You know, I didn’t think a lot about last week’s season premiere, The Pilot, in the time between that episode and this one. I mean, that probably is a good sign – with episodes I hate, I find myself washing dishes three days later and quietly fuming over some tiny plot-hole that I’ve just realized exists. But I ended up half-forgetting that the show had even come back, with the episode’s inconsequential plot and relative alrightness being neatly filed away in my head, not to be thought of again. Coming into Smile, the second episode of the season, I couldn’t help but hope for something a little more memorable, even if it was more flawed; something I could actually get my teeth into and enjoy reviewing.
Bitch, please, did you really think I was going to let the announcement of a new Doctor Who companion pass by without comment? I would have had this blog post up last night, but I was too busy drinking rum and being an indefensible bastard- and occasionally breaking to scroll through the Twitter reaction to this new casting. Opinion seems divided, so the best way to figure out precisely what I make of the new Tardis inhabitant is to take this teaser beat by beat. With me?
0:01: Daleks. Great. Can we get an original monster along with the new companion? No? Right, sorry, moving on.
0:04: RUNNING! Looks like she’s dressed sensibly for it- a mark in her favour. Ever since Black Canary was fighting crime in a leather corset and heels (HEELS), I’ve had a weird thing about outfits being fit for purpose.
0:10: In fact, can I just have her whole outfit? I assumed the wardrobe department for the Moffat era only had bottoms that ended about six inches above the knee, but apparently that’s not the case any more.
0:21: I’ve seen a lot of people throwing shade about Pearl Mackie’s eyebrows in this clip. I mean, they’re…there, on her face, I guess?
0:30: Now we’re actually getting some dialogue from her, I like her. I’m a big fan of the borderline-annoying, motormouth assistants (I miss you Catherine Tate), and she seems….(adjusts tie, sits up straight, makes sure everyone is listening)….to fit the BILL.
0:43: It’s pretty cool to see Peter Capaldi not trapped in the Saint Clara plotline any more, even if he is just breathing heavily and talking quickly here. He’s still an awesome Doctor, and it’s going to be fun to see him not bogged down by Clara’s physically painful arc in the next season.
0:55: I’ve seen a few people getting furious about the fact that the new companion keeps talking even as the Daleks bear down on the two of them, and to them, I say: fuck off. This is a two-minute teaser, and it’s aim is to introduce Pearl Mackie as Bill. Anyway, isn’t it kind of cool to see someone who laughs (or just talks super-fast) in the face of danger?
1:04: I liked that line. I will say that the dialogue for this segment isn’t great, but that Capaldi and Pearl Mackie are both pretty fun and they have an easy, chill chemistry which I could get behind. As opposed to having her be THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE EVER.
1:10: “I’ve always been too busy running away.” I mean, anyone who’s watched even, like, three of the six-hundred and forty-eight Dalek episodes knows that’s mostly a lie.
1:31: This is goofy as hell, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. But considering the whole of last season was far, far, far too serious for it’s own good, maybe this is an improvement.
1:41: WHOOOOOO HE MADE A BACK TO THE FUTURE REFERENCE WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE
1:49: Could only afford the one Dalek for this, could they? Got a lot of saving to do for the actual season?
1:59: Overall? I like her. Sure, she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as an overly talkative, 25% irritating sidekick myself, I’m feeling her.
So, yeah, this review is up a couple of days late. Not because I was dreading the episode or anything (if the current run of one part of every two-hander being great is to be considered a pattern, I actually had something to look forward to), but because I kept finding better things to do like watching The Clone Wars (DID YOU SEE THE NEW STAR WARS TRAILER? HNNNNG) and drinking beer and browsing through another host of adulatory new reviews. But I finally dragged myself on to iPlayer today, and got around to watching The Woman Who Lived, the second part of the story started in last week’s The Girl Who Died.
Now, by no means am I taking back anything I said in last week’s review, even though apparently the entire critical world disagreed with me (as well as a bunch of people on Twitter). And this week’s episode certainly wasn’t brilliant. But, in comparison, I didn’t mind The Woman Who Lived half as much as it’s predecessor.
