Doctor Who and the Problem of the Cybermen

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Iconic though they may be, the Cybermen occupy the funny status of not really having any purpose beyond being “the other famous Doctor Who monster, who aren’t Daleks”. Particularly for the new series, while it’s easy to point to strong Dalek stories, it’s much more difficult to do the same for the Cybermen. We’ve been lacking in any particularly strong stories for the Cybermen, as well as any instances where they may have been particularly scary. The reason for this, I think, is simple; there’s not really any clear angle from which to approach them.

They began as an expression of the creators’, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, concerns over organ transplant procedures and body modification, and the fear that humanity may one day augment itself to the point that it was no longer recognisable. It was a clever conceit in the 60s, but in an era where such medical advances have not only been accepted but also embraced, I’m not so sure that this is a concept that resonates in the same way.

Fond though I am of the Cybermen, I’ve long been of the belief that Doctor Who hasn’t quite figured out how to handle them properly. Without a clear central conceit at the heart of the concept, the Cybermen have oft been reduced to little more than clanking robots; ever since my recent rewatch of the 2006 series, I’ve been thinking about just what the Cybermen should be in terms of Doctor Who.

This most recent Yahoo article, then, is all about trying to present a solution to the problem of the Cybermen…

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In appreciation of Clara Oswald

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So, the time has come for Jenna Coleman to move on from Doctor Who, after nearly three years, and two quasi-exits already. She’s been a fantastic companion, and frankly, an even better actress. So, then, in recognition of her departure, I’ve collated everything I’ve ever said about her acting over the course of the past few years, to form something of a tribute to this wonderful actress.

(This post was, in fact, originally going to be posted after Face the Raven, but then Clara’s eventual departure was a little more complicated than initially anticipated, and so I decided to retrofit the post for today – it’s Moffat Appreciation Week, and today is dedicated to Clara. So, yeah, this seemed like a nice idea. No idea if this post is actually applicable though, mind you.)

Series 7

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Now, there isn’t a huge amount here in terms of the series 7 episodes, because that series predates my blog, if I recall correctly. I did review the episodes on my personal facebook, though, which was a real hit amongst my friends; I can’t quite find them to quote them, so in this instance, you get a trip down memory lane.

When Jenna Coleman first appeared as Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks, I don’t think anyone was expecting it – it has to go down as Steven Moffat’s greatest twist ever, actually, because he pulled it off so well. Certainly, it was more effective than the John Hurt reveal the next year, given how well hidden it had been; I mean, when I first saw it, it was such a “what?” moment, really. Spent the first five minutes after the opening titles wondering if it was just someone who looked kinda like the new companion who wasn’t due to start for another few months… and by the time the credits rolled, it was a whole new source of confusion.

The Snowmen

I haven’t spoken much about Clara, mostly because I want to see where the story goes with her before talking about this too much, but I will say that Jenna-Louise Coleman might well be the best companion actress since 2005.

Admittedly, even for all my insistence that Clara (or Oswin, as we knew her then) could be the best companion of the new series, I wasn’t entirely enamoured by how the character was utilised throughout her introductory run. Willing though I am to acknowledge that the Impossible Girl arc was very clever, it’s one of those things I respect more than I actually enjoyed.

(At the time of series 7b, I thought that perhaps another interesting way to present the arc would have had Clara keep her memories at the end of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, and know about her echoes for the rest of the season. Maybe The Crimson Horror could have been adjusted somewhat – the reason the Doctor and Clara went to the Victorian era was to investigate the other Clara echo, and so on and so forth. Obviously, however, that was not to be.)

The Day of the Doctor

The same goes for Jenna Coleman, who does a great job as the Doctor’s best friend, and later conscience.

But, to be honest, what we’ve got since Day of the Doctor has been rather excellent, so… I’m willing to call Clara the best companion once more.

Series 8

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Deep Breath

I’ve already said how I enjoyed her scene with the Doctor in the restaurant, but I think if I had to choose her best moment of the episode, it was where she was talking to the robot. Clara really held her own there; it was a well written scene, with some pretty good acting to hold it up.

By the start of the 2014 season, Clara began to evolve differently; it was something of a soft reboot for the character, if you like – free from the intrigue and the mystery of the Impossible Girl arc, we were able to see certain of Clara’s characteristics in much sharper focus. While a lot of the basis of the “bossy control freak” had been laid over the course of series 7b, it was series 8 that really emphasised and developed this theme.

Into the Dalek

The writing is really concentrating on her now; it’s focusing on character traits she already had, but changing the way they look at them, and making them more central to her. She feels a lot more distinctive now, and it’s really encouraging. Seeing her hold her own with the Doctor, and making him re-evaluate his decisions and what he knows in a way that’s unique to her as a character? That’s brilliant.

Mummy on the Orient Express

It was another brilliant showcase for Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. They’re so amazing together, it’s really compelling to watch, especially in episodes as well written as this. My favourite moments for the pair, actually, were the quietly awkward little exchanges towards the beginning; they’d both be trying to be nice, but then one of them would say something, and the facades would drop, and the sadness would be obvious. Moments like that were really touching, actually.

One of the reasons why I think Clara can be considered to be one of the best characters of the revived show is because of the development we see her undertake; across the three-ish seasons that she was the companion, we saw her evolve in a variety of different ways. Two of the key episodes for Clara’s arc were Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express – the possibility of her leaving the TARDIS made for some great drama, and was a really important part of the character’s development.

Dark Water

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were fantastic throughout; the confrontation scene between them, as I’ve already mentioned, was just electric. The Doctor, taking control, intimidating Clara and trying to talk her down. Clara, not listening, not moving, not losing any ground. One of the best scenes of the series, frankly, because of just how brilliant these two are. Please, please, let them both be around for series 9!

Death in Heaven

Same goes of course for Jenna Coleman. And in this case I’d also say Samuel Anderson. The scenes they had together were… they weren’t poignant, that’s not quite the right way to describe it, because that implies a level of serenity I think. Their scenes were a bit distressing sometimes. In a good way, I mean; they were all very emotional moments, and certainly quite impactful ones.

