she remembered the names of all the people she’d killed. Like a true addict, Missy struggled with a return to her addiction. But that spark of good deep inside her worked its way and finally, Missy gave in. she endeavoured to return and help the Doctor only to be shot in the back by her previous incarnation. Missy died, without hope, without witness, without reward, having finally decided to try and live another way. And the Doctor will never know. Michelle Gomez has implied that if the Master is to return, she likely will not meaning this may be Missy’s final appearance. And if it is to be so, I can’t imagine a better way for Michelle Gomez to make her exit. Gomez has played the character perfectly, emerging as perhaps one of the finest actors to ever play the role. If this is the end, she will be sorely missed.

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As for Bill, it’s hard to judge as such. We still don’t know if this is actually Bill’s ending or not (as of writing, Pearl Mackie has not been confirmed for either the 2017 Christmas Special or Series 11). But if this was to be Bill’s ending, it’s a satisfactory one. We all know that Bill was never going to be killed off for good nor remain a Cyberman forever. There was always going to be a way for Bill to survive. And as it goes, this was a nice one. It brought the series full circle in a way and Bill going off on a journey to see the universe with Heather leaves things plenty open for Bill to return in the future. If this is Bill’s end however, then Pearl Mackie leaves with a triumphant performance delivering perhaps her best of the series tied with World Enough and Time. Pearl has been a joy to see on screen week on week and she has left very big shoes to fill for whoever takes her place.

John Simm meanwhile slipped back into the role of the Master with ease, like he’d never been gone. While Simm didn’t get too much to do in this episode (his role was to help further Missy’s character arc), he did leave a strong impression as one of the best parts of the episode. Simm was hilarious and managed to be one of the best things in each scene he was in. And when you share the screen with Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez, that’s no easy feat. And of course his chemistry with Michelle Gomez was delightful. Seeing two Masters on screen was fantastic and the two actors delivered perfectly. Is it wrong to ship someone with themselves? “Yes. Very” says Missy.

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Matt Lucas meanwhile was great as Nardole, even if he didn’t get too much to do which has been a very real issue this series. It raises the question as to why Nardole returned if he was going to be so underused and almost feel like an afterthought in ever script. It’s almost as if the decision to bring back Nardole was made every late in the writing process. While Nardole has been a joy on screen, I am a little disappointed that Nardole didn’t get much to do. However his farewell scene was incredibly touching.

But of course, the real star of the show was Peter Capaldi. Capaldi has always been magnificent in the role of the Doctor and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I were to say he’s the best actor in terms of talent to take the role. Capaldi has never, ever phoned an episode in and this one was no different. I’d even argue that this episode ties with Heaven Sent as Capaldi’s best performance. The Doctor as seen here was emotionally raw, internalising everything (“I love it when he’s Mr. Volcano” Missy quips) and trying his best to put on a brave face for Bill and Nardole. To see the Doctor slowly dying, but doing his best to save even just a few people was awe inspiring. The scene where the Doctor runs through the woods, blasting Cybermen to pieces and giving that epic line of dialogue “I am the Doctor! The original, you might say!” was perhaps one of the episode’s most memorable moments alongside the Doctor’s impassioned plea to the Masters to stay and help.

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All of this would not have been possible without a wonderful script from Steven Moffat. With this being his final finale, Moffat gave it his all and it emerged as one of his best. Snappy dialogue, incredibly touching drama and some really bold ideas really elevated The Doctor Falls. I hope Moffat releases the script for this episode online, because I bet it’s as amazing to read as it is to see on screen. While we have one more Moffat script to look forward to at Christmas, I for one am definitely going to miss his writing.

Rachel Talalay meanwhile was a fantastic director for this episode, delivering yet another brilliant episode. Talalay has proven herself to be a fantastic addition to the Who team over the last few years and with her directing the Christmas Special, I can only hope she’ll be sticking around for a long time to come.

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The Doctor Falls defied all the odds and emerged as an excellent finale to the series. Full of action, drama, humour and tears, it delivered everything I wanted and more. It’s hard to describe just how much I loved this episode, but for me at least, it’s an instant classic and a fitting finale for Moffat’s era on the show. Now when is it Christmas?

10/10

Trivia and Speculation

David Bradley portrays the First Doctor in this episode’s closing moments. Bradley previously portrayed William Hartnell in the 2013 Drama An Adventure in Space and Time, charting the early years of Doctor Who. Bradley had previously appeared in Doctor Who as the villainous Solomon in 2012’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (coincidently written by the next showrunner Chris Chibnall).

David Bradley is the third actor to portray the First Doctor in the show, following William Hartnell who departed the show in 1966’s The Tenth Planet as well as making a brief appearance in 1973’s The Three Doctors and Richard Hurndall who played the character in 1983’s The Five Doctors, made after Hartnell’s passing in 1975.