The Doctor- sans Clara for all but the last two minutes of the episode- bumps into Ashildr as they’re both tracking an alien artifact. The once-idealistic Ahildr has rechristened herself as the cold, distant Lady Me, and she relates the story of her 800-year life to the Doctor as they blunder through a bunch of silly medieval subplots.
I say this a lot, it seems, but the tone was all over the place in this episode. The difference between this week’s episode and last week’s episode, however, was that some of the scenes actually worked. Some of the emotional notes they hit-such as Ashildr explaining the source of her new name- were strong, and yes, the humour all came off like a sub-par Blackadder episode (You know that joke about the woman highwayman doing a really convincing male voice in third season of Blackadder? I don’t know if this episode was homaging that or straight-up ripping it off, but it was there alright), but the fact that it was loose and didn’t take itself too seriously eked a few laughs out of me.
I think Maisie Williams makes a lot more sense in this incarnation, too- I was blown away by her performance or anything, but she had the difficult task of playing a character who was actually meant to be on the Doctor’s level and she pulled it off. The naif of last week is long gone, and I hope they keep it that way. There was also a line in there about her being sick of people assuming she just wanted a husband, which is ironic as Steven Moffat have said that all women want exactly that. I’ll take this as an apology (speaking of Steven Moffat and his questionable ideas about women, I’m writing a four-part mini blog series about feminism in Moffat’s era of Doctor Who. Check it out!).
(and I don’t know where to put this, but I was under the impression that Ashildr, when the Doctor turned her immortal was a child- hence The Girl Who Lived, etc. In this episode she’s shown to have had children and be receptive to the romantic interests of grown men. Now, the episode went to great lengths to show how intellectually evolved Ashildr was and obviously she has actually been around for hundreds of years, so it wasn’t skeevy in that sense, but rather seeing blokes demanding kisses from somebody we were only last week meant to see as an innocent child kind of ooked me out a bit. There’s a reason Edward from Twilight wasn’t twelve, you know?)
And, in another round of Doctor Who Recaps Bingo, the Doctor was without Clara for this episode and man, was he good. Capaldi worked well having a new kind of energy to bounce off of, and sure, I could have done without yet another cringey scene of him playing the guitar, but it was overall a good episode for the Doctor. I think not having to cram in pointless Clara scenes just to give Jenna Coleman something to do really helped them flesh out their world a bit, too, and I liked that.
But this episode was ridiculous. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the big villains:
It’s fucking ridiculous, and don’t you dare try to tell me otherwise. And their plan? To open a gate to the underworld and unleash it’s minions on Earth. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Age of Mythology recently (NO SUCH THING) but that sounds strangely close to the plot of a shitty video game. Also, the episode seemed to revel in underlining the major beats for each scene- seriously, take a shot for every time Ashildr jauntily declares “This is MY robbery!” in the first scene, or every time she tells the Doctor “You made me!” or every time he explains why she can’t be her companion, or…yeah, you get it. Even the emotional scenes in this episode were big and goofy, but I’m much more willing to give the show a bit of leeway if it’s tongue is clearly in it’s cheek. I want to stress that this episode wasn’t a classic or anything, but it was almost just a relief to see the show steady itself after last week’s sad swanny whistle.
If I can say one good thing about this episode, it’s that it’s warmed me to the idea of Maisie Williams returning, which she almost definitely will in the near future (calling it: Minister of War mentioned in Under the Lake). I didn’t think she was groundbreakingly amazing in this episode, and she’s yet another recurring female character who the Doctor has connected with as a child before leaving her to wait for him the rest of her life (Amy Pond, Clara Oswald, Reinette de Pompadour, River Song, to an extent), but I like the idea of a sort of morally ambiguous character who understands the Doctor’s plight better than most people he spends time with.
But are you explaining away Osgood’s return next week with “TWINS”? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.
Firstly, in case you missed it, yesterday I shared my newly-started Patreon for this blog-check it out here. But now, on with the episode.
