The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

This was, of course, the final component of our 50th anniversary party, and I remember it being somewhat of a surprise to see it appear on the red button during the evening. After everything we’d seen that day, we were all slightly delirious already, and so a surreal, fourth wall smashing mockumentary featuring pretty much every living cast member of the original series blew our minds.

It could so very easily have been awful, but it’s genuinely funny throughout, and the three main Doctors involved are all such endearing company. Everyone was more than willing to send themselves up in every way imaginable, from Colin forcing his family to watch Vengeance on Varos to Sylv gleefully boasting about being in The Hobbit at every opportunity. He’s the stand-out performer overall – the way he says “I’d like to go home now” so solemnly when he’s stuck in a TARDIS is exquisite.

The astounding amount of cameos are a joy, and are too numerous to mention them all; I loved the audacity of having about a dozen companions all appear at once, as part of a homage to Davison’s regeneration. Two of the most memorable appearances were the two showrunners – Moffat playing with his toys, and Russell “The” Davies with his “quel dommage!” catchphrase. Then there’s Frank Skinner and David Troughton turning up to be mostly-silent Dalek operators and – brilliantly – Rhys Thomas appearing as Gary Bellamy on Davison’s radio.

I make it six Doctors who make proper appearances, thanks to the tiny cameos by Smith and Tennant. Paul McGann gets a full scene, and it’s a shame that he’s not in it more, but perhaps he was busy doing his own fiftieth anniversary mini-special – I wonder if he knew that he’d be doing Night of the Doctor when they were making this. It’s also a shame that Tom couldn’t be arsed, but similarly, at least he did contribute elsewhere, and I wouldn’t swap the Curator for him turning up in this. And they dealt with it in the best possible way, with the same Shada snippet as used in the actual Five Doctors.

This was one of several wonderful meta-jokes, which culminated in the three Doctors breaking character – even though they’d been playing themselves – to make The Five(ish) Doctors itself the subject of the mockumentary, which leads to the aforementioned RTD stuff. My favourite meta bit was the music changing from 80s synths to 2010s orchestra when the guys stepped inside Roath Lock – and them noticing and going outside again.

At a full thirty minutes, it could easily have run out of steam, but it doesn’t, keeping up the pace of the gags, the cameos and the in-jokes throughout. My only criticism is that they spend slightly too long getting chased by security, but this does lead to the brilliant final reveal that they hid under the shrouds in the Under Gallery. I know it’s not real, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if it really was them in the real episode? It would presumably have been feasible to make that happen.

Regardless, if you’re not going to feature all the classic Doctors in the anniversary special – and there are many reasons why that’s regrettably for the best, not least being that the anniversary special was perfect as it is – this is the best compromise. Something that’s officially part of the celebration, featuring as many familiar faces as possible, but that is doing its own thing, imbued with humour and love and joy. I adore it, and everyone involved.



The Day of the Doctor

The Last Day (prequel): I was so excited to get on to today’s main feature that I forgot to watch the prequel beforehand. I watched it afterwards, so it was naturally a bit of an anti-climax to see the events leading up to the Fall of Arcadia after I’d seen the actual Fall of Arcadia. I’m sure it would have been fine the correct way round.

Quite simply, this is the best episode of Doctor Who of all time. Saturday 23rd November 2013 was the last time our big group of friends all got together to watch a new episode, and will probably remain so now that we’ve all got busy jobs and people have started moving away and getting married and having babies. But what a high to go out on. Everyone came round to mine at around lunchtime, and we watched An Unearthly Child (just the first ep, not the full thing), The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, Time Crash, The Name of the Doctor and The Night of the Doctor as a warm-up.

None of this information is pertinent, but I mention it because it was a very happy day that will forever be lodged in my memory. It’s what makes Doctor Who so special to me, the way it’s intrinsically linked to certain times and certain people. The Day of the Doctor gets that, and it’s the perfect celebration. You don’t need me to write a review telling you why, and I don’t feel capable of doing so. So let’s see if I can do something different. In no particular order, here are fifty things I love about the fiftieth anniversary special.

