Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Infinite Quest (Part 5)

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Live by the cutlass, die by the cutlass.

This was the most frenetic of all the Infinite Quest episodes – although all that amounts to is a fast-moving background image. Actually, it’s a little confused in a few places, with a bit of an odd sense of motion and staging. Once again, it’s difficult to describe this as any good.

And, again, I’m inclined to ask what the point of this all is. Like, yeah, it’s the extra additional Doctor Who content for a kids show, but why did it take this form? Because it’s not like it’s actually any good in these three-minute cut scenes, and I doubt it’s going to be any good in the omnibus edition – just a strangely disjointed and oddly constructed fifty minutes.

Really, The Infinite Quest shouldn’t have existed in the format that it does. This form of serialised storytelling isn’t very well suited to the demands of the project; I can’t imagine it would even have held the attention of its audience week on week. It’s actually surprisingly difficult to remember what happened the last week anyway, although probably because not much is happening anyway.

It feels like this is a series that should have taken a leaf from the DWA comics, really. Short comic strips, aimed at the same child audience as Totally Doctor Who, that were typically one and done little runarounds. They could probably have adapted some of them wholesale, in fact; they tended to be quite imaginative, but still would have been well suited to animation. Sketching out an improbably situation or strange world quickly and then resolving it within four minutes – easy peasy.

Really, that’s what would have helped The Infinite Quest. In aiming to be a ‘normal’ Doctor Who story but stretched out over thirteen weeks, it ends up being oddly bloated yet still strangely truncated. The approach should have been to go for something simpler – just a series of vignettes and short stories. The Doctor playing chess with a funny looking alien. An old man in China telling his grandchildren how he met the Doctor and Martha years ago. Martha looking for a present for her mother in an alien marketplace.

Maybe I’m overestimating the budget for animation – it could simply be that this is actually quite a cheap way of animating the story, limiting the different locations and so on. Equally, it might have been a marketing thing, with the option of later DVD sales and etc. Or, probably most likely, they thought this was the best idea and I’m just wrong!

I doubt it, though. Because in its week on week format, The Infinite Quest just isn’t very good. And I don’t mean that in terms of “I can’t make any words up to talk about it” – it’s just not that entertaining. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t very entertaining ten years ago, either. I’d be quite interested if anyone does remember enjoying it in that weekly format. Also, quite surprised.

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Archie vs Predator: Why Riverdale’s Miss Grundy storyline didn’t work

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On paper, it’s evident what this is – a predatory relationship between a teacher and a student, nothing more complicated than that. Within the show, however, this fairly straightforward detail is lost somewhat, leaving Riverdale in a far more problematic position: Archie and Miss Grundy are presented as having an illicit romance, one which is sexualised and glamorised by the narrative.

In part, it’s perhaps just a matter of visuals; it’s easy to forget that the teenagers in Riverdale really are just that, given that many of the actors look so much older. Without that in mind, the dynamic does change considerably – but it has to be remembered that Archie and his peers are 16 years old, all minors. Miss Grundy is a statutory rapist. There’s no other way of looking at it.

I actually really like Riverdale, generally speaking. It’s a huge amount of fun, and I’m disappointed that the first time I’ve written about it has been to critique it, rather than celebrating it.

But, much as I enjoy it, it does have flaws. And one of those flaws is the utterly tone-deaf and poorly handled Miss Grundy storyline, in which the show sexualises and glamorises a predatory relationship.

So, you know. Some limits.

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Does the Doctor have to be a male role model?

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There’s only really one argument that is, if not convincing, worthy of some genuine contemplation: that the Doctor should be preserved as a male role model, being one of the most prominent fictional heroes who isn’t reliant on violence and aggression, but instead is a template for teaching curiosity and compassion to children.

It’s an understandable stance to take; obviously, children’s media is important, and it’s important to have role models in that media. There is something important in having a character who subverts more traditional norms of masculinity – a character who uses his brain rather than his fists. The argument goes that the Doctor is largely unique in this regard, and in turn that’s why the character should continue to be depicted as a man – because he’s the only man in fiction who is like that.

And yet…

I am, of course, still going on about the possibility of a female Doctor. I fear I’m really setting myself up for disappointment when it ends up being… well, Kris Marshall! (I hope not.)

However, this idea of the Doctor as a male role model is the only argument that’s ever given me pause in my otherwise unrelenting viewpoint. So, I wrote an article about it!