It’s also hard to talk about Clara without at least some reference to Danny Pink, though; the tragic love story that defined much of the eighth series. Danny was another great character, and when juxtaposed with the Doctor, provided an important foil for Clara. It was the relationship between the pair of them that provided the impetus for a lot of Clara’s development across this series, and I’m very glad we got to see Samuel Anderson’s performance as Danny Pink.

Last Christmas

I really liked the moment with old Clara, towards the end, where the Doctor helps her to pull the Christmas cracker. The parallels there with old Matt Smith in The Time of the Doctor from last year were, I think, rather perfect. Very poignant.

Series 9

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The Magician’s Apprentice

It carries forth throughout, really – both Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez are excellent in this episode, and it’s brilliant to see the pair of them together, with Missy essentially in the role of the Doctor.

Of course, with the beginning of series 9, we established a new status quo for Clara once more – here, Doctor Who shrugs off the Coal Hill School setting it had worked so hard to establish last year. In part, it’s an entirely sensible creative decision, linked to the need to continually provide something new each year – but more than that, the departure from Coal Hill is emblematic of the changes in Clara’s own life.

Where adventuring had previously been her hobby, there’s now been a shift; for Clara, her life with the Doctor, from this moment on, took centre stage.

Before the Flood

Clara also had some interesting stuff to do this week; Jenna Coleman is a brilliant actress, and I am again inclined to suggest that Clara might be the best companion of the new series. Ordering the Doctor to “die with whoever comes next” was a really well done scene, and everyone involved deserves plaudits for that.

The Girl Who Died

Jenna Coleman finally got something substantial to do this week, which was nice. You could really see Clara’s development into a quasi-Doctor figure (was it just me, or was Jenna Coleman imitating Matt Smith’s body language during her confrontation with Odin?) and Jenna Coleman did a great job of portraying that. Very strong episode for Clara, there, both in terms of the writing and Jenna Coleman’s acting. Which is nice!

The Zygon Invasion

Jenna Coleman gave a brilliant performance, as ever, portraying Clara just ever so slightly off, in a way that doesn’t feel quite right but wouldn’t necessarily raise suspicion on its own…

Admittedly, in some regards, I felt as though Clara was underutilised once more at times throughout series 9; The Zygon Invasion and its similarly named counterpart could be considered a key example of this. Whilst providing an excellent role for Jenna Coleman as an actress, the two episodes didn’t have the most significant part for Clara to play. True, there was certainly much to see with thematic relevance, but I would still maintain that the lack of a prominent role for Clara across this two-parter is the only flaw in one of the strongest stories of the series.

The Zygon Inversion

Speaking of Jenna Coleman’s acting, she did a really fantastic job of playing Bonnie. I think it’s the mark of a great actor when they can play a dual role within a single story  and still make them feel meaningfully distinct – it was very easy to forget that Jenna Coleman was playing Bonnie here, as opposed to another actress entirely (albeit admittedly a similar looking one). She did an excellent job of completely altering all her mannerisms, even her voice and elocution, to create an entirely new character.

Face the Raven

It’s worth singling out Jenna Coleman though, particularly, given that this may well be one of the last times we ever see her as Clara. Her performance was fantastic; genuinely compelling, and it gave life to some absolutely fantastic scenes. Which is what we’ve become accustomed to from Jenna Coleman, really; I am pretty firm in my belief that she is the best companion we’ve had over the past ten years.

Face the Raven was, I think, a particularly strong episode by Sarah Dollard – it was the best was in which to frame a potential death for Clara, deftly avoiding any danger of a fridging, and ensuring that any tragedy that took place was very much a personal, character-driven and empowering one.

Hell Bent

Jenna Coleman is just as skilled, and gives just as compelling a performance. Once again, there’s a danger that I’d be reduced to simply listing scenes – “Don’t you trust me?” “Not when you’re shouting, no.” – so I want to highlight, once again, the final goodbye between the Doctor and Clara in the diner. Where the Doctor doesn’t even realise he’s saying goodbye, not to her. Jenna Coleman gives a great performance; she does a wonderful job of showing the audience Clara’s reluctance to let the Doctor go, and appearing to still want to tell him the truth. It’s very well done.

But then, in the end, it’s not a tragic ending. It’s the most ultimately triumphant ending a companion has ever received, and perhaps the most fitting of them all for Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl. It’s a brilliant final twist; throughout the whole of this season, we’d been lead to believe that Clara becoming more and more like the Doctor would lead to her downfall. In the end, though, it lead to her becoming a Doctor in her own right, travelling the universe in a rackety old TARDIS, with a companion right by her side.

It’s beautiful in terms of what it implies, and allows, for Clara Oswald – just like in her first trip in the TARDIS, way back in The Rings of Akhaten, Clara ends will thousands of different possibilities ahead of her.

Related:

Doctor Who Series 8 Overview

Doctor Who Series 9 Episode Reviews

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Doctor Who Review: Last Christmas

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Do you know why people get together at Christmas? Because every time they do it might be the last time. Every Christmas is last Christmas and this is ours. This was a bonus, this is extra. Now it’s time to wake up.

Happy New Year! Ish. Close, anyway. I’m a little bit late with this one, but I figured I needed to get on and post it today, because if it went up in a whole different year to the actual episode, that’d be one hell of a missed deadline, even for me.

Doctor Who at Christmas has become sort of traditional, hasn’t it? This is, after all, the tenth special that they’ve done. That’s pretty impressive, really. It’s not something you’d immediately link, Doctor Who and Christmas. But it does make sense, if you think about it. It’s the same sort of idea, in them both – being halfway out of the dark, and embracing hope.

Doctor Who at Christmas. Very fitting.

First of all, it’s worth talking about the concepts in play here. It’s some very clever stuff; the different layers of the dream are, for the most part, very well put together. As I was watching it on the first go around, I wasn’t entirely impressed by Clara’s sequence with Danny – not because I had anything against it, per se, but that I thought it might have worked better with a more subtle build up, with little clues and hints to make the audience doubt what was going on, and which scenario was a dream or not. But then, of course, we got that anyway later on in the episode, which was really the best of both worlds. (It could, perhaps, have been played up a little more however – there was a line in the episode which essentially amounted to “How can you tell which is the dream and which is reality, when they’re both so bizarre?”, and I think that could have been played up a little bit more and emphasized throughout.)

