This is one of very few episodes from around this time that I have strong memories of watching, and they’re not good memories. There was a small gathering of us at a friend’s house, and we were all stunned into silence by how brain-meltingly dull it was. It’s the biggest crime that a Doctor Who episode can commit; with all of space and time to play with, how do you end up somewhere so boring?
It seemed promising to start with. I liked the Doctor making a trip through Clara’s timeline, if only for the Beano Summer Special and the fact that Clara’s mum has recently turned up in Corrie. The idea of the new companion’s first trip being to a bustling alien market is sound, but such settings are often hard to realise, and it was painfully obvious that all this was taking place indoors, under studio lights. One of the costumes glimpsed in these scenes ended up being used in the worst episode of Red Dwarf XI, so maybe it’s this costume’s fault.
One of the things that turned me against this episode was the idea that sentimental value can be used as energy. I’m not a huge stickler for scientific accuracy – not least because most of my “scientific” knowledge comes from Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Hitchhikers anyway – but it does put my back up when the show starts talking about souls and spirits as if they’re definitely real things, or when it features concepts that could also be used by alternative medicine quacks. It’s by no means a new phenomenon in Who, but it seems a lot more frequent these last couple of series.
Usually there’s some attempt at a scientific explanation for such things, no matter how flimsy, but instead all we get here is some people singing. So much singing. Singing is boring, especially when it’s not very good music, and you can’t hear what they’re saying anyway. There was so much of it that I started to tune it out. This stuff holds no entertainment value for me whatsoever, save for one brief moment when the Doctor attempts to join in, but that was only because it made Matt Smith resemble John Redwood trying to sing the Welsh national anthem.
With so much singing, being used in place of both exposition and action, thrills were few and far between. Almost all of the Doctor’s proactive moments involved pointing the Sonic and something and holding it for ages – so much of this episode was just noise. In the end the baddy (some sort of angry sun who eats sentimentality or some shit) is defeated by a combination of more singing, a speech and a leaf. The middle of those is presumably supposed to be a big moment, but it’s nonsense – it was built up to be the Doctor sacrificing his memories at huge personal risk, but it turned out that there were no consequences to him whatsoever, and what’s more it didn’t even work.
Looking back, it’s funny how my interest in Who really dipped around this time, as it wasn’t long before a combination of the 50th and Capaldi made my fandom stronger than ever, leading directly to this blog’s existence. I think it was partly that the novelty had worn off and partly that work and other interests were competing for my attention, but this episode may have been a factor. It was the first time that I’d watched an episode in a group and found nothing to enjoy from the experience. Normally even with shit episodes, you can sit and take the piss out of it, but this was just too tedious and dispiriting even for that. Doctor Who no longer felt special. Thankfully this feeling was very temporary, and I’m looking forward to seeing if my opinions on the rest of this series change now that I know the old magic was never far away.