I mean, where to start with this one? I knew when I saw the teaser for this episode that I was probably going to hate it, but I was hoping that I’d have my low expectations subverted by something that was at least….entertaining? Witty? Emotional? And it’s not that The Girl Who Died didn’t try to give me all those things. It just failed dismally on every count.
Outside of the sonic sunglasses being broken (OH YES OH YES OH YES), I can’t bring to mind one bit of this episode that worked for me. Let’s take this beat by beat, folks, because that’s the only way I’ll be able to take a look at The Girl Who Died without tearing my eyes out.
Let’s get the obvious fuck-ups out of the way: firstly, the Mire, a fearsome alien warrior race, declare war on a small Viking village (I cannot be remotely fucked explaining why, because every single twist and turn of this episode was so fucking contrived that I could see the veins on the writer’s necks standing out as they strained to be slightly original). I’ll repeat that: a fearsome alien warrior race, described by the Doctor as one of the most efficient and brutal in the Galaxy. And they’re defeated by….electricity? And the threat of an embarrassing video on space Youtube (I almost slit my wrists when Yakety Sax started playing, by the way)? Not to mention the fact that the immortality chip that the Doctor gave to Ashildr came from the Mire so…why aren’t they immortal? Look, I know the Mire were just a poorly-conceived plot point to push the story along, but nothing about them made the remotest bit of sense. They didn’t even have the good manners to look really cool, for fuck’s sake.
Then, there was Ashildr. Look, I have something potentially controversial to admit here: I think Maisie William is a TERRIBLE actress. I’ve never understood why Arya is such a popular character on Game of Thrones (which is where she found her fame), partly because the writers just went “here’s a trope, you fill in the rest”, and partly because Williams absolutely cannot convey any emotion no matter how hard she tries (side note: Emilia Clarke is only good when she’s speaking a made-up language). And I knew that her presence wasn’t going to enhance this episode for me, but I figured I could get past it, hell, maybe even come round on her- do you remember how fantastic the usually nail-chewingly irritating Frank Skinner was last season?
She was fucking atrocious. The script (by James Mathieson and Steven Moffat, both equally responsible for this monstrosity) didn’t give her much to work with, to be fair, but it’s blindingly clear that she had to directly spell out every bit of her own characterisation in a painfully affected speech (“The boys thought I was just a girl, and the girls thought I was a boy”- oh, so you were just Arya, then?) for the audience because she sure as hell couldn’t convey it in her performance. There was a long shot at the end, of her against the apparent desktop screensaver backdrop of changing skies to signify the years she’d lived, and the camera was focused in on her face, and it was almost hilarious what a complete lack of….well, anything there was to her.
When she died, I was fully hoping Peter Dinklage would wander on-screen with a wheelbarrow and cart her back to GoT, but instead she became the Hybrid, referenced by Davros earlier this season, which terrifyingly suggests we’re going to be seeing a lot of her. The words “hoist” and “petard” spring to mind, because-and I don’t say this often- she was unwatchably bad in this episode, and showed no signs of improving. I think she’s a potential disaster for the series, mainly because Moffat cannot let things go and if he’s come up with this idea he’s going to force it down our throats until he’s satisfied we understand the full extent of his genius.
The Doctor was terrible in this episode, as well- I was on the messageboards yesterday (That’s right, I messageboard about Doctor Who, you wanna make something of it?) and there were a lot of people lamenting the fact that one of the best actors we’ve ever had for the role is getting hurled this level of half-baked garbage. Not only is he patronizing Clara in this episode (“I have a duty of care”- funny, because the last time I heard that line it was in reference to a literal child, which Clara most certainly is not), he’s translating baby soliloquys, he’s grunting out terrible nicknames, and he’s generally fucking about like the most irritating of cocks. He’s been boiled down to a handful of pop-culture references, self-referential jabs to the ribs, and a swerving attitude that darts between a complete lack of care for whatever tertiary characters are about this episode and “I’M THE DOCTOR AND I DO DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES ABOUT HOW I SAVE PEOPLE IN THE MOST OVERBLOWN AND UNDERWRITTEN SCENES OF ALL TIME”.
