The Woman Who Fell to Earth

I honestly never had any intention of doing this. I never feel qualified to properly review new episodes, and I’d rather just enjoy them and not think about them too much. I’m one of the generation that didn’t have Who on air during our childhoods, and so I think I’m overcompensating by often ignoring the adult, cynical, critical voice in the back of my head. Unless an episode is a complete dud, I’ve frequently found that I can only really see the negatives on a second viewing, and as this blog is founded on documenting my immediate first reactions, there didn’t seem much point in bothering you all with my semi-formed thoughts.

But I didn’t expect my immediate reaction to this episode to be so overwhelming. There’s a lot of context to bear in mind. I missed Sunday’s broadcast because it was the weekend of Dimension Jump XX, the Red Dwarf convention to celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary. Not going to lie, it’s probably going to go down as both the best and most stressful few days of my life. My partner organises the event, and I help out quite a lot, and so I’m emotionally, mentally and physically drained right now. On top of that, because the weekend was such a success and was so special for everyone that attended, including us staff, everything is surrounded by a warm, fuzzy haze of love and positivity.

We didn’t get home until late Tuesday night, still shattered and probably not completely compos mentis, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I’d managed to stay spoiler free, but was aware that most people I knew, whether hardcore or casual fans, were largely very positive, plus I’d seen and was delighted by the viewing figures. So I watched. And I loved it. I couldn’t believe how good it was – I was optimistic in the build up, but still had doubts about various aspects, not least the showrunner, but my expectations were exceeded on pretty much every level.

Afterwards I excitedly opened up the email thread I’d been ignoring for the last couple of days, the one that contained the opinions of the people I’ve been discussing Who with since 2005. I was disappointed to see that they weren’t quite as positive as me. Don’t get me wrong, their opinions were fair and even-handed, their criticisms valid, and they’re all people whose views I very much respect. They’re all among my closest friends. But my first reply to that thread was:

Bollocks to the lot of you, that was amazing and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

 

And my first tweet on the subject, moments later, was similarly emotionally involved:

But later, I calmed down a little, and sent this to the group just before I went to bed:

I am admittedly very tired and certainly over emotional (I thought I’d cried all the tears out of my body over the course of the weekend, but apparently not), but barely any of the negatives that have been mentioned even occurred to me when watching.

I was just swept away by the boldness of the new style, the skill deployed in successfully (imo) establishing so many new characters in such a short space of time, the brilliance of Sheffield as the choice of the “base” of this particular era – similar to how RTD’s companions all gave their series a grounding in their home town, but doing it somewhere other than London, and therefore giving it a distinctly Northern flavour – and how captivated I was every time Whittaker was on screen. She was fantastic, everything I was hoping for.

And it just made me very happy, already knowing that the ratings were incredible and that the general consensus was so positive, that I was in step. There’s also a huge sense of relief that the optimism I’ve been feeling wasn’t misplaced – despite any niggles mentioned (all of which are completely fair and valid, for the record), I think we can all agree that there’s a lot of potential here, providing it’s handled right.

Like I say, I know I’m not in the best mental state to be objective right now, and I will rewatch and reassess before Sunday. I’m not completely without niggles myself – I liked Yas and loved Graham, but am not yet sold on Ryan, finding the actor a little wooden at times. And it’s a common thing for me to be swept away by Who on first viewing and then become aware of its flaws the second time, having seen what others have said. But even if it doesn’t stand up when I go back to it, television is all about the initial instinctive experience, and I’m a very happy Doctor Who fan right now.

And after I hit send I realised that I’d essentially just written a miniature blog entry. So sod it, I might as well post it – this blog was started as something for my own benefit, so that I’d remember my initial reactions in years to come, and I definitely want to remember this one. No idea whether or not I’ll feel compelled to do the same for the rest of the series, or whether this is just a one-off bonus entry, but I might as well change the banner just in case…

RATING: 10

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Twice Upon A Time

On the 26th October 2014, I fancied watching some classic era Doctor Who. Things kind of got out of hand.

I looked at my shelf, and my eyes were drawn to a couple of boxsets that I’d bought but never watched – The Key To Time and The Trial of a Time Lord. What a novelty it would be, I thought, to watch a full season of the show, rather than just the odd serial. Then I noticed my well-worn The Beginning boxset, and I had an idea. An idea, a blank spreadsheet, the Wikipedia list of Doctor Who episodes and an Amazon wishlist. A project was born.

Three years, four months and fourteen days later, the journey is complete, and the end point couldn’t be more apt. Not only is it the end of an era for both Doctor and showrunner, but we’ve virtually come full circle, with an adventure featuring the First Doctor (along with, all too briefly, Ben and Polly), set within a serial I first watched in March 2015. I loved David Bradley in AAISAT, and so was delighted that he got the chance to do it for real, not least because it means that there’s now an official Doctor who’s an Aston Villa fan.

Former Doctors being extremely grumpy about everything to do with their future selves is a well-established staple for multi-Doctor stories, and the comedy drove the opening stages of this story. Between the complaints about windows being wrong, Bradley describing Capaldi’s TARDIS as being like “some restaurant for the French”, and him threatening to smack Bill’s bottom, Moffat was on very good form for his last hurrah.

The First Doctor’s casual sexism stirred some furious debate at Christmas time. To those who feel that it was unfair to the First Doctor’s reputation – or indeed that of Classic Who – I’d suggest they go back and actually watch some. There were all kinds of now-unsavoury attitudes on display in the black and white days, but you can see past this because the episodes are a product of their time, and there are plenty of more progressive ideas in evidence, both in front of and behind the cameras. Moffat knows this, so there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of playful fun with it fifty years later.

It was quite a bold move to end an era with no real villain and no evil plot to thwart. The reveal of Rusty in the tower was somewhat underwhelming – if I hadn’t had rewatched his episode a month earlier, I doubt I’d have remembered who he was. But it feels kind of apt that Moffat would choose to eschew so many conventions for his swansong, and the lack of blockbuster action wasn’t really an issue, as the episode is about much more than that.

It’s two stubborn old men – well, one stubborn old man, twice – having to learn something about themselves before they can come to terms with death, or at least the Time Lord equivalent of death. For the First Doctor, he has to realise how much potential he has to be a force for good in the universe, and this is what changes him from the reluctant hero of his first incarnation to the pro-active protagonist he became from Troughton onwards. It takes a demonstration of the Twelfth Doctor’s ingenuity and mercy for him to see it, during which I myself learned that the mere mention of the name “Lethbridge-Stewart” is enough to make me cry. Those Christmas Day truce scenes were truly emotional.

As for the Twelfth Doctor, it takes a combination of Bill, Nardole and Clara to convince him to carry on, with the ex-companion cameos now seemingly a tradition for regeneration stories. It’s a shame that Jenna Coleman’s availability kept her and Capaldi apart, but the one final cuddle between him, Bill and Nardole was just lovely. Then one of Doctor Who‘s greatest ever writers signs off with a beautiful speech for one of Doctor Who‘s greatest ever lead actors. I feel like neither will be truly appreciated until they’re gone, but both of them have done so much to take the show into new and original directions, which is no mean feat after such a long life.

I’ve been worried about the Moffat-less future ever since his successor was announced. But one perfect piece of casting goes a long way to improving expectations, and I have to say that the final minute of this episode was a pretty amazing teaser for what’s to come. I wasn’t expecting such a dramatic cliffhanger – normally the Doctor having a new face is enough, especially as this face is so different to the ones that came before. I am unequivocally delighted that Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor, and I absolutely can’t wait to see more. “Aw, brilliant!” indeed.

RATING: 10

Well now. Let’s just have a quick check of the progress counter:

  • Seasons/Series watched: 36 of 36
  • Stories watched: 276 of 276
  • Individual episodes watched: 840 of 840

I’ve done it. I’ve watched every episode ever of Doctor Who – plus all the specials and spin-offs – in order, not quite a day at a time. It’s taken me longer than anticipated; it wasn’t possible to keep up the daily pace during the modern era, with its 45-minute-plus episodes and the requirement to write a blog entry after virtually every viewing, and I’ll admit that this portion has been a bit of a slog at times, just due to how long it’s taken me to get through it.

But now that it’s over, I feel slightly bereft. What am I going to do with my evenings and weekends now? Bereft, but also immensely satisfied. I hardly ever finish projects like these, but this has been an absolute joy. There were times when I was working late, or when I was stressed, or rushed off my feet, when knowing that I had an episode of Who lined up before bedtime was what got me through the day. I’ve laughed a lot, I’ve cried surprisingly often, and my love for Doctor Who is stronger than ever.

Meanwhile, I’ve turned 30, stopped freelancing, got a steady job, and found myself unexpectedly moving up the career ladder. Several of my friends have moved away, got married, had babies or all three, and I feel like a slightly different person to the one that started this madness; this project has coincided with me coming to terms with not being a kid any more, and becoming more of an actual grown-up. Maybe dedicating so much of my time to what is essentially a glorified kids’ show is what I needed to help me through it.

Regardless, it definitely feels right that this should come to an end now. I’m up to date, it’s a sensible cut-off point, and I’ve no real desire to review brand new episodes – I’d rather just enjoy my first viewing of each story and leave the analysis to thousands of others. In fact, I only started this blog for my own benefit, so that I’d have a record of my reactions and opinions to refer back to. I thought that if anyone else read it, that would be a bonus, but I’ve been utterly delighted to see that a small but perfectly formed group of regulars have joined me to follow my progress over the months and years. A big thank you to you all.

What next for this place, then? Well, certainly a break. After that, I’m not sure. I’ve got a list of additional bits and bobs that I want to watch – the Cushing movies, all those semi-licensed 90s videos, that awful-looking Australian K-9 series – which I may feel like writing about. I’ve also been maintaining lists of my favourite Doctors, companions and recurring villains as I go, if anyone’s interested. I’ll see how I feel, but at the very least I’ll soon be doing a bit of admin to put this place into archive mode, making it easier for anyone who finds it in the future to read from start to finish.

Bloody hell, though. This has been three and a half years of my life. Three and a half years of watching and writing and thinking about Doctor Who on a near daily basis. 385 blog entries. Over a thousand individual pieces of television. Every episode, every special, every spin-off. It’s been an absolute blast.

It all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure. Doctor, I let you go.

Shada (2017)

When the rumours about this release started circulating, I wasn’t convinced that the world really needed another version of Shada. Then when the details started coming out about what it actually involved, and how ambitious it was, I decided quite quickly that yes, we did need this after all. Suddenly the pictures I’d seen on Facebook of Mike Tucker and Peter Tyler dressed in seventies clothing made a lot more sense.

I was surprised to discover that, unlike the previous attempts, the story is presented as one big two-and-a-bit-hours special, and not in its original six parts. With the opening Think Tank scene moved to before the titles, it’s clear that a decision has been taken to convert the original footage into a modern production, rather than a simple recreation of how it would have been presented in 1979. This is fair enough – I don’t mind deviations from historical accuracy if historical accuracy isn’t the main aim – but it was a little annoying for me, as I’d anticipated spacing this out over the course of six days.

I didn’t have time to watch it in one go during the working week, and I was buggered if I was going to lose five of my seven remaining viewing sessions at this stage, so I ended up consulting an episode guide and hitting pause whenever I reached what would have been the end of a part. It wasn’t too bad, the only issue being that some of the cliffhangers didn’t quite work in this format, with footage from either side of the break having been smushed together to form continuous scenes.

Despite this, this is by far the easiest version of the story to follow, and the most likely to engross. Regardless of the modern format, the attempts to make the material as consistent as possible really pay off. The music sounds like it could have been recorded in the 70s, in sharp contrast to the 90s VHS version, and the model shots are absolutely spot on. The location filming looks lovely on Bluray, and the animation is great – it’s a curious mix of 2D and 3D, which took me a few scenes to get used to, but it came into its own in the various spaceship locations, which were very impressive indeed.

Thanks to all of this effort, it’s far less jarring than you’d expect when they cut between old footage, new footage and animation. Well, the Doctor’s voice does noticeably age by a few decades every now and then, but that can’t be helped, and all the voice performances are pretty good regardless. The only shame is that they didn’t take the opportunity to get John Leeson in to dub over the shit K-9, but you can’t have everything.

The ending is of course absolutely lovely. I’m not convinced that it makes complete sense, but I don’t really care. This production is a labour of love, by the fans for the fans, and while an octogenarian Tom Baker, in his actual costume in the actual TARDIS, grinning like a loon down the camera might be an odd way to end a proper episode, it feels perfectly apt for this.

RATING: 9

One episode to go. One day to go. Crikey.

World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls

On the 2nd January 2016, I sent the following e-mail:

I had a dream last night that Doctor Who came and filmed in [my street]. We were watching from our garden, and Capaldi came over and asked us not to post spoilers online. It was him, Michelle Gomez and John Simm, filming an episode called The Two Masters, which I now really want to see.

So really, this finale was my idea. They should have kept my title, although I also adore the Master’s suggestion of Genesis of the Cybermen.

Either way, bloody hell, what a story. So many amazing things all at once. It was rather reminiscent of the way RTD used to do things, with the first episode slowing bringing everything together and building up to an irresistible cliffhanger, followed by an emotional edge-of-your-seat epic. It’s in fact one of the best examples of the format – the climax at the end of the first episode had me grinning like a maniac and crying actual tears of joy. Not just on first broadcast; that happened today, even though I knew exactly what was coming. It was out of sheer happiness – this is everything I want from Doctor Who.

But there’s so much packed into this finale that I need to break it down in order to process it all, otherwise I’ll be here all night if I try to go through it all in order. Just put it down to relative time dilation as I jump around all over both episodes…

MONDASIAN CYBERMEN – Yes, yes, yes! Finally, for the first time since the 1960s, someone has remembered what made the Cybermen good in the first place, making this by far their best appearance to be made in colour. It’s perhaps the best of their various origin stories too, as it’s told from the human perspective, and doesn’t scrimp on the deeply disturbing body horror. I love the fact you see all those classic design elements coming together bit by bit as the technology is developed. It’s a bit of a shame the regular boring Cybermen turned up to hog the limelight in the second ep, but how marvellous for the originals to be given the chance to terrify a new generation of kids fifty years later.

JOHN SIMM – On first viewing, I didn’t clock who Mr Razor was. In fact, I recall thinking that I must look up whoever this actor is afterwards, as he’s a bit bloody hammy. I thought it might have been Paul Kaye under there. This time, I could hear tell-tale signs in the voice, but that’s probably only because I was looking out for some such giveaway.

I can’t believe it took this long for a multi-Master story to happen, because it’s such an irresistible concept. In some ways, Simm’s role here is similar to John Hurt’s in Day of the Doctor, representing the character’s past to emphasise how the current version has evolved. Plus he’s got a goatee, which was a great touch. He was certainly more subdued and subtle than he was opposite Tennant, but even more evil, with the slight softening that occurred during The End of Time undone in order to make Missy look less evil by comparison. Spending ten years pretending to look after Bill and then having her Cyber-converted just to spite the Doctor is classic Master behaviour.

MISSY – I love the premise of her standing in for the Doctor on an adventure. Cast and Moffat alike are clearly having a lovely time playing around with the idea, deconstructing the format of the show by having her refer to Bill and Nardole as “Exposition and Comic Relief”. And the thing about his real name being “Doctor Who” is pure perfection, both as a way of a soon-to-depart Moffat completely trolling the fans, and as a way of reconciling the various times when he has been referred to as “Doctor Who” within the series – neither the Doctor or Doctor Who are his real name, but he’s used them both as his chosen pseudonym at various points.

Following her meeting with her former self, Missy spends most of the final episode flitting between good and evil, trying to pick a side. It’s always hard to second guess any Master, but I think it’s a case of her genuinely changing her mind with alarming frequency, rather than any kind of devious masterplan – she’s completely torn between standing with the Doctor, which she knows is the right thing to do, and following her fundamental instinct of self-preservation.

In the end she comes good, although she’s tragically prevented from doing the right thing because her past self won’t allow it. It’s pretty deep, and it is of course the perfect conclusion to a multi-Master story – they both end up destroying themselves. Of course they do. This brings Michelle Gomez’s recurring role to an end, and her Master will be remembered as the best since Delgado’s. I’ve no doubt that a new incarnation of the character will inexplicably return from the dead at some point, but it’s a great way to leave things for now.

NARDOLE – He gets his big goodbye slightly before the end of the episode, but that was a good decision – he deserved his moment, and for it to not get mixed up with all the other momentous stuff that happens. He gets the classic “staying behind to help out” companion departure, and he’ll be missed. His was a role that contributed to a great TARDIS dynamic, and it gives me hope that the gang approach will reap good results for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.

BILL – Meanwhile, Bill gets the “killed but carries on living”, just like every other Moffatt companion. It really is a very similar story to Amy’s and particularly Clara’s – each instance of it happening has been good, but a bit of variety wouldn’t go amiss. Nevertheless, it was a powerful final performance by Pearl Mackie, before and after conversion. She may have only been around for a short time, but she made a huge impression, and will be remembered as a very modern twist on a classic type of companion.

Much like Clara, she’s now off having her own adventures through time and space posthumously, thanks to the soggy lass from The Pilot turning up again. Heather’s powers are seemingly endless now, and it’s implied that the pair of them could beam themselves around the galaxy forever, or just turn themselves back into humans whenever they want. The universe is Bill’s oyster, and despite everything she has to go through first, that makes this perhaps the happiest ending for any companion.

THE DOCTOR – Ah yeah, that guy. Capaldi is obviously completely brilliant throughout, as you expect at this stage, but I must admit that his stop-start regeneration is a bit weird. He seems to have been dragging it out for weeks now, and there’s still a whole Christmas special to go. But it’s all worth it for that wonderful moment of David Bradley emerging through the snow.

This series in general, and the final in particular, feels like Moffat taking the opportunity to play with the show’s mythology as much as possible while he still can, and I very much approve. It hasn’t always worked, and overall the pattern of each Doctor’s third series being his worst is still in place, but you can barely fault this finale. Absolutely superb.

RATING: 10

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.63

  • Seasons/Series watched: 36 of 36
  • Stories watched: 275 of 276
  • Individual episodes watched: 839 of 840

Oh my days. I have very mixed feelings right now. There is precisely one week to go. I’ll spend the next six days watching the third version of Shada this project covers, then after that I’ll watch an episode so recent it’s still on my Sky+ box, and then I’m up to date. This time next week, the project will be over. This is nuts.

The Eaters of Light

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.

RATING: 7

Empress of Mars

This is most likely to be Mark Gatiss’s last Who script, and while none of his episodes were exceptionally brilliant, only very rarely have they been particularly bad. This final offering is much the same: consistently entertaining without being spectacular. However, it’s sort of pleasingly ordinary after the big concepts and high stakes of late, and the simplicity of the story works to its advantage in the context of the series.

In fact, it’s very old school, not just because of the returning foe. Victorian soldiers and Empire enthusiasts seem to be a very Classic Who thing, and more than most modern episodes it fitted the pattern of an old four-parter condensed into 45 minutes. The power struggle with in the human ranks is the most obvious example, along with our heroes getting imprisoned just as things start getting interesting.

Catchlove is a good old-fashioned Doctor Who shitbag, one of those characters who’s somehow more villainous than the monsters he’s up against. Gatiss does more with the Ice Warriors here than he managed at the previous attempt, with the first female of the species we’ve ever met providing an extra dimension. As you know, I’m always fond of situations where there’s good and bad on both sides, and the fact that both Godsacre and Friday are willing to switch allegiances in the end makes this far more interesting than a simple battle between good humanoids and bad monsters.

It’s only a shame that the peace that breaks out in the climax sort just… happens. It’s all very exciting, but the logic that changes the Empress’s mind requires a few little leaps. It’s also one of those where the Doctor doesn’t actually do much – he’s a bystander in the resolution, and there’s not much that would have transpired differently had he never shown up in the first place. Maybe that’s for the best though – considering one of the few things he does is create the message that made him come to Mars in the first place, the whole thing is built on a bootstrap paradox that could have destroyed the universe had he become more involved.

Elsewhere, Nardole gets sent packing very early on, and sits the vast majority of the episode out. It makes me wonder whether the story was initially planned without him, which is something that sometimes happened with “additional” companions in the old days. It’s a shame the team was incomplete when they’ve only got a short amount of time left together, but the Missy arc that Nardole moves on continues to be intriguing and pleasingly ambiguous.

The best thing about the episode though? Bloody Alpha Centauri! One of those moments that I’ll always remember experiencing the first time. When the Doctor started talking the Ice Warriors expanding into new horizons, I recognised it as a little nod to the Peladon stories and thought that was that. Then that voice! The same voice! I laughed and applauded, and then had to explain to my partner what the fuck had just happened and why I was suddenly so happy. Completely incomprehensible to the vast, vast majority of Saturday night BBC One viewers (and I’d have been in that bracket were it not for this project), but I just love the audacity of doing it and getting away with it.

And furthermore, if the analogy from the original Peladon story still stands, then the Doctor encouraging the Ice Warriors to join the Galactic Federation as a means of gaining support and achieving greatness is incredibly relevant to current times. This is another thing that proves the Ice Warriors are far more civilised than the British.

RATING: 8

The Lie of the Land

This is such a frustrating episode. It’s clearly full of good ideas, as there are several plot threads that start extremely promisingly, only to completely fall apart. The biggest and most egregious misfire is the Doctor working for the Monks. Those scary propaganda broadcasts were brilliant, as was the hugely powerful scene where Bill confronts him and it seems he’s turned full villain.

I’m not usually one to second guess the writing process, but it smacks to me of wanting to do these really cool ideas, but not knowing how to resolve them. It essentially boils down to “haha, only joking”, which immediately ruins the preceding moments by making them meaningless, in exactly the way that Extremis avoided. On a character level, it’s cruel and unnecessary for the Doctor to put Bill through that. How dare he test her loyalty when this whole invasion is only happening because of her love for him.

It was the regeneration element that really rubbed me up the wrong way. It was the most intriguing thing to be teased in the pre-series publicity, and for it to have been a fake seemed like a complete cop-out, plus it sells the forthcoming actual regeneration short by providing a sneak preview. And it’s even more galling because Capaldi and Mackie were so brilliant in that scene, the performances clearly outclassing the material they’re working with.

This is also the case with Missy, as Michelle Gomez continues to be the most unpredictable actor ever to take on the role. Her introduction gives the episode a short in the arm after that shambles, but it’s short-lived. The gang head to the Monks’ temple, where we’re promised mind-bending illusions that end up only manifesting in the most perfunctory of ways, as another great idea falls by the wayside.

The next is the Doctor taking on the Monks in a Morbius-style contest of wills, failing, and Bill taking his place. Her act of sacrifice works, once again, due to Pearl Mackie, but the entire might of the Monks being taken down by her magical dead mum is just fucking silly, conceptually and visually. It’s so underwhelming that it has to be accompanied by a clearly tacked-on Capaldi voiceover, which is at least 80% exposition to compensate for the lack of clarity in the execution. This whole epic trilogy ends with a pathetic whimper.

And I’m not sure it’s ever made clear what the Monks actually get out of this arrangement. They enslave humanity, but to what end? What’s actually in it for them? It all just seems like a massive ballache to me, having to keep an entire population brainwashed for no discernable reason. And that’s to say nothing of the practical implications – transmitting telepathic bullshit is one thing, but they’d also have to confiscate every history book, documentary DVD and newspaper archive in the world, as well as editing the entirety of Wikipedia.

Considering that a quarter of the series is devoted to them, the Monks are incredibly underwhelming when you boil it all down. Such a wasted opportunity to do something truly epic, but instead all the early momentum is lost, and a series that could have been even better than the last is suddenly decidedly not.

RATING: 5

The Pyramid at the End of the World

Well, in a series that’s so far seen nothing but noticeably short titles, this one comes along and ruins everything. That’s kind of how I feel about the Monk Trilogy in general, which is largely due to my reaction to the following episode, which I’m not particularly looking forward to revisiting tomorrow. This one, however, I recall quite liking on broadcast, but I think my knowledge of what’s to come has put a downer over the whole thing, and made me nitpick at things that I didn’t notice the first time.

The biggest one comes in the climax, which I thought was thrilling and tragic at the time, bringing as it does the culmination of the Doctor’s blindness plot as well as affirming and demonstrating Bill’s love for him. But that was rather undercut when it occurred to me (and no doubt thousands of others before me) that when he was unable to see the numbers on the combination lock and was on the phone to Bill, the whole thing could have been sorted if he’d just made a video call. Even sending a photo of the current configuration of the numbers would have done.

And because I noticed that, it meant that I’m now not sure what I think about Bill asking the Monks for help, and thus being the one to bring about the subjugation of the human race. The Monks begin to annoy me somewhat during this episode. It’s not so much them – they look great and are impressively powerful, and I love the way that their complex simulations basically allow them to unerringly predict the future – it’s more the way that people act around them. One of the key considerations that underpins the decision on whether to accept the Monk’s help is that we don’t know what the Monks want in return. Did nobody think to, you know, ask them?

That part annoyed me even on first watching – I was willing them to just ask the bloody question, for which there were many opportunities – and it slightly ruins the otherwise interesting element of the Monks requiring consent in order to enact their undeclared dastardly plans. That and the fact that, thanks to this project, I’ve realised that pretty similar ideas have previously been used in both Sarah Jane and Class.

Regardless of all of these things, there is plenty to like about this episode. For the record, and to justify the fact that the below rating is way more positive than the blog entry thus far suggests, these include: Bill’s date being ruined becoming a running gag, with the Secretary General of the UN gatecrashing this time; the trick with all the world’s clocks being turned into the Doomsday Clock; world peace being declared and it not making a blind bit of difference; and the Doctor figuring out which lab the Monks are monitoring by turning off the security cameras in hundred of labs and seeing which one gets turned back on.

In fact, the bulk of the episodes is pretty good overall, it’s only in the last third that it starts to fall apart. I liked the clusterfuck of potential catastrophes, and the one strand that was consistently good was the aforementioned lab, in which disaster came about because a pair of glasses got broken, and because Tony Gardner went on the piss. Special shout-out to what is still among the rarest of things to see on British TV – a disabled actor playing a part in which their disability isn’t relevant to the character or the plot.

RATING: 7

Extremis

Insert standard moan about having to review what is clearly the first of a multi-part story here. The Monk Trilogy was initially billed as a three-parter, before being revised to merely a series of “loosely connected” individual stories, but you could even argue that this is the second of a four-parter, given how the events of Oxygen cast such a huge shadow, and the presence of a rare “previously” montage at the start of Extremis. Nevertheless, this episode does at least stand alone from a narrative perspective – kind of like Utopia back in the day – and is in effect a preview of the main Monk story still to come, which is pretty meta considering the nature of the eventual big reveal.

It’s certainly an unusual episode in the sense that nothing actually happens. Not in the pejorative way that could be levelled at certain stories over the years, but on the quite literal level that the only real life, real time events that transpire are that the Doctor receives an email and then tells Bill to go on the pull. It was certainly a bold move to reveal at the end that the preceding 40-odd minutes wasn’t real, but there’s little of the disappointment that you often get with “it was all a dream” endings, because what took place was still important and relevant to the ongoing series arc, and thus worth your emotional investment regardless.

It helps that it’s really bloody good, of course, largely thanks to the quality of performances from all three leads, and a suitably mind-bending Moffat plot. It was another bold move to have the actual current Pope as a guest character, but I suppose the “it wasn’t real” defence mitigates any potential to offend, and even if not, it’d still be worth it for the brilliant gag of him gatecrashing Bill’s date. It’s only a shame that the dead President we see later on isn’t Trump.

(Typing that, it’s just occurred to me how weird it is that my watch-through has brought me to a series that was broadcast during the current administration, considering we were only just into Obama’s second term when I started, and the prospect of that gobshite even considering running for nomination was but a distant nightmare.)

Anyway, as well as the stuff that didn’t actually happen, there was also some stuff that did happen but in the past, with the Doctor is forced to execute Missy in a ceremony overseen by Max from Humans. It was barely a surprise at all that Missy was the one inside the vault, but it’s nice to fill in Nardole’s backstory, and clarify exactly what his relationship with the Doctor is. This new information seems to be the catalyst for Nardole taking a level in badass; with the series now halfway through, he’s becoming far more than just the comic relief, and starting to hint at more nuance and complexity than we’ve previously given him credit for.

Just how long has the Doctor been guarding that vault, though? He vowed to do so for a thousand years, but we don’t know exactly when those flashback scenes took place – it could have been a few weeks ago for all we know. Or has it been so long that the university was built around the vault? How long can Nardole live for? I genuinely can’t remember whether or not the rest of the series answers these questions!

RATING: 8

Oxygen

This is the first episode this series where the plot is sufficiently meaty in its own right, thanks to the ever reliable Jamie Mathieson, and it marks a tipping point whereby the whimsy that characterised the first few episodes makes way for an all together more serious tone, thanks to the harrowing events that take place here.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – Nardole gets to come along, yay! His grumpiness at being on an adventure in the first place adds a lot of comic relief, and Matt Lucas steals the show several times throughout, from his quip about some of his best friends being blueish, to his little utterance of “cuddle” when he barges in on Bill and the Doctor’s hug at the end.

The main action consists of a reasonably toothy satire on the excesses of capitalism. Big corporations are often the bad guys on Doctor Who and in sci-fi in general, but it has to be said that The Doctor’s left-wing tendencies have been out in force recently, and I for one obviously approve. Here he describes a post-revolutionary, non-corporate future for space exploration, and ends it with “and that’s about it for capitalism”. There’s no doubt as to the moral of this story.

But to get there, the Doctor first has to sacrifice his eyesight in order to save Bill from the vacuum of space, only for her to have her nervous system shut down by an evil spacesuit minutes later. Both events are harrowing for the characters and viewers alike, but superbly written and acted. It’s such a shocking sight to see the Doctor impaired in this way, him temporarily becoming one of TV’s very few disabled heroes. The later revelation that his blindness wasn’t cured after all ranks of one of the greatest cliffhangers of recent times, fundamentally altering the premise of the show, for a while at least.

But if I’m honest, the main thing I’ll always remember from this episode is that Ganymede Systems, the aforementioned evil corporation who sell oxygen and kill their employees when they become inefficient, have the exact same aesthetic as Ganymede & Titan, the Red Dwarf fansite I’ve run for over fifteen years. Given that the two shows share a graphic designer, Matthew Clarke, I’d like to think that this is not a coincidence, although I’m scared to ask him because I know deep down that it probably is.

RATING: 9