Hell Bent

A brilliant series draws to a close with a finale that’s a little light on spectacle compared to previous efforts, but focuses instead on mythology and character resolution. To both of these ends, Gallifrey is back, and in a way that adheres surprisingly closely to those heavy Time Lord stories of old. A gang of old fuddy duddies are plotting about what to do with the Doctor, who ends up overthrowing the High Council to become President and piss about with the Matrix. Reassuringly familiar to me now, thanks to this project.

Rassilon was back of course, in the guise of The Sarah Jane Adventures‘s Donald Sumpter. The Doctor’s total victory over him was perhaps as good as it got for him in this episode – the revenge he needed for his four and a half billion years of torture, without a single shot being fired. The same can’t be said for his rescue of Clara, as the Doctor guns down a fellow Time Lord in cold blood, which provides an on-screen precedent for male-to-female regenerations that you’d think would be enough to shut whinging manbabies on the internet up, but isn’t.

It’s definitely a shocking sight to see our hero do something so violent, but I don’t mind it, perhaps because what he’s been through is so extreme as to make his actions understandable, if not entirely justifiable. The revelation that his ordeal was part of the plan to get Clara back is a heartwarming touch – he didn’t spend billions of years punching a diamond wall because he had to, but because he chose to, for Clara.

Escaping in an old style TARDIS was obviously amazing, but the rest of the episode is very very talky, and it slightly fails to live up to the genius that came before it. I was never that excited by “the Hybrid” as a series arc, and that fact that it turned out to be merely a metaphor is a little underwhelming. I buy that the Doctor and Clara push each other to extremes, and that it might be dangerous for them to carry on as they have been, but not that dangerous that it’s worth all this fuss.

I think the diner scenes really helped disguise the lack of whelm on first broadcast, as they’re designed to keep you guessing. I remember assuming at first that Clara would be one of the leftover splinter Claras, until it became apparent that one of them had been memory-wiped. The twist that it’s him is a very good one, and the whole thing is a masterclass in misdirection.

It’s a sad way for this pairing to end – I didn’t like Clara at all for a long time, and I know that many people never changed their mind about her, but I really love her and Capaldi together. In retrospect, I feel slightly short changed that she missed quite a bit of her last series, but she left on a high. I love the idea of Clara and Ashildr going off on adventures for all eternity, through time and space in a flying diner. Can’t be long now til the Big Finish spin-off.

RATING: 8

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.56

  • Seasons/Series watched: 35 of 36
  • Stories watched: 262 of 276
  • Individual episodes watched: 825 of 840

And that rating confirms that this is my favourite new series so far. A great Doctor on top form, with a high proportion of absolutely classic stories. And blimey, I’m so close to the end now. One series and three Christmas specials. Just fifteen episodes. I can fit the remainder of the spreadsheet on my laptop screen. Blimey.

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Face the Raven

First of all, there is no way in hell that this is a self-contained story, despite what the official lists will have you believe. I recall that the series was initially billed as having a three-part finale, and that’s what it is as far as I’m concerned; despite how different the three episodes are, it’s clearly one continuous sequence of events.

Nevertheless, this blog must slavishly follow the rules, so I find myself contemplating a still incomplete tale. Luckily, it’s an absolute corker. The trap street is such a good idea, although perhaps it would have been a bit more fun if it wasn’t for the perception filter that made every member of the alien menagerie look human – which is admittedly another good idea, from a budgetary perspective.

Ashildr/Me is back as the mayor of the street (can you be a mayor of a street?), and she’s a full on villain here. This is surprising after she seemingly turned a corner at the end of The Woman Who Lived – no sign of her immortality buddy Rufus Hound either. It sounds like I’m moaning, but I only mention this because I spent the majority of the episode totally gripped and thus unable to make many notes – even the second time around, the twists in the mystery that ensnares the Doctor kept me guessing.

I was worried that the knowledge of what’s to come would lessen the impact of what happens to Clara, but not a bit of it. Her recklessness has been a theme of this series, and this is what it’s all leading up to. The realisation that Clara can’t be saved is heartbreaking to watch, and the Doctor being so furious and vengeful is strangely touching. There must be very few actors who can make you cry by being angry.

