The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

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

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

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

The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood

* Alright Chibbers, show me what you can do with my favourite TARDIS team of the revived series so far. Turns out it’s not much. It’s a story that’s constantly on the precipice of being interesting, but never quite manages it. I’m beginning to think that maybe the Silurians should have been left as a one-off – there’s clearly tonnes of potential there, but nobody’s managed to tap in to it since 1970.

* Meera Syal! I’d completely forgotten she was in this, despite it being a fairly beefy role. Meanwhile, her co-worker is a bloke from Game of Thrones who was last seen screaming his head off in Torchwood. There’s also a dyslexic kid knocking about, and him and The Doctor get along beautifully until he goes and spoils it all by doing something stupid like letting him get kidnapped by the Silurians.

* After a couple of episodes where the team travel in threes, they’re separated early on by Rory being given a side mission of investigating a stolen corpse, while Amy is eaten by some evil soil. This means that The Doctor plus Rory is the main pairing for a while, which was something I was intrigued to see, but then Meera Syal demands that she get to be the companion, and The Doctor just goes along with it, leaving Rory behind. What a swizz.

* I see the Silurians have big poisonous licky tongues now. Or rather the Homo Reptilia do, as that seems to be the preferred terminology now. It’s political correctness gone mad. The new incarnations look great; they’re a big departure from the classic ones, but I liked that this was acknowledged, along with a reminder that all of this is at least partially The Brigadier’s fault, after he needlessly slaughtered the entirety of the first incarnation.

* The best thing about the new design is that they don’t all look the same; that’s a rarity for any species inĀ Doctor Who, and having the Silurians appear just as varied as the humans helps reinforce the fact that they’re our cousins. Stephen Moore is the good Silurian – I recognised his voice straight away, but I didn’t realise that both of the main baddies were played by Neve McIntosh, later to become Madame Vastra. I guess it saved a few bob on prosthetic moulds.

* How difficult is it, when you’ve got a monster locked safely in the basement, to leave it alone for a few hours and not just kill it? Plot advancement that relies on characters behaving stupidly is one of my pet hates. The mum is well Brexit and her plan to restart the drill is fucking stupid on every level, not least because they’d all be killed too if they couldn’t escape within fifteen minutes.

* THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 2. The crack appearing out of nowhere like that seemed a bit tacked on; despite the fact that a Silurian was involved, it didn’t feel as interwoven with the rest of the plot as it did with the Angels. Also, despite how much I love and care about the Ponds, the emotional impact is somewhat hampered by the knowledge that he’ll be back in a couple of episodes.

* Did they ever do a bit where Amy, and possibly Rory, go back and wave at their past selves from across the hill? I can’t remember; it felt like something that was going to be resolved at the end of the story, but it wasn’t, particularly.

RATING: 6

Warriors of the Deep

Something in the back of my mind was telling that this had a reputation for being one of the better stories of the Davison era. After the first episode, I had to double check. As suspected, it does in fact have a reputation for being one of the shitter stories of the Davison era, which is entirely deserved.

That first episode is extraordinarily slow, taking its full duration to establish a setting that’s extraordinarily simple – it’s a sea base with nuclear bombs, it’s the Cold War, and meanwhile the Silurians and Sea Devils are waking up. That can be put across in five minutes; we didn’t need quite so much procedural detail before the first sign of conflict. The cliffhanger is completely unearned. “Face it, Tegan, he’s drowned!” What, because he fell into the water from the height of an average diving board? Turlough was annoyingly defeatist throughout, when he wasn’t happily charging round with a gun.

The human characters are tediously one-note, although there is a comfy familiarity in a good old-fashioned base under siege tale. It would have been so much better but for the minor detail that both the Silurians and Sea Devils are utter shit. They all move incredibly slowly, and there’s no nuance to them whatsoever. The whole point of the Silurians is that they’re just reptile versions of us – there’s good ones and bad ones. Here, there’s no telling them apart; they’ve become cookie-cutter generic monsters.

The Doctor goes on about them being a noble race in the dialogue, but that simply doesn’t carry over to the characterisation. There’s a big old chat between the Doctor and their leader in episode four, which is great, but this kind of moral consideration should have come way earlier. It makes sense that they’d be changed by their previous encounters with humanity, but until this is clarified it comes across like the show has forgotten what made them interesting in the first place.

