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The Ninth Year: The Haunting of Swill House

Tag: doctor who season eight review

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.

Doctor Who: Tosh and Rambunctious Dithering In South

My dad grew up with Doctor Who in much the same way I have. He kept up with a few episodes of the new series, and we were discussing the newest season in Skype last week. I had my pouty face on because I hadn’t enjoyed the last couple of episodes-too serious, too clunky, not quite Doctor Who enough. Me and my father came to the conclusion that the problem with those episodes (and some episodes of the previous series) was that the creators had forgotten their roots- Doctor Who was created, after all, as a children’s television show that taught unsuspecting kids about history. It was always a little bit naff and a little bit silly- which is not to say it couldn’t be scary, funny, and emotionally resonant at the same time, but, ultimately, this is Saturday night family TV and the show is best when it remembers that. 

I felt like this point had been vindicated with last night’s episode Robot of Sherwood (it’s always fun to see a historical episode that isn’t set in Victorian London, though it was clear that the cast and crew had just sidled over to the few remaining sets from the BBC’s ill-advised Robin Hood redo a few years ago while no-one was looking). It was terrible on surface level, but actually pretty carefully constructed on closer inspection. It followed the story of the Doctor and Clara foiling a plan by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of Robin Hood- despite the fact the Doctor is convinced that the entire legend of Robin Hood is just a legend.

It seems like someone had just bothered watching The Thick of It for the first time, after having the DVDs gathering dust in the writer’s room for six months, and realised that this Peter Capaldi guy is pretty funny when you put him in conflict with someone else, whether he’s swordfighting with a spoon or engaging in a three-way archery contest. The Doctor really developed for me in this episode, becoming, like a pokemon in cool shoes, the next stage of his evolution- the funny Doctor. The script split him and Clara up for much of the running time, leaving him bickering with Robin Hood and leading peasants in rebellion against evil robot knights. I mean, just read that sentence back- that’s what I come to Doctor Who for, that zenith of nonsense and fun. 

Splitting Clara off from the Doc proved a good plan too, as her level and type of energy was matched by the numerous periphery characters in almost every scene instead of clashing with that sour energy that Capaldi puts out. Ben Elton, as the sleazy Sheriff, was brilliant and a little bit sexy (I’ve still got a hangover crush from Primeval), and the merry men were appropriately merry and manly. The episode broadly tied in to the plot established in the first episode about robots trying to rebuild themselves and return to the promised land (a plot I assume will culminate with the cybermen, who we know will appear in the finale with Missy), but was basically just an audaciously plotted, utterly ridiculous slice of family TV. I was willing to forgive some of the silly plot wobbles (like the golden arrow being shot into the spaceship) because Robot of Sherwood never set itself up as a fiendish masterpiece. It came in with a party hat on squint and a bottle of cheap wine in it’s hand looking to have fun.

I’ve long been a supporter of the art of TV that’s simply fun, and here was an episode that provided me with a score of reasons why. I’m not claiming this was any great shakes at theme, or emotional depth, or fascinating ideas- I’m saying this was an episode of TV that succeeded in entertaining me for fifty minutes, the very reason I fell in love with the show in the first place. Welcome back, Doctor Who. 

That theme song is still the root cause for all evil in the world, though. I’ll have you yet, Moffat.