  1. The original titles and music
  2. I.M. Foreman
  3. Coal Hill School – and having Clara work there is the first step in her transition from the mystery girl into a real person that we can begin to care about
  4. Riding a motorcycle into the TARDIS
  5. Kate Stewart – this is the first time she gets to take control in the same way that he dad used to, having been a bit of a passenger in her first story
  6. Osgood – she’s mostly just a cute fan representative at this stage, but the moment with the inhaler hints at the depth that’s to come
  7. “Codename: Cromer. 70s or 80s, depending on the dating protocol”
  8. Finally seeing the Time War, and it not disappointing after such a build-up
  9. It’s got Billie Piper in it
  10. It doesn’t have Rose Tyler in it – how wonderful to give Billie the chance to do something different, rather than further chip away at Rose’s resolution
  11. The design of The Moment itself is just gorgeous
  12. The way the three main settings – modern London, the Time War and Elizabethan England – are each given their own establishing scenes, one after another, before the Doctors are united, like a more in-depth and expensive version of The Five Doctors
  13. The trail of fezzes leaping from location to location, tying them all together
  14. It made me like Tennant again, having become a bit sick of him by the time he’d left three years earlier
  15. Specifically, I think it was the bit with the rabbit that did it
  16. A silly gag four years ago implying that Tennant shagged Queen Elizabeth I is now a key element in the fiftieth anniversary episode
  17. The fact that Smith and Tennant are quite matey with each other, which at this stage is a subversion of the norm for a multi-Doctor episode
  18. Conversely, how grumpy the War Doctor gets with how young they are, how they use their screwdrivers, and their silly catchphrases
  19. The War Doctor being so much more than just a substitute for Eccleston – he represents the classic era itself, and how despite the different approaches, it’s clear that the new regime owes it all to the original
  20. Just the fact that John Hurt is a Doctor now. John Hurt!
  21. The way that our introduction to him is so bad-ass – a machine-gunned message of defiance
  22. Smith and Tennant’s delight at both having put their clever specs on
  23. The War Doctor assuming they’re both the companions
  24. Smith calling Tennant “Dick van Dyke”
  25. The realisation of why the stone dust in the statue room was relevant
  26. The Black Archive, with its many pictures of old companions in bizarre combinations
  27. The choice of Zygons as the main baddy in only their second appearance – they must have the best average hit rate for any returning monster ever
  28. The relative restraint in only bringing back them and the Daleks – unlike previous anniversary specials, this story is about the Doctor, not any of his friends or foes
  29. Coming up with a brilliant plan to set the Sonic a 400-year task of disintegrating the cell door, only to discover it wasn’t locked
  30. The code for the vortex manipulator being the time and date An Unearthly Child aired
  31. John Hurt asking if there’ll be a lot of kissing in the future
  32. The multiple TARDIS interiors, and the reference to “the round things”, and of course the inevitable “you’ve redecorated” line
  33. The Space Time Telegraph turning up, of all things
  34. That weird, sinister-sounding phone call the UNIT guy takes towards the start suddenly making sense towards the end
  35. The various instances of people having to figure out which is the real person and which is the duplicate reminding me of Red Dwarf‘s Psirens
  36. The tension of that Kate Stewart vs Kate Stewart scene, and the parallel between her threatening to nuke London and the War Doctor’s dilemma
  37. The fact that it lead directly to The Zygon Invasion/Inversion, which is another of my all-time favourites
  38. “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in”
  39. The fact that this episode doesn’t actually change anything about the Time War – this is what always happened, it’s just that the Doctor thought that it happened differently. Moffat-haters still can’t grasp this.
  40. “Calling the War Council of Gallifrey. This is the Doctor.”
  41. “No sir, all thirteen” and Capaldi’s eyebrows – I cannot describe how exciting this was at the time. That screenshot was my Facebook cover photo for years.
  42. “Geronimo!” / “Allons-y!” / “Oh, for God’s sake.”
  43. Hurt’s reaction to his regeneration – we’ve never seen the Doctor *happy* to change before
  45. The whole idea of the Doctor reusing his previous faces – “but just the old favourites, eh?”
  46. Tom Baker appearing in Doctor Who in 2013. I cried then, I cried tonight. A wonderful, wonderful surprise – the greatest the show has ever pulled.
  47. For all its dodgy effects, the shot of the twelve Doctors all together was a beautiful thing to end on
  48. The fact that it’s still very much Matt Smith’s story, as per Pertwee in 1972 and Davison in 1983
  49. The faces in the closing titles, and the return of the middle eight
  50. The fact that it wasn’t just me and my friends gathered together to witness Doctor Who celebrate 50 years with the finest piece of television it’s ever produced, but 12.8 million people watching on BBC One, and millions more watching at cinemas or on TV in 98 countries around the world simultaneously.

