Into the Dalek

I don’t know where to start with this one, as nothing really stood out as being exceptionally good or bad. It was a bit like Dalek, with the focus on one individual Dalek and its philosophical debates with the Doctor, but mixed with The Invisible Enemy, with a little dash of the antibodies from Let’s Kill Hitler thrown in for good measure. A bit of a mish-mash of ideas, but it looked great and it was well directed. Always nice to see Tyres too.

It doesn’t quite hit the heights of Dalek because it only really gets under the skin of the creature in the literal sense. I was hoping that the hippy stuff about Rusty seeing the error of his ways after watching a star being born was all just a ploy, but it seems he meant it. I feel the Dalek should have been more cunning, but then the episode is as much about examining the new Doctor as it is the nature of his enemy.

It offers the theory that they’re very much two sides of the same coin, which is interesting, but my answer to the question of whether the Doctor is a good man is always: “well, of course he is, he’s the Doctor”. You can see that Capaldi is taking a very different approach, but fundamentally all that’s changed is that he’s become less tactful around death. This is admittedly being said with the benefit of hindsight, as you can tell that the intention was to be suggest that he might have gone a bit Colin Baker this time round.

It’s a bold move, and I can sort of see why it put some people off, even though I completely disagree with those people. I’ll admit to being taken aback by how casual he is about the high body count, but the side-effect of the Missy cutaways is that they make it all slightly softer. The people who sacrifice themselves in the Doctor’s name are being plucked from time, raising the hope that they might be saved (even if that hope turns out to be false), and reassuring us that there is a plan behind all of this (even if it’ll be a while before it’s all made clear).

Meanwhile, we’ve also got the introduction of Danny Pink, in scenes that feel very separate from the rest of the episode, which is a consequence of this persistent trend for the companion to live away from the TARDIS. All we learn about him at this stage is that he’s an ex-soldier and that he may well have killed a woman, so he’s not immediately seeming like boyfriend material.

I’m not keen on the Danny Pink element of this series, but it’s early days, and he’s not too infuriating yet. This is a decent if not spectacular episode, and the high point is the way Rusty saunters off after describing the Doctor as a good Dalek, giving him the side-eye all the way out the door. That made me laugh so much, whether it was intended to be funny or not.

RATING: 7

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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.

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.

RATING: 10

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
  44. YOU KNOW I REALLY THINK YOU MIGHT
  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:

RATING: 10

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

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

The Wedding of River Song

Prequel: That bloody nursery rhyme is playing again, as a pair of eyepatch-wearing soldiers inspect some Silence in a water tank. Then we see River, also wearing an eyepatch, lurking menacingly near an Egyptian sarcophagus. It’s all very atmospheric but a little bit dull; it’s more of a mood piece than a preview of the plot.

After a series like no other, with its various long-running storylines and the bloody great gap in the middle, comes a series finale like no other. For a start, it’s only one episode long, but at the same time it feels like the final chapter of a story that’s been going on for ages, finally tying up threads that have been dangling since the premiere. It’s a different way of telling The Doctor’s story, and one that’s not universally popular, but of which I am a big fan.

Besides, it’s not all heavy complicated stuff – this alternate universe where all of history is happening at once looks like great fun. Steam trains coming out of The Gherkin, Charles Dickens on BBC News, and even the pterodactyls from Torchwood having their render files dusted off. Churchill’s back again, he’s got a Silurian doctor and he’s keeping a bearded Doctor locked in the Tower of London. What’s not to love?

There’s also one of those big, varied, expensive-looking montages that Moffat likes to wheel out for the important episodes, which includes a tiny Dalek cameo and a heavily made-up Mark Gatiss as some sort of alien viking. It feels epic and exciting, but then the mood is punctured by news of the Brigadier. It’s a fair indication of Courtney’s standing that he’s the only actor whose off-screen passing has directly impacted the plot of a Doctor Who episode. I’m glad that Sarah Jane is still out there saving the world, even if Elisabeth Sladen isn’t, but with the Brigadier, being that much older and having lived a full life, it feels right to give his story a full stop. It’s so heartbreaking that the Doctor wanted to see him one more time after all these years, but couldn’t.

This moment also provides the impetus for the story to kick up a notch, leading to a glorious return for the Ponds, or at least alternate, eyepatch-wearing versions of the Ponds. The fact that those eyepatches turn out not to be a straightforward evil-person-indicator is a clever twist, as is Amy remembering far more than The Doctor expected her to, causing him to cut short his big timey-wimey speech. It’s a reunion that’s played for laughs rather than high drama, and it works – those two are such good friends that they’re just happier when they’re together, regardless of the circumstances, or the fact that they’ve never actually met in this universe.

The Rory stuff is cute too. I was all poised to update the Rory Williams Death Counter – even The Silence comment on the fact that he’s always dying – until Amy realised who he was in the nick of time. She then kills Madame Kovarian in cold blood, which she’s later somewhat tortured about, but I reckon it was probably fair enough. She did steal her baby and turn her into a psychopathic killing machine. That’s not cricket.

Then the eponymous wedding happens and time is put right and The Doctor dies. He’s careful to point out to us that River won’t remember killing him, which is mightily convenient but does help to sort out any confusion I had as to her timeline. Her later chat with Amy clarifies that she often has to lie in order to avoid giving spoilers to people from her relative past – again, convenient for storytelling purposes, but I buy it.

In retrospect, including the Teselecter in the ‘Previously’ recap rather gives the game away. I can’t remember whether or not I figured it out in advance originally, but either way it’s a good, satisfying conclusion. It leaves the series at an intriguing crossroads, with The Doctor’s vow to stay in the shadows coming across as very McCoy, as does the notion that he planned this whole thing for his own mysterious purposes.

Like I say, not your normal finale – it’s more like a victory lap for the series, the magician revealing how he pulled off the trick. Luckily, I really like the series, and the wrapping-up this story provides is meticulous. It’s a shame it doesn’t end with Amy and Rory back on the TARDIS, but having previously moaned about too many questions being left unanswered, we’re left with just one. A big blue head in a box shouting “DOCTOR WHO” over and over again should be the final image of every series.

RATING: 9

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.18

  • Seasons/Series watched: 32 of 36
  • Stories watched: 224 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 783 of 839

So yeah, the second half is not quite as good as the first, but not by as big a margin as I remembered. I think it’s improved by watching the two parts in much closer proximity; it’s a shame I had to sit through Torchwood in the middle, but the momentum still carried far better with a two-week gap than a two-and-a-half month one. Even so, this portion of the project seems very stop-start, veering wildly between various spin-offs and specials, without the stability of a big block of proper episodes for comfort. I’d best get used to it.

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…

Victory of the Daleks

Right, format breaker time, because this is a very strange episode indeed. It contains the best stuff Gatiss has ever written for the show, the two leads remain on stunning form and there are a couple of outstanding guest performances. But there’s one big problem.

OH MY GOD THE NEW DALEKS ARE TERRIBLE.

For starters, they’re simply too big and bulky. It changes their basic shape too much, and for some reason I find them a lot more menacing when they’re not towering over everyone – they were hardly diminutive before, but the point is they’re so dangerous that they don’t need to be quite so imposing. They’ve got fat shoulders, big arses and stupid long necks, which makes their heads look too small in proportion. I can take or leave the bright and varied colours, but that’s about as close as I can get to a compliment. The voice is all wrong too. It’s just not quite a Dalek, like it’s a slightly shoddily made knock-off.

I am a lot less angry now than I was seven years ago, considering they’ve been quietly shelved in favour of the proper ones since, but I’m still baffled by the decision to change them in the first place. It’s one of the single most iconic designs in television history; even if the new design was brilliant, it would be hard for people to accept the change. But it’s not brilliant. Having a new batch of Daleks out there who aren’t in any way connected to RTD’s Time War makes sense from a story perspective. Redesigning them only makes sense from a toy-selling perspective.

So I wanted to get all of that out the way, because rewatching this story has made me realise it’s such a shame that the New Paradigm bastards completely overshadow the rest of the episode. Everything was going so well up until the big reveal, and it’s only now that I’ve calmed down enough to appreciate all that came before and after it. So let’s ignore the elephant-sized Daleks in the room, expunge that part of the episode from the record and start again…

Victory of the Daleks

* Why are half the people in the Cabinet War Rooms cosplaying as Captain Jack? This is World War II, not a Torchwood convention.

* Bill Paterson! A man who, thanks to a childhood obsession with Roald Dahl adaptations, I will forever associate with cock-a-leekie soup. Now there’s a guest actor who’s playing a part worthy of his status. While I’m still not sure how I feel about the notion that you can persuade a bomb not to go off by telling it that it’s human, he’s one of those actors who’s so captivating that you’re willing to go along with it.

* There is one Dalek redesign that I am on board with: what I like to call the Dad’s Army Dalek, complete with black out curtains over the lights. It’s rare that the Daleks are played for laughs, but in the right circumstances it can work. There are obvious echoes of Power of the Daleks, so much so that I kept on expecting them to say “we are your servants” instead of “we are you soldiers”. However, there are few Dalek moments in history so amusing as one responding to being hit on the head with a spanner by asking “you do not require tea?”.

* So Amy doesn’t recognise the Daleks, and therefore doesn’t remember their recent invasions. The inconsistency as to how people have responded to these events is something I’ve been complaining about for a while, so I suppose this works as a retrospective fix. Basically Moffat can use the crack in time to undo any bits of continuity hanging over from Russell’s era, thus giving him a blank canvas.

* I love the fact that The Doctor and Winston Churchill are old friends, and that we just accept this. The character is of course a rather romanticised version of the real person, but then you wouldn’t expect them to explore the whole anti-Semitism thing of a Saturday teatime. The “Keep Buggering On” persona is certainly in keeping with what the real Churchill represents, culturally speaking, and it’s a fine performance from Ian McNeice, a good balance between characterisation and impersonation.

* There’s a character that we see a handful of times throughout the episode – a woman serving in the War Rooms, whose boyfriend/husband is an RAF pilot, and we learn towards the end that he’s been shot down and killed. It’s clearly there to illustrate the horrors of war, but it’s so weird that neither The Doctor or Amy interact with her at all. You’d expect her and Amy to get chatting at some point, so that her story is fleshed out and we care more about her later loss, but no – we don’t get to know her at all, so her fella is just another statistic instead of a human story.

RATING: 7

The Waters of Mars

* Yes, sorry, I’m back. Luckily nothing major has happened in the world of Doctor Who since I’ve been away, right? I’m returning with a story that features an accomplished female space adventurer, and it’s one that is largely overlooked in the pantheon of great episodes, but it really is a corker.

* Gemma Chan! Playing someone called Mia, no less. This is a really early role for her, which makes this the equivalent of when the likes of Martin Clunes or Gail Platt turned up in the classic series. And yet it still feels so recent. I am getting old.

* “Bowie Base One” was a lovely touch back in 2009, but even more so now. It’s a great setting – this is basically a celebrity historical, but with celebrities from our future. Clever too that fictional events can be fixed points in time, as well as ones from Earth’s real-life past – it means you can explore what happens when The Doctor interferes with “history”, without any danger of affecting the present.

* I’d completely forgotten about Gadget! He’s adorable. As with Series 4, I haven’t revisited this period of the show very much in the intervening years – in fact, there’s probably only a handful of episodes from now on that I’ve seen more than once. It’s fun that this rewatch still has the ability to surprise me, even though it is simply down to my own terrible memory.

* Lindsay Duncan is a much better one-off companion than Michelle Ryan was (which seems like ages ago now, considering it was only the previous episode). Mind you, this is far from the traditional companion role – Adelaide isn’t there to assist The Doctor, it’s her that’s in charge of him. She’s lived her best life and achieved so much more than most of the characters we usually meet, and she happens to be utterly brilliant too.

* The Flood are a cheap monster, but an effective one. It’s RTD and/or Phil Ford doing for water what Moffat has done for statues and shadows. Compare “just one drop” to “don’t blink”. Of course, people being piss wet through with gushing water now reminds me of Bill and her soggy girlfriend.

* I love the sequence with young Adelaide and the Dalek. Seeing previous adventures from different perspectives is something I associate with Moffat’s era, but RTD has beaten him to it a fair few times. The Dalek spared her because of her historical significance, which means they have more respect for the laws of time and space than The Doctor has at this stage. At least he eventually tells Adelaide exactly what he knows about her and the fate of the base, unlike most people who know the future.

* The Doctor does a bad thing, but you can see why, and in fact you’re urging him to save the day while all his instincts are telling him to walk away. It’s only when it works, when he gets cocky and declares himself Time Lord Victorious, that you realise he’s gone too far; significantly, this is before The Doctor himself realises this, which makes him the bad guy in the story, albeit briefly. He robs Adelaide of her destiny, but she takes it back with one single, devastating action. It’s so powerful. This is a great story.

RATING: 9