But cry I did, as Clara was killed by a big crow. Despite how daft it sounds on paper, it’s incredibly emotional and expertly crafted. Even the mural Rigsy paints on the abandoned TARDIS makes me sniffle again, after I’d been snapped out of it by the power of the Doctor’s furious threat to Ashildr. It’s pretty hard to forgive her for what she does, but it reminds me of the recent series finale of Peaky Blinders, in which (SPOILERS) Alfie Solomons agrees to set a trap for the Shelbys, even though he knew he’d be killed in retribution, mostly just for a quiet life. The Doctor must forgive her to some extent by the end of the finale, but I guess he has lots of time to think it over…

RATING: 9

Dark Water / Death in Heaven

This is the first two-parter for a hell of a long time, and I must admit it was nice yesterday to just watch an episode without having to immediately write about it. This is a return to the traditional two part finale, where the first episode takes its time to slowly build to a climax, putting everything in place for the real action to begin in the second. Knowing what’s coming allows you to appreciate the details during the set up. Those teardrop logos were everywhere, but I don’t think I noticed them on first viewing until the little Cybermen sting played.

The big highlight of the first episode was of course the death of Danny Pink. I know it’s supposed to be sad, but I was just amused at the possibly that the accident was Clara’s fault for bollocking on at him while he was trying to cross the road. The volcano scene, though, is incredibly powerful and tense. I love the pay-off – “do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference? – as it says everything about how the Doctor really feels, despite his general demeanour.

This could easily have been redemption for Danny’s character, but he’s still a bit of a knob even when he’s dead. He’s so thick that he can’t think of something to tell Clara that only he’d know. And later, when he becomes a sad Cyberman, why does he take her to cemetery, of all places, when he knew it’d be full of reanimated Cybercorpses? Then, when she’s talking about the Doctor and being a liar, he loses his temper and points his gun at her. There’s no coming back from that – he can fuck off and stay dead.

The Cybermen were nice and formidable, despite still retaining the Wrong Trousers sound effect, and the shot of them all emerging from St Paul’s was obviously very special. But they were very much second fiddle to Missy. The gender swap really works, and makes me excited about the Doctor’s future. I wonder how long the Master had been wanting to snog the Doctor. If indeed this was the first time it’s happened.

On to the second episode then, in which the actor credits are swapped round and it’s Clara’s eyes that appear in the titles. This is a lot of fun, but the Clara-as-the-Doctor stuff is little more than a red herring. What’s far more interesting is the actual Doctor teaming up with his new UNIT chums to become the President of the Earth, and I love that he gloats to Missy about how he’s got what she’s always wanted.

I like that one of those chums is Sanjeev Bhaskar, and it’s a shame that he didn’t have more to do, but then nobody survives very long around the Master, who’s just as callous and cruel as ever. The Doctor sealed Osgood’s fate when he started hinting that she could become a companion, but it was always in the back of my mind that there were two of her knocking about. Kate’s apparent death is shocking, but not as shocking as how she survived. I have some reservations about how tasteful the Cyberbrig is, but the Doctor saluting him brought a tear to my eye.

All that remains is for Danny Pink to sacrifice himself a couple of times – which still isn’t quite enough to make him less of a prick – and for Clara to have the first of her several goodbye scenes. I’d forgotten about the indecisiveness around when she’d leave, but I’m glad that she stayed on, as I really like her and Capaldi together. I know they both have their critics, but it’s that partnership that made me enjoy this series so much, which in turn inspired me to start this project. After the 50th anniversary reinvigorated my love for Who, this series cemented it.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 34 of 36
  • Stories watched: 252 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 812 of 839

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.

An Adventure in Space and Time

Sorry progress has been so slow – ridiculously busy week. But as it turns out, the day that we were given our first look at David Bradley in this year’s Christmas special seems like an apt time to be watching this. I wasn’t originally intending to include this in the re-watch, but with what’s coming up, I couldn’t resist. I actually revisited it for the first time as I got to the end of the Hartnell era, and I wrote this on the old version of this blog:

I re-watched An Adventure in Space and Time last night, for the first time since it was broadcast. I adored it the first time round, but oh boy is it better once you’re more familiar with Hartnell’s tenure. It’s the condensed version of a story that I saw play out over the course of three-and-a-bit seasons. By the time Bill was called to Newman’s office, I was in tears. As a viewer, I didn’t want Hartnell to go, but I knew that the time was right. We see Bill reach the same conclusion, and David Bradley is utterly superb.