(A year-ish later, and I have genuinely no idea what I concluded about. Well, I know what I concluded, just not how or why. Don’t suppose it matters much now exactly, though it might be interesting to see what anecdotal accounts spring up during the actual series itself.)

Oh, and the cosplayer above is Jacklyn Black, who is seemingly never credited whenever this very cool picture is used, so I figure I should make the effort to acknowledge her.

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Doctor Who Review: Smile

doctor who review smile frank cottrell boyce lawrence gough steven moffat series 10 vardy vardies ai emoji

Why do you think? I want to see if it’s happy.

In something of a fortuitous collision of interests, I’ve actually been writing about fictional depictions of the future – specifically, whether we’ve tended more towards utopian or dystopian ideas at different points throughout history – for quite a while now. So in that sense, I’ve got a bit of a contextual understanding from which to approach this, which is nice.

It’d probably be better if I’d ever read Erewhon, but hey.

The idea of utopia is quite an appropriate one for Doctor Who to be grappling with at the moment; certainly, it feels as though over the course of the past year the public consciousness has turned towards questions of ‘the future’ in ways that it hasn’t in quite some time. The reasons for that are obvious – it feels as though, in that sequence that recaps human history and how it went wrong, someone suggested the inclusion of some Donald Trump clips. In the end it didn’t, obviously, but it wouldn’t have felt out of place if they did.

Being Doctor Who, this utopia eventually tends towards dystopia. It’s generally thought that any dystopia is a deconstruction of a utopian ideal; given how this episode is built, we get to see that deconstruction happen in front of us. Or at least, for the most part we do – we already know from the beginning that this isn’t actually a true utopia, because we’ve seen the robots kill the colonists. There’s a certain tension throughout the episode, as it grapples with the gap between how it appears and how it is. In that sense the emoji are quite a neat metaphor for how the colony is presented to us – it’s communicating purely based on appearances, with the greater depth hidden from view. (It is, admittedly, a simplistic use of the emoji; I’d much have preferred the modern hieroglyph interpretation that Frank Cottrell-Boyce spoke about in interviews. But still, it works well enough here.)

Part of that project that I was doing was considering just what a particular view of the future, utopian or dystopian, tells us about the society in which it was written. So. What does Smile tell us about 2017? The prevailing interpretation, which I admittedly can’t lay claim to, is that it is in part a mediation on capitalism – from the iCity aesthetic to casting the Vardy as an oppressed underclass, that does seem to be an ongoing concern of the episode. It makes the rent joke at the end a particularly bitter note, an inherent limitation on any new society – they’re not going to achieve utopia, just continue circling a dystopian status quo.

Generally speaking, that’s a message that works. I appreciate it; I’m just not convinced it actually conveys very well.

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The reason why it doesn’t convey very well – and, indeed, why I’m not convinced the episode works as well as it could – is largely down to the actual ending. The last 15 minutes or so of the episode are muddled in a way that the prior half an hour wasn’t; it gives the impression that Frank Cottrell-Boyce started throwing ideas out in every direction, trying to stick the landing and faltering somewhat.

That’s a critique, but it’s not a debilitating one; there are plenty of Doctor Who stories where the ambition and the ideas far outstrip the execution. There isn’t the space to properly deal with the idea of the Vardy as an independent species, or a subjected worker class, if that’s structured as a reveal at the end; it’d need to be threaded throughout the episode. To put those ideas out there in an attempt to draw everything to a close doesn’t work – of course it doesn’t, because it’s introducing new ideas. And, oddly, doesn’t actually resolve anything; when the Doctor mindwipes the Vardies at the end, that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t understand grief. Presumably the same problem will arise in the end. (To say nothing of the fact that we’re now mindwiping an entirely sentient species, despite several episodes establishing that memory wipes are quite bad.)

Which is all rather strange, because there’s a point where it seemed like the episode was about to resolve differently. Surely, when one Vardy has a lightbulb moment after the death of another, that’s the moment when they begin to understand grief? The resolution of the episode would grow from that, because the Vardy would now understand the humans. Utopia is reached through understanding; an appropriately utopian message for a 2017 that’s growing increasingly divided.

As it is, the ending doesn’t work. It would be better had we seen the Vardies achieve that understanding; overly sentimental, perhaps, but thematically coherent in a way that the current ending isn’t. A story about communication, about magic haddocks, and processing grief – of course it would end on a note of understanding. That it doesn’t holds the episode back, I think; another limitation on an already muddled ending.