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It was, admittedly, a tad predictable. Fairly soon in the episode, it became obvious that the entire base was going to be a dream, or at least a little bit “off” – I think that it was around the second or third “it’s a long story” moment when I realised. Still, despite that, there were a lot of elements to it which really worked very well – I liked the sense of dawning realisation when the crewmembers looked in their manuals, seeing different words each time, and the eventual fates of each crewmember were quite poignant – particularly Bellows in her wheelchair, and Shona sat alone at Christmas. I think it’s a testament to the characterisation and the acting throughout the special that those moments had the impact that they did. (And that dancing scene was rather brilliant)

Nick Frost played an excellent Santa here. I’ve only ever seen him in The World’s End before, which is a weirdly depressing film. He was definitely a brilliant character. What I did really liked though, and I think it’s been pointed out a few times already, was the role Santa played as symbolising dreams and escapism. I thought that was a really nice way to bring Christmas into the episode, and making it work with the themes at play in the episode – particularly, the dreams segment.

Towards the end, when the characters are taking a sleigh ride across London, it really felt very upbeat and positive, and quite Christmassy too. I think that was an important moment to include, and I’m glad it was there.

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This was another good episode for Clara, I think. At the time of Death in Heaven, I wasn’t sure about her coming back in the Christmas special, because I thought that the ending she got was actually rather perfect – I spoke about it a little in my review. But, like I said at the time, it was still possible that they could bring her back and it would still work. For the most part, it did! It was great to see Clara back, and her final moments with Danny were excellent. (There was one line in particular which I thought was quite revealing about her character, but I’ll save that for another post)

I really liked the moment with old Clara, towards the end, where the Doctor helps her to pull the Christmas cracker. The parallels there with old Matt Smith in The Time of the Doctor from last year. It was, I think, rather perfect. Very poignant.

Buuuutttttt…. It’s not the end. And I’m in two minds about that. It’s funny, actually, because Clara did just get the second perfect departure, and she’s still staying! Can’t get rid of her! Here forever! Having said that, I do think that more can still be done with her character. She’s developed a lot since her introduction, and I think she can still continue to do so. My only worry would be that there won’t be a third perfect ending.

So, Last Christmas?

It was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect. At times, I felt a bit disconnected, and a little bored for a few segments. (The elves grated a bit)

But those are pretty minor complaints. I think it’s fair to give Last Christmas a 7/10.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

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Doctor Who Review: Series 8 Overview

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So, with another series over, I wanted to take a bit of a look back across the whole series, seeing how it fitted together, talking a little bit about the arcs involved, and generally the overall quality of the episodes.

Here I’ve got links to my reviews of each episodes (some of which were, uh, posted quite late, meaning you may have missed them). Quite proud of most of them, although it is obvious in quite a few that I was running short of time, because they’re a little bit on the shorter side. Still, nothing wrong with being concise.

  1. Deep Breath | Steven Moffat | 8/10
  2. Into the Dalek | Phil Ford & Steven Moffat | 9/10
  3. Robot of Sherwood | Mark Gatiss | 7/10
  4. Listen | Steven Moffat | 5/10
  5. Time Heist | Stephen Thompson & Steven Moffat | 8/10
  6. The Caretaker | Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat | 7/10
  7. Kill the Moon | Peter Harness | 3/10
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express | Jamie Mathieson | 9/10
  9. Flatline | Jamie Mathieson | 9/10
  10. In the Forest of the Night | Frank Cottrell-Boyce | 6/10
  11. Dark Water | Steven Moffat | 10/10
  12. Death in Heaven | Steven Moffat | 8/10

And presented here as part of a handy-dandy graph. I do love a good graph.

image

I’ve seen this series described as having had consistent quality levels since 2005, when the show came back. It’s interesting actually, because I would have said the same myself, before looking at my handy dandy graph.

In terms of numbers though, it got a total of 89/120, which works out as 7.417/10. Given that people were harking back to the 2005 series, that’s a rather useful point of comparison (even more so because it’s the only one I have mathematical date for). When I reviewed that series, it got a result of approximately 8/10 as an overall average. (You can see a very nerdy breakdown of the scores here. It wasn’t so popular, which is why I changed the format a little for this overview.)

What it is perhaps fairer to say though is that, barring a few mis-steps, the series had a much higher level of consistent quality than the last two Matt Smith seasons. I wasn’t really a fan of series 7, on the whole, and I felt that this was a massive improvement on largely every count.

In terms of Steven Moffat’s writing, this was another massive step up (Ignoring Listen, of course). Of the four series’ he’s been in charge of, this one is certainly the best since Matt Smith’s first. Perhaps the best altogether? I’m not entirely sure, but it may well come close.

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Something I think that series 8 did particularly well with, better than most others, was the way it treated the role of the companion.

Around the time of Asylum of the Daleks, when Jenna Coleman first appeared, I said something along the lines of “I think she’s going to be my favourite companion”. Words to that effect, anyways. Obviously this turned out to be not quite the case, given that Clara wasn’t quite in the spotlight in her own right throughout the rest of series 7.

But after series 8, I am actually quite prepared to hand Clara back that position.

It’s difficult to talk about the arc that Clara had throughout the series, because I really keep wanting to jump right to the end, because the way in which she developed still excites me so much. This is possibly one of the best uses of the companion role ever, and the best possible extension of the idea that the Doctor changes his companions.

Flatline was one of my favourite episodes of the series (making me a little sad my review is quite so short) and that’s because of what it did with the Doctor/Clara dynamic. Honestly, there’s just so many clever things about that episode I want to pick out, but the one that needs mentioning is the idea of lying, I think. You can see that being developed across the series, picked up on, examined, and looked at through all these different lights. It culminated in my favourite scene of the series – the Doctor lying about Gallifrey. How fantastic was that? Absolutely fantastic.

Now, none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for Jenna Coleman, who really showed how brilliant Clara could be. She absolutely deserved top billing at the end of the series. “Clara Who” is a show I would watch, let me tell you right now. (Though it needs a better name than that!)

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On another note, writers and directors. Some new ones this year, which is nice; as part of series 7 last year there were, I think, too many writers that had more than one episode, and had worked on the show before. It’s always good to get new people in (like me) though, to be fair, this year there was something of a mixed result in terms of new writers. Jamie Mathieson, absolutely fantastic, needs to return. Peter Harness, probably best forgotten about. And Frank Cottrell-Boyce… well, maybe? He’s the only one I have no particularly strong feelings about, for or against.

