I was really chuffed when I heard Rona Monro was coming back. I’d recently seen Survival and thoroughly enjoyed it, plus it’s a lovely thing that there’s now somebody who’s written for both incarnations of the show. Come on Chibbers, bring Terrence back next. In the end, the comeback doesn’t come close to hitting the heights of her first story, and is one of what is now a higher proportion than normal of episodes this series that are fairly ordinary, never really eliciting a strong reaction one way or the other.
It’s often rather disappointing when such an episode shows up during a run, as each week you’re waiting and hoping that you’re going to be blown away. On a rewatch however, it’s a lot easier to take, as devoid of expectations you can appreciate the little things. The talking crows are a very silly but rather sweet idea, and I loved the Romans thinking Bill was repressed because she’s not bi. Relative time dilation is always fun too – there’ll be a lot more of that next time. Nardole being bessie mates with all the Picts is perhaps the highlight; at this stage he’s developed into a really likeable character who’s just a blast to have around.
The only problem is that these nice little moments are probably supposed to feel much bigger than they do, because there wasn’t a great deal to get excited about overall. None of the Romans or the Picts were particularly well drawn, and it’s a shame that there wasn’t more time to round any of them out, which Monro excelled at in Survival. It was also a shame to have Bill spend so much of the episode separated from the Doctor when they’ve got so little time left together – I feel like I say that a lot whenever a departure is looming.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the episode was the couple of minutes with Missy at the end. While Bill and Nardole were right to be horrified to find her in the TARDIS, the concept is more familiar to those who have seen Scream of the Shalka, and it would actually be a fitting punishment to have her acting as the Doctor’s dogsbody. The pair of them coming together as friends feels right somehow – the Master is probably my favourite of all the Doctor’s adversaries, humanoid or otherwise, and that’s underpinned by their complex and at times ambiguous relationship. This feels like a natural progression – something both characters have secretly wanted for a long time.