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Where the episode works best, though, is with the Doctor and Bill – two episodes in, and they’re already shaping up to be genuinely iconic. They’re going to be a TARDIS team that people remember for a long time, I suspect on the level of the Tenth Doctor and Donna; for years, people are going to be wishing for just a few more episodes with these two together. Or, people like me will, anyway.

Smile, like The Pilot, does rely largely on the presence of its two leads – but takes that even further, because for most of the episode, it is just the two of them on their own. There’s a lot of space to define these characters and their relationship; when the episode works, it does so because it’s just so much fun to see these two together. It’s a bold choice to hang another episode on this conceit straight after the previous one (consider how much was going on in The End of the World in comparison to this episode) but it undoubtedly works. Of course it does, really – two fantastic actors in an absolutely stunning location. What’s not to love?

Bill continues to be a delight, of course – again, a lot of that is to do with Pearl Mackie’s charm and acting skill. But she gets a lot of nice moments to work with here; though he does lean into generic companion a few times, Frank Cottrell-Boyce characterises Bill quite well. My personal favourite moment was when Bill thanked the Doctor; it’s a subtle thing, but we’ve never actually seen it before, have we? It was really lovely, though, and I’m glad of its inclusion. It’s also worth noting, I think, that there’s a certain significance to the fact that Bill is the companion who wants to see if the future is happy – it’s not a question Clara or Rose ever asked, and I think in and of itself that tells us about Bill and who she is as a person.

Overall, then, this episode was a lot of fun. It’s weak in certain places, undeniably; they’re weaknesses that come down to the script, though, and Pearl Mackie, Peter Capaldi and Lawrence Gough are able to elevate it where it falters.

😊

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Evolution of the Daleks

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You told us to imagine, and we imagined your irrelevance.

Back in Series One, when they were writing Dalek, they hit on a bit of a stumbling block: Terry Nation’s estate wasn’t playing ball. Eventually, they were able to sort it out in the end (with some help from Steven Moffat’s mother in law, Beryl Vertue), but there was a point when we would have seen a version of Dalek without any Daleks.

The suggested replacement for the Daleks was a sort of prototypical version of the Toclafane – future humans, encased in those flying spheres. We’ll get to the Toclafane in a month or so’s time, but what’s interesting to me is the fact that it was humanity that was going to be set up as the iconic villain of the new series of Doctor Who.

In a sense, it does make rather a lot of sense. The Daleks have always paralleled the humans to some extent; the number of stories where they try to discover the ‘human factor’ that will help them conquer the galaxy is fairly expansive, and of course the fact that they’re a Nazi allegory in the first place means that’s a connection that’s always going to be around. On some fundamental level, there’s a connection between Daleks and humans within the show that doesn’t, and can’t, go away.

So, there’s something quite interesting about seeing an episode engage with that a bit more directly, and to in turn offer an evolution of the Dalek concept. They’re one of the few Doctor Who aliens that resist change, and always have; you can’t even get away with redesigning them anymore! In some ways, that’s actually rather perfect – that they’re the still point around which the show turns, a perfect foil to a lead character who’s always changing, and the obvious villain for a programme about change.

But then, by the same degree, that’s why the promise of an evolution of the Daleks is so enticing. The rules are made to be broken, and this is one of the bigger rules that the show has. Some of the ideas being thrown out here, and the possibilities that are being broached – there is a world, somewhere, where Evolution of the Daleks is looked upon as the successor to Genesis of the Daleks in terms of what it achieved and what it represents. (It is possible that this is the universe where it was written by Steven Moffat, as was the original plan, but to be honest I doubt that too.)

It wasn’t, though. Even I’m willing to admit that, despite my defence of last week – this is undoubtedly a weak follow up. The question that’s to be asked instead, I think, is why this episode isn’t what it could have been.

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I think it’s worth looking at Dalek Sec, because he’s the interesting character here.

The episode is clearly positioning him as something of a renaissance man, in keeping with the great man of history theory – like the Doctor says, the right idea at the right time, coming from the right person in the right place, could change everything. It’s clear that’s what we’re meant to see Dalek Sec as, and it’s he that represents this evolution of the Daleks – and, I’d argue, the human-Dalek hybrid is a character who could have been as important as Davros.

