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.

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The Angels Take Manhattan

Amy and Rory, both individually and collectively, are two of my favourite companions of all time, so despite how disappointed I was with the change of dynamic for their last few episodes, it’s still extremely sad to see them go. Luckily there’s enough going on to lift their swansong above the average this series has managed so far – it seems apt that their final story should involve Weeping Angels, time travel pardoxes and their daughter.

The pulp fiction world of 1930s New York was a great match for the Angels, especially as apparently the Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel now. It’s undoubtedly a memorable image, but I did wonder how exactly it managed to make its way through town without anyone seeing it. The twist with The Doctor having a copy of the story in trashy detective novel form was pure Moffat, but you feel that more could have been made of it if there was less going on. The same can be said of River, who didn’t have much to do – it’s probably her only appearance so far that doesn’t progress her story or relationship with the Doctor in any significant way.

Because really it had to be all about Amy and Rory, and just what their fate would be. It was never going to be straightforward, so let’s get one final reading from…

THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 7

It’s actually been a while since that was updated, but he manages to cark it three times in his final story, and Amy twice. Following the glimpse of a future Rory dying of old age, the suggestion of fixing the problem with a suicide pact was an unexpectedly dark twist, but those scenes are so powerful. It was clear that they weren’t actually going to write two long-serving companions out by having them plummet to their deaths for real, and this established a pattern that Moffat has kept for each subsequent departure – show them being horribly killed, but then resurrect them in some way.

So they survive thanks to a handy paradox, only for Rory to be zapped by an Angel and taken somewhere that the TARDIS can’t reach – it feels convenient and arbitrary that time travel can’t help on this particular occasion, but at least they address it. It makes Amy’s decision to follow him even more powerful; this is her categorically choosing Rory over the Doctor, which is as it should be. Ending Amy’s time on the show with her recalling some of her best bits, over images of young Amelia, is so sad, but so lovely at the same time.

RATING: 8

And that brings this portion of the series to a rather sudden halt. Only getting five episodes at a time is a ridiculous state of affairs, and I’m glad that the practice stopped after this. Maybe it would have been a more satisfying dose if all five episodes had been belters, but this was categorically not the case. Here are the scores going into the break.

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 6.6

  • Seasons/Series watched: 32.38 of 36
  • Stories watched: 230 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 789 of 839

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 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

The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

* Bloody hell, it’s Mike Skinner. That has to rank as one of the most incongruous pieces of guest casting of all time. I seem to remember his star was already waning somewhat in 2010, but he was still a very recognisable face to choose for a part that lasts all of ten seconds. Later in the episode, Father Octavian is your man from Game of Thrones – I don’t even watch Game of Thrones properly, but his voice is always so distinctive in the few bits I’ve seen.

* So, does River know Amy’s her mum at this point? I’m genuinely not sure – I always assumed even though the whole River Song story was confusing while it was playing out, it would make sense to me by the time it was finished. But even now, I feel like I need a diagram, so I’m going to do my best to piece it all together properly on this rewatch. Thus far, her time-twisting, Bill & Ted-esque escape from the Byzantium is the first major example we’ve seen of why The Doctor will eventually come to love her.

* Doing a sequel to Blink is a tough job, so Moffat went down the route of taking the original monster and adding shitloads of them, a la Aliens. They also have a whole raft of new abilities – the image of an Angel becomes an Angel, they can use the voices of the dead to communicate, and they can even turn you into an Angel if you look them in the eye. Sally Sparrow’s lucky none of this shit happened to her.

* The speech about what not to put in a trap is a big moment for Smith, and he does it well. We’re starting to get a real grip of his persona now; he’s child-like and over-excitable to some extent – which is a trait that I recall was toned down over time – but he still commands enormous respect, and when he wants you to take him seriously, you totally do. Also, that scene is so much more dramatic on DVD, without an animated Graham Norton dancing all over it.

