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Doctor Who: Trying Adventure Rounds Down Intermittent Season

Well, another season done with.

Before we get into the discussion of the season as a whole, I suppose we should talk about this week’s episode, The Doctor Falls. The Doctor ends up chased out of a city overrun with cybermen with Nardole, CyBillman, and the two Masters in tow, and winds up fighting to keep a small farming village safe from the oncoming cyber-army. It was, in many ways, an episode of goodbyes – a goodbye not just to characters, but to Moffat’s tenure over the show as a whole (yes, his kiss-off will be the Christmas special in December, but this is the last season of the show he’ll run).

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Doctor Who: Testy Allegorical Radicals Destroy Interplanetary Security

I think alien invasion episodes are the bread-and-butter of the Doctor Who universe (outside of a thousand stories set in Victorian London, that is). From subversive takes like the Empty Child to straight invasion episode like, um, The Christmas Invasion, it seems as if Earth is never free from the intergalactic scourges who want to take over the planet. Maybe the real estate is cheap or something.

Sonic Sunglasses: Here to stay, it seems.

Either way, I’ve always enjoyed alien invasion episodes because there’s something inherently cool about seeing a world I know completely changed by whatever alien race is after us this week. They usually fall into a pretty predictable formula, but one that never grows old- U.N.I.T figures out aliens are invading, they ring up the Doctor, and they launch a counter-strike against Earth’s new visitors. The use of the ever-welcome U.N.I.T saves them the bother of expanding on one-episode tertiary characters and lets the focus fall entirely on the plot, and, in the Capaldi years, the Doctor gets to ponce around in an plane and play at be being president of Earth. As a die-hard sci-fi fan at heart, it’s always fun when the show flexes it’s science fiction muscles, and this week’s episode proved that the show still has plenty of straight-up alien invasion romps left in it yet.

After a seriously wobbly two-parter, this season seems to have settled down a bit with The Zygon Invasion. It’s not a mind-buggeringly amazing outing or anything, but it just about holds it’s nerve, as a peace treaty with the Zygons falls to pieces and U.N.I.T braces itself to save the world once again. Aside from the fact the entire premise for the episode is based on a plot hole- why would they try to integrate the Zygons into the human race, after they’d tried to invade the planet twice already?- it’s difficult to fault this week’s tight, globe-trotting adventure, one that speaks to writer Peter Harness’ comfort within old-style Doctor Who stories.

Jenna Coleman gets her first really notable performance of the season-seriously, this is the most relevant she’s been to the plot in about a year-and reminds me why I did love her so much all those distant seasons ago. And Capaldi looks like he’s having a ball prancing around the world on U.N.I.T’s arm, even though someone in the screenwriting team obviously REALLY LIKES the guitar gag and just doesn’t want to let it die. And I’ll never turn down a chance to hang out with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and company- even Osgood, who I’ve never really understood the fuss around, was interesting this episode, and provided another candidate for the Hybrid mentioned a few episodes back (it’s going to be Clara, isn’t it? It’s ALWAYS Clara).

ALWAYS

The Zygons, still looking like the most menacing play-doh models in history, are always a welcome villain because of their shape-shifting abilities (which I’d successfully forgotten about, because my brain is full of more important things like how to imitate Evan Peters Vincent Price voice in this season of American Horror Story and when I next need to go buy cat food). The show managed to eke some legitimate pathos out of the Zygons torturing people with the images of their own family (even if no-one in UNIT is allowed to shoot a fun, apparently), and it’s always fun to have retro villains lumbering around the modern Who universe. The Zygons were an obvious allegory for immigration, which sort of half-worked and half-didn’t.

Osgood(s)

On the one hand, there was a legitimate point to be made about the way we other people who we perceive as different and our quickness to write every member of a certain cultural group off based on the actions of a few. On the other hand, if your allegory for immigrants is violent alien invaders attempting to take over the world and destroy those who’ve hosted them, you might need to go back to the drawing board, because you’ve got a bit of the True Bloods about you. It’s nice to see Doctor Who attempt to take on real-world problems, especially after last season’s  disastrous IF YOU TAKE MEDICATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS YOU’RE KILLING THE EARTH, but it definitely could have done with a little more work.

I’d like to introduce you all to my wife

But that aside, this was a good episode. I don’t want to spend too long picking it apart at the seams because it all rests on how next week’s The Zygon Inversion (if that ISN’T a reference to the solution that can turn Zygons inside out, then I officially quit the show) sticks or doesn’t stick the landing. Either way, it’s nice to have Doctor Who feeling a bit more settled- packed with sharp humour, exciting action, and bastard alien overlords, The Zygon Invasion proved that we don’t need fiendishly complex paradoxes to come up with a good story, we just need a hearty embrace of all things old-school.

But what’s this: no teaser for next week? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.

Doctor Who: Terrific Adventure Raises Discussion of Inelegant Season

After last week’s fiasco of an episode (divisive though it was, I have yet to meet someone in real life who actually liked Kill the Moon), I was seriously putting off watching this week’s outing, Mummy on the Orient Express. For one, they’d once again added the suffix “In SPACE” to give an otherwise fine story a science-fiction twist (this week, the famous train was thundering through the cosmos despite the fact that everyone on the train was still dressed and acted like they were fro the 1920s). And for another, a big deal had been made of the villain, and that sends warning signals sparkling up and down my cynicism spine, as all the really good monsters have come with no fanfare whatsoever. Eventually, with much wincing and eye-rolling, I sat down to this week’s outing.

And I was pretty pleased with the results. For one thing, that Mummy-

mummy-on-the-orient-express

-Was genuinely scary. A great to-do was made (by me, on Twitter) about Doctor Who shifting to a half eight slot because this monster was just SO SCARY, and I’ve got to admit that it really was. A great, shambling, rotting creature that only appeared to those who it was about to kill, allowing them sixty-six seconds after it first materialised till their inevitable death. The idea was cool, as with many Who monsters- but for once it was carried off with style, even managing to stick the landing of actually finding out what the creature was and how to stop it, which has been a continual faltering point for writers this series. I’d put this up there amongst the better monsters of the show so far, and not just because they managed to work in an Empty Child joke (“Are you MY mummy?”) for all the fangirls like me who never got over 2005. If you’re going to do scary, do fucking scary; it seems my angry letters have finally reached the Doctor Who writer’s room.

So, the story was solid and surprisingly focused, proving my point about Clara and THIS Doctor working better when seperated once again. I like both this Doctor and Clara, but on screen together they come across as a stroppy teenager and a patronising parent in any combination almost permanently. Frank Skinner guest-starred, four words that can strike fear into the hearts of any British TV fan, and actually proved himself a surprisingly excellent addition. His mischievous cleverness gelled perfectly with the Doctor’s dour investigation, and Skinner acquitted himself admirably, earning a place amongst the best guest stars of the last few seasons. A grand deal was made of an appearance by singer Foxes, which amounted to a twenty-second background musical noodle. Lovely voice, though.

So ye: this was a great episode. But? The jury is still out on this season. And that’s a problem. We’ve had some blindingly good outings- Listen-some above-average exploits- The Janitor, Time Heist, this- and we’ve had some shockingly atrocious bits of television- Kill the Moon, mostly, but I think Deep Breath still has a lot to answer for regarding the all-over-the-place nature of this series. Part of that has come from the fact that Capaldi and Coleman have a very different chemistry than she did with Matt Smith’s Doctor, in a way that apparently wasn’t really anticipated by the writers or directors. They seem keen to wrap up her relationship with the old Doctor, when the new one needs time to establish himself free of the shackles of his predecessor. Broadly, this season has been a disappointment, as they ignored the opportunity to reboot what was a slightly ailing series at this point (would you rewatch any of Matt Smith’s final series out of choice?) and stuck to their increasingly scattershot guns. Watching this series has increasingly confirmed my suspicion that we need a new showrunner, and we need them soon. There’s no doubt Moffat is a genius of television, but he needs something new to breathe life into. Doctor Who fans have seen all of his occasionally impressive shenanigans, and it feels like time for someone else to have a shot at the wheel. A new day, a new Doctor, and preferably a new behind-the-scenes maven to apply electrodes to the show’s genitals. They’ll have you yet, Moffat.