Obviously, he doesn’t work here. There’s a couple of reasons why, although none of them are particularly interesting, and I doubt it’s any huge insight to point them out. Part of it is the design – it’s less that it’s goofy or anything like that (I’m still somewhat partial to it), but it’s clear that the prosthetics constrain the performance. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that Eric Loren really knows what he wants to be doing with the part anyway – it’s not an amazing performance, really.

But, equally, how could it be? There’s a sense that the script is just a little bit too rushed, and tries to cram too much in while moving too fast. Even though it’s dealing with a lot of interesting ideas, they don’t have the time to fit them in; you move from Dalek Sec fondly looking at the radio, to his big revelation with Solomon, to his about face on the entire Dalek doctrine. It’s just moved through far too quickly, and these aspects are left almost entirely unable to work. Part of that is the pacing; I’m not convinced this episode works in the two-part style. Or, rather, the story was too unbalanced – Daleks in Manhattan had a lot of filler, meaning this one has to move faster than it can manage. You almost wish, really, that the cliffhanger last week hadn’t been Dalek Sec’s reveal, but rather the moment he changes his mind; perhaps some ominous “It is time for the Daleks to die, Doctor” dialogue would have helped immeasurably.

How could he have been the next Davros? Well, maybe a lot of this is just coming down to the version that exists in my head (if I get the time, though I suspect I won’t, I might try to elaborate on that) but it does feel like… well, it feels like this is a character who has legs. Imagine for a second the prosthetics were less convoluted, and the human Sec was played by Julian Bleach; that the character was established more firmly, and given more interesting material here. You can – or, I can, at least – quite easily see the character becoming a longer running adversary to the Doctor, creating a genuinely new paradigm for the Daleks, and offering a huge amount of potential going forward. They could have continued this civil war idea, with Caan and Sec both providing different perspectives, perhaps with the threat of a new Dalek Time War emerging the next time they need an apocalyptic series finale. I wouldn’t even posit Sec as a good or moral character, particularly – just one who thinks the Daleks need to evolve to survive, but retaining the focus on nationalism, jingoism and racial purity and so on.

Alas, though. It wasn’t to be.

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The problem, I think, is in part the fact that the episode isn’t very well paced. But then, it’s actually slightly more than that – because despite grappling with lots of different ideas, not a lot actually happens. They take all the toys out of the box, but then they put them back in again after a little bit of a runaround; the actual scope of the plot is very limited, even as the possibilities of the story are wide reaching.

In that sense, the story is a victim of the Daleks themselves. Because the status quo snaps back at the end, and the icon resists change, in the same way it always does. There’s something almost ironic about that; the weight of the symbol means you can’t entertain any change to it, and so of course the story about them changing to survive doesn’t work. It can’t – because the Daleks have survived more than long enough without needing to change yet, so why would they need to now?

And that hobbles it, fundamentally. Evolution of the Daleks isn’t willing to actually evolve the concept – there’s no chance for a revolution of the Daleks in this story. At the end of the day, the people working on the show didn’t want to entertain a seismic shakeup to the Daleks. That’s more than fair; there’s certainly an element of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and there was still plenty of room to work with the Daleks recoiling from the Time War. It just means this episode doesn’t quite work as well as it should, or as well as it could, because so much about it would only function in the context of a springboard.

There’s certainly a lot to like here, still. I remain fond of James Strong’s direction, and there are some nice scenes with the Daleks in them. Admittedly, it’s the comedy bits that work best, but hey. And, of course, I absolutely adore Tallulah (with three Ls and an H!), who is probably one of the best supporting characters in the entirety of Doctor Who ever. But then, equally, it’s not like the weakness to the premise is the only big issue here. The way the Doctor, and the narrative, continues to treat Martha is pretty shocking; eventually, I’m going to have to write about it at length, because it is a problem.

All in all, then, it’s an episode that perhaps is befitting of the reputation that it earned, in a way that last week’s effort wasn’t. That’s a shame, really – because it could have been so much more.

5/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Infinite Quest (Part 4)

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Oh well!

There’s only so many times I can get 600 odd words out of absolutely nothing, and I’m increasingly starting to suspect that I’m about to hit the limit on that.