The First Doctor appears in person for the first time since The Five Doctors. While the First Doctor has appeared via archive footage since then, this is the first time he has appeared in the flesh in over 30 years!

There are several references to previous regeneration stories; the Master appears (Logopolis, Doctor Who The Movie, The End of Time), the Doctor fights the Cybermen (The Tenth Planet, The Time of the Doctor), He defends a small farming community from invaders (The Time of the Doctor), he hallucinates his past companions before he regenerates (The Caves of Androzani) and quotes the final lines of his tenth and eleventh incarnations before finally arriving in Antarctica just before the regeneration of his first incarnation.

The Doctor sees images of his past companions; Rose, Martha, Donna, Jack, Amy, Vastra, Jenny, River, Clara and Bill. This implies the Doctor’s memories of Clara have been restored.

Missy mentions that the Doctor has died by falling. The Fourth Doctor died while fighting the Master by falling from a tower in Logopolis.

Missy reveals that the reason she has no memories of the events of this story while she was the Harold Saxon Master is that her timeline is out of sync. This is the official reason used in Multi-Doctor episodes for why only the most recent Doctor will remember.

The Harold Saxon Master ties the Doctor up and pushes him around in a wheelchair. He has now done so in all three stories he’s appeared in; Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, The End of Time, World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls.

Series 10 Rankings 

1. The Doctor Falls 10/10

2. World Enough and Time 10/10

3. Extremis 10/10

4. Oxygen 8.5/10

5. Thin Ice 8.5/10

6. The Eaters of Light 8.5/10

7. The Pilot 8/10

8. Smile 7.5/10

9. The Pyramid at the End of the World 6/10

10. The Empress of Mars 5/10

11. Knock Knock 5/10

12. The Lie of the Land 4/10

Series 10 Average Score: 7.6/10

 

Doctor Who S10E11 “World Enough And Time” Review

doctor-who-world-enough-and-time-master-missy-1280-1498343223705_1280wHad we but world enough and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way to walk, and pass our long love’s day. To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

The Cybermen have always been one of Doctor Who’s most horrifying foes. They have always represented a dark future for the human race, a small glimpse of what we might become. They are also my favourite monster. So for them to truly emerge as the most horrifying monster in perhaps the most terrifying episode of Series 10 was truly a triumph.

This episode really spun a whole new look at the Cybermen, focusing more on the psychological and body horror aspects of the fearsome creatures. Steven Moffat made an interesting addition to the canon by implying the Cybermen’s emotional inhibitors don’t turn off emotions, but instead stop the Cybermen caring about them. This led to some truly chilling moments with the partially converted Cybermen without inhibitors seen in the hospital all chanting variations of “Pain” and “Kill me”. It really reinforced how pitiful the Cybermen really are. It’s also one of the few stories to explain exactly why the people of Mondas would choose Cyber-Conversion willingly; when faced with sickness, famine and no sign of things getting better, an option of living without having to worry about those things ever again must be mighty appealing. Seeing Mondasian citizens willingly enter the hospital to be converted was truly a pitiful yet chilling sight. The prototype Cybermen seen throughout the episode were also truly terrifying. Being neither human or Cyberman, but somewhere inbetween, the Prototypes were creepy and effective. They were perhaps one of the best additions to the Cybermen canon seen in ages, showing just how desperate the Mondasians had begun.

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The Conversion Hospital itself was a house of nightmares, with distant sounds of saws and lasers sparking horrifying thoughts of what is happening to the Mondasian volunteers, even worse when we realise we can’t hear the screams because the hospital staff mutes them! Steven Moffat and Rachel Talalay are to be commended for bringing such a horrifying vision to the screen. The Conversion Hospital is perhaps one of the scariest locations seen in Doctor Who for quite a while and will certainly linger in the nightmares for many years to come truly cementing the Cybermen as one of Doctor Who’s most terrifying creations and Steven Moffat as a master (no pun intended) of terror.

These horrors however was nothing compared to what poor Bill had to go through. Has there ever been a companion who has had to endure something so horrific? Not only is Bill shot through the chest, leaving a gaping hole there, but she is then converted into a Cyberman – the first Cyberman. Like Bill or not, you can’t deny that this is a fate she does not deserve. Companions have come and gone, some have suffered horrific fates, but none has ever had to suffer what Bill has. To be converted into a Cyberman is something that no one should have to suffer, never mind a beloved character. With the Doctor, Nardole and Missy taking a backseat this episode, this was Pearl Mackie’s time to shine. And boy she did. If Bill’s fate is permanent and isn’t going to be reversed, then this might perhaps it’s fitting that Mackie’s final performance as Bill should be her best. Mackie truly managed to endear Bill to audiences throughout the series and if this is to be her last appearance, it’s a shame to see her go. But she will have left us with the most horrific Companion departure and one that will be remembered as an iconic moment in the show’s history. “I am Bill Potts. I waited. I waited. I waited for you…” will certainly become an iconic line.