And then afterwards, we all watched Zoe Ball desperately trying to get One Direction’s thoughts on fifty years of Doctor Who, over a satellite connection with a delay of what felt like fifty years itself, while Moffat watched on with his head in his hands. What. A. Night.

In case you hadn’t guessed:


Series 7 Minisodes

I’m cheating slightly today. The Complete Series 7 DVD/Bluray featured three exclusive additional scenes, each running between two and three minutes apiece. As they’re so wee, I’m going to tackle them all in one – partly because I’m going to be busy over the next few days and I want to get to the good stuff quicker, but mostly because they’re so small that I can barely muster a paragraph each.

The Inforarium

A slightly Blink-esque conversation between a recording of the Doctor and an IT guy at some sort of evil data centre. It reveals how the Doctor managed to erase himself from history – he pulled a Silence (not literally) and made it so that people forget everything they know about him three seconds after learning it. This leads to a nice reveal that the recording – and therefore the conversation – is on a loop, which is very neat.

Clara and the TARDIS

Tying in with the theme of the TARDIS hating the Clara of Series 7B as much as the fans do, we see it trolling her by moving her bedroom about, and showing her the sexiest of the Doctor’s past companions, which is something that also happens to Amy in one of the Meanwhile In The TARDIS scenes. I thought the scene was going down a similar looping route, but instead it transpired that the TARDIS had brought shitloads of Claras to the same place for a laugh. Probably the most successful of the three shorts, and certainly the most entertaining.

Rain Gods

Whereas this one is just nothing. The Doctor and River are on a date, they’re about to be sacrificed to some rain gods, but then it starts raining and the Doctor starts shouting at the sky, and then their captors are struck by lightning and they escape. That’s it. It’s insanely short, which makes you wonder why they went to the bother of getting Matt Smith and Alex Kingston together on location – I know it was undoubtedly shot alongside a proper episode, but why spend that spare time on something so inconsequential?

Scoring these seems arbitrary and meaningless, but that’s never stopped me before. I’m looking at these three scenes as a whole, so given that two of them were above average and one was below, I’d say that works out at…


The Name of the Doctor

Two prequels to this one: one released before the episode but set after it, and the other released after the episode but set before it. Timey-wimey…

She Said, He Said: We find Clara wandering around on a set filled with old props, pondering the nature of the Doctor and how she has to avoid failing in love with him. We then see that she’s actually talking to a completely inanimate Doctor, and the topic moves on to how she now knows exactly who he is, so I assumed that this was one of her trips through his timeline. But then the second half of the short sees the Doctor in the exact same scenario, recapping the whole Clara arc in front of a stationary version of her, so it’s just a narrative device.

Clarence and the Whispermen: In one of the most disturbing contributions to the Who canon, a condemned man (presumably the eponymous Clarence) is visited in his cell by three scary faceless creatures (presumably the eponymous Whispermen), who force some Gallifreyan co-ordinates into his memory, and as a result he’ll survive the execution but never sleep again. It’s pretty dark, it has to be said.

Blimey, that was a lot of preamble. Here’s a little more. This is one of very few episodes from the Moffat era that I’ve already watched more than once, as it was part of the warm-up on the day of the 50th. After my enthusiasm for the show was at an all-time low throughout most of Series 7, the finale couldn’t have whetted my appetite for the anniversary special more.

