Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 6

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Asylum of the Daleks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 8

Pond Life

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

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

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

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

RATING: 5

Good as Gold

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

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

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

RATING: 5

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 7

Night and the Doctor

And so I reach a point where there are no more spin-offs to be spun, at least not until one very brief attempt much further down the line. From here on in there are far fewer deviations from Doctor Who, but there are still a fair amount of specials and extras squeezed in between each series, and here’s the latest. These five mini-scenes are set in the middle of Series 6, so it’s a little odd to be visiting them at this stage, even though it’s chronologically correct.

Let’s take the five scenes in turn…

Bad Night: Prince Charles is on the phone because The Queen has turned into a goldfish and Amy has accidentally murdered an alien ambassador because he was disguised as a fly. Sufficed to say, this seems like it’s right up my street. It’s revealed that the Doctor secretly goes and meets River Song at night, and is therefore joining in fun in a way that excludes his companions.

Good Night: As the title would suggest, the first pair are thematically linked, as Amy vocalises my concerns that her and Rory aren’t big enough parts of the Doctor’s life. It’s mainly concerned, however, with explaining away any inconsistent memories people may have as being the effects of causality being altered. He illustrates this by making Amy cross her own timeline. I’m sure that’s supposed to be dangerous.

First Night: It’s River’s first night in prison, and they both know about the Ponds being her parents by this point, which certainly helps to place it in the continuity. We see the introduction of the famous diary, which is part of the Doctor establishing a set of rules for their new (to him, at least) relationship. Rules which River then instantly breaks when her future self bursts through the door.

Last Night: This continues straight on from the last one, and it’s pure Moffatian  as yet another River bursts through the door, followed by another Doctor. There’s a sad twist though, as it turns out the other Doctor is taking the other other River to the Singing Towers of Darillium. We all know what that’s supposed to mean, but I guess they must have got waylaid, given that it’s Smith and not Capaldi that bursts in. That would have been some amazing foreshadowing.

Up All Night: Annoyingly, this one’s on a different disc to the others, as it turns out it’s a prequel to Closing Time, in which basically nothing happens. No Doctor, Amy, Rory or River, it’s just Craig and Sophie talking about how shit a father he is, for less than two minutes. It took longer to wait for the menus to play than it did to watch the thing itself.

So the last one was a disappointing climax, but the other four are great little sketches. As well as it just being nice to have some extra Matt Smith stuff that I’d not previously seen, it feels like quite an important missing link in the story of the Doctor and River’s relationship. It’s sometimes felt like the Doctor has been coerced into this romance by the forces of pre-destiny, so it’s important to see him making the decision to seek her out, and for them to meet up for something other than saving the world. It suddenly feels more like a genuine relationship.

RATING: 7

Death Is the Only Answer

It’s a short one today, as we’re presented with a tiny mini-episode, written by competition-winning schoolchildren, originally broadcast as part of Doctor Who Confidential. As is the format for any tiny mini-episode, it’s the current Doctor and one other person, on board the TARDIS, with a pre-existing monster. The Doctor’s fez summons Albert Einstein through time; it’s an entertaining premise, and the dialogue between the two is sharp and funny.

It does go a bit weird though. Einstein – a theoretical physicist from 20th century Earth – has invented a potion that turns him into an Ood. The Einstein-Ood then starts chanting “death is the only answer” for no adequately explained reason. Was the inclusion of this phrase a requirement of the competition? Because if not, that’s a little disturbing to have come from the HB pencils of junior schoolkids.

Then a big bright light appears out of nowhere and turns the Ood back into Einstein. Total deus ex machina. Buck your ideas up, Oakley Church of England Junior School.

RATING: 6

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.

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

The God Complex

Yep, it’s another one where I had absolutely no idea which episode this was in advance, and even after I’d ascertained that it was the one with the creepy hotel, I barely remembered a single detail from six years ago. If you’d have asked me prior to today whether David Walliams had been in Doctor Who, I’d have had to really wrack my brains, and then I’d have said that I didn’t think he had.

So I was excited at the prospect of uncovering another hidden gem, but it really wasn’t to be on this occasion. It’s clearly a good idea for an episode – escape from a creepy run-down travel tavern with someone’s personalised hell behind each door – but in practice it’s just a big mess. The idea of the hotel changing its layout is again good in theory, but it ends up being a real hindrance, with the inconsistent geography making it all vaguely incoherent whenever the monster emerged. It jolted from one freaky nightmare sequence to the next, which soon became tiresome and repetitive, leaving the plot aimless.

We never really care about the guest characters either. Walliams does a decent job at playing the amusing concept of an alien who is bred to surrender, but he’s just the comic relief. The Doctor quickly becomes infatuated with a young woman who becomes this story’s surrogate companion, and as Rory points out, that’s obviously going to end badly for her. But because the progression of the story is so confusing, I didn’t feel like I went on a journey with that character – it was more like I was just seeing fleeting glimpses of her journey – and so I didn’t really care when she snuffed it.

I ended up feeling a bit ripped off by the concept too, like they didn’t use it to its full potential. It was great to see the Weeping Angels make a cameo, but they were very quickly revealed to just be a projection. But given that the image of an Angel becomes an Angel, then surely they should have been there for real? And the most obvious question that you want the show to answer (ie. if everyone’s room contains their greatest fear, what’s in the Doctor’s room?) is skimmed over, with just an enigmatic “oh, it’s you” in reaction to someone or something that we’re not privy to seeing. What a swizz.

And if we’re being pedantic, how come only the Doctor could understand what the monster was saying? Where was the translation circuit? Because there’s a reason that the baddies usually speak English, and it’s to make them more interesting to the audience. I already had very little investment in the episode, and then it lost me completely when they started talking about faith being a form of energy. Sure it is, pal. And sure, the monster is a distant cousin of the Nimon. I can see the family resemblance – they’re both incredibly boring and they both star in tedious and barely coherent stories.

So I was already fairly down on this episode before the final scene. Maybe this is the reason I couldn’t remember this one – my brain has rejected it, because it refuses to accept that the Doctor would just dump Amy and Rory like that. Just as I was saying this is one of my favourite TARDIS dynamics of all time, it gets unceremoniously chucked away. I know they’re not actually leaving the show for some time yet, but things are never the same again from this point on.

I’m strongly against the idea – which has been the norm for the remainder of the show to date – of companions living separately from the Doctor. If you’re a companion, it should be all or nothing; lurching from one journey to the next, sharing every waking moment with this amazing madman, being as important to him as he is to you. Not getting picked up when he needs help and then dropped home in time for tea. Companions are our way in to the Doctor’s world, and they can’t do that for us if they’re not a full time part of it.

RATING: 5