Normally, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to directors, which I probably should, but I’ve been really impressed by a lot this year. Douglas MacKinnon did another great job, and I was impressed by Ben Wheatley. Nice to see female directors on the team – I realise everyone else has said that, but it’s true. And, obviously, the fact that they were female directors wasn’t the only important thing – Sheree Folkson and Rachel Talalay are both very, very good.

(Mind you, still not that fussed about the possibility of Peter Jackson turning up. The fact he’s such a massive nerd makes me laugh, but there’s nothing that really makes me think “woah we need him here right now”.)

doctor who review series 8 kill the moon planet earth turn the lights off peter harness

There were certain things I wasn’t mad keen on, of course. I’m not sure if I’m becoming a bit more socially aware, or if there were more mistakes made this season, but a few things stood out to me as being a bit on the not-so-good side of things.

The abortion metaphor of Kill the Moon I already spoke about a fair extent, and the same goes for the medication stuff in In the Forest of the Night. Those were both things which should have been picked up on, and removed, but unfortunately… weren’t.

Something I didn’t mention at the time, but I still wasn’t sure about was this weird racial undertone in The Caretaker. Strange one really; it was clear the production team was trying to show a diverse, multi-racial set of students, but it fell down a bit flat since quite a few of the truant/miscreant kids were coloured. That can be written off as an accident, but I’m surprised no one took pause with the fact that the Doctor mocked Danny, suggesting he was only competent at physical tasks. Bit odd really, in terms of the way it could be read.

Also, speaking of the Doctor and Danny, where did that distaste for soldiers actually go, in the end? It all seemed a tad aimless. You can make a case, I suppose, for it having been set up for the finale, but even then… it wasn’t great. The set up with Missy wasn’t amazing either, I think it must be said, given that they were little more than sporadic “remember we have an arc guys” moments. Could probably have been replaced by “this is a mystery” cue cards, perhaps.

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So.

A final word on the Eighth Series of Doctor Who?

I think it was, honestly, quite brilliant. It had no shortage of misfires, that’s fair to say, but that’s not to say it wasn’t very, very good. You could really see the work that went into it, making each idea fresh and new, offering us some of the best character drama we’ve had in years, as part of a remarkably stylish, wonderfully written television program.

And, on today of all days – the start of our 51st year – Series 8 is worth talking about.

Because Series 8 shows us why Doctor Who has lasted quite so long, and why it is still kicking.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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Doctor Who Review: Death in Heaven

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Love is not an emotion. Love is a promise.

So actually, when I first watched this, I didn’t like it all that much.

I had problems with the second half in particular. It felt discordant, really, and rather sloppy. “Tonally inconsistent” is what I went for, I think. To an extent, I’d stand by that still.

But when I came round to rewatching it, with a little bit of distance and having had some time to ruminate on the episode a bit more, I did enjoy it a lot more.

I mean, it’s not perfect, and that’s a little bit of a shame, because I’d really been hoping for that. Probably unwise, admittedly, but still, that’s what I wanted. There are a lot of good ideas here, that’s certainly true, but the worry I had was that they weren’t really executed very well. Some things were better than others. Certain things were not executed as well as they could have been; others should have been left out entirely.

Admittedly, that paints a pretty negative picture of my opinion, and that’s not quite true, because there’s a lot of things I really did enjoy. Like, for example, Michelle Gomez. Wasn’t she just fantastic? Quite possibly the best Master of the new series (sorry John Simm) and I’d wager she beats out quite a few of the classics too. I get the feeling I’d end up just listing each and every one of her scenes if I were to start to pick favourites – but weren’t each of her scenes, especially with Peter Capaldi, just really, really compelling?

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But, hey, there’s nothing wrong with listing. The death of Osgood was a pretty wonderful moment (though I will miss her) and I totally agree with Moffat’s decision there – killing Osgood sets Missy up as a villain in a way that all her actions couldn’t really. We’re invested in Osgood, and the audience likes her, in a way that we wouldn’t be with Colonel Ahmed. It reminds me of this thing called a “pet the dog” moment actually – the idea being that if a character pets a dog, the audience will like them, because generally the audience will like dogs. Here, then, Moffat had Missy kill the “dog”.

Quite a lot of wonderful humour in there too; a favourite line of mine was, probably surprising no one, “Kill some Belgians, they aren’t even French”. Lots of very funny lines; but all ones which could have fallen flat, I think, if it wasn’t for the strength of Michelle Gomez’s performance. She really did hit every beat it was fantastic.

The characterisation there was absolutely on point. I realise a lot of people are accusing Moffat of getting it wrong, but no, they’re mistaken – elaborate schemes simply for the Doctor’s attention, and constant attempts to get their friend back (wasn’t that so sad?) have always been part of the Master’s MO, right from day one.

It also lead quite fantastically into the culmination of one of this series’ quasi-arcs – the question of whether or not the Doctor really is a good man. It’s been one of my favourite parts of this series, in fact, and I’m quite pleased with the resolution of it. Indeed, I’m hoping to do a full post on it soon (though with my time management skills, that could end up being closer to series 9 than to now) so I won’t comment on it much, but still, it was fantastic.

The use of the Master as the Doctor’s mirror concluded that thread quite well, and indeed rather poignantly; Missy’s attempts to get her friend back only confirmed to him that, despite his doubts, they really were pretty different. Dramatically, I think it has a lot of weight, and it was possibly the smartest way to draw that aspect of the series to a close without getting oppressively bleak.

And, of course, you’ve got to love this moment of realisation. Peter Capaldi is so wonderful:

I’m not a good man! I’m not a bad man! I’m not a hero! I’m not a President! And no, I’m not an officer! You know who I am? I am an idiot –  with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out. And I don’t need an army, I never have.

And I mean, that’s to be expected, isn’t it? Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, the highlight of every scene he’s in. Absolutely wonderful.

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Same goes of course for Jenna Coleman. And in this case I’d also say Samuel Anderson. The scenes they had together were… they weren’t poignant, that’s not quite the right way to describe it, because that implies a level of serenity I think. Their scenes were a bit distressing sometimes. In a good way, I mean; they were all very emotional moments, and certainly quite impactful ones.