I’ll say it again: Capaldi is not at fault here. He’s doing his best. But the Doctor is irritating and inconsistent and mean. This episode contained the “reveal” about why Capaldi chose the face he did (basically the show retconning the fact that the actor had already appeared in season four episode the Fires of Pompeii), and the revelation fell flat with an audible thud. So, he chose that face because he wants to save people? I mean, I…I know that. That isn’t a revelation. That’s what he does every single week. I’ve seen a lot of people touting this as a defining moment for this Doctor, but is it, really?
The less said about Clara, the better, in an episode where she exuded almost nuclear levels of smug. Again, Jenna Coleman is not at fault here, but Christ, considering that they re-write the character every episode to fill whatever plot-hole they’ve created for themselves, it’s no wonder that I can’t get a hold on who Clara’s character actually is.
Then, there was the rest of the episode to contend with: the terrible jokes, the baby giving a monologue (was I supposed to be howling with laughter through that entire speech? I assume not, but fuck me, it was HILARIOUS), the scrappy, half-baked story, the thundering lack of emotional stakes…I really didn’t think that the show would ever outdo (under-do?) last season’s Kill the Moon. But this might have done it.
Kill the Moon was at least ostentatiously terrible, in a way that meant I could sort of see what people liked about it. But this…despite reading a bunch of adulatory reviews and scrolling through the worshipful Twitter feed, I still cannot find one thing that didn’t annoy me about this episode. I’d make a case for this being the worst episode of Moffat’s run by quite a stretch, which is a shame because Under the Lake/Before the Flood were actually pretty decent in retrospect and season nine looked to be shaping up as a stronger entry than the last year.
But this is unforgivable-it would be one thing if it were this awful in a sort of low-budget, rollicking fun way, but the thing that really put the nail in coffin of The Girl Who Died (puns are my FAVOURITE) was how fucking self-satisfied it all seemed. Smug, even. And that infuriated me the most. Well, that, and the knowledge that we’ve got a whole other episode to go yet.
And you think you can dangle Tennant and Donna in front of us and expect it not to make the episode worse by comparison? I’ll have you yet, Moffat.
Some episodes of Doctor Who are bad (Deep Breath, Kill the Moon, whatever last week’s fiasco of an episode was called). Some Doctor Who episodes are fiendishly clever (Name of the Doctor, Listen). But some episodes are just good- deliciously, deliriously, simply good, and that’s what this week’s outing, which should so obviously have been called Under the Sea in order for me to hum the best Disney song ever through it’s entire run, staked it’s claim in.
I’m not getting my hopes up too high just yet, because the last couple of two-parters the series has done with Capaldi’s Doctor have had amazing first halves and a funeral dirge of a second half. But right now I can linger in that lovely space between knowing and not knowing, without having to qualify any discussion of Under the Lake (the episode’s actual, less exciting title) with “…but the second half was pish”.
So let’s discuss what worked about this episode, shall we? Firstly, it was written by Toby Whithouse, he of the patchy but very creative supernatural dramedy Being Human- his Doctor Who episodes have been equally all over the place. For every School Reunion (brilliantly touching), there’s a Vampires of Venice (trudgingly unfunny), for every God Complex (sublimely excellent), there’s a Town called Mercy (??????). But whatever his episodes have been, they’re usually memorable- maybe for some cool new monster, an interesting concept, or fabulous world-building. I’d wager that this episode had one major advantage over the host of recent DW episodes, and that’s the fact that it got the Doctor pretty much spot-on.
What I’m saying is, in short, fuck Moffat’s version of the Doctor, who swerves between calculating self-preservation and grating silliness that’s the equivalent of the show refusing to stop tooting a kazoo right in your ear, and give me this version instead. Capaldi careers around a hilarious script, one that matches decent laughs with pretty impressive horror, and for once he’s not ahead of the game, he’s figuring it out along with everyone else. Something about the slapdash nature of this Doctor is really charming and balances out the ever-present arrogance that oozes off him at every turn.
But ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. What about the story? After the crew of an underwater base haul an alien ship on board, they find themselves infested with ghosts- not the benign, wise-cracking, Hogwarts kind, but the kind that threateningly pick up spanners and brutally drown various crew members to make new ghosts. The Doctor has to try and figure out why they’re collecting the souls of the base’s crew. but as the base starts going a bit haywire he’s forced to leave Clara behind and travel back through time to work out a way to keep everyone alive. As I said earlier, it’s the first part of a two-parter, so I fully expect them to fuck this up royally next episode, but this was a fun, tight, rollicking script that didn’t let the action drop for a moment, and I can respect that. And let’s take no notice of the fact that it seemed to be ripping off previous well-respected Who episodes, with obvious visual nods to The Satan Pit with the corpse floating past the window plus the fact that the Prentis character had very obviously appeared in Silence in the Library. Don’t even think about it. It’s gone.
It was also bloody scary- well, when I say that, I mean that I would have been shit-scared by this episode ten years ago, which is my watermark for how scary a Doctor Who episode is as now I sit around watching House of 1000 Corpses over breakfast so my current scary-radar is kind of skewed. Even the Tardis was too scared to get near the creatures in a cool touch that really spooked me. The ghosts looked legitimately cool-
-and I appreciated the fact that they didn’t go for the traditional bloodless DW deaths (which, when you think about it, only really come in the form of deadly zaps- the Autons, the Cybermen, the Daleks…) and had the ghosts committing straight-up murder. I’ve written before about how keen I am for Doctor Who to terrify kids, partly because it stops them running around with their sticky hands smelling of yoghurt and trying to come near me all the time, but mainly because it gives kids an easy way into good horror, the same way it did for me. Part of Doctor Who’s legacy is sending generations of kids cowering behind the sofa, for Christ’s sake, and it’s about time they upheld that.
A solid supporting cast really helped up the ante and give the episode some stakes, and the addition of a character who communicated through sign-language could have felt tacked-on but just doesn’t. Clara also works best when she’s got some normal people to interact with, and she had a genuinely decent episode for once. I know this show likes to bring the Doctor and his companions together only to brutally rip them apart-
-(ugh, maybe I’m due my period or something, but the memory of David Tennant getting cut off just before he tells Rose that he loves her made me choke up a little) but it’s nice to have them on the same side for once, especially when they seemed to spent so much of last season at odds with each other.
Look, sometimes I just don’t want to criticise Doctor Who because it is, after all, my favourite show, and this episode didn’t make me want to pick it apart at the seams. I’m sure most of the plot would collapse if I took a closer look at it, but I have no intention of doing so because this episode provided everything I wanted-scares, laughs, an interesting story, and apparently next week a monster voiced by Corey Taylor. Because yeah, the big twist set up by this episode is basically resolved by clicking on the Wikipedia page. I’ll have you yet , Moffat.
So, hello, and welcome to the second week of our cross-blog Doctor Who extravaganza as we take a look at the second episode of the season, The End of the World. Read a whole different take on the episode-by a strident Tennant fan- over at Red Whine. As before, if you want to join us on this ill-advised adventure through recapping (and also time and space), drop me an email an the Contact Me tab above.
Let me dive right in and start by saying that part of what I dig so much about this episode- aside from the fact it stars the once and future King of Doctors- is that we jump from saving the world in last week’s episode to watching it burn in the background all the way through this week. As a child (and, to an extent, an adult) who was petrified by the thought of the earth being destroyed in some catastrophic event (all those scaremongering Discovery Channel “documentaries” about asteroids and ice ages? Aimed directly at the kind of child I was), this episode scared the fucking bejeesus out of me, and still makes me feel kind of weird to this day. Something about seeing Earth burning out of existence- and having that basically forming the scenery of the episode- is really unsettling, and I can get on board with Rose’s assertion that this might not be the best way to make your second date go with a bang (A big one. PUNS).