However, I feel the need to speak out about a little inaccuracy. I don’t care about events being moved around, key people being omitted or anachronistic monsters – that’s artistic license, and it’s what makes for the best possible story being told. I’m aware there are people who despise the whole production because there’s a Menoptera at Verity’s leaving party, but these people are cretins.

No, my only objection is this: William Hartnell was a better Doctor than An Adventure portrayed, and that era of Doctor Who was a much better show than the one we saw glimpses of here. Again, yes, there’s some artistic license, and most of the cock-ups portrayed were based on real events. But seriously, watch some Hartnell stories – particularly from the first two seasons – and he’s a world apart from the bumbling weakling that he’s remembered as.

I love An Adventure in Space and Time – but don’t let it put you off the real thing.

I stand by that, although obviously it barely impacts on how astoundingly brilliant this show is. It was a key component of the anniversary celebrations; equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking, and a perfect distillation of everything that makes Doctor Who so special. It emphasises how the likes of Waris Hussein and Verity Lambert were complete outsiders, and how the show’s success is the ultimate underdog story.

What struck me this time round, as my industry increasingly feels the effects of so many studio facilities falling by the wayside, is that Television Centre is such a character in the story. It’s a love letter to a version of the BBC that doesn’t exist any more. There are some things best left in the past – the racism and sexism, the boys’ club mentality, the alarming amount of workplace smoking – but the sense of creativity, risk-taking and utter devotion to the cause was what TVC symbolised, and you worry that these ideals are much harder to realise these days, with the corporation constantly under attack and under pressure.

Mostly though, it’s just brilliant to see so many lovely old things lovingly recreated, my favourites being the Marco Polo set, the first annual and of course the Daleks on Westminster Bridge. So many great cameos as well, particularly William Russell as an apoplectic commissionaire. The recreations of particular scenes were all fascinating – it was the bit from the end of The Massacre that inspired that original blog post though, and it’s a shame we didn’t see Bradley do it as well as Hartnell did IRL.

It’s clever the way the story sheds its main players one by one – first Waris, then Verity, then Hartnell. Each one makes you a little more emotional, leading to the absolute heartbreak of Bill breaking down in front of the fireplace. His “I don’t want to go” is much, much sadder than Tennant’s. But then the Matt Smith cameo is lovely, and the glimpse of the real Hartnell doing the Dalek Invasion of Earth speech is a great note to end on. It gets the balance of fanwank and genuine drama absolutely spot on, and it’s a superb piece of television about television.

RATING: 10

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.

RATING: 7

Closing Time

I wasn’t looking forward to this one, despite not being too put off by James Corden last time round. That’s because in the meantime the Emmys happened, and now I actually hate James Corden, rather than merely intensely disliking him. You won’t kiss the Doctor but you’ll kiss Sean Spicer?

Consequently I found it much harder to like Craig this time, and it didn’t help that he was reinforcing the patriarchy with his useless dad stereotypes. Luckily, the Doctor speaking baby is a very rich seam, and his interactions with Alfie/Stormageddon were the highlight of the episode. That and the fact that Lynda Baron turns up, more than forty years after singing that bloody song.

Much like The Lodger, it’s a light and comedic palate cleanser before the big finale, only this time there’s Cybermen in it. Well, they’re barely in it, but that’s probably for the best at this stage. It’s such a shame that this era of Cybermen are so rubbish, as actually, a small band of survivors rebuilding themselves from scratch, using bits of kidnapped humans, is a brilliant premise for a Cyber story, but it lacks any of the visceral body horror that it would have had in the 60s, or which was so brilliantly reinstated in much more recent times.

I wasn’t sure about the Cybermats having big pointy teeth, nor with Craig once again saving the world via the power of love. The thing of Alfie crying being enough to snap Craig out of a Cyber-conversion, and Alfie subsequently “telling” the Doctor how proud he is of his dad, seems like it’s a lovely thing. But if the message is that it takes actually saving the world for babies to love their dads as much as they love their mums, what chance have the rest of us got?

