The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion

It’s a tall order to do a sequel to what’s possibly the best episode of all time, but this two-parter rises to the challenge to become the high point (so far) of an already exceptional series. There’s no fucking about – straight into the action at a breakneck pace that’s maintained throughout both episodes, with so many big concepts and standout moments squeezed in.

The topics it tackles are huge. The allegory is hardly subtle – the rogue Zygon faction have even got an ISIS-lookalike flag in the background of their hostage videos – but the message is important and entirely correct. The vast majority of Zygons want to live in peace, and condemn the terrorism that a small number carry out in their name. The Doctor tells Kate that if she bombs them, they’ll all become radicalised. It’s a politically bold move to make the real life parallels so obvious, but an admirable attempt to make a point that not everyone in this country wants to hear.

It helps that the literal elements of the story as so entertaining. I don’t think the Zygons have ever been better, thanks to their terrifying new ability to take the form of any human they choose, leading to much psychological horror as soldiers are forced to aim at their own kids or parents. Although they could have got around it by simply shooting each other’s mums. Lovely to see Rebecca Front in these scenes, by the way. Nicola Murray finally gets to stand up to Malcolm.

And it’s very much lovely to see Osgood back, whichever one of her it is. She’s now got question marks on her lapels, a McCoy jumper, and she’s about the twentieth thing this series to be referred to as a “hybrid”. It’s interesting to not know whether the surviving Osgood is human or Zygon, and I’m glad that it’s never revealed. I find myself wanting to respect her right to identify herself as whatever she likes – I’m not sure whether I’m reading an extra allegory that isn’t there, but I think there’s definitely at least some subtext involved.

Technically speaking, this is the second consecutive companion-lite story. I thought at first that it was a bit convenient that the Zygon-Terrorists’ secret base was underneath Clara’s flat, but of course that’s not a coincidence, and the reveal of Evil Clara is stunning. I loved the mental battles between the two throughout the second part, with this new and improved Clara now strong-willed enough to beat the odds in her weird dream world.

It all culminates of course with the Osgood Boxes, in scenes strangely reminiscent of the end game from Goldenballs. This is Capaldi’s finest moment to date, and I remember that it convinced me that he was more than a great Doctor, but a contender for greatest Doctor. It’s always a thrill when the Doctor and I align ideologically, and the speech covers so much ground – pointing out the fundamental flaws of extremism, the immorality of war and how important it is to practice tolerance and understanding with those different to you.

He does all this while giving a compelling, emotional and unforgettable performance, and also relating it all back to his own experiences and the principles that make him who he is. It’s stunning. If only more people had paid attention, and remembered these lessons when voting in elections that took place on both sides of the Atlantic in the year that followed.

RATING: 10

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The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar

Oh yes. To this day, I have no idea how they managed to keep Davros’s return so quiet. I was working when this first aired, so it was even more remarkable that I somehow avoided the spoiler until I’d got home. I remember gasping with shock and joy when the little boy identified himself, and it still made me grin from ear to ear this time. I love this story so much.

There’s so much going on at the start – a big bunch of snakes on a tour of the universe, planes stopping dead in the sky, Clara being summoned to UNIT by Kate – but it’s all just window-dressing for the main feature. The latter two also serve to reintroduce Missy, after a tiny gap of only one episode, but it’s a very welcome return. She’s on great form: mocking Clara for having a dead boyfriend, suggesting the Doctor may have once been a girl, being jealous about the Doctor having another arch enemy, and of course needlessly killing people for fun.

She works alarmingly well as a goodie too. It’s not the first time The Master’s been temporarily working with the Doctor and/or his companions, but it’s possibly the best example of him or her being able to do so without compromising their modus operandi. She’s still ruthless, murderous and untrustworthy, it’s just that she’s channelling it in the right direction for once. You can still have Clara tied up, threatened with a pointy stick and thrown down a twenty foot hole, which prevents Missy from ever feeling like she’s safe to be around.

(Sidenote – pronouns are a bloody nightmare when you’re trying to talk about multiple incarnations of the same Gallifreyan. It’s only going to get more confusing after this coming Christmas, but it’s a small price to pay.)

Meanwhile, the Doctor has changed too. He plays guitar now, which I very much approve of, and he’s capable of accepting hugs, and of being nice to Clara. It’s clearly a deliberate development from Capaldi’s first series – not so much that all the edges have been softened, but just a chance for him to show more aspects of his character. He’s just as cocky and full of swagger as the rest of the modern Doctors when he wants to be.

Not that this story wasn’t serious business. We’re on Skaro, with ALL the Daleks, and the first episode (seemingly) ends with Missy and Clara exterminated, the TARDIS destroyed, and the Doctor pointing a Dalek gun at a child. Yep, high stakes indeed. It doesn’t matter that all of these were later revealed to be deliberately misleading, as they made for a hugely impactful cliffhanger, plus we haven’t even got on to the main meat of the episode yet.

It’s all about the Doctor and Davros having a big old chat, and there a few things more appealing, especially when it’s Capaldi’s Doctor and Julian Bleach’s utterly superb Davros. This is an exercise in taking the hypothetical situations mentioned in Genesis, and testing the Doctor’s resolve when they’re suddenly less hypothetical. I was thinking about the “could you then kill that child?” question right from the start, but I wasn’t expecting the Tom footage to be played in. Davros seemingly records all his conversations with the Doctor, the big stalker.

The Doctor is also given the opportunity to play God, and to wipe the Daleks out completely, but of course he chooses not to – he still doesn’t have the right. Compassion is always the way, even with Davros, and the quiet, heartfelt moments between the two of them are among the best Davros scenes ever. He cries and he laughs. He opens his eyes. He asks if he’s a good man. It’s incredible drama.

Of course, it turns out to all be a trap. It’s slightly having your cake and eating it to play out the scenario of a humble, humanised Davros, and then reveal that he was faking it, but I don’t really care – I love those scenes anyway, and the fact that the Doctor was wise to it all along seems to save it, in some sort of double negative situation. And there’s so much brilliant stuff that I’ve not mentioned – the Doctor nicking Davros’s chair, the sewers, the in-universe explanation for why the Daleks say “exterminate” over and over. A phenomenal start to the series.

One last thing to note, as it illustrates just how long this project’s been going. This episode hadn’t aired when I started, and so when I came to write up the Daleks’ first appearance in the second serial, I speculated that a companion getting inside an empty Dalek casing is something that would never happen these days. As Paul Hayes pointed out in the comments after this aired: how wrong I was.

RATING: 10

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 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

The Power of Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 5