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This episode saw the return of the original iconic Mondasian Cybermen. The design, having not been seen in the show since 1966’s The Tenth Planet, is still as effective as it was back then. Distinctly alien, but yet also recognisably human, the Mondasian Cybermen are THE definitive Cybermen and seeing them make their long awaited return in their original design has been worth the wait. If the Mondasian Cybermen are to become the main Cybermen designs going forward, I certainly won’t be complaining. And Nicholas Briggs managed to capture their chilling voice perfectly.

World Enough And Time also saw another long awaited return; the return of John Simm as the Master. True to form, the Master hid in plain sight throughout most of the episode. A true “Master of disguise”, I doubt many managed to pick up that new character Mr. Razor was the Master in disguise well ahead of the reveal. It’s almost a shame BBC revealed Simm was returning ahead of time; imagine the surprise had we not known Simm was returning. The disguise added a whole new level of wickedness to the character, spending years befriending Bill and giving her hope only to rip it all away by happily handing her over to be converted into a Cyberman. Simm slipped back into the role of the Master with glee, delivering a more restrained performance than seen in his previous time in the role but still delivering some of the Master’s trademark humour (see the Master’s face when he realises the innuendo of “very fast bottom”). While we hardly got to see Simm interact with Michelle Gomez and Peter Capaldi this week, hopefully next week’s episode will deliver more on that front.

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Another shining star this week was Doctor Who’s long term composer Murray Gold (who has been composing music for the show since 2005). The score for World Enough And Time was excellent, perhaps the best score of the series so far. The orchestral piece playing towards the end of the episode, as the cliffhanger comes into play, was beautiful. I hope BBC release a soundtrack album for this series soon.

World Enough And Time, being Steven Moffat’s last two parter, had an absolutely cracking script. Beginning with a tease of the Doctor’s regeneration, the episode delivered shock after shock, each one more shocking than the last; The Doctor is regenerating? Bill is dead?! BILL IS A CYBERMAN?! Dialogue was snappy, there were scares, there were laughs and there were tears. The script was one of Moffat’s best, being quintessential Moffat in every respect delivering everything Moffat excels in. If there’s one thing this episode did, it reminded me exactly how much I’m going to miss Moffat when he departs the show alongside Peter Capaldi this Christmas. Moffat has done a lot for the show and has undeniably made an impact. And who can deliver cliffhangers like Moffat can?

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World Enough And Time was the perfect first part to a two parter. It set up the story, it delivered surprises and left us wondering how the Doctor can possibly get out of this fix. And there’s no easy answer to that. The episode also showcased a wonderful performance from Pearl Mackie along with perhaps one of the most shocking moments in Doctor Who history. And this isn’t even counting the most effective use of one of Doctor Who’s most iconic monsters. World Enough And Time may be no Heaven Sent, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a truly chilling episode that deserves every ounce of praise it gets. Here’s hoping The Doctor Falls can live up to or even exceed it.

10/10

Trivia and Speculation

This is the first ever Multi-Master story in the history of the show; with two incarnations of the Master appearing together – Missy and “Harold Saxon”.

The Master refers to having to disguise himself because he looks like the “old Prime Minister”. The Master, in his Harold Saxon guise, became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 2007’s The Sound of Drums. This the second time the Master has had to disguise himself due to this; the Master previously dyed his hair blonde in The End of Time in an attempt to hide but this disguise was incredibly ineffective.

This is the third televised story to see the Master in an alliance with the Cybermen; following 1983’s The Five Doctors and 2014’s Dark Water/Death in Heaven.

The Mondasian Cybermen mark the return of their original design. However, the Mondasian Cybermen have in fact been present since 2010’s The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang as, according to Steven Moffat, the Mondasian Cybermen assimilated the Cybus Cyber-Men from the Parallel Universe. The Mondas Cybermen have been the Cybermen to appear since then.

The Master namedrops the name “Genesis of the Cybermen”. Genesis of the Cybermen was the name of an unproduced story featuring the Fifth Doctor which was later reworked by Big Finish into the acclaimed Audio Serial Spare Parts. Genesis of the Cybermen was also a working title for this episode if rumours are to be believed. It is also a shout-out to the fan-favourite story Genesis of the Daleks, another story which saw the Doctor travel back in time to the origins of one his greatest foes. That story also saw the first appearance of Davros who last appeared in 2015’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, which conveniently is the last time we saw Missy before she started her path to turn “good”.

This is the third finale in a row and the fourth story overall in the Peter Capaldi era to focus on the death of one of the Doctor’s friends. Danny Pink and Osgood died in the Series 8 finale Dark Water/Death in Heaven, Clara Oswald died in the Series 9 finale Face The Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent and the Doctor and River Song had their final night together before she went to her death in the 2016 Christmas Special The Husbands of River Song.