The writing of those scenes was generally pretty good; nice bit of dramatic irony (I know technical terms!) where the audience knew who Danny was, yet Clara didn’t. I quite liked that; on the whole, that’s not the sort of thing I find that impressive, but here it’s clear enough that Danny would be a Cyberman, so those scenes where Clara finds out where made more effective because the audience already knew.

Really gotta love their acting though, don’t you? I mean, again, I find myself at a loss for words because I’ve used most of them already. Regardless, they both absolutely sold each moment; Danny’s final speech and sacrifice, Clara’s anger at Missy, and their goodbye as Danny lost his emotions. It all lead into a pretty wonderful ending…

As endings go, it was very melancholy, wasn’t it? I actually really liked it, for the most part. The Doctor and Clara, lying to each other, trying to make the other happy, not realising that they were both as miserable as sin. I’d go so far as to say actually that the Doctor lying about Gallifrey, and intercutting the Doctor’s scenes with Clara against the silent anger of his “finding” Gallifrey is quite possibly one of the smartest things Steven Moffat has written. The final moment with Clara simply walking away was wonderful, and I think it would have been a pretty appropriate place to leave Clara, if not a happy one.

(At the minute, I haven’t watched the Children in Need clip, although I am aware that it makes it clear this isn’t quite the ending. It’s a shame, admittedly, because I really did quite like this idea… but I do trust them to still make it work. Possibly.)

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Now, while there were plenty of other brilliant things in the episode (the Cloud base! Skydiving into the TARDIS! UNIT!) the ending was also where the episode began to dip in quality, so it makes sense, I suppose, to segue into my own criticisms of those moments.

Going in chronological order then…

I wasn’t impressed by the Brigadier. I know, I know, but hear me out here. Ultimately, his appearance was superfluous – we all know that the Master is coming back, so the Brigadier didn’t save the Doctor from any hard decisions or realities there. When the Master does come back, it’s simply going to make this moment look a bit rubbish, and the Brigadier ineffectual. And, also… where does that moment actually work, in terms of the plot? How does it work, in terms of the logic and the rules? Why didn’t the Brigadier fly away and explode with the other Cybermen? Perhaps more importantly, where is he now? The thing is, other than being kinda sad and touching for a few short moments, the whole thing really does just fall apart if you think about it, and doesn’t quite work as what it was meant to – a salute to the Brigadier. The inclusion of Kate really is enough.

Clara’s “Two weeks later” moment, Danny’s potential resurrection, wasn’t handled all that well I thought. Part of it was time restraints, I think, and it seemed like there might have been another draft which worked better. A lot of exposition was delivered by Clara, and very quickly, and then the glowy portal talking and the boy emerging happened faster still. Certain aspects of that were a bit contrived as well – it was pointed out on another site that it would have been better if the explanation was not that the bracelet was running out of power, rather that it could only take one person at a time in one direction at a time. Maybe then if that scene was longer, perhaps there’d be a little more time to process things, and for them to be better developed, meaning one would get the full impact from it, if that makes sense. (Mind you, I did like the Doomsday parallels, that was a nice touch.)

As well as that, not entirely convinced the boy had enough set up for his moment to work. He was, after all, entirely mute, and didn’t have a screen time totalling more than a few minutes across both episodes. There’s also the fact that, you know, he’s a very young child, probably doesn’t speak English, his parents are almost certainly dead, he comes from a war torn country, and he himself has been dead for a least a good couple of years – what exactly does Danny expect Clara to do here? Now, admittedly, I can’t quite think of a way to make it work better, which undercuts what I’m saying a little. The scene struck me as off, regardless.

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Final complaint, and perhaps an obvious one.

I didn’t like Santa Claus.

I know, I know. It was just… I think it was a mistake, to place that post credits scene there like that. It was tonally inconsistent to say the least, and completely at odds with the ending we’d just had for Clara. The problem isn’t Santa Claus himself – the Christmas special looks fantastic! – but rather the placement of his appearance was very, very jarring. In The Writer’s Tale, there’s a discussion between RTD and Ben Cook wherein they talk about the merits of having Cybermen turn up at the end of Journey’s End, after Donna’s goodbye moment. The decision in the end was to leave them out, because they’d distract from the emotion of the moment; a trailer at the end would do the same job of looking forward to the future.

It seems odd to me that a similar choice wasn’t made here, because the same arguments apply pretty much exactly. Even to the point that they played a trailer as well! Very odd. Not the end of the world, admittedly, but it did detract from the quality of the rest of the episode.

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Okay then so.

Death in Heaven.

In a nutshell?

Some excellent ideas. Some excellent execution of those ideas. But also, similarly, some flawed execution of those ideas, which ultimately brought it down a bit.

A mark out of ten is… difficult, I think. Really, it’s an 8.5 out of 10, but I dislike giving half marks. So I will, I think, round down to 8/10, because I don’t think it’s quite good enough for a 9.

(On another note, apologies for the lateness of this review. Real life got in the way, I’m sure you know how it is. Across this week, I am hoping to write pieces about the series as a whole, and the character arcs of the Doctor and Clara – I’d expect those to be up at some point around the weekend.)

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Doctor Who Review: Dark Water

doctor who review dark water steven moffat rachel talalay samuel anderson michelle gomez jenna coleman peter capaldi cybermen

Don’t cremate me.

I haven’t seen the episode yet actually.

I’m writing this at about ten to one on Saturday, so there’s still… uh… 7 and a quarter hours until the episode begins, give or take ten minutes. So, obviously, I’ve not seen any of the episode, bar the odd clip and trailer. I have nothing to go on, but for a few last minute theories and expectations…

Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. Whilst Clara will possibly have some sort of villainous role in proceedings, I’m fairly certain that it won’t be as obvious as portrayed in the trailer – because, you know, it’s the trailer, you wouldn’t put your surprise twist in the trailer. But Steven Moffat would definitely put in a bit of misdirection, and something that might be part of a bigger plot twist. So we’ll see really. I do hope that Clara’s character development across the series isn’t undone, because that’s been my favourite aspect of series 8.

The other big thing to comment on is Missy, I think. I’ve not really said anything about her so far, because there’s been little to say – we don’t actually know much in concrete, after all, and I’m generally unwilling to speculate much. (Mind you, all those corpses in the trailer, and that “Who would go to so much trouble to keep the dead?” line – I’d bet that they’re dead Clara echoes. Or at least some of them anyway.) I did always sort of assume she was going to be a new character, but I have recently been thinking about the possibility that she’s the Master, and… well, I’m coming around to the idea, certainly.

But enough of that. Time to talk about the episode proper! (I wonder what I think of it.)

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Damn.

That was a mighty impressive piece of television right there. If nothing else, I admire Moffat’s gall. And his panache, because he pulled this off… masterfully. 

I was just bowled over by this, to be honest. Really struggled to form any sort of coherent comments for quite a while afterwards – I don’t think I’ve been this impressed by an episode since The Day of the Doctor, and even then I was impressed for different reasons. This was simply astounding.

But I’ve jumped the headline a bit there. Start at the beginning, obviously.

Right from the off, this episode was amazing. Properly, honestly, really dramatic – these are the scenes that would mark Doctor Who out as one of the best dramas on television, not just ‘some science fiction show’. Danny’s death whilst talking to Clara – “I love you. Those three words from me are yours now, forever” – was remarkably poignant. That’s going to stay with people, I think, and it’s going to sit with them for a very long time. In years to come, when we’ve reached the 17th Doctor, the people running the show will point to this moment as what inspired them to be writers. It is honestly that good.

And, of course, just like Moffat of old, once the bar was raised high – it was raised higher. The confrontation between the Doctor and Clara was tense. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a companion fight with the Doctor like that, but this was absolutely note perfect; every beat of that confrontation, and the eventual explanation for it, worked perfectly. (I’m going to run out of synonyms at this rate, honestly.)

The reason it all worked so well, I think, was because of the confidence of the piece. This was a dark subject matter, there’s no two ways about it. Death is a fixture of Doctor Who, that’s true, but it’s rare for the show to deal with it head on like this, and to acknowledge the effects of it. To show Clara grieving, and the way she dealt with it, or Danny meeting the boy he killed, or the dead feeling their own cremation, were all quite mature themes and ideas – but they weren’t avoided, they weren’t hidden with euphemisms, they weren’t obfuscated with metaphors. They were dealt with head on, and done with real panache. That was one of the most impressive things about the episode; not just the strength of the writing, but the confidence of the writing as well.

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As per the usual, all the cast were amazing. (I’m probably going to have to invest in a thesaurus actually, that would probably be a useful purchase.)

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were fantastic throughout; the confrontation scene between them, as I’ve already mentioned, was just electric. The Doctor, taking control, intimidating Clara and trying to talk her down. Clara, not listening, not moving, not losing any ground. One of the best scenes of the series, frankly, because of just how brilliant these two are. Please, please, let them both be around for series 9!

And speaking of series 9, I also want Samuel Anderson to stick around. Join the crew full time, even. He’s not just a replacement Rory, or a replacement Mickey; Danny Pink is a properly established character now, because of just how fantastic Samuel Anderson is. His performance is wonderfully nuanced. The final “I love you” to Clara was excellent, because he was deliberately pushing her away. He didn’t want to say anything else, because he didn’t want her to follow him. Fantastic.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the final revelation (after all, I’ve skipped so many brilliant things – the Cybermen, Chris Addison, Rachel Talalay’s direction) because it really was masterful. Oh, as if you didn’t see it coming.

The actual moment where Michelle Gomez (who is fantastic) said it, where they finally confirmed that, yes, Missy is the Master (not the Mistress, no one will call her that, she’s the Master) was one of the most impressive moments of the episode. I’ve said that about a lot of things. It’s true of them all! But really, I got chills there. I didn’t quite think they’d do it – but no, they did. Amazing.

Obviously, it’s difficult to judge what this Master will be like, because she really only got 15 minutes or so screen time here. The deciding factor is next week, really.

The same goes for the episode as a whole really. Difficult to give it a proper mark, because of course it wasn’t one discrete story, it’s going to be continued. But based on the skill and the confidence on display… I am entirely willing to give this episode 10/10.

Just… damn. It was that good.

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The Pseudo-Science of Doctor Who

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So, In the Forest of the Night and Kill the Moon recently have both got me thinking about science and realism in Doctor Who, and to what extent something actually has to be ‘correct’ within any given episode of the show.

I mean, Doctor Who is only science fiction in the broadest of terms really – how concerned it is with the science part of science fiction is rather malleable across the fifty years of the show. I think normally people would point to the beginning of the show, or Christopher Bidmead’s episodes as evidence of a time when Doctor Who was more concerned with actual, ‘hard science’, but equally you’ve got the Daleks and Maths Priests saving the universe.

It’s probably fair to say, I think, that Doctor Who is a show that uses the trappings of science fiction to present different forms of drama, and examine aspects of society.

The question is though, of course, to what extent does it matter how accurate the scientific trappings are.

Things like the TARDIS and other original ideas get a pass, I think, because they’re part of the suspension of disbelief. You accept that because no one really has a way to argue against a time machine, or a warp drive – if the narrative says “Aliens can do this” viewers are more willing to go along with this because it’s all fictional, and that’s inbuilt into the show.

But conversely, something like the Moon being an egg isn’t going to have such an easy time of it, because people know a lot about eggs. The problems with an egg increasing in mass, or the Space Dragon laying another egg identical in size to the one it just hatched from, are relatively self-evident to a pretty large amount of the audience.

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It kinda comes down to a quote from… I think it’s Community? Anyway, it’s “That sounds wrong, but I don’t know enough about it to dispute it.” In scenarios where you can easily debunk something, or you know that the writer could have solved the issue with a quick google search, it’s far more likely to be a problem. But when there’s nothing more than a sense of “Hmm-I-don’t-know-about-this”, which is where In the Forest of the Night fell for me, I think one is more likely to go along with it, albeit with some reservations.

Equally though, how much does that matter?

For me personally at least, it depends how much I’m enjoying the actual story. I’m far more likely to give errors a pass if the plot itself is engaging – if I’m bored or disconnected from the story, I’m more likely to notice mistakes, and that’s only going to take me out of it more. (Incidentally, I think much the same of plot holes.)

