Oh yes. That was superb. I’ve seen it before, having owned the DVD for a while, but it still blew me away, thanks to the context provided by having seen all that came before it. It’s like a not-rubbish version of The Celestial Toymaker, and it’s the most batshit mental thing I’ve seen since The Feast of Steven.
Episode One in particular is just insane, and that cliffhanger – with the TARDIS exploding and Zoe’s beglittered arse as she clings to the floating console – is one of the finest that the show’s ever done. They’re all fantastic cliffhangers, thinking about it – a charging unicorn being properly threatening, a claymation Medusa coming to life and the companions being trapped in a comically massive book. Trust me on that last one – it works in context.
As does the quite disturbing thing that happens to Jamie in Episode Two. I’m glad they did something interesting to deal with Frazer Hines’s illness, when they could have just had him go missing for a week. Hamish Wilson has a good stab at mimicking Frazer’s speech patterns and mannerisms, but is let down by having a genuine Scottish accent, rather than the usual slightly-inaccurate-but-incredibly-endearing one.
I’ve seen some people say that the serial goes downhill after that amazing first episode, but I strongly disagree. The Land of Fiction is such a compelling and unpredictable setting that you’re hooked throughout. I loved the riddles and the traps, and the cavalcade of fictional characters who popped up throughout. The final battle of wits between The Doctor and The Master (not that one… man, that would have been interesting) plays out like a pair of eight year-old boys trying to outdo each other, which tells you so much about The Doctor’s character, in this incarnation in particular.
The only downside is that the episodes are all a good five minutes shorter than normal, which is particularly noticeable when you’re watching them one at a time. There’s only slightly more than four episodes’ worth of material here, which shouldn’t be the case given that a whole extra episode was written when the serial was extended from four to five. But still, at least having short chapters helped to make this story such a page-turner.