With her earlier incarnation converting Bill into a Cyberman, Missy is now responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the deaths of four of the Doctor’s friends; she arranged the events leading to Danny Pink’s death and converted him into a Cyberman, She killed Osgood (one of them anyway) and brought the Doctor and Clara together to fulfill the Hybrid prophecy which lead to the Time Lords trying to stop it and starting the chain of events that led to Clara’s death.

The Doctor regenerates in the middle of the snow. The First Doctor would regenerate in the Artic during The Tenth Planet, an episode which also saw the first appearance of the Cybermen.

Is the Doctor’s regeneration a flash forward to this year’s Christmas special? Or to next week’s episode?

Could the Doctor save Bill by somehow making the ship fly closer to the Black Hole, which might make time reverse?

Will Missy abandon the Doctor and join forces with her earlier incarnation, or will she stick to the development she has shown and help the Doctor bring him down?

 

Doctor Who S10E10 “The Eaters of Light” Review

eaters_of_light_30Series 10 is almost at its end and we’ve come to the close of the last “normal” episode we’re going to see until the second episode of Series 11, and that could be over a year away. For the next four episodes of the show (the two part series finale, the Christmas Special and the first episode of Series 11) will all be “event” episodes dealing with the resolution of series arcs, a regeneration and the debut of the next Doctor. The episode is also Peter Capaldi’s final “normal” episode of Doctor Who. So how does The Eaters of Light fare, being our final taste of “normal” Doctor Who for quite a while?

Well I am very happy to say The Eaters of Light might just be the best non-Moffat penned episode of Series 10, with it being a close competition between it and Thin Ice. The Eaters of Light works incredibly well as the last episode before the finale, because it ties perfectly into the themes established in the series so far. A monster locked deep in a cage that requires a great warrior to guard it for thousands of years? Is it just me or does that sound like the perfect mirroring to the situation involving the Doctor and Missy?

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The most striking thing about The Eaters of Light was just how weird it was. Talking crows and a monster that eats light are the sort of things that can only work in Doctor Who and the episode dealt with them brilliantly. The Eater itself was a wonderfully designed creature that, despite being a completely CGI beastie, felt distinctly old fashioned and memorable. While we didn’t see too much of it, the episode seemed to know when to give us more and when to hold itself back. The Eater was used just enough for it to leave an impact, but not enough for it to take over the episode. Less is more.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the occasional flourishes of CGI this episode could easily have been the cheapest of the series. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if it actually was. My biggest surprise was just how restrained The Eaters of Light was, but tastefully so and how much it delighted in taking a slower pace in order to accurately develop it’s supporting cast. For this was perhaps the first non-Moffat/Dollard penned episode of the series to actually take the time to flesh out the guest characters. Instead of being vague character archetypes or being poorly/hastily developed, the characters here felt fully fleshed out. And this really benefitted the episode. It made it easier for us to care about these characters once we got to know them a little bit.

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Kar and Lucius, the respective leaders of the Picts and the Ninth Legion survivors, were particular standouts. Kar could easily have been just another “feisty” Scottish redhead, but managed to show some great character as a young girl in way over her head but trying to act like she’s in control. Kar may not have had a lot of screen time in the episode, but thanks to the strong writing and Rebecca Benson’s strong performance, she emerged as one of the highlights of the episode. It’s a shame Benson may not appear again (maybe she can pull a Freema Agyemen/Karen Gillian and go on to become a companion in the future, playing a different character) as she showed a lot of promise. Lucius meanwhile, also played brilliantly by Brian Vernel, was another highlight of the episode. Delivering a surprisingly complex performance, Lucius managed to bring a very human element to the Roman legion; a soldier who’s growing disenfranchised with all the death and destruction and is trying to keep a brave face, while wondering what exactly he’s fighting for. The scene where the two finally met and, thanks to the TARDIS’s telepathic circuit, were able to understand and talk to each other was an excellent moment in the episode; calling to mind how many conflicts in our history could have been solved if both parties talked to each other – harkening back to the Doctor’s speech in The Zygon Inversion.

The Eaters of Light could very easily have been an episode from the Classic Series of Doctor Who. Which is no doubt due to Rona Munro being the writer. Munro had previously penned the Sylvester McCoy serial Survival, which was also the final serial broadcast before the show’s cancellation, making her the only writer to have written for both the Classic and Revival eras of the show. The Eaters of Light then, felt like a magical blend of the two eras; the storytelling of Classic Who with the modern sensibilities and budget of Revival Who. Munro didn’t make the monsters the main attraction here, instead focusing on the story and the characters. The small moment in the middle of the episode where all the Romans revealed they were actually bisexual and considered people who only liked one gender (no matter which) to be odd but still accepted was a surprisingly sweet moment and called to mind how more open and accepting past societies were to the various forms human sexuality can take than our modern one.