I mean, we start on bloody Gallifrey, and we see Hartnell stealing the TARDIS. Holy shit. Then there’s Colin, Tom, Sylv dangling from his umbrella in Iceworld, Pertwee driving Bessie, Troughton running around in a fur coat and Davison trapped in that big net thing from Arc of Infinity… All seven of the classic Doctors, in full physical motion in some form or other, all within the pretitles. I repeat: holy shit. It blew my mind at the time, and that was before I’d seen the entirety of the classic series. There’s even a reference to the Valeyard later on, for fuck’s sake.

This is the anniversary special starting six months early, but the more recent mythology is represented too, with the Paternoster Gang playing a pivotal role in arranging the “conference call”, which entails getting off their tits, to reunite with Clara and introduce her to River Song. Her chronology was quite confusing at first – it wasn’t until much later that we learn that this is post-Silence in the Library for her, and therefore she is in fact dead. I thought I’d missed a story where she and the Doctor had split up or something – I don’t really see why we’re supposed to think they can’t just have another regular adventure with a version of her from some point in her past, which is what this story seemed to imply.

It’s an episode that manages to combine tension and pace, constantly developing and progressing, while still unmistakably all being preamble for a handful of big revelations. It’s arguably better the second (or third) time around, when you know where it’s heading and can just enjoy the ride. And when you don’t mistakenly think that one of the big revelations is that the Doctor’s real name is “Please”, given that that’s what he says immediately before the door to his tomb opens.

Unsurprisingly, Richard E Grant is brilliant, far surpassing both Dr Simeon and the version of The Great Intelligence from The Snowmen now that they’re one and the same. As alluded to earlier, the Whispermen were fantastically creepy, to the extent that the idea could have been used for something more substantial than some one-off henchmen. I can’t decide whether TGI sacrificing his very existence in order to ruin the Doctor’s life is deliciously evil and deranged, or simply a bit of an overreaction to being defeated by him like four times.

Of course, as soon as he dived into the Doctor’s time-corpse, and we saw him in all the scenarios we saw Clara in earlier, it was obvious where she was going to end up. While I didn’t quite buy the soufflé metaphor, it was a very satisfying answer to the mystery, as it means that “our” Clara – the one we’ve been following since The Bells of Saint John – is the original Clara. She chooses to become the impossible girl in order to save the Doctor, and that’s something that goes a long way to turning her from a slightly distant enigma to a relatable protagonist.

There are obviously a few logical niggles (it’s perhaps best not to contemplate how the fact she knew about Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen makes this a bit of a predestination paradox), but they’re easy to ignore in the face of such a satisfying and resonant emotional conclusion. The same goes for the Doctor and River – much like with the Paternoster lot’s conference call, the only rational explanation for the Doctor being able to interact with her ghost is that it’s all slightly magic, but who cares the scene between them is so good?

And then finally there’s the biggest reveal of them all – one that we never knew was coming, but that managed to trump the one we’d been waiting all series for. It’s still as spine-tingling and glorious as ever. I remember being utterly blown away by the idea that there could be an extra incarnation of the Doctor, outside of the conventional numerical system, but I bought into it straight away. Without actually spelling out what terrible thing this version did to deserve being disowned, you know exactly what it is, and it’s the perfect teaser for the 50th. Now that we know just how brilliant John Hurt’s Doctor is, it’s even better.




  • Seasons/Series watched: 33 of 36
  • Stories watched: 239 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 798 of 839

Oh crikey, that’s a really bad average score, the second worst of all time behind Colin’s season of 45-minute snoozefests. There are a handful of good episodes, but a disproportionate amount of stinkers, and this finale is the only truly great episode to compensate. Throughout the modern era, each Doctor’s third series has been his worst – although it’s definitely not Matt Smith’s fault, as almost all of the problems have been with the arcs and the companions.