The plot of this episode revolves around some space dignitaries-in the form of some living trees, the Face of Boe, and Lady Cassandra, the last human alive, who also happens to be, well, a giant piece of skin stretched out between two poles:
Yeah, if you thought “Terry Gilliam’s Brazil” when you saw this, you get twenty points too, because the Doctor Who props department like searing horrifying images into the memories of innocent children. After it’s revealed that a nefarious plot to bump off the guests is afoot, it’s up to Rose and the Doctor (and some living trees, but we’ll get there) to figure out what to do next. I like the simplicity of the plot, mainly because it allows for this episode to become mostly scene-setting, filling out the universe that we’ll be travelling through with this Doctor and providing a good bit of genuinely science-fictiony relief from the Earth-bound episodes on either side of it. One of the best things about this series of Who from a writer’s perspective must have been introducing this universe to whole bunch of new viewers (like me) who had no idea what to expect, and it shows, with real effort put in to making this as casually out-there as possible. Just some sentient trees wandering about, confusing me with how attractive they are. No biggie.
I tell you what, too- I love this episode for the fact that it sets the vaguely sinister tone for the whole of season one. Now, it might be because I watched them when I was a terminally impressionable child, but I still think the most frightening episodes ever all belong to the first two seasons of New Who, and The End of the World is no exception. As the radiation given off by the dying earth threatens to burn our heroes alive, the whole spaceship set-up moves from dazzlingly inventive and quirky to claustrophobic and deadly, with a handful of guest-stars meeting grisly ends-whether burning alive, exploding in the heat, or being irradiated to death, it’s not just the bad guys who wind up dead.
And the Doctor’s callous reaction to the villain of the piece-allowing them to burn in their own trap- marks out Eccleston’s ability to bring something a bit unsettling to his Doctor. From this episode onwards, you don’t want to end up on his bad side, and that’s an important part of the characterisation for the Doctor which is still being explored in Capaldi’s episodes today (by the way, is anyone else feeling less than enthused about the return of the series in just over a month? Until something changes- preferably finding a new showrunner, at fucking last- I’m just expecting a re-run of the off-puttingly patchy season eight, and, terrifyingly, a two-parter written by the creator of the painful Kill the Moon). If the first episode is about filling out Rose’s character, this is about giving us a look into the Doctor. The episode might end with them waltzing off to get chips, but we’ve had a glimpse into the effects of the Time War on our hero (Gallifrey and it’s fate are referenced for the first time in this episode, as is the excellent Bad Wolf season plot, for those keeping score at home).
The End of the World isn’t the best episode this season had to offer, not by a long shot. But it’s a gratifyingly simple story, filled with plenty of genuinely memorable characters (so good, in fact, that the villain who be brought back for the season two opener) and a pretty dark tone that keeps it from landing in “forgettable” territory. But honestly, who cares, because next week we’ve got the first bonafide New Who classic, in the form of the only episode of TV I was ever outrightly banned from watching, The Unquiet Dead. Stay tuned!
Well, this is it: the end to one of the most dissapointing series of television I’ve ever been privy too. Yes, season eight of Doctor Who had a tantalising amount of promise, and delivered in a slim ratio of episodes- but more often than not, was churning out one-shotters than landed somewhere between mediocre and actively violating. We’ve swung from the dizzying highs of Listen, to the dismal lows of Deep Breath and- whisper it- Kill the Moon. But with a solid first half of a finale under our belt from last week, we swing into action for the last time until the Christmas special with Death in Heaven, with a major metropolitan centre overrun with cybermen (for, by my count, the third time), and the soaringly glorious return of The Master, as Missy. Ready to crack on?
I said last week that the success of Dark Water really rested on how good this follow up was- if this hour-long special really cocked it up, the impact and power of that first half evaporates into nothing. Until this episode was broadcast, Dark Water hung in an odd kind of halfway house, wherein it had been broadcast and seen and critiqued, but no-one could really give a definitive opinion on it yet. And now we can.
I don’t think Death in Heaven was as good as last week’s outing. I think there were some spectacular high points to the episode, though, and those do not deserve to be buried underneath the niggling problems that arose. Firstly, let’s talk about those performances. It came down to a central four: Clara, Danny, the Doctor, and Missy. Right off the bat, let’s talk about Michelle Gomez: I imagine one of the most offputting things about bringing the Master back was that John Simm was devastatingly good in his take on the character, a psycopathic, charming, charismatic, slightly saucy nemesis that had an unassailable hold on our lead character. But Gomez sold it with style, more than living up to the mantle of the character and practically leaving me swooning over her best moments. She was magnetic, brilliant, and any number of synonyms for greatness that define how good that performance was. She was magnificent.