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Perhaps it’s because The Lie of the Land and Empress of Mars were underwhelming, but it’s hard to describe exactly how entertaining and refreshing The Eaters of Light really was. Perhaps the episode’s only major failing was how quickly the Eater was defeated. But this can be forgiven for how well the episode succeeded in other areas, especially as the following scene seeing Kar and the Ninth Legion sacrifice themselves to fight off the Eaters forever more than made up for it.

Atmosphere is a very important part of stories and The Eaters of Light excelled in atmosphere. From the talking crows, to creepy Scottish forests to dark and dingy caves, the entire episode just looked fantastic and this was in part down to some amazing direction by Charles Palmer. Having earlier directed Oxygen, an episode that also looked fantastic, it comes as no surprise that The Eaters of Light looked fantastic as well. If Palmer doesn’t get invited back for Series 11, then it’s a crime.

Matt Lucas really shone as Nardole this week. Nardole has been the highlight of the series overall so far so seeing the Doctor and Nardole really have a chance to play off each other without Bill around was really welcome. It’s just a shame that it took right until the end of the series for it to happen. I live and hope for a whole series of Big Finish audio stories of just the Doctor and Nardole bouncing off each other. Capaldi and Matt Lucas have incredible chemistry and it’s slightly saddening we only got one series of it.

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A major reason why The Eaters of Light worked so well was perhaps because of how traditional it felt. While this may be down to Munro having written for the Classic Series, it elevated the material incredibly well. It was one of those rare episodes where Doctor Who is quintessential Doctor Who. An episode that perfectly sticks to the established clichés of what we expect from a “filler” episode, but never lets them hold it back. Rona Munro has crafted one of the strongest episodes of the season. As the last “filler” episode for quite a while, Munro’s latest episode is a resounding triumph. Here’s hoping it isn’t her last.

8.5/10

Trivia and Speculation:

With Missy’s appearance in this episode, both stories Rona Munro has penned for the show have featured the Master; with Anthony Ainley’s incarnation of the Time Lord appearing as the main antagonist of her earlier story Survival.

It perhaps fitting that an episode set in Scotland would be Scottish actor Peter Capaldi’s final “average” episode of the show. Previous episodes set in Scotland include 2006’s Tooth and Claw (which according to rumours was only set in the country to allow David Tennant to use his native Scottish accent), 2015’s Under the Lake/Before the Flood, 1967’s The Highlanders and 1975’s Terror of the Zygons. Peter Capaldi is the third Scottish actor to portray the Doctor; Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant both hail from Scotland. The Doctor has had various companions from Scotland including the Second Doctor’s companion Jamie McCrimmon and the Eleventh Doctor’s companion Amy Pond, played by Scottish actress Karen Gillian. Neve McIntosh, the actress behind Silurian detective Madame Vastra, also comes from Scotland.

The episode marks another appearance by Romans. Romans have been seen in many episodes across the show’s history; more recently in 2008’s The Fires of Pompeii and 2010’s The Pandorica Opens. In a pure coincidence, The Eaters of Light aired on the birthday of actor Arthur Darvill, who played companion Rory Williams from 2010 to 2012. Rory was memorably erased from time in his debut series and would later reappear as a Roman Centurion in The Pandorica Opens. Rory would don his Roman armour in two later episodes; A Christmas Carol and A Good Man Goes to War and it is considered his iconic outfit.  It is a fun coincidence then that the episode featuring an appearance by Romans would air on Darvill’s birthday. An even more interesting coincidence that the episode would see a Roman soldier form a close bond with a Scottish redhead, since Darvill’s on-screen wife in Doctor Who was none other than Scottish redhead Amy Pond. It gets even more interesting still as Rory and Lucius have both spent thousands of years guarding a prison of sorts; Rory guarding the Pandorica and Lucius guarding the gateway to the Eater’s dimension.

Rona Munro’s first Doctor Who episode, Survival, originally aired in 1989. Rona Munro’s return to Doctor Who in 2017 is the longest gap between episodes of the show penned by the same writer with a remarkable 28 years!

The ending scene of this episode implies Missy’s Heel-Face turn is genuine, but the Doctor isn’t too sure. Could we be in for the Doctor not trusting Missy and this sending her back down the path of darkness?