The night is always darkest before the dawn. With The Name of the Doctor, my least favourite portion of the revived series is already over – it’s the first huge step forward towards a new golden age. The very next episode is the dazzling centrepiece, but I’ve got a few minor diversions to get through first, to further build the anticipation for the big anniversary party…

Nightmare in Silver

I remembered this one as being an absolute stinker, and that may have affected my reaction to revisiting it, as I found it was nowhere near as bad as I feared. I mean, all the ingredients are right: Neil Gaiman, Cybermen and a solid cast that includes Tamzin Outhwaite, Jason Watkins and Warwick Davis, a man I’ve seen in the Shepherd’s Bush branch of M&S Simply Food on two separate occasions, eight years apart.

But then of course there’s also Angie & Artie, two characters so rubbish I had to double check what they were called before typing their names, even though I only finished watching the episode ten minutes ago. Neither of them are particularly well acted, but character-wise, Artie seems like a decent kid, even if he is crap at chess. Angie on the other hand can fuck right off, the precocious, ungrateful little shit. She puts herself in harm’s way because she’s rebelling against nothing in particular, and even when she’s helping to save the day by figuring out who Warwick Davis is, she’s incredibly smug about it.

And obviously the Cybermen are always a bit of a risk, post-1960s, as you never know what you’re going to get. These are a new breed, supposedly a mixture of the proper ones and the parallel universe ones, and seemingly with a little bit of the Raston Warrior Robot thrown in for good measure, judging by their speed. I quite like the design, with the usual caveats that they’re not supposed to all be identical, and that the sleekness doesn’t really help to reinforce the basic idea that they’re part organic. Nor does them being able to completely remove their heads, or send their hands for little walks – they are just generic robots, still.

Despite my misgivings I did enjoy the action sequences, but they were few and far between, with the story instead focussing on the Doctor’s internal battle with the Cyberplanner. Two sides of the Doctor’s personality battling each other is a great idea, but I really don’t like Matt Smith’s choices for the Cyber half. I was expecting it to be more… Cyber-y, but it’s somehow more emotional and unstable than the Doctor normally is. Plus, chess is boring, and it was really obvious that “our” Doctor was bluffing when he said he had a special secret move to win, which the Cyberplanner is really bloody thick for not figuring out.

(By the way, Red Dwarf did the whole two-versions-of-the-same-character-playing-chess-to-the-death thing way better in Queeg. And speaking of Red Dwarf, the military badge that the Doctor gives Clara in this episode later turned up on Rimmer’s brother Howard in Trojan, thanks to the presence on both series of costume designer Howard Burden.)

Anyway, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that I did in fact hate this episode after all, but I think what’s happened is that these issues were so big on first viewing – in the context of a half-series that was turning out to be thoroughly disappointing – that I’d forgotten all the good stuff. I really liked the army of nerds, and Warwick Davis was great in a much more serious role than he’s normally afforded. Clara was on decent form too, taking charge of the situation and consistently making correct decisions, with the impossible girl stuff largely given a week off ahead of the big climax.


The Crimson Horror

Another one of those that I vaguely remembered, but without any of the details. For instance, I could have sworn this was set in a sweets factory, rather than a match factory that sounds like it should be a sweets factory. I also knew that this was a Paternoster Gang story, but not just how integral they were to it.

You don’t even see the Doctor or Clara until a third of the way through, with the gang acting as the main protagonists, especially Jenny. It’s her who infiltrates the factory and discovers what’s going on, finally stepping out of the shadows of her easier-to-define colleagues to show what she’s capable of. Thankfully, as well as her special skills of lock-picking and kung fu, she’s also got the charisma to pull off the role of Doctor surrogate, laying all the groundwork to set up the plot that he’d normally be responsible for.

All this was in aid of a shock reveal that the Doctor had been there all along, locked up by a blind woman and dyed red. In fact, he had done all the same investigations as Jenny, which were conveyed to us in a neat little montage that also contained references to Tegan – no idea why, but I liked it. The Doctor then de-reds himself by locking himself in an airing cupboard, a process that’s never fully explained, which is a little distracting.