Literally nothing happens in this segment. Well, not literally. There’s a brief shift in scene and a few bits of dialogue, but it’s clear that this is a segment that no one would have found particularly impressive while it was on. If they found any of them that impressive, that is – I’m starting to question what the point of this was at all. Given the structure of these things, they’re always inevitably so throwaway and meaningless, I doubt they were in any way a highlight of Totally Doctor Who at all.

They’re further hampered by the fact that they’re a week apart. I remembered very little of what was happening last week – why do the Doctor and Martha want to rescue Callico? – and I doubt I’ll remember much of this one next week. These instalments are so immaterial as to be irrelevant week on week, and so you can’t maintain any significant attempt at serialised storytelling. And that’s a problem, of course, because the whole conceit of The Infinite Quest is that it unfolds week by week.

Elsewhere, the episode manages to take everything that should be good about animated Doctor Who and does the exact opposite. Blatantly, this is the cheap one – they’re all just standing around, blinking and little bit, and occasionally moving their mouths. It’s not a particularly well animated piece television – understandably, because it was likely made on a shoestring budget. I’m usually less than inclined to criticise something on the basis of its technical standards, but here the technical process is part of the storytelling – it’s the very medium in which it’s conveyed. So, actually, where the medium falls down it is worthy of critique.

Along the same line of though, I think it’s probably worth discussing the peformances. That’s something I’ve been largely avoiding over the past few weeks, but it sticks out here. They aren’t, to be honest, very good. Freema Ageyman – here, at least – isn’t particularly good at voice acting, and while David Tennant manages better, it’s also clear that he’s not putting in a huge amount of effort. They’re passable, and in some ways their performances are more or less appropriate for the animation, but it is rather weak overall.

On the one hand, that feels like a shame. Yes, this is all just a throwaway bit of nonsense that’s “for kids” – but then, why is it that the stuff that’s “for kids” is reduced to being throwaway nonsense of limited quality? You sort of question the point of this at all, and why “Doctor Who for kids” amounts to something that seemed to have been made on a “that’ll do” basis.

But then, on the other hand, it’s a little difficult to hold them to task for this exactly. In some senses, it’s just part of a process of working out what works and what doesn’t. This is, as it exists in 2007, what Doctor Who looks like on CBBC. Eventually, though, they’ll figure out the right way to do a more simplistic story with weekly cliffhangers, and it’ll be fantastic.

So, yeah. For now, it’s the throwaway nonsense of The Infinite Quest. Eventually, though, they work out how to do The Sarah Jane Adventures, so it all turned out fine in the end really.

(588. That’ll do.)

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Broadchurch series three was about toxic masculinity – so why did it end by saying “not all men”?

broadchurch season 3 david tennant olivia colman julie hesmondlalgh rape not all men sexual assault mishandling criticism hd series 3 chris chibnall jodie whittaker

The series, then, was about toxic masculinity. That was the overarching theme, evident from the start and continued (almost) to the closing moments of the series. More specifically, though, it was about men controlling women – exerting influence over them, disregarding their boundaries and autonomy, and attempting to control them. 

However, it’s telling that at the end of it all, we get a “not all men” scene. DI Hardy decries the rapist as an “aberration”, insisting that “not every man is like that”. Which is odd, really – quite apart from all the problems inherent with that phrase, it seemed like every episode up until now had been about saying yes, actually. All men.

So why did the final episode flip the script?

Hmm, so. Broadchurch series 3.

Mostly, everyone loved this series of Broadchurch. I thought it was particularly good – and, really, more importantly particularly sensitive in terms of how it handled its rape plotline – until, at least, the final episode. There were a lot of issues, I reckon; from pushing Trish to the edges of the narrative, essentially removing her from her own story right at the end, to the redemption scenes given to each man (particularly Charlie Higson’s character), to the identity of Trish’s attacker full stop. Oh, and, the fact it said “not all men”. Yikes.

Pretty much no one, however, seemed to be writing about it – the praise was largely without caveats, and none of the above was raised in critique. So, obviously, I wrote about it. Problem was, I suspect, it took me a week to actually get the above piece done, so it didn’t exactly latch onto the public consciousness. I hope that, if Broadchurch ever undergoes a critical re-evaluation, this final episode becomes a bit more of a sticking point.