Doctor Who S10E09 “Empress of Mars” Review

Mark Gatiss’s love for the Ice Warriors is no secret. Not only did he pen their return to the series back in 2013’s Cold War, but he has frequently praised them in interviews across the years. If one was to hazard a guess as to what Gatiss’s favourite Doctor Who monster was, the Ice Warriors would be a safe bet. So it comes as no surprise that for the episode Gatiss is treating as his final ever episode on the show (on the off chance he doesn’t get invited back by Chris Chibnall) features them in a large capacity and, amusingly, features a cameo very few “modern” Doctor Who fans are likely to get. How many people know who the Alpha Centauri is and have seen the episodes it appeared in? Gatiss also was intent to deliver something Doctor Who fans have never seen before; the Ice Warriors on Mars. Yes, despite them being native to the red planet, the Martian warriors have never actually appeared in an episode set there. So how does Empress of Mars fare, being both Gatiss’s potential final episode and as a grand return for the Ice Warriors?

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Well, ultimately Empress of Mars is fine. Functionally fine. It’s never particularly bad at any point, but yet never quite breaks the mould to stand on its own two feet. While the episode is enjoyable, it’s ultimately largely forgettable as well. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the closing scene with Missy, hardly anything of any consequence would have happened in the episode. While this isn’t a bad thing, it’s certainly good for the show to have a “breather” episode after the Monk Trilogy and before next week’s The Eaters of Light presumably leads directly into the two part finale. In fact, the episode does feel like it was intended to come earlier in the series but was instead rewritten to come later, in order to add a breather episode at a guess; the episode does find a way to remove Nardole from the plot very quickly, almost as if he originally wasn’t supposed to be in it at all. The episode never does quite explain why the TARDIS upped and left. Perhaps it has an allergy to Ice Warriors since it did the same thing in Cold War?

The episode starts off well enough, the opening 10 minutes or so are legitimately quite interesting, as the Doctor attempts to warn the Victorian soldiers that their Ice Warrior ally “Friday” might not have their best interests at heart. While the rest of the episode is incredibly easy to predict from this introduction (of course the sulking second in command will betray the group at some point), Gatiss does get a chance to shine with some fun dialogue and banter. Bill pointing out the similarities to many Sci-Fi movies, and being horrified at the Doctor’s lack of pop culture awareness, was quite funny. Especially since it carried on a trait established back in 2014’s Last Christmas; “There’s a horror movie called Alien?! That’s incredibly offensive! No wonder you keep getting invaded!”

But perhaps the main failing of Empress of Mars was the pacing. It takes way too long for the episode’s plot, and for the titular Empress, to appear by which point everything is incredibly rushed as there’s too little time for anything to properly develop. This leaves the episode being rather oddly balanced. That said, there was some joy in seeing the Ice Warriors stomping around blasting people to bits.

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The most disappointing thing was seeing the episode squander a rather interesting concept; Victorians on Mars fighting the Ice Warriors. What could easily have been a fun romp suffers from doing a little too much for its slim runtime. I get the feeling Gatiss was intent on exploring so many different ideas and storylines, all of them great, when the simple story of a group of Victorian soldiers fighting Ice Warriors on Mars would have more than sufficed. Which isn’t to criticise Gatiss at all. It’s great to have ambition for a story. But perhaps the episode could have benefitted from dialling itself back to focusing on the conflict and having the conflicting species and ideologies form the core of the episode, with just an inkling of Gatiss’s trademark humour and irony to make the whole thing sparkle.

As for the titular Empress, she fails to make much of an impression. Feeling like a re-tread of the Empress of the Racnoss, namely an actress in lots of prosthetics shouting all her lines and struggling to create a character audiences can connect with. Perhaps this was due to the Empress not making her debut until nearly 30 minutes into the episode, but it’s a shame to see the episode’s titular character be underserved. However, the concept of Ice Warrior hierarchy deserves exploring in the future so hopefully the Empress makes a return.

Another problem was that the episode seemed to recover a lot of the ground established in Cold War, feeling very much like a repeat of that episode. Ice Warriors encounter human soldiers from the past, a betrayal from a scheming second in command, the Doctor trying to deflate the conflict, the Ice Warriors attacking the humans over a perceived slight etc. While the storylines weren’t exactly the same, Empress of Mars returned to a lot of the same ground, which left it feeling very familiar and predictable.

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Now, this review may make it sound like I really disliked Empress of Mars, but that’s not the case. I did enjoy it, but I found the episode pretty unremarkable and largely forgettable. Most of the supporting cast does a good job while Capaldi is once again on fine form. The Ice Warriors felt like they’d marched right out of a Troughton serial which was great. But that said, the episode does struggle to maintain interest throughout. Even on rewatch, it’s easy to find your interest dipping. Coupled with it being incredibly familiar as well as being rather unremarkable in its own right, it’s easy to see this episode becoming the “episode you have on in the background when doing something else” in future marathons.