After this exciting opening half, the story starts to stall a little thereafter, despite a strong villain in Diana Rigg. It just sort of plods along with a lot of running back and forth, broken up by the occasional bit of hiding and watching, and doesn’t really get going beyond that. It all relies on the key revelation that the mysterious Mr Sweet is a parasitic leech clamped to Diana Rigg’s tit; I can’t remember how I reacted to it at the time, but the earlier foreshadowing where she sprinkles salt down her cleavage reminded me of the twist, so I didn’t feel the impact this time.

Still, it’s all perfectly pleasant, if a little pedestrian, and any episode with Strax in it has to have something going for it, especially when he’s rebuking his horse for getting lost. His role as the Doctor’s mercenary is a little problematic, though – it’s OK for him to be gleeful as he’s lasering henchmen to death, but it’s a little weird that the Doctor’s happy to have such carnage take place in his name.

We saw very little indeed of Clara in this episode, which doesn’t really do much to flesh out her still nascent character. She spends the majority of the time preserved in a jar, but she does get a little coda at home, where the kids she babysits have discovered she’s a time traveller and demand to go with her. This is why companions shouldn’t go home between adventures – it makes life complicated for them, and now we’ve got to sit through a story with those two brats in tow.


Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

As has happened all too often recently, this is an idea with absolutely bags of potential, but an execution that’s ultimately disappointing. The concept of journeying through the TARDIS and exploring its labyrinthine properties is one that’s been done before (relatively recently at that), but a whole episode dedicated to it is something else. Visually, it was certainly far more impressive than the likes of The Invasion of Time, yet somehow overall it failed to be as interesting.

There were plenty of nice moments, sure – Clara finding the big Time War book, the TARDIS deliberately changing the corridor layout to mess the people – but it lacks anything mind-blowing, surreal or even surprising. It’s the wasted opportunity that makes this one so poor – there are endless possibilities of what the TARDIS could contain, and what does it show us? A swimming pool, a library, a bunch of props from recent episodes, a big CGI Eye of Harmony, a big white room and some corridors. It’s all fine, but it’s all stuff we already knew about. The TARDIS should be beyond our imagination, but imagination is exactly what’s missing from the writing.

It’s almost as if there was a lack of confidence to really go for broke on the basic premise, which would explain the unnecessary addition of some slightly naff and utterly forgettable monsters. It didn’t need that, and it certainly didn’t need so much extraneous stuff around the salvage crew. I don’t feel I’m quite qualified to talk about the casting choice for these particular roles, but there’s something about it that makes me mildly uncomfortable. The biggest issue, however, was that they were all rubbish.

The acting is often poor, and the characters themselves are irredeemable shits. They are the cause of all the bad things that happen to the Doctor, and they’re among the least sympathetic guest characters we’ve ever met. The only one with any scrap of decency is the robot one, but the later revelation that he’s not even a robot makes the other two even worse. Their brother had a terrible accident, so they brainwashed him and enslaved him. Lovely. Why should I give a shit about any of this?

My abiding memory from first broadcast was one of intense frustration that we didn’t learn more about Clara. That scene at the cliff-edge (perhaps the most surprising TARDIS location in fairness, although they’d recently done a similar thing in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) really felt like it was going somewhere, and then it just didn’t. It felt at the time like we were being teased, and while it’s not as bad when you’re revisiting it, it’s still not actively good.

Besides, everything gets undone at the end anyway, including any small amounts of character or arc development that may have taken place in that scene. The episode might as well have not been made.



This is probably the last episode about which I remembered absolutely nothing from the original broadcast. The title meant very little to me prior to tonight, and even watching yesterday’s “Next Time” trailer failed to jog the memory. There is one major aide-memoire this time round though – the main woman in it was subsequently cast as Verity Lambert in An Adventure In Space And Time, and therefore I couldn’t help imagining that all of this was happening to Doctor Who‘s first producer.

It seems like an apt night to be watching what is unashamedly an old-fashioned ghost story, although such a thing is not really my cup of tea. I’m not really one for superficial scares like loud creaking noises or glimpses of things in lightning flashes – it’s too easy to take them off them off the shelf and use them in lieu of advancing the plot, and that’s what this felt like at times.

On the plus side, at least there weren’t actual ghosts; as you know, I can only really get on board with supernatural stuff in Who when there’s something vaguely sciencey behind it, and I enjoyed watching the Doctor figure it all out. That said, the psychic girl was seemingly just a bit magic, but they get away with it because she’s a well-performed, likeable character. The same went for the Professor – not much meat on either character, and I can take or leave their romantic subplot, but they seem like nice people who you don’t mind spending time with.

Then there’s Clara. Still nothing at this stage to endear us to her – even old psychic Verity seemed to conclude that there’s precious little depth to her – but now she’s slagging off the TARDIS and wondering why it doesn’t like her. It seems at this stage that the TARDIS is a good judge of character. It’s an obvious point, but the mystery surrounding who Clara is takes up all the time that’s usually reserved for actual character development. It’s not grating on me as much now as it did at the time, as I grew to like her in Series 8 & 9, but it’s definitely a distraction.

I can’t decide whether the extra bit at the end with the monster having its own parallel romantic subplot was lovely or stupid. If you think about it for a while, and ponder where the second monster came from and how it had stayed hidden for so long, it probably veers towards the latter, but in the moment it made me smile and it took me by surprise.

Overall, it’s all pretty much fine, but I can see why I didn’t remember it. It’s partly the non-descript title, partly that there’s no imagery that’s particularly memorable or unique, and I guess also the lack of a real villain, or any guest characters that are out of the ordinary. Everything is perfectly adequate, but nothing is remarkable.


Cold War

We find ourselves on a Soviet nuclear submarine staffed by several very famous actors, many of whom are off of Game of Thrones. It was back to the good old days of incredibly plummy foreigners, which gave this a very old-school vibe, along with the base-under-siege set-up and the lovely model work courtesy of Mike Tucker. And, of course, the returning monster.

I have a soft spot for the Ice Warriors, thanks largely to my unusually high regard for both Peladon stories, and so I was happy to see them back. And it wasn’t just any old Ice Warrior, but a famous Ice Warrior – it was a nice touch to have the Doctor know who this specific guy is, as it helps you to think of him as an individual character, capable of being as well-rounded as any human, rather than just a generic monster. Skaldak was seriously imposing and formidable, but also smart and cunning.

Those early scenes really worked, but I was baffled by the decision to take him out of his shell-suit, when all they showed of the monster inside was a pair of claws dangling from the ceiling, and a shapeless form whizzing past in a blur. A few glimpses of generic alien appendages isn’t as scary as an armoured beefcake with built-in guns; it felt like such a wasted opportunity to bring a classic monster back and then change it into something completely different after such a short amount of screen time.

Having it return to the armour but remove the visor was a reasonable compromise, but it affected the impact of those closing scenes. The face looks like what it is – a special effect – drawing attention to the fact that it’s artificial, in a way a big helmet doesn’t. To be fair, the climax may well have fallen flat anyway, given that the Doctor’s big plan is to establish a scenario of mutually assured destruction. I’m not sure the lesson we’re supposed to take from the Cold War is that this was a sensible tactic. In the end, the Ice Warriors show up and fix everything anyway, rendering all of this irrelevant. Ho hum.

Clara annoyed me a little in this episode, and I think I’ve figured out why. It’s the way she’s so cocky when volunteering to negotiate with Skaldak, and the way she seeks validation afterwards, asking the Doctor how she did. This self-centred keenness is at odds with her being so new to all this, and it makes it seem like it’s all a lark to her, like she’s not taking it seriously. Later on, her character would be fleshed out, and these danger-seeking instincts would be thoroughly examined, and shown to have consequences. But we know so little about her at this stage that all we’re seeing is her flaws, and it’s hard to take to her.

But still. I did enjoy this one more than most this series, and it was a more than enjoyable way to spend forty-five minutes, unlike yesterday. It’s just that there have been fundamental problems with the Doctor-companion dynamics in both halves of this series, which are stopping good episodes becoming great, and this in turn is emphasising flaws that would otherwise matter less.


The Rings of Akhaten

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.