Meanwhile, Amy and Rory turn up for about a minute, and they don’t even get to speak properly. Amy is a celebrity now, either a famous model or a perfume maker, or some combination of the two, it’s not quite clear. It’s also not quite clear when exactly any of this takes place. For the Doctor, it’s a day before he gets shot in Utah, so two hundred years must have passed for him since he dropped them off, but how long has it been for them, given that she’s had time to become famous? I thought at first that this episode could take place a few years in the future, but the newspaper says 2011, so I can only conclude that the Doctor (accidentally?) dropped them off a few years in their relative past, and that for a while there must have been two Amies and Rories knocking about.

Much neater is the segue into the finale, which involves the Doctor acquiring his stetson and his fancy TARDIS-blue stationery. The subsequent River scene left me slightly confused about her personal timeline – even when you’re watching it in order at a decent pace, it’s still bloody complicated – but I think that ought to be cleared up once I’m reminded of exactly what happens at Lake Silencio. Madame Kovarian and the Silence turning up was suitably scary and exciting, but the only improvement I’d have made would be to have the creepy nursery rhyme sung by Lynda Baron. The Doctor’s in a cowboy hat, it would have been the ultimate call back.

RATING: 6

A Good Man Goes to War

Prequel: That big blue wheeler-dealer chap sells a Judoon’s brain to some hooded figures, before attempting to verify the rumours that they’d kidnapped the child of someone connected to the Doctor. That’s about it, so they pad it out with some very slow captions trailing the TX date.

Really, the only preview that you need is the cliffhanger from the previous episode, and the sense of urgency and epicness that runs throughout this story does not disappoint. I’m vehemently opposed to the notion of chopping a season in half – the eventual workload solution they found of simply dropping an episode a year yields much more satisfying results – but at least they made the format work to their advantage by having such a huge, gobsmacking episode to provide the mini-finale.

I’d forgotten entirely about the pre-titles encounter with the Cybermen, now thankfully rid of their Cybus branding, which is a step in the right direction. I love the fact that Rory got to be the big hero we see confronting them – his story across the last season and a half is that of someone stepping out of the background to fulfil his true potential, and that’s often driven by the desire to protect his wife and/or newly-discovered child. It’s corny, but it really works.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is raising an army by taking us to as many different locations as the budget will allow, and Moffat is careful to make the build-up in this episode as comedic as possible, to balance the heavy stuff to come. River’s punchline to the Stevie Wonder story is one of my favourite gags the show has ever done, and the concept of a Sontaran nurse is just brilliant. It will never not be funny to see Strax politely inform people of his intention to kill them, and he’s by far the most promising of all the new allies this episode introduces.

When the Doctor’s finally ready to sort this shit out, his supposed triumph is a joy to watch unfold. Moffat pulls off a trick that I more readily associate with RTD, of throwing as many returning characters or species on screen as possible – he did it in his first finale, of course, but I don’t think he ever quite did it in the same way as this again. Here we get fuckloads of Silurians and Judoon (thus answering my question from the other day about whether it was rare for Moff to bring back RTD creations), as well as unexpected and possibly unwarranted cameos from “Danny Boy” and Captain Avery, characters from two of the least good episodes of the Moffat era thus far.

Then the episode’s third phase – the Doctor’s fall – kicks in, and bloody hell, things get intense towards the end. I was surprised to see Strax as one of the casualties, given that he’s about to become a recurring character, but then I guess death isn’t much of a barrier when you’re talking about a race of clones in a time travel show. More expected was that the sweet and brave Doctor fangirl didn’t survive the encounter, and the realisation of what his name means to her people hits the Doctor – and us – hard.

I’m not sure I quite agree with River’s wider assessment that the Doctor is on dangerous ground and needs to mend his ways. It rang true when the Tenth Doctor went through a similar identity crisis, but the Eleventh Doctor so far has been firmly committed to non-violence wherever possible, and has largely resisted abusing his powers. But then, dramatically speaking, you need to drag him down before you pick him up again, and the revelation about River/Melody – as well as being very cleverly done – ended this rollercoaster on a high.

It’s hard to relive the impact that it had at the time; the promise that the mystery will be resolved is always in the background of this episode, which means it loses a certain something when you know full well what’s coming. But it still managed to make me a little emotional, due to the Doctor’s joy of learning that Melody would eventually be just fine, and the knowledge that he dedicates so much of his life to keeping her safe and happy. Although it must be a bit weird to be shagging your best friends’ daughter, especially if you’ve held her (and indeed spoken to her) as a baby.

Nevertheless, it’s a stunning and shocking episode, and well worth revisiting regardless of the lessened impact of the big reveal. My lack of memory of the finer details of these episodes is really paying off now, as they’re able to surprise me all over again. For example, I still don’t quite remember who Madame Kovarian is and what her motives are; you don’t find out very much here, and instead it’s nicely set up to be the mystery that runs through the second half of the season.

One thing that I did remember though, and that still remains as funny as ever, is the huge high-stakes drama ending with the next episode’s title being revealed, in huge impactful letters, as “LET’S KILL HITLER”. After all that the episode had put me through the first time I watched it, I ended up unable to process any of the emotional connotations due to five minutes of solid laughter.

RATING: 9

It feels wrong to be doing the milestone stuff at this juncture, but nevertheless:

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 9

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31.54 of 36
  • Stories watched: 218 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 777 of 839

I hadn’t realised how good the first half of this series was. I mean, I knew I liked it, but wow, just look at that average rating. My memory is that the second half doesn’t quite live up to it, and will most likely bring the overall score down, but unfortunately I’m going to have to wait to find out. It’s as galling now as it is then – just when you’re ramped up to maximum excitement about Doctor Who, it disappears for a while. Worse still, the filling of this Series 6 sandwich is not particularly appetising.

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

* That’s a hell of an opening sequence, bringing together pretty much every major guest character from the series so far. Well, almost – if you were James Cordon or Meera Syal, you’d have to take it personally. It’s a new twist on the way the finale sits with the rest of the series – as well as there being seeds of the finale dotted throughout the preceeding episodes, bits of preceeding episodes are dotted throughout the finale. It makes the whole thing feel like it’s all been one big story – Series 5 is one long and varied chapter in The Doctor’s life, rather than several smaller ones.

* River Song Timeline Watch: The Weeping Angels story hasn’t happened to River yet. Is the implication that we’re following River’s story in exact reverse chronological order? That would be the easiest interpretation to follow, but hold on – she doesn’t seem to know who Rory is, so this can’t take place after any of her Series 6 or 7 stories. Unless she’s just pretending to not know Rory, in order to avoid any spoiler-related faux pas. Oh, I’m only three River stories in and I’ve gone cross-eyed.

* I really like the way the Cybermen are used here, like creatures in a horror flick. There’s the disembodied head scuttling about on spidery tentacles, then the skull falling out of the helmet, then the headless ghost coming to attack. Despite how unusual a Cyberman appearance this is, it’s the most effective they’ve been in the revival so far, and the skull is the closest they’ll come to nailing the body horror until they give up and bring back the Mondasians.

* Rory’s back. Hooray! I couldn’t quite remember all the details of how it happens, and considered the possibility that he’d remain an Auton for the rest of his life. That would have been great – The Doctor having a companion that’s ostensibly human in pretty much all respects, except that his hand can turn into a gun. And he might accidentally kill his wife when stressed.

* Quick status check at the end of the first part: The Doctor has been imprisoned by every monster he’s ever met, Amy has been reunited with Rory only for him to shoot her dead, River is trapped in an exploding TARDIS, and every star in every universe in every reality is going out, one-by-one. Yeah, that’s a pretty high-stakes cliffhanger.

* When things are this extreme, it makes me nervous, as it’s a big challenge to get out of situations like this in a satisfying way. Moffat handles this by once again tinkering with the format of a finale. It’s often the case that the first ep is largely one long set-up for the second ep, but here it feels more like two distinct stories. By not starting The Big Bang in the same time and place as The Pandorica Opens ended, it’s an indication that the answer to “how do they get out of that one?” is going to take the whole episode.

* It’s an answer that involves the return of young Amelia Pond, and she’s up against stone Daleks, which look a hell of a lot better than the New Paradigm bastards elsewhere in this series. We’re also introduced to The Doctor’s penchant for a fez, as part of a timey-wimey jigsaw puzzle of a plot, which sees the show once more channeling Bill & Ted-style time travel humour. This use of time travel as a story-telling device is something that would become a trademark of Moffat’s era, so it’s easy to forget how fresh, unusual and exciting it felt at the time.

* Inevitably, the ultimate conclusion to the story requires a little bit of what people like to refer to as a “reset button”, but there’s so much more it than that, and it avoids all the pitfalls that often make this term a pejorative one. Firstly, the show acknowledges exactly what it is – The Doctor is rebooting the universe, simple as that. Secondly, it’s not without its cost – The Doctor has to sacrifice his existence in order to make it happen, cleverly linking up with the rest of the series once more as he goes.

But mostly, the crucial part is that by the time everything’s worked itself out, the characters still remember everything that happened. Amy piecing everything together was a thing of joy, and it meant that all the things that the reboot erased were still “real” to her, Rory, River and The Doctor, even if that’s not what the history books will say. As far as they’re concerned, Rory spent the best part of 2,000 years guarding Amy, while she managed to bring both the men in her life back from the dead, and all the character development that goes along with these things will still apply.

So yeah, call it a “reset button” if you like, but it’s not a cheat – it’s our heroes fixing a problem and winning the day like they always do, even if nobody but them will know they did it.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31 of 36
  • Stories watched: 212 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 769 of 839

What a fine series that was. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I was rewatching Series 1-4, seeing Eccleston and Tennant was like revisiting old friends, as I had been for Doctors 1-8. But with Smith, despite the fact that I adore Capaldi, I’ve been kind of forgetting that he’s not the current Doctor – he’s still so exciting to watch, and I’ve always thought he could have easily stuck around for longer.

Coming up next, I’m about to go on holiday for a week and a bit, which might rather dent my hopes of finishing this thing before Christmas. However, I’m taking my laptop and my Sarah Jane DVDs with me, just in case it rains…

The Next Doctor

* This is an episode that was perhaps a little overshadowed by the hype and speculation surrounding it. It was a precision-engineered piece of publicity, with the announcement of Tennant’s departure followed quickly by the reveal of the title, and of David Morrissey’s casting. Luckily, if you take away that hype, you still end up with a pretty good episode – rather than the mystery being whether or not Morrissey is actually a future Doctor, it’s instead about why this guy thinks he’s The Doctor, and what happened to make him this way.

* Morrissey is great, as both a potential Doctor and as Jackson Lake. It’s a very classic-series approach to The Doctor – a big, broad performance with lots of quirky turns of phrase – perhaps because he was forged in Victorian London, and so is harking back to the past in the same way The Doctor did when he was younger. The look is reminiscent of McGann, for similar reasons.

* Another landmark moment in terms of links between old and new – actual, moving footage of all the previous Doctors! Well, apart from one, but Moffat hadn’t invented him yet. So exciting at the time, and yet soon to become much more common as we hurtled towards the 50th.

* There are some very dark undertones for a Christmas Day edition of a family favourite. It’s not explicitly stated, but it’s made perfectly clear, that Jackson’s companion Rosita is/was a prostitute, and that Miss Hartigan was a victim of some sort of physical and/or sexual abuse. There’s also talk of children going missing, a massacre at a funeral, and the loveable Jackson Lake losing his wife. Merry Christmas.

* I liked the Cybermen here, more so than in their previous new series appearances. They didn’t talk much, which is good – they could just concentrate on being scary and imposing, thanks to some low angles and fast cuts. I liked the Cybershades, although they’re not really that Cyber-y, they’re just attack dogs with masks on. Miss Hartigan was good too, the kind of cold-blooded, heartless mercenary that suits accomplished guest actors like Dervla Kirwan.

* Then she turned into a giant version of Preston from Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave, and I wasn’t so keen. It’s undoubtedly cool to see a big cyberpunk Cyberman stomping about, but it didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. There was all this talk about the combination of the Cybermen’s logic and Hartigan’s raw anger being used to take over the world, and that’s more interesting than just flattening the place with a big stompy robot.

* Nevertheless, the best Christmas special since the first one, and a good start to Tennant and RTD’s farewell tour.

RATING: 8