If this is to be Mark Gatiss’s final episode for the show, it’s a shame he will depart with one that is, well unremarkable and forgettable. While functionally Empress of Mars just scrapes by, there’s nothing about the episode that is particularly memorable beyond the novelty value of finally seeing the Ice Warriors on their home planet. It squanders what could have been a fun-Crimson Horror esque romp that could have explored the differing ideologies of Victorian values and Ice Warrior culture, with perhaps a comment on how the idea of Britain being “great” was built on the suffering and deaths of others, in favour of an episode that tries to be everything. It tries to be funny, it tries to be scary, it tries to be a romp, it tries to be dark, and it tries to have multiple underlying themes which ultimately leads none of them to really connect. With a bit of rethinking and some dialling back of some elements, Empress of Mars could have really been something special. As it stands, it’s a passable experience but certainly won’t linger in the memory.

5/10

Trivia and Speculation:

A portrait of Queen Victoria appears in the episode. The portrait shows Victoria as portrayed by Pauline Collins in 2006’s Tooth and Claw.

The Doctor mentions that he really should get around to fixing the Sonic Screwdriver’s inability to do anything with wood. This failure of the device has been used as a convenient way to stop the Doctor saving the day with the device, and has been the butt of many jokes, over the last few years.

The Alpha Centauri returns to Doctor Who, 43 years after its last appearance in 1974’s The Curse of Peladon featuring Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane. Ysanne Churchman, the voice of Alpha Centauri in the classic series, returns to voice the character in this episode. At 92, she is the oldest cast member of the entire Doctor Who revival series.

At one point in the episode, the Empress shouts “Sleep No More!” to her waking Ice Warriors. Sleep No More was the title of Mark Gatiss’s Series 9 episode and this bit of dialogue is perhaps a shout out to that episode and a nod to how Empress of Mars replaced a potential sequel to Sleep No More.

The Doctor’s shocked reaction to Missy is intriguing. Was he just surprised she came to help and didn’t attempt to steal the TARDIS? Or does he know something we don’t? Is there in fact something about Missy that we the audience don’t know, yet the Doctor does? Or maybe her being let out of the vault inadvertently started something.

 

Doctor Who S10E08 “The Lie of the Land” Review

p054dhlkWell that was underwhelming.

Despite this Monk trilogy having got off to a flying start, the three part storyline ended with a whimper rather than a bang and left more questions than it did answers. Despite a promising start, The Lie of the Land quickly petered out into a cliché filled climax that managed to wrap up the storyline without actually resolving anything at all. And in a very unsatisfying way at that.

For the Monks, the villains of this three part tale, are still just as mysterious as they were back in Extremis (still the best episode of this trilogy). We have no idea who they are, what their goals are, why they chose Earth and what exactly they were trying to accomplish apart from the fact they have invaded multiple planets before. Infuriatingly, The Lie of the Land did not take any time at all to explain who the Monks actually are leaving them the most vague and ill-defined Doctor Who villains of recent memory. While it’s possible the Monks could return later in the series, a common fan theory is that the Monks are Cybermen without their armour, it’s still poor form to not even attempt to define exactly who the villains of the last three episodes even are. We had a much firmer grasp of the Silence at the end of their debut story despite there still being a lot of unanswered questions there. Not even attempting to answer a single question about the Monks makes this storyline seem almost pointless and certainly not worth devoting three entire episodes to a villain that is going to end up being just a vague threat rather than a developed villain. This may be forgivable if the Monks make a reappearance in the Series 10 finale, but as it stands they’re a wonderful concept for and beautifully designed villain, but are ultimately vague and forgettable antagonists.

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Now this could have been forgiven if The Lie of the Land had delivered elsewhere. Sad to say then that the episode was utterly unimaginative and dull despite getting off to a great start. The opening few scenes seeing Bill navigate a world where the Monks have seemingly been in control forever, despite only being there a few months, were excellent. A sort of dystopia, a world where people welcome their oppression with open arms. The episode seemed to be making a political point about the current rise of fascism in the world, despite us all having evidence that never turns out well. Indeed, scenes where the public cheered the Monks executing those who would question them certainly calls to mind people cheering on Donald Trump wanting to throw political rival Hilary Clinton in prison and people celebrating the Daily Mail’s headline proclaiming British Judges ensuring the Brexit process is done legally to be “enemies of the people”. The attempts to quieten any dissatisfaction also called to mind Donald Trump’s attempts to dismiss anyone who criticises him as “fake news” or liars. In fact, the Monks broadcasting “fake history” seemed to even be a comment on “fake news”, that despite those in power decrying those who oppose them as “fake news”, they are the biggest makers of it in the first place.

