Ah yes, this is the series where all the episodes are two-parters, or at least each pair of episodes are linked in some way. This is only the second set, and already we see how they’re playing with the format to keep things varied, as these are two episodes that are very much telling the same story, but in two completely different ways.
The first is a nicely old-fashioned base under siege story, where the monsters start using the base itself against their victims. There’s a vague Aliens vibe to it, thanks to the presence within the crew of an obnoxious company man who cares more about profits than people, and the monsters that mostly come at night, mostly. Said monsters are the ghosts of everyone who dies, including Dennis Pennis and Colin McFarlane from The Fast Show.
The crew were pretty good on the whole, and I particularly liked how casually the character of Cass was incorporated into the mix. The leader of the group just happens to be deaf. She doesn’t have any special skills as a result, and there’s no plot reason that requires someone not being able to hear. She has a disability, but the part isn’t all about her disability. There’s something rather lovely about it.
Meanwhile, with Danny out of the way, Clara’s relationship with the Doctor continues to go from strength to strength. They’re both looking out for each other; she’s trying to improve his social skills by giving him cue cards, and he’s already showing concern that she’s becoming over-confident, and starting to turn into him. They treat each other as equals, and while that’s not quite the case, given how long she’s been around and the pivotal role she’s played throughout the Doctor’s lives, she has a better claim than most.
Anyway, the second episode takes a very different approach, thanks to the Doctor deciding to use time travel to help him solve the mystery. He should do that more often, it seems very useful. The tone is set with the bizarre but brilliant pre-titles, where the fourth wall is well and truly broken so the Doctor can give us some background information on bootstrap paradoxes. I love the idea of a guitar version of the theme tune more than the execution, which was a little messy and badly mixed. I prefer Hank Marvin’s version.
The second part is a lot talkier than the first. The action back on the base doesn’t seem to have much sense of purpose, just a lot of the stereotypical running-through-corridors with no real jeopardy. The Doctor’s stuff in the faux Russian village is better, and I could have done with more time being spent on the attempts to beat pre-destiny, or the dangers of multiple versions of the characters travelling to the same time.
The ghost Doctor turning up was a great cliffhanger, but it means that the concluding part relies heavily on the “how are they going to get out of that” element, which obviously is never as good when you’re rewatching. I can’t remember how quickly I figured it out originally, but I’m pretty sure the stasis pod being in both time periods, and the Doctor standing over it when it was empty, was a dead giveaway.
There’s no solution for the bootstrap paradox involved in the resolution, but that’s kind of the point – it’s just one of those quirks that will inevitably occur when you’re dealing with time travel, and these thought-provoking curiosities are the reason I love time travel stories. The whole thing about Beethoven’s Fifth really resonates – I used to have the exact same thoughts whenever I watched Gary Sparrow’s plagiarism in Goodnight Sweetheart.