The other thing about this article, though, is that I decided to avoid outright criticising the show – or, maybe more accurately, just criticising the show. I thought it’d be a bit more interesting and worthwhile to try and divine why Broadchurch swerved at the last moment, and what that meant in terms of the overall message it was trying to impart. I’m not so sure about the second half of the piece, where I get all symbolic about things; nowadays, I’d be much more direct in my condemnation, like I was with Liar. Though equally Liar was a lot more straightforward in its flaws, so, perhaps it wouldn’t have necessitated an article like the above in the way that Broadchurch did. Or seemed to me to.

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Why Star Trek: Discovery must deal with the legacy of Janice Rand

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Janice Rand is probably the most obvious victim of the strain of sexism and misogyny that ran through Star Trek’s early years – initially the programme’s female lead, Janice Rand was gradually phased out of the show across the first half of the season. She was on the receiving end of attempted rape, objectification, and frequently belittled and undercut by both other characters and the narrative itself.

Star Trek’s treatment of Janice Rand is fundamentally at odds with the utopian idealism that is so often sold as the franchise’s main virtue. For Star Trek: Discovery to now make attempts at returning to that 60s utopianism, it must by the same virtue address the legacy of Janice Rand within the narrative.

It’s become increasingly clear that Star Trek: Discovery is going to be very deeply entrenched in 60s nostalgia, returning to the aesthetic and many of the characters of The Original Series.

If Discovery is to do that, it’s going to have to address the failings of the original Star Trek – it’s going to have to put right what once went wrong.

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Doctor Who Review: The Pilot

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Promise you won’t go?

In one of the admittedly less memorable jokes of the episode – and this is only because of how high the standard everything else is – Bill brings up a sci-fi show that she watched on Netflix. It has lizards, in people’s brains. The Doctor responds that he’s going to have to “up my game”. In a world of Netflix and a new golden age of television, he’s not wrong – Doctor Who does have to up its game, consistently.

And with The Pilot, Doctor Who absolutely did up its game.

So much of this comes down to Bill. It’s almost become a cliché to say that Bill is a breath of fresh air, but then, she absolutely is. I loved Clara, and I’ve loved a lot of the Capaldi era, but there’s still something so invigorating and exciting about having a new companion – and Bill has made a great first impression.

Much of this episode is structured to allow her to, of course. We absolutely revel in Bill’s presence, luxuriating in those long scenes, where the joy of the episode is simply to spend time with such a fantastic new character. Every other aspect just falls away in her presence, as Pearl Mackie anchors the episode around her performance. On paper, this is something that might have looked like a risk – taking your relatively untested new character and hanging every aspect of the episode on the strength of the new actor. But then, of course it works in practice – because Pearl Mackie is excellent. This wasn’t a risk but the most sensible choice; you almost find yourself wishing the episode could be longer, to be able to spend more time hanging around with Bill. The wait until next week was a long one, and it’ll be a massive shame if we don’t see Bill continue on with the Natalie Dormer Doctor next year in the Chibnall era.

Why is Bill so excellent? Well, like I said – a huge part of it is Pearl Mackie’s performance. There’s a real charm to the character; Bill has such a boundless enthusiasm and sense of wonder that its difficult not to feel the same way. That early description of her – “When other people don’t understand something, they frown. You smile.” – is not only the perfect starting point for a new companion, it’s the best way to breathe that new life into the show. As Bill is introduced to the world of Doctor Who, we’re able to see it all anew, through her eyes.

And isn’t it wonderful?

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This episode also marks the first of Peter Capaldi’s final series – the first episode of his victory lap. And what a lap it’s set to be.

As ever, Capaldi’s performance is pitch perfect; he’s clearly relishing the chance to depict a new take on the Doctor/companion relationship, and working with Pearl Mackie is clearly pushing him to new places too. The pair of them have an excellent rapport together – wouldn’t it be wonderful to see these two together for another few years? If only we were so lucky.

But then we should still count ourselves lucky to have this episode.; The Pilot is a wonderful piece for Capaldi’s Doctor. There’s a whole host of lovely moments for the Doctor here; obviously, grounding him in academia is wonderful, and there’s something about the Doctor playing professor that just feels right. Indeed, letting this professorial role form the basis of his relationship with Bill is great, and matches her enthusiasm wonderfully – he’s showing her the universe and fulfilling that curiosity. That’s not the only great moment to come from the Doctor in academia, of course – everyone loved the “Time and Relative Dimension in Space” lecture, didn’t they?