Jenna Coleman, too, did very well it what would essentially prove to be her send-off episode. Like last week, it was her interaction with Danny that served as the emotional core of the adventure, landing just short of schmaltzy and remaining tremendously affecting throughout. She became the first assistant to make an active decision to let the Doctor go, as opposed to being taken from him or having him taken from her, which gave her a pleasing bit of agency. Did anyone else get the feeling that we’ve still got a lot of questions about Clara that need to be answered, though? The most pressing one for me is where the knock-off Dannys (Dannies?) we saw earlier in the series came from, and I’d still really like to know about the whole being-scattered-throughout-the-Doctors-timestream while we’re on the subject. Samuel Anderson was sensational, as ever, despite the fact that I’m furious to see one of the most succintly drawn, consistently performed characters leave the show after only a handful of really meaty episodes. I would have loved to have had more time to really get under his skin and enjoy that performance a little londer. Capaldi had a blinder too, with his climatic scene- discovering that Missy had lied to him about the location of Gallifrey- carried out in silenced audio but with maximum pathos. It was stark, dramatic, and a centrepiece for this incarnation.
And while we’re on the good stuff, let’s mention Rachel Talalay’s direction, which was brilliant, how excellent the cybermen looked, a beautiful nod to the Brigadier, and what was broadly a pretty solid script when it came to the talky scenes. But I’m sure you can see where this is going, and I won’t keep you waiting much longer; I was pretty underwhelmed by the series finale.
So many interesting points were brought up in last week’s episode that seemed to be muted or ignored here. Danny meeting the child he killed, only to choose to send him back to the land of the living to Clara at the end of the episode, made sense, but could have used a bit of fleshing out. And when you consider the hour-long runtime, surely they could have cut silly little scenes, like the one where the Doctor is declared President of Earth (which bore no relevance to the plot that I could fathom), to make room for some building-up there. I was also seriously disappointed by the lack of Missy in the episode; sure, she was there, and she did wonderfully when given the screentime, but the script was far more interested in the dull rehashing of Army of the Dead from series two than it was with their reincarnation of the Master. In my eyes, at least, that’s a mistake. I’m dissapointed to assume that this is the last we’ll be seeing of Michelle Gomez’ incarnation of the Master, as she barely got time to inhabit the character before she was snatched offscreen by the Brig.
There was also the problem of the cybermen themselves, as they’ve now been given the ability to fly (because SHUT UP), and appeared to fly about using fart power which was upsettingly hilarious. On that point, why would UNIT assume that, after finding out the cybermen could fly, the safest place for the Doc was in an aeroplane? It all smelled like a spurious excuse to have a slightly shite scene of the metal men tearing the plane apart, and killing off tertiary characters who’d been given enough screentime to lead me to believe we were supposed to care about them. Speaking of which, say farewell to Oswin, who bought it by being a huge idiot in front of Missy in a stupid, stupid sequence that I can’t even be bothered touching on.
Broadly, I’d say Death in Heaven reflected the quality of the series overall. It hit some strong emotional notes, but too often was focused on creating glam action sequences and MAKING A POINT than it was about telling a really good story. I’ve been on a rollercoaster with series 8, sometimes magnificent, sometimes getting stuck upside-down in a loop-the-loop for half an hour and making me feel a bit sick. But with a new dawn and new plot points to chase for Capaldi’s Doctor, cut loose and on his own, I’m confident that what we saw this year was simply the teething stage for a character who’s going to make us forget Into the Dalek ever existed. Death in Heaven wasn’t a goodbye, despite what it looked like: it was a big, brash hello to Capaldi’s solo Doctor, cut free of any Matt-Smith related trappings (sorry, Clara, Oswin, etc) and given a chance to shine on his own. I want this series to be wonderful again, and, given some time to recharge, re-evaluate, and re-assistant, I think it will be.
SERIES 8: AN OVERVIEW
Episodes rated, from worst to best: Kill the Moon, Deep Breath, In the Forest of the Night, Into the Dalek, Death in Heaven, Flatline, The Caretaker, Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist, Mummy on the Orient Express, Dark Water, Listen
Best Moment: Danny’s final “I love you” to Clara in Dark Water. Heart-explodingly poignant.
Worst Moment: “I HAVE A DUTY OF CARE”. THEN DON’T TAKE YOUR STUDENTS TO THE MOON.
In A Sentence: Even it’s staggering highs couldn’t obliterate the cringing lows, but cherry-pick Capaldi’s wobbly first series and you’re left with some great television.
Out of Ten: Six.
Hey, so, after the crapstorm that was last week’s episode, and a week where I speculated in dramatically wrong ways about what would happen in the Doctor Who season eight finale, I’ve come across something sorely missing in the last ten weeks: an episode that I loved almost unconditionally.
I think it’s telling that, for the first time this series, me and the Consort finished watching Dark Water and immediatley negotiated more episodes to watch. It was an outing that reminded us of Doctor Who at it’s best, and made us want to go back and wallow in the triumphs of yesteryear (we matched it with the Lake Silencio two-parter, and the Bad Wolf finale for season one, both of which are always better than you remember). This episode was tantalising, and wasn’t enough on it’s own. That’s a good sign.
I really thought Dark Water was a belter of an episode, the best and most true to form of the series so far (Listen was magnificent, but it didn’t have the fun or breakneck pace of this one). Early in the episode, Danny is killed, and Clara and the Doctor go to find him (incidentally, Jenna Coleman’s performance throughout this entire segment was jaw-dropping, award-winning stuff, particularly the scene where she explained the real tragedy of his death lay in the mundanity of it all), leaving Danny Pink in Heaven/Hell/The Nethesphere with Chris Addison as his poison-tongued tour guide. This segment had some of the best writing all season going for it, with Chris Addison’s description of our understanding of the afterlife being a particular highlight. And the offscreen screaming as Chris Addison winced that they had “left their body to science”? Masterful.
A big shout out to Rachel Talalay, one of the distressingly few female writers or directors to grave Moffat’s run of Who, as she did a cracking job on the direction. Her close-up, tight shots on Danny and Clara as they have their last conversation were heartbreaking, but not as gutting as the cut between soldier Danny realising he’d killed a child, and afterlife Danny realising he was going to meet him. C’mere, Samuel Anderson, let me buy you all the drinks for saving the series.
And then, of course, there was Missy. I’m going to put a big fat SPOILER ALERT here, which I rarely do as I assume most people coming here have already seen the episode, but the reveal of Missy’s identity was so good I don’t want it ruined for anyone here. Go away. Come back. Watched it? Are you sure? Certain? One hundred percent? Okay.
HOLY SHIT IT WAS THE MASTER! I do not exaggerate in the least when I say that I threw a bottle of juice against the opposite wall in excitement when she announced her identity. Like most two-parters though, the success of this episode will rest on how well they pull of the actual finale. Either way, Michelle Gomez is a saccharine delight and a worthy successor to the formidable John Simm. And surely we’ll be seeing more of her after this season ends, because you don’t bring the Master back as a woman then only give us one episode of her. Everything comes down to next week, and I’m hoping they do well because this episode was teeming with brilliant lines, scenes, and ideas-more than I can even touch on here- and I want it to remain as good as I think it is now.
But. Well, there’s always a but, isn’t there? This isn’t really a criticism of the episode, but you’ll have noticed that I haven’t been talking a whole lot about the Doctor. And there’s a reason for that. It suddenly struck me, in the middle of the night, which is when I write these reviews in my head and mentally paste them into the blog in the morning, that the problem is not with Peter Capaldi. Peter Capaldi is doing an excellent job playing the role he’s been given, but the problem is that role isn’t the Doctor. It’s leaning towards the sociopathic otherness of Moffat’s Sherlock, stripped down of much of his humanity and warmth. