The Time of the Doctor

It’s the last of the of the Doctor trilogy, and the end of a tenure that somehow feels too brief, despite complying with the de facto regulation three series. It’s a testament to how good Smith is that I’m left wanting more, while the time seemed very much right when Tennant stepped down. It’s a shame that his last full series wasn’t up to the standard of the first two, but his final two specials have been incredible.

The swansong did a noble job of tying up all the remaining loose ends from the Smith era, in a way that’s a lot more satisfactory when you watch it in the space of four months instead of four years, when it’s all relatively fresh in the memory. This was the culmination of the crack in time, Trenzalore, “Silence will fall” and the sharp increase in people chanting “Doctor Who” over and over again, wiping the slate clean for Capaldi.

Its other main selling point was the appearance of multiple monsters sharing the baddy duties, complementing The Day of the Doctor by going down the route that it resisted. The Weeping Angels got the best of the cameos, slowly rising creepily out of the snow. Other highlights included a wooden Cyberman, who the Doctor persuaded to set fire to itself, and clarification on the nature of the Silence – the ones we’ve met previously are a renegade faction, which allowed for the unusual sight of these scary bastards being deployed as goodies.

But it was another Cyberman variant that threatened to steal the show. Handles is such an amusing concept, and he’s one of the better one-off companions we’ve had. This is also the first time we properly meet Clara 2.0 – now that she’s no longer The Impossible Girl, she’s changed her job, moved into a new flat and been given previously-unseen family members, with the annoying kids quietly dropped.

The truth field on Trenzalore, as well as providing some excellent comedy capers, afforded an opportunity to re-establish her core character traits, although you can probably drop the “re-” from that sentence. This soft reboot of Clara unfortunately paves the way for Danny Pink, who I’ll no doubt be talking about a lot in the coming weeks, but it’s nevertheless a step in the right direction.

Other comedy capers were provided by the Doctor and Clara’s hologrammatic clothes, which is a very silly concept indeed, but pleasingly skirting the border of appropriateness for Christmas teatime on BBC One – the scene of them rolling around in the snow to escape the Angels is a lot ruder when you remember they’re both completely billy bollocks. It’s also heavily implied that the Doctor is shagging a woman who is essentially the Pope. She’s this episode’s other big guest star, and as well as being the Pope she’s also a giant floating head and an undercover Dalek at various points. It’s a weird episode when you think about it, isn’t it?

I mean, we’ve also got the baldy Doctor, and then the oldie Doctor, who seems to have gone all cockney with age. The Time Lord ageing process has never really been nailed down, but it’s weird that he ages so much in his first 300 years on Christmas, considering he’s already lived for 200 years. It’s never stated how much time passes before he becomes the very old Doctor towards the end, but it must be millennia for him to get to that state.

I wasn’t convinced it was necessary at the time, but it was nice that Moffat chose to tackle the regeneration limit head on, if only to stop the tedious discussions about it once and for all. The Time Lords’ intervention also gave the Doctor magic Dalek-killing regeneration energy, which was nice of them. I’m glad that Smith got to regenerate as himself – when Clara goes back to the TARDIS, I remember being convinced that Capaldi would walk down the stairs, but it wouldn’t have been right for the Eleventh Doctor’s final moments to happen off-screen, or for him to not look like the Eleventh Doctor.

Instead, we get a nice long speech about life and change, and a cameo from Amy – two all-time Doctor Who greats reunited, both in dodgy wigs. It’s a lovely moment, but slightly harsh on Clara that her Doctor’s pretending he’s with his ex instead of her. And then the super-fast regeneration is brilliant – a way of confounding expectations during the now-familiar process, without straying too far from what’s gone before.

It helps that Capaldi is absolutely brilliant from the get-go. Both then and now, it’s hard to feel too sad about Smith going when you’re so excited for his replacement. But in any other circumstances, reaching the end of the Eleventh Doctor would be a huge blow. Matt Smith was the first Doctor of the modern era to be equally adept at the comedy and the gravitas, and we haven’t had a Doctor so charming since Tom. Absolutely one of my all-time favourites – even when the scripts weren’t great, he was, and I could never tire of watching him.

RATING: 9

Just for the record, let’s do one of these:

SPECIALS AVERAGE RATING: 9.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: Still 33 of 36
  • Stories watched: 241 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 800 of 839

So now I move on to the current Doctor, with only a little more than a month to go until he’s no longer the current Doctor. I was hoping at one stage that I’d be caught up by Christmas, as that would be the natural point to bring this blog to a close, but work commitments and Red Dwarf XII have put paid to that. Nevertheless, it’ll be nice to remind myself of Capaldi’s beginnings before he gets to the end.

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P.S.

I find myself unexpectedly moved by a short series of storyboards. This little Pond-based coda is arguably Chibnall’s best contribution to the show to date. It’s a shame that it was never actually filmed, but it’s presented in the best way possible, with stage directions conveyed through on-screen text rather than voiceover, allowing Arthur Darvill’s final performance room to breathe.

I liked the extra happy ending for the Ponds, and this scene skilfully balanced the melancholy of their departure and the joy of the fact that they lived long lives. By the end, I felt a lump in my throat when Brian greeted his newly-discovered grandson with a big hug; it was such a well-realised moment, the hug only revealed through the storyboard, with no caption spelling it out. A really lovely piece of work.

RATING: 8

The Angels Take Manhattan

Amy and Rory, both individually and collectively, are two of my favourite companions of all time, so despite how disappointed I was with the change of dynamic for their last few episodes, it’s still extremely sad to see them go. Luckily there’s enough going on to lift their swansong above the average this series has managed so far – it seems apt that their final story should involve Weeping Angels, time travel pardoxes and their daughter.

The pulp fiction world of 1930s New York was a great match for the Angels, especially as apparently the Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel now. It’s undoubtedly a memorable image, but I did wonder how exactly it managed to make its way through town without anyone seeing it. The twist with The Doctor having a copy of the story in trashy detective novel form was pure Moffat, but you feel that more could have been made of it if there was less going on. The same can be said of River, who didn’t have much to do – it’s probably her only appearance so far that doesn’t progress her story or relationship with the Doctor in any significant way.

Because really it had to be all about Amy and Rory, and just what their fate would be. It was never going to be straightforward, so let’s get one final reading from…

THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 7

It’s actually been a while since that was updated, but he manages to cark it three times in his final story, and Amy twice. Following the glimpse of a future Rory dying of old age, the suggestion of fixing the problem with a suicide pact was an unexpectedly dark twist, but those scenes are so powerful. It was clear that they weren’t actually going to write two long-serving companions out by having them plummet to their deaths for real, and this established a pattern that Moffat has kept for each subsequent departure – show them being horribly killed, but then resurrect them in some way.

So they survive thanks to a handy paradox, only for Rory to be zapped by an Angel and taken somewhere that the TARDIS can’t reach – it feels convenient and arbitrary that time travel can’t help on this particular occasion, but at least they address it. It makes Amy’s decision to follow him even more powerful; this is her categorically choosing Rory over the Doctor, which is as it should be. Ending Amy’s time on the show with her recalling some of her best bits, over images of young Amelia, is so sad, but so lovely at the same time.

RATING: 8

And that brings this portion of the series to a rather sudden halt. Only getting five episodes at a time is a ridiculous state of affairs, and I’m glad that the practice stopped after this. Maybe it would have been a more satisfying dose if all five episodes had been belters, but this was categorically not the case. Here are the scores going into the break.

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 6.6

  • Seasons/Series watched: 32.38 of 36
  • Stories watched: 230 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 789 of 839

The Power of Three

This one seemed to be making a point about how people are attracted to fancy shiny things with no real purpose, which might have been for effective if the episode itself had any real substance to it. It’s an interesting idea – loads of identical alien things turn up overnight, the Doctor has to figure out what they’re for – but one I feel sure has been covered multiple times. At no point did it surprise or particularly intrigue me; it’s one of those rare Doctor Who stories that’s just a bit dull, and it washes over you.

In fairness, the plot was streamlined to allow Amy and Rory’s “real life” story to take centre stage, and while it’s always nice to follow a story from the companion’s perspective, I’m in a bit of a grump with the whole premise of them having a life outside the TARDIS, it’s fair to say. I’ve already covered the reasons I’m not on board with it, so naturally an episode that dedicates so much of its time to exploring this element isn’t going to appeal to me.

It was nice to see Brian again, although he was strangely under-used compared to his first outing. More notable was the introduction of Kate Stewart – I hadn’t clocked that she’d first turned up in a Chibnall episode, which bodes well for her continuing to recur beyond Moffat’s time on the show. With Kate’s background being in science, her taking charge of UNIT is a clear statement that it’s returning to its roots, thus promising to fix the issues I’ve had with the modern show’s interpretation of the organisation. And obviously, it’s brilliant that the woman to restore the Brigadier’s version of UNIT is his own daughter, honouring the great man in the best possible way.

A shame then that she, and they, didn’t really contribute to the plot – all she did was ask the Doctor to help, which he was going to do anyway. It threatened to get interesting when the cubes gave one third of the population heart failure. That’s a tricky one to get out of, and the Doctor did so by turning the cubes into mass defibrillators. But that was ages after all those people had keeled over with stopped hearts. I’m no medical professional, but I’m pretty sure that millions of people would still definitely have died.

So that was complete nonsense, as was the fact that the alien behind it all was revealed to be an intangible hologram, despite the fact he’d just been shooting at everyone. The emotional resolution fell flat too – there’s no point having Amy and Rory triumphantly returning to the TARDIS as full-time companions at the end, when everyone knows there’s only one episode left. They shouldn’t have bloody left in the first place, it’s too late now.

Another one to add to the list of painfully mediocre Chibnall episodes. There has been a very sharp decline in quality between the last series to this one, so far.

RATING: 5

A Town Called Mercy

Prequel: A corporate video detailing the making of a cyborg killing machine, which seems to have been undertaken by a man who looks remarkably like Derek Jacobi. That was quite distracting. As a side note, it’s really annoying that the prequels are on a different Bluray submenu to the episodes, as it takes ages to navigate back and forth.

There are plenty of things this episode does right, but several that it gets so very very wrong. I enjoyed the Wild West setting and the location looks great, even if I did spend half the episode trying to figure out if it was Laredo from off of Gunmen of the Apocalypse but with better weather and a really impressive grade. Even though the town wasn’t familiar, the tropes were, from the sudden silence as the strangers enter the saloon, to the showdown at high noon. It was only a shame it wasn’t punctuated with Lynda Baron narrating the episode in song.

Mr Jolly from Psychoville turns up as a nice, kindly alien doctor, and he’s so lovely that you just know he’s going to turn out to be a war criminal. The cyborg Gunslinger tracking him down is nothing we haven’t seen before – the look of Robocop with the HUD of a Terminator – but I liked that both characters had plenty of shades of grey. It was hard to figure out which was the baddy and which was the goody, but really neither of them fit either role. One is a bad man doing good things for a bad reason, the other is a good (half-)man doing bad things for a good reason.

All was going well, until the Doctor – for the second episode in a row – decides to condemn someone to their death, physically pushing him over the line that the Gunslinger arbitrarily can’t cross. Then the Wild West trappings are taken too far, and culminate in the Doctor brandishing a gun, and pointing it right in Mr Jolly’s face. And then Amy points a gun at the Doctor. What the fuck is going on here?

Call me an old traditionalist, but there’s something about TV’s most pacifist action hero holding a gun that really doesn’t sit right with me. A normal, real Earth gun too, not some futuristic space gun that doesn’t carry the same connotations. I get the point they were trying to make, which is that he goes a bit rogue whenever he doesn’t have a regular companion around, but I’ve never really been on board with that. It happens far too often – you can’t have him forget who he is every time he’s left alone for five minutes, otherwise who even is he?

Amy’s speech reminding him that killing people is wrong is about all her or Rory get to do in this story. They might as well have sat this one out at home, other than the fact that the episode started with them in-situ with the Doctor, forgoing the usual picking-them-up part. This needless division has made both them and the Doctor worse as a result, which is so frustrating as the three of them in the TARDIS were so good. If they were only going to be around for five more episodes anyway, why bother changing it?

There was more stuff that happened in the episode, but it lost me with the whole Doctor-trying-to-kill-someone thing. There was a noble sacrifice from the nice sheriff, but that didn’t work because it was entirely the Doctor’s fault. There was a big Doctor speech about how violence begets violence, but that’s all a bit hypocritical considering what he was up to five minutes earlier. And there was supposedly a big clever masterplan to solve the situation, but that boiled down to loads of people running around with alien markings painted on their face, before Mr Jolly saves the day by blowing himself up unexpectedly.

It wasn’t one of my favourites, but the annoying thing is that it really could have been, if only the Doctor, Amy and Rory had just been more like the Doctor, Amy and Rory.

RATING: 6

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Or to give it a more accurate title, Some Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, But They’re Mostly Just in the Background and It’s Not Really About Them. There’s a lot to take in, not least the huge number of guest stars. There’s Lestrade from Sherlock, and Mark Williams from the Prudential adverts, who join forces with Amy, Rory and, for some reason, a randy Queen Nefertiti to provide the Doctor with a little gang.

It’s an interesting dynamic, but with so many new people on screen there’s not time to meet them all properly, and so I found it hard to care. Nefertiti seemed a good sort, but Lestrade was very much a product of his time, and while I appreciate that all his sexism was countered by Amy and Nefertiti giving as good as they got, it didn’t make me want to spend any time in his company. I was baffled at the end when he and Nefertiti got together, which sends the message that if you patronise and belittle a powerful woman enough, she’ll end up shagging you in a tent.

Then there’s David Bradley, meaning that this episode features two Doctors (sort of), and with Bradley alongside Arthur Darvill and Mark Williams, three Aston Villa fans, surely a record for Doctor Who. And just for good measure, the comedy robots are voiced by Mitchell and Webb. What a waste of two great guest stars on such dull and flimsy characters. And why does Mitchell get three times more lines than Webb? It’s just weird.

I’d forgotten about the Silurian element. It’s a nice bit of universe-building to learn more about them even when they play such a small role, and for once they are categorically not the villains. That role is reserved for Bradley’s character, Solomon, the guy who took over their ship and flushed them all into space. He’s a real nasty piece of work, which works well in the hands of such a good actor, but the way he is with Nefertiti is a bit too much. It’s too adult and gritty for a programme about dinosaurs on a spaceship, not for prudish reasons, but for the wildly veering tone it creates.

For all Solomon did, the Doctor passing and carrying out a death sentence makes me uncomfortable, even if the guy did commit genocide. As he himself as said in the past, there should have been another way – the plot painted him into a corner whereby killing Solomon was the means of saving everyone else, and I’d accept almost any other TV character making that decision, but the Doctor always finds another way.

So this episode doesn’t really have a lot going for it, but Mark Williams as his surnamesake Brian nearly makes it all worthwhile. He’s adorable as the slightly crotchety everydad, muddling his way through the adventure with a mixture of middle-aged practicality and child-like wonder. I could have done with more of him and Rory together, and to explore how he gets on with Amy, but you can tell that he was always going to come back. It’s only a shame that he didn’t turn up earlier in the Ponds’ tenure, or he could have become the new Jackie or Wilf.

But still, I’m yet to see anything written by our next showrunner that is anything better than “OK”. Getting ahead of myself for a moment, Jodie Whittaker’s casting has made me incredibly excited about the next series, but every time I rewatch a Chibnall episode, it reminds me of how worried I was before she was announced.

RATING: 6

Asylum of the Daleks

Prequel: The Doctor is being stalked by a creepy purple monk as he tries to enjoy an afternoon tea. He’s summoning him to an adventure on the behest of a woman that neither I or the Doctor have heard of. It turns out that all of this is a dream, and after some green-screen fun that sees the Doctor on a beach and floating through space, it ends with him being given co-ordinates for a planet he has to visit: Skaro. It’s really rather good, which isn’t always the case with prequels, but this one is inventive and memorable.

Turns out the woman the Doctor has to meet is a Dalek in disguise. There’s a lot of that going around, with eyestalks growing out of people’s foreheads and whatnot. It’s all rather creepy and unsettling, like a more visceral version of the Robomen. Even better was the sight of an absolute shitload of Daleks, old and new, which was a handy way to quietly move the rubbish New Paradigm ones to the sidelines, and also an impressive way to reintroduce them after a relatively long gap since their last full appearance.

There’s a hell of a lot going on in this episode, before we even get to the new title sequence. Well, it’s sort of a half-new title sequence – it’s been given a different grade, which makes it very dark and foreboding, and they’ve changed the font to something completely shit. I don’t like it, and I’m not sure what to make of the Daleky logo, which I assume was a one-off for this episode because I don’t remember it at all.

Sadly, I did remember pretty much every detail about the plot of this episode, because it’s one of those that you frequently get with Moffat where it relies on a big twist, and you only really get the full impact of that on first viewing. Luckily, I really like Clara, and this proto-version, Oswin, was a great guest character regardless, every bit as endearingly cocky and flirty as proper Clara would later become, once the mystery that this episode sets up had been resolved.

I remember the excitement at realising that the next companion had turned up unannounced, and watching it back now, at least I can still appreciate the skill with which her true nature was hinted at, yet concealed from us. She looks to camera as she delivers the final part of her final line – “remember me” – as if she’s talking to us as well as the Doctor, and I’m looking forward to seeing the forthcoming mystery play out now that I know how it ends.

The elephant in the room throughout the story is what’s happened to Amy and Rory’s relationship, and I absolutely hate seeing them like this. It’s not just that they’ve split up, it’s that they’re so nasty to each other, with no hope of reconciliation. The big problem remains that this has seemingly come out of nowhere – the relationship was strong enough to last the 2,000 years that Rory spent as a Roman Auton, but flimsy enough that they can be on the brink of divorce so soon after leaving the TARDIS?

It transpires that the reason that they split up is that Amy felt guilty about being infertile, and decided to let Rory go for his sake. But as far as I could tell, Rory was unaware of this and it didn’t seem to be an issue for him, so the whole thing could have been resolved by just talking about it once. I know they’re back together by the end of the episode and will remain so for the rest of their lives, but this break is an unnecessary dark cloud over their relationship, and it’s concerning that they apparently need the Doctor around to stop them tearing each other apart.

To that end, they totally should have stayed in the TARDIS at the end. I’ve said it before, but I really don’t like the Doctor dropping his companions off at the end of adventures. The aim of this series, at least for the first part, is that it was a collection of self-contained blockbusters, but the flaw in that is that you lose the sense of being on a journey with these people if you only dip in and out for the exciting bits.

But these are issues with the series as a whole, and not this particular self-contained blockbuster, which stands as a very decent opener indeed. Regardless of how inherently silly it may be, how can you not love the sound of hundreds of Daleks chanting “DOCTOR WHO”?

RATING: 8

Pond Life

I was looking forward to this; Amy and Rory are perhaps my two favourite companions of the revival, so the promise of a little series of shorts with them at the centre was a previously-unseen bonus for me. But it was really little, and they were really short. I was going to do my usual thing of covering them bit-by-bit, but they don’t feel like substantial enough bits; the whole thing was only about five and a half minutes, and each individual part seemed to zip by in an instant.

Despite this, the tone and style varied wildly each time, which was a little jarring when watching this omnibus edition, but would perhaps have worked better when they were originally released in daily doses. The first one was very similar to the most recent prequel, with the Doctor leaving a message for the Ponds whilst mid-adventure, while the second was more like a trailer for the upcoming series, with tiny clips from future stories.

The following two were the most successful, focussing on comedy to tell the tale of Rory finding an Ood in the bathroom and it becoming their slave. Then the mood becomes considerably darker for the last one, as we witness the Ponds suddenly and very angrily splitting up. I absolutely hate what happens to their relationship between series, but I hoped this would fill in the gaps and make me understand why it happened. It did nothing of the sort; all we know is that everything was absolutely fine for the the four months leading up to the split, with not even the smallest hint that it was on the cards.