However, those aren’t the only great moments for the Doctor here; often, many of the highlights of this episode are far subtler than that. There’s a real progression of the Doctor’s character here; he’s matured since we last saw him, become more considerate. In many ways, it’s a fulfilment of the arc we saw him start upon in series 8; he doesn’t need someone to care for him anymore. The little moments where the Doctor asks Bill if she’s alright, or takes pictures of her mother, or reassures her that she’s “safe here, and always will be” – that’s when the character sings.

Further, though, it’s that scene. The confrontation between the Doctor and Bill where he nearly takes her memory, and all the raw emotion it entails. It’s not just a standout moment for Peter Capaldi, but Pearl Mackie too – and, indeed, in terms of both the writing and direction of the scene. What an excellent place to start for these characters – and what an excellent way for the Doctor to shake off academia and get back out there into the universe.

After all, that’s the moment we were all waiting for, wasn’t it? Much as it was lovely to see him in the university, we know where we really want the Doctor to be. All of time and space. Anything that ever happened, or ever will.

Where do you want to start?

doctor who the pilot review peter capaldi twelfth doctor it means life tardis backlit steven moffat lawrence gough hd screenshot wallpaper

This episode has something of a thin plot, yes. But then, it’s not the plot that matters – rather, it’s the story.

I’ve already highlighted, of course, how much of this episode is dedicated to fleshing out Bill. It makes sense then to have a relatively simple plot; just a jaunt through the universe, laying out the basic concepts of Doctor Who, and letting the characters carry our attention. (It’s still worth noting, of course, just how well this is all done; one of the problems of having left this review so long is that everyone else has already pointed out just how fantastic the TARDIS reveal is. But then, it is, and it’s worth pointing that out – as well as noting just how good Lawrence Gough’s direction was.)

However, despite the simple plot, there’s actually quite an involved story here. In a sense, it’s all about promises: the promise Heather made to Bill, the implicit promise the Doctor made to Clara, and the Doctor’s promise to someone to guard the vault.

Of course, the episode began with another promise – The Pilot, and its promise of a new start. It is, I think, a promise that’s realised; everything comes together here to create an episode that really does show how much Doctor Who can do, and how much it can be. In that sense, there’s so much to comment on, and so little time – Lawrence Gough’s direction, Stephanie Hyam’s performance, the lovely dialogue flourishes. It’s enough to make you wish you could just go on forever about how good the episode is, but at that point you’re better off just showing people the episode again and letting them enjoy it for themselves. You’d love it – I promise.

But then, The Pilot is also about a different kind of promise. The promise of what’s to come. The promise – the allure – of the universe. All the days of your life, laid out like a city. The day you were born; the day you died. The day you fell in love and the day love ended.

Time and Relative Dimension in Space.

It’s a promise.

The promise of everything.

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Daleks in Manhattan

doctor who daleks in manhattan review helen raynor james strong russell t davies series 3 martha jones freema agyeman nick briggs eric loren

I swore then I’d survive, no matter what.

It’s always difficult reviewing the episodes that are less popular. In some ways, it presents challenges that aren’t there with the ones that people tend to like, or even the ones that are controversial; you’re always trying to respond to a prevailing weight of opinion, that in turn shapes a lot of what you say and think about the episode. I couldn’t come to this clean – it was always “well, this is the one everyone seems to think is a bit crap”.

Oddly, the venom for this story is quite intense. Not in the same way that’s true of Love & Monsters, but in an almost more casual way – where people would dedicate lengthy essays to complaining about Love & Monsters, this one was always dismissed out of hand. It’s objectively poor quality is seen as so objective that people don’t even really feel the need to argue about it; it’s just accepted as fact. Just one of those things everyone knows.

Russell T Davies has this story in The Writer’s Tale about how, when Helen Raynor read the reviews of this story online, she felt like she’d been assaulted – that they were so horrible, so vitriolic, she was literally shaking. As in, the actual proper definition of literally.

That stuck in my mind somewhat when I was watching this episode. I was in two minds going into it, really. On the one hand, I’d not quite ever got the hate for this episode; though, as ever, I was relying on the memory of an eight-year-old who loved pretty much anything with a Doctor Who logo on it. Sometimes the memory cheats. And yet I couldn’t help but feel as though the criticism of this story has become overdone, almost as though a meme – really, I’d never seen much justification for it beyond gripes about how it’s rather silly.

And, actually, reading the IMDb reviews now (surely a more sensible refrain than checking GallifreyBase) it seems to be a lot more positive than I realised. What’s striking, really, is that it’s – generally speaking – the ones closer to the time that are more positive. It’s when you start to get into reviews from years after the episode first aired, that’s when they turn negative. So, maybe, perhaps a part of this episode’s poor reception simply is the perception that sprung up around it, negativity feeding into itself.

Which is good, actually. Because I rather liked this one.

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Part of the poor reception to the episode is, undoubtedly, because this is the ‘for kids’ episode. Generally speaking, the first two-parter of any given series was aimed slightly younger, painted in broader strokes, had the big monster scenes, etc. That’s a truism of the series – or, arguably more accurately, it’s a truism that it’s a truism.

It’s not fair, though, to dismiss the episode purely on that basis. After all, it’s a programme that’s for all audiences – by any reasonable understanding of that, you’re going to have certain episodes that lean more towards certain demographics than others.

But then, I don’t think that’s the most accurate way to categorise this. In the context of a Doctor Who episode, ‘for kids’ isn’t a genre per se – it’s an aesthetic. When people are criticising the fact that the characters are broader, or that they’re speaking in silly accents, they’re missing the point – that’s part of the texture of the episode.

To an extent, then, it comes down to personal taste, as all things do. I love the exaggerated aspects of the episode, and I love the sheer fun of it, and I love that dance sequence. These, I’m sure, are a lot of the aspects people would dismiss, unable to handle the “Noo Yoik” accents (I think Tallulah is fantastic) and in turn disregarding the episode as a whole… but, well, it doesn’t bother me. It’s fun in the same way a pulp-y Dalek serial is; it doesn’t mean the episode is bad, merely that you don’t respond to what it’s trying to do. (And, I reckon, succeeding at doing.)

Equally, however, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a particularly simplistic episode. Yes, it’s unsubtle in places, but it does have some interesting ideas at the heart of it. There’s a genuinely interesting advancement of the Dalek ideology here, pushing the concept of the Cult of Skaro to a new place and setting up some great stuff for next week to deal with. Similarly, setting it in the wake of World War One and the Great Depression is a great way of grounding it in terms of the themes of survival that are so central to the episode.

(The contrast between Solomon and Mr Diagoras is great, incidentally. Both gone through the same war, but left with very different beliefs about how to survive. And yet there’s that great little detail when Solomon leaves Frank behind, because he’s scared – there’s that underlying ruthlessness that the Daleks want to tap into. It’s not presented subtly, no, but there’s an interesting idea there.)

doctor who daleks in manhattan review james strong daleks eyestalk empire state building elevator lift helen raynor tenth doctor martha jones

Beyond that? There’s honestly quite a lot to enjoy about this episode. Lots of little directorial flourishes, for example – that shot of the Dalek exiting the elevator is fantastic. Indeed, it’s a very well-directed piece in general; James Strong maintains a great aesthetic throughout, keeping the sewers atmospheric and realising the visuals very well.

Similarly, I enjoyed a lot of the dialogue. I think Helen Raynor deserves a fair bit of credit here – my understanding is that this episode wasn’t rewritten by Russell T Davies to the same extent that most of the series was, because he’d been ill when this one was in development. She acquits herself well, certainly; like I’ve said already, I really enjoyed the aesthetic of this episode, and the way in which it is so brazen and on the nose about its themes. But even then, I do think it’s well written independently of that style – there’s some great Dalek dialogue here that wouldn’t be out of place in any other episode.

Is it perfect? No, it’s not. But then, the problems that I took from this episode are ones that are endemic to the series itself; I remain unimpressed at how quickly they moved into the whole “Martha loves the Doctor” angle, and maintain it should have been developed more slowly. This episode in and of itself is still pretty charming in many respects. For example, I love the fact that the Doctor has to spend time building a DNA scanner, when these days the sonic screwdriver would do it immediately – it’s blatantly padding, but there’s something lovely about it.

Again, it’s difficult to review this episode. It always is, with the first half of a two-parter, because so much of it is setting up and establishing a tone – in turn, it’s difficult to write about it without this just becoming a list of things that I liked.

But I did like this episode. It was charming, and it was fun, and it had some cool ideas running through it. Honestly, genuinely, what more could you ask for? This isn’t an episode that deserves the poor reputation it holds. Thankfully, though, that hasn’t mattered – because this episode survives.

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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