* After a more action-heavy first half, it becomes more like a horror movie again in the second, which must be partially due to the fact that the soldiers/priests are getting killed off so fast that it’s no longer a fair fight. The moment you realise that Amy is involuntarily counting down to zero is when the tension starts to ramp up, and by the time she’s walking through a crowd of angels with her eyes closed, because if she opens them for more than a second she’ll die… well, you daren’t blink.

* The fabled crack in time turns up in all its glory after only five episodes. Things seem to be moving a lot quicker these days, but it’s more that the series arc is becoming a bigger part of each episode – this isn’t an early culmination, it’s just that they’re taking the time to flesh the idea out more along the way to the actual culmination. If anything, it’s a bit of a shame that the Angels took a backseat when the crack starting eating people, scary and fun though that was. People forgetting other people existed mid-conversation will always make me think of Red Dwarf‘s Out of Time.

* This time round, I totally noticed that The Doctor suddenly had his jacket on when he came back to talk to Amy… but then I was looking out for it. Totally passed me by originally.

* Oh I say, I’d forgotten how racy that final scene is. I have very conflicting feelings about seeing Amy Pond acting in that way. Moffat said recently that he regrets the way that scene ended up, and on balance he’s right to do so, although it’s nearly all worth it for The Doctor offering to sort Amy right out.

RATING: 9

Blink

* I fear I have nothing to add that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over the last ten years, but yeah, that was amazing. Just like it was the dozen or so other times I’ve watched it. It’s the perfect episode of Doctor Who, so much so that you barely notice that The Doctor isn’t in it. As well as being so good as a piece of timey-wimey trickery that it coined the phrase “timey-wimey”, the video message was a great way of maintaining his presence with very little material.

* I still can’t believe that Sally Sparrow wasn’t the next companion after Martha. I remember being absolutely convinced that this was the plan all along – to introduce her as a one-off character and then have The Doctor run in to her again in the future. But no, Carey Mulligan had to go on to become a huge film star, and instead the same thing happened with a different, vastly inferior, one-off character.

* It’s kind of unfair to compare this to Love & Monsters, because one’s a fun romp for the kiddies and the other is a dark, twisty, horror story. I am fond of L&M, but Blink completely shows it up, especially when you consider the differences between Elton and Sally. She’s a protagonist that’s every bit as brave and extraordinary as any regular companion, while still feeling real and relatable. I would totally watch Sparrow & Nightingale. Come on, Big Finish.

* If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. And when you’re talking about complicated time travel stories masquerading as fun-filled family entertainment, the best is Back To The Future. I almost wish Kathy had been transported back to the Wild West, just to keep it themed.

* Ray Peacock/Ian Boldsworth! This is the first time I’ve seen this episode since Ian has become a bit of a cult figure among Red Dwarf fans, thanks to his role as the regular warm up man on audience recordings for the revived series. He’s not appeared on screen, yet he feels like one of the gang, so it’s lovely to see him in my other favourite show, playing a role that surely pushed his acting skills to the limit.

* For the second story in a row, we’re presented with a supposed romance between two characters that we don’t know, played out in barely minutes of screen time, and yet totally compelling and believable. In a script with a lot of competition, the initial car park scene contains two of my favourite bits of dialogue: Billy complaining about the windows being the wrong size on the TARDIS, and Sally accidentally pre-empting their eventual marriage. This little moment feels so real and human, which is what sells the sadness of the subsequent hospital scene. Just lovely.

* But the best scene overall has to be the full conversation between Sally in 2007 and The Doctor in 1969. The type of writing that’s above and beyond almost everything else on TV, and which cements Moffat’s place as one of Who‘s greatest ever writers. I literally have “The Angels Have The Phone Box” on a t-shirt. And, as we noted on my other site at the time, it’s a little bit Future Echoes, which can’t be a bad thing.

* Then it goes into full-blown horror, to such an extent that it gave someone I know, who was already a fully grown adult at the time, actual nightmares. Much has been said about the writing in this episode, and quite rightly so, but Hettie MacDonald’s Hitchcock-inspired direction deserves a special mention too. That very final sequence of statues and sinister music is there for the sole purpose of scaring the shit out of tiny children, which is to be applauded.

RATING: 10