And Amy was very clearly wearing a wig throughout. Rubbish. As I head into Series 7, it stands in my memory as by far the worst run since the show came back. I sincerely hope that the rewatch challenges my preconceptions, as has been the case fairly often so far, but this doesn’t bode well.

RATING: 5

Good as Gold

It’s another one of them mini-episodes written by kids, this time for Blue Peter, but nevertheless following all the same basic rules: set on the TARDIS, one pre-existing monster and a basic cast. In this case, it’s the Doctor and Amy; god knows where Rory is, or where this fits into the timeline considering she’s not travelling in the TARDIS at this point.

It’s a topical tale, set at London 2012, which was only a couple of months away when this was broadcast. The Doctor interrupts the opening ceremony, with very little regard for how exactly this fits in with established events from Fear Her. The featured monster is a Weeping Angel, and it’s a little weird how quickly and easily The Doctor kills it. If all it took was a ten second blast with the sonic, I don’t think they’d be nearly as successful.

But then there’s a twist and a cliffhanger that reveals that it wasn’t so easy to get rid of after all, and fair play, that raised a smile. That was my one and only noticeable reaction to a sketch that, in all honesty, isn’t very good, but that’s not really the point. It’s fine.

RATING: 5

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Prequel: The Doctor is on a spaceship, with his finger on a button, and the spaceship will blow up if he lets go. He gives Amy a ring, but then remembers that she left the TARDIS some time ago, and as such is unable to help. He then releases the button and the ship blows up. It’s a bit of a bold move to kill the central character off in an online prequel, but hey ho.

I can never remember the title of this one correctly, nor indeed anything much about the episode, other than the general sense that I didn’t like it. I’m a bit fuzzy on most of the Christmas specials post-Tennant – because I’ve never rewatched any of them, my only experience of them was with a belly too full of turkey and most likely a head too full of bucks fizz, beer and Baileys. Tonight, it really was like I was watching this for the first time, except for that one vague recollection that it was a bit of a dud.

It certainly starts strongly. Turns out the Doctor escapes the exploding ship by surfing through the vacuum of space on a passing spacesuit, then he meets Claire Skinner, and she’s always excellent. What’s more, her husband is Mr Smith, and her daughter is Holly Earl, an actress who I met recently and spent the entire time trying to remember what I knew her from. Turns out it was this, although further Googling revealed that she’s also the tiny child who fails to say the word “Vimto” properly in a shit episode of Red Dwarf.

Sadly Mr Smith doesn’t last very long – the sudden jump forward to his World War II death is a little grim for Christmas Day. To combat this, the Doctor basically becomes Mary Poppins, and builds a magical dream house for the kids to make up for the fact their dad has snuffed it. It’s great stuff, and Matt Smith’s really funny during these scenes, but it’s almost a shame when, five minutes later, the action shifts to what is basically Narnia – it doesn’t seem as exciting a setting as the Doctor’s nutty house.

And so it proves, as it transpires that having a bunch of actual trees as the antagonists doesn’t make for a particularly engaging battle of wits. Things perk up a bit when Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir turn up, but they’re such tiny roles for such well known stars that it seems like a huge waste. They get one scene in which to be funny, one scene where they’re serious, and then they teleport off. And apparently they’re all from Androzani Major. I’d have thought you’d have to be pretty confident to invite comparison to that particular story.

The fate of Mr Smith looms heavily over proceedings, as you know it’s only a matter of time before these kids are told the truth. In the end, the Doctor goes one better by inadvertently making them watch it happen. What a shit Christmas present this is. Of course, it turns out that he gets better, but this was a happy accident; the Doctor hadn’t set out to save him, so even if everything had have gone as planned, his idea was basically to build a playroom, take them to see a forest, then say “by the way, your dad’s dead”.

There’s something fundamentally missing throughout the episode, and that’s a companion – Claire Skinner is obviously the big guest star, but she doesn’t perform that function narratively. We finally get to see Amy and Rory right at the end, and while the Doctor’s happy tears are a lovely, heart-warming touch, it is just a cameo. They should be in the TARDIS, damn it – I’m as sad that they’re not as the Doctor clearly is.

RATING: 7