And then there’s the Myrka. What even is the Myrka? Some sort of hybrid of Silurians and Sea Devils, but massive? Either way it looks utter dogshit. I’m struggling to think of a monster so far that’s been quite so embarrassingly awful. I’m aware of the huge production problems they faced – thanks, Thatcher – but I’d rather they shot it in a different way so you only saw glimpses of it, or got rid of it entirely in favour of dialogue to inject some sense of moral ambiguity into the Silurians.

Meanwhile, there’s a subplot going on with the sync operator being conditioned by undercover Soviet saboteurs. It’s intriguing, but it moves incredibly slowly, and then just as it begins to ramp up, everyone involved is killed. It’s all just set up for a situation where The Doctor has to sync his mind with a computer, but nothing really happens there either, so the whole thing could have been excised with absolutely zero impact on the story. What a time-consuming waste.

The final episode isn’t terrible, and it’s just about enough to save it from getting my lowest score ever, but it’s too little too late. The ending is impressively bleak, with absolutely every guest character of any species wiped out, but The Doctor’s right: there should have been another way. If the only way to add excitement is The Doctor failing to come up with a peaceful solution, and companions firing guns at point blank range, then the show is in a pretty bad state.

And this is the first serial since the jubilation of The Five Doctors. What the hell is going on with this inconsistency? At least there’s some excitement in not knowing what to expect next, but I can’t deny that I preferred the days when the only variation was between “great” and “excellent”.

RATING: 5

The Silurians

I’ve just spent a good ten minutes staring at that title, and pondering whether to add “Doctor Who and” to the start. This is clearly more consideration than was ever given when they fucked up the title cards 45 years ago, so let’s move on.

Despite the disappointing step down from crisp, high definition film to murky, recolourised off-airs, this was a superb story of moral ambiguity and obfuscated intentions from both sides of a tricky conflict. Even when they’re at their most murderous, it’s hard to not empathise with the Silurians to some extent – it was their planet first, to be fair to the reptilian lads. The fact that they have the capacity to be reasonable and open-minded means Madame Vastra makes a lot more sense.

The power struggle within the Silurian ranks worked incredibly well, as did the clear parallels between the main players on each side. The Elder Silurian was kind and fair, willing to find a peaceful solution and doing his best to prevent unnecessary violence. Conversely, the younger one was trigger-happy and ruthless in the defence of his species, and it was a bold move to establish that the Brigadier can be just as bad.

Prior to now, he and The Doctor have only ever had small, easily-forgotten disagreements, but The Brig effectively committing genocide, and breaking promises in the process, will surely add a lasting layer of tension to their relationship. An act such as the one that closes this serial could so easily have been a defining moment to condemn a character to baddy status – such as Adam in The Long Game or Harriet Jones in The Christmas Invasion. But with The Brig it’s different – like his Silurian counterpart, he’s more misguided than malicious, and there’s clearly scope for redemption.

Elsewhere, there was a Scientist Silurian, whose main job was just to be told what to do and get on with it. Unfortunately, this mirrored Liz’s role in the story. Every time she showed a bit of gumption and stood up to either The Brig or The Doc, the other man would tell her to fall in line, and she would. The non-travelling companion is clearly a tricky role to define, and they’re not quite there yet. It’s odd that Liz and the Brig are the only recurring members of UNIT at this stage – I was expecting to have seen Benton by now – and it feels like they need a slightly bigger core cast in order for everyone to find their place.

But still, the guest cast of this serial were superb, the highlight being the appearance of two absolute comedy heroes – Fulton Mackay and Geoffrey Palmer – in straight roles. Both of them get great deaths too, Palmer’s in particular. Other things to note include the first use of CSO – which surprised me, as I assumed it came much later in colour videotape’s life time – the first appearance of Bessie, and the first use of the phrase “neutron flow”. It was made in reference to a nuclear reactor, so it seemed to make sense.

Downsides? As much as I loved the subplot of the deadly plague sweeping London, The Doctor being stuck in a lab conducting repetitive experiments for a whole episode somewhat hampered the pace, which prior to that had been building nicely. Also, the sound design was a tad irritating in places – the music was largely shite, and I could have done without the constant ridiculously high-pitched noises emitting from the Silurians’ bonces.

Overall though, a fantastic story – not sure it was quite seven episodes’ worth, but it got away with it thanks to Malcolm Hulke’s thought-provoking and well-crafted plotting. The big communist. Next up, a serial I know little about, but thanks to the contemporary trailer being appended to the final episode on the DVD, I now know to contain LOTS OF FIGHTING.

RATING: 8