The Doctor actively helping the Monks was also a great touch, following on from the implication they’d brainwashed him when restoring his sight at the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World. The Doctor’s broadcasts were eerily similar to broadcasts seen in 1984 and The Hunger Games, promising all is well and feeding the populace lies to keep them placated and under control. A common tactic by many fascist regimes is to use the media to make the public love them so that was a nice touch. All this promised what looked set to be a killer of an episode. What a shame then it was all undone less than 20 minutes into the episode. Perhaps BBC has a mandate against the Doctor being evil for an extended period of time? Maybe they think there won’t be as many action figure sales…

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The scene where Bill and Nardole confronted the “evil” Doctor was the best of the episode however. Pearl Mackie delivered perhaps her best performance yet as Bill, with a very passionate and emotion filled performance as Bill had to face the “reality” that her closest friend had betrayed her. Capaldi also matched her by playing the Doctor colder and harsher than he has done before. The acting between these two was magnificent and the scene kept building and building until the emotion climaxed in Bill shooting the Doctor, causing him to regenerate.

And then it was all a lie. In perhaps the biggest tease in Doctor Who history, the Doctor revealed it was all a trick just to make sure Bill wasn’t brainwashed by the Monks. The bullets were blanked and the Doctor was faking his regeneration. Which does call into question why the Doctor would fake his regeneration since Bill has no idea what regeneration is…

While sure, the Doctor was never going to regenerate midway through the series (we know for a fact Capaldi won’t be leaving the show until the Christmas Special), but it does call into question exactly what the point of the “evil Doctor” and the fake regeneration actually was… APART from having something to put in the trailers. The Doctor’s trickery doesn’t even place a strain on his and Bill’s friendship. Previous trickery by the Twelfth Doctor put massive strain on his friendship with Clara which took most of Series 8 to repair. Instead Bill just takes it. She doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with the Doctor deceiving her in such an emotionally manipulative way.

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Now, I love Toby Whithouse as a writer. Being Human is one of my favourite TV shows and three of Whithouse’s prior Doctor Who scripts; School Reunion, The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy are three of my favourite episodes of the show. But the writing is where The Lie of the Land fell apart. Every fault with the episode can be traced back to the script. From the Monks being ill-defined antagonists, the “evil Doctor” plotline being pointless and having no consequences in the Doctor and Bill’s relationship to other things not quite working; one of the soldiers having their “truth audio” cut out and turn against the Doctor seemed to only happen to set up a Nardole joke. There are rumours Steven Moffat didn’t do any rewrites on this episode due to personal reasons, but I’d be incredibly surprised if Whithouse needed heavy rewrites on his scripts. So perhaps the fault lies in the story itself. Perhaps the Monk storyline just wasn’t strong enough to support three full episodes? Maybe splitting the story across three writers led to a lack of focus? The latter would certainly explain why the abilities of the Monks is so inconsistent across the three episodes and why its conclusion felt so familiar. The Doctor and his companions hijacking the airwaves to inspire humanity into driving an occupying alien species off the planet. Sound familiar? I’ll take your Silence as an agreement.

Speaking of the episode’s conclusion, I have nothing against Bill’s love for her mother saving the day. It’s heart-warming and would be a perfect moment for Bill’s character… if again this wasn’t something we had seen before in Doctor Who. Which seems to be the ultimate problem with The Lie of the Land, everything it does well was done better by episodes before it and everything it doesn’t do well was also done better by other episodes before it. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that never quite gel together, leaving the episode an uncomfortable mess.

The episode scored points however by featuring the return of Missy, however brief as it may have been. Michelle Gomez was on fire this episode, proving once again why she is certainly the best Master since Roger Delgado. Perhaps the episode could have benefitted from a little more Missy, especially since Extremis implied the Doctor was actually going to release her from the Vault to seek her aid. Since Michelle Gomez has implied she may not return to play the Master once Capaldi and Moffat leave, it seems a shame the show isn’t taking full advantage of her when it can. As it stands, the scene with Missy might just be the episode’s second best scene (following the Bill/Doctor faceoff).

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The Lie of the Land was an underwhelming conclusion that started out so well. Extremis was clearly the peak of this three part trilogy, enough to make me wonder if it would have been better served as a standalone episode so it could be enjoyed in the future by not being attached to The Pyramid at the End of the World and The Lie of the Land. Instead, Extremis will be forever shacked to these two underwhelming episodes leaving a trilogy that probably showcased exactly why other people probably shouldn’t play with Steven Moffat’s toys once he departs, since he seems to be the only one to make magic out of them. The Lie of the Land wastes a truly unique Doctor Who villain in a messy and uncoordinated plot that has too many Doctor Who clichés and pointless plot threads for it to truly standout.

4/10

Trivia and Speculation:

The Doctor shows images from invasion attempts by the Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels that the Monks stopped. Of the clips used, only one is actually on Earth – the clip of the Weeping Angels from Blink. The clips of the Daleks and Cybermen are pulled from Into The Dalek and Nightmare in Silver, episodes that did not take place on Earth.

Missy is seen with a piano: the same piano she was playing at the end of Knock Knock.

If Missy is committed to becoming good and this isn’t a trick, could the finale in fact be Missy working with the Doctor to stop her prior incarnation that is John Simm’s Master?