And sometimes there’s moments where the incorrect science is actually better for the story than something which would be more correct – right now I’m thinking of Robot of Sherwood in particular. In a Robin Hood story, it makes sense for the resolution to relate to the firing of an arrow; the fact it doesn’t actually make scientific sense is mostly not the point, because it makes story sense.

Ultimately, of course, it is down to one’s own particular tastes. I think with simple things that can be easily fixed, then yes, the writer probably should amend it.

But to go into Doctor Who expecting rigorous scientific accuracy is probably missing the point a little bit.

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Doctor Who Review: In the Forest of the Night

doctor who review in the forest of the night frank cottrell boyce samuel anderson peter capaldi jenna coleman harley bird sheree folkson

Tyger Tyger burning bright, in the forests of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

I read somewhere once that Steven Moffat, moreso than anyone else who’d been in charge of Doctor Who, is to be credited with the introduction of celebrity writers. And you know, it does make sense really – Richard Curtis, Neil Gaiman, and to a lesser extent Simon Nye, are all pretty big names, which are just as likely to generate column inches as a celebrity guest star.

And now of course we have Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

Whilst I don’t have any massive attachment to them, Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s books are one’s which I’ve read and enjoyed quite a lot – my own favourite is Cosmic, which shares a few themes of parenthood with this episode.

Obviously then, with the announcement of Frank Cottrell-Boyce, I was quite looking forward to this episode. When the synopsis came out though, I paused a little bit. Trees? Didn’t really know what to make of it.

And, to be honest, I still don’t?

I mean I always say that thing, don’t I, about how it’s wonderful when Doctor Who is doing original things, because it’s a showcase for the series, and just how innovative it can be. And I stand by that! I honestly do mean it, and I would defend that view as best I could if ever someone tried to dispute it.

But, you know, trees. Trees. That’s… that’s pretty bizarre. I am not really sure what I meant to make of that? Like, at all.

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I think in part that’s because I am still not entirely certain of what actually happened in the episode. The trees, are, like, a planetary defense system, which are run by some strange glow-y life forms, who are sort of intrinsic to the eco-system of the planet, or something. These glow-y life forms, who I shall henceforth refer to as photoarboreals, or something, can communicate with Maebh (not Maeve?) because she has suffered a trauma and is now vulnerable and somewhat unstable.

That’s… that’s pretty bizarre. Not a slight on the the episode, not at all. But I am somewhat at a loss for words. The best critical opinion I can offer on the plot is a sort of squinty eye thing and non-committal wavey hand gesture.

There was, of course, a lot of good stuff to enjoy here. Peter Capaldi gave another great performance, and his interactions with the children were quite nice to see. I particularly liked the analogy drawn between TARDIS and Coke, which was rather a nice touch.

As a whole actually, this episode was a pretty good showcase for the regulars. Lots of nice little character moments – Danny in particular came off really well here, albeit perhaps at the expense of Clara. I’m actually quite liking Danny as a character; Samuel Anderson is a great actor, and there’s something about his portrayal that makes Danny fun to watch on screen.

I also really enjoyed the exchange between the Doctor and Clara towards the end, where she was trying to make him leave, and he offered to try and save her. There was a nice sense of foreboding there, and the dialogue between them – “I don’t want to be the last of my kind” – was just excellent.

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But, you know, there was an awful lot of stuff that wasn’t so great about this episode.

I’m in two minds about the kids, for example. Generally, they were on point – they were mostly believable, they had good dialogue, they were funny without being irritating, and the actors were all pretty good too, which is practically a miracle.

But… I can’t buy these kids as a group of 12 and 13 year olds. In part because of how young they all looked, but also because of their dialogue – it was really accurate, if you’re trying to show us ten year olds. This isn’t really what 12 and 13 year olds are like; or, at least, none of the 12 year olds that I know.

Something I was also sort of unsure of was Maebh, and her psychological issues. I’ve seen it be pointed out that this is meant as a parallel with William Blake – the person who wrote The Tyger – but… well, this isn’t something I would have picked up on, because I don’t know a lot about Blake, and I’d wager the same is true for a lot of the audience. As it was, I felt a little bit uncomfortable with the way the voices she heard and the fact she needed medication was presented. Frankly, I’m with Ruby on this one – they should have just given her the medication.

(Also, how ridiculous was the bit with the sister at the end? I know they were going for a grace note, and a bit of a happy ending, but somewhere along the lines that was lost, I think. Was… did the sister come home, and think “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I hide in the bush, and jump out yelling ’gotcha!’ after I’ve been missing for two years?” or was it meant to imply that the sister was formed from the bushes? I’m also sort of struggling with the idea of introducing that sort of tragic event for the sole purpose of setting up a happy ending, but I can’t think about it logically with the way it was presented at the end.)

So, so. In the Forest of the Night. Really not sure what to say about this one? Because ultimately, there was nothing extremely awful or offensive about it, but equally, there was nothing extremely amazing of compelling about it.

I think really, in the end, it was just a load of tree-related nonsense. But it was fun tree related nonsense, and it was enjoyable enough to watch, and I think that’s all that matters really.

6/10, bordering on a 7, I think.

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Doctor Who Review: Flatline

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You were an exceptional Doctor. But goodness had nothing to do with it.

Doctor Who is at its best when it does things that other shows can’t do, or simply haven’t been done before.

That is, I think it’s fair to say, one of the facts of the program. Innovation and originality are where Doctor Who sings; that’s the time when you can say “yes, this is one of the best things on television, and there’s nothing else I’d rather watch”.

And I tell you what, the Boneless absolutely typify this. They just aren’t like anything we’ve seen before. At first there’s this wonderfully strange, sickening sort of body horror – the nervous system, and the skin? That’s some really scary stuff. Then it evolves slightly, and there’s that Banksy style graffiti, shifting and moving and coming to life, claiming its victims by pulling them into the painting. And then those glitchy jittery zombie creatures, almost like something out of a videogame, with their slow lumbering movements, and a real evocation of the uncanny valley.

They were really very chilling, and really very Doctor Who.

doctor who review flatline douglas mackinnon the boneless perspective shift flattened worker jenna coleman joivan wade jamie mathieson

Visually, this episode was pretty stunning. I’m not talking in terms of the location or anything like that – though that train station was pretty spooky – but rather the direction, and all the little visual tricks that were used to really sell the idea of 2D monsters. Things like the shifting perspective, where the camera angles move and what we thought was 3D, like the door handle, is in fact completely flat. When they did that to one of the workers, it was just horrific, frankly.

Lots of great funny moments in here too – the Adams Family TARDIS, for example, that was pretty great. Going to be honest, I snickered a bit at Danny’s “…sounds active” line towards Clara, though it probably wasn’t intended the way I read it.

Rigsy (conscious echo of “Banksy”, perhaps?) and Fenton were both rather excellently characterised. Loved those two, and the conflict between them; the young, mostly harmless graffiti artist, and the old, bitter, probably a UKIP voter and all round nasty piece of work. There are few characters, I think, that I’ve genuinely hated quite so much as that fellow. I kept expecting him to be revealed to be some sort of alien (incidentally, the actor had a part in Guardians of the Galaxy recently, albeit under heavy prosthetics) but, no, he was just a horrible person.

The best part though, and what really made the episode stand out to me, was the further development of the relationship between the Doctor and Clara, and the question of whether or not the Doctor – and now Clara – really are ‘good people’.

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This is some fantastically weighty stuff; the Doctor’s own morality and manipulative nature is being reflected in Clara, and she is changing. It all adds up to a fantastic bit of character development, and it is, again, largely pretty new ground for the show – something similar might have happened in the NAs with Ace, perhaps, but I’m not certain of that.

It’s written with such subtlety and finesse throughout; one of the best moments for the Doctor, I would say, is his line “Absolutely” when Clara asks if he’s sure that the 2DIS will help them. It’s very clear though that he isn’t – which makes that line all the more crucial. For Clara, I’m thinking of the “on balance” exchange towards the end of the episode – she was so damn pleased with herself at being the Doctor, she didn’t even give a second thought to the people who had died. She started thinking on balance – which, as the Doctor says, is something he does so other people don’t have to. But because they’ve been around each other so long, she’s started doing it too.

Honestly, this was an absolutely fantastic episode. It was so deep, and clever, and nuanced. Definitely another strong 9/10 – Jamie Mathieson has to come back next year. And every year after that!

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Doctor Who Review: Mummy on the Orient Express

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Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball! Oh, don’t stop me now, yeah, I don’t want to stop at all…

One of my favourite TV shows ever is House. I’ve never really written about it on the blog, which is something I’ll have to correct one day, but I absolutely love the show. It’s a fantastic Holmes adaptation, and there’s some wonderful, wonderful drama to it.

My favourite thing about it is, perhaps obviously, Hugh Laurie as House. I think he’s brilliant. Every second he’s on the screen is properly compelling; House is, in short, a fantastic creation. The best part about the character, or the bit that stands out to me at least, is the fact that that he’s very single minded in his attempts to help the patients – House doesn’t give a damn if he upsets people or offends them or even hurts them, because he knows without a doubt that it will, in the end, help.

So I was, it must be said, quite pleased to see Jamie Mathieson, who wrote the episode, naming House as an influence.

The-Doctor-as-House thread running through the episode is one of my favourite parts of the episode. This is, I think, probably the best way to pitch a more callous, brusque Doctor without him becoming a different character altogether; it highlights the fact he’s an alien, but it still keeps to the basic idea of the Doctor helping people.

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There’s a wonderful, morally ambiguous sort of thing going on with regards to the responsibilities the Doctor takes on when he’s travelling. It’s typified when, at the end, he says “Sometimes the only choices we have are bad ones”. I loved it, and I loved the way it was a bit more reflective than usual. It’s something I’d love to see explored a little more, and given some more time; it seems quite well suited to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Older, wearier, and very keenly aware of the burden upon him. This is a really fantastic interpretation of the Doctor at this stage in his life, and it’s the sort of thing that’s making me really love Twelve.

But, as with House, not everyone is willing to put up with the Doctor. Following on from last week, we’ve got Clara back again, and it’s their last hurrah.

I really quite liked this plot thread – surprising me a little, actually, because I wasn’t that impressed last week. But there was a real sense of melancholy, actually, in the interactions between the Doctor and Clara. The arc that Clara went through, from hating the Doctor last week, to an apathy at the start of this episode, to finally realising just what she loved about travelling and accepting that the Doctor still did good in his approach to things was brilliantly pitched and absolutely note perfect. Beat by beat, moment by moment, everything was completely on the nose.

It was another brilliant showcase for Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. They’re so amazing together, it’s really compelling to watch, especially in episodes as well written as this. My favourite moments for the pair, actually, were the quietly awkward little exchanges towards the beginning; they’d both be trying to be nice, but then one of them would say something, and the facades would drop, and the sadness would be obvious. Moments like that were really touching, actually.

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Another thing worth commenting on is the background characters; Perkins, Moorhouse, Quell and Maisie. They were all remarkably well drawn; in a fairly short space of time, they all felt pretty real. What I particularly liked actually was how they each got their own stand out moments, as it were; I quite liked Maisie’s bit about hating her grandmother, and wanting her to die, except not really wanting it to happen. It was a fairly small detail, but it really did make her stand out far more than if she had just been the character who’s grandmother died.

Frank Skinner was another stand out, and he’s definitely going to go down another should’ve been companion. One of the more memorable characters here. Brilliant writing brought to life by brilliant acting. Can’t ask for more than that really. (In the DWM where I read the House quotes, incidentally, Jamie Mathieson said that he based Perkins on a friend. I’d be willing to bet the real life Perkins was chuffed!)

Finally, I loved the Mummy. That’s a sort of important thing I haven’t mentioned yet, isn’t it? The Mummy is in the title, after all. It was quite a scary thing, actually, and it tapped into the fear of other people not seeing what you’re seeing. When that was then flipped on it’s head later on, to become the scientific observation scenes, it was remarkably clever and added another dimension to the whole thing. Brilliant stuff.

So, all in all, that’s a pretty bloody fantastic episode. Definitely one of the best ones of the series – strong 9/10 for me, I think. Really looking forward to tonight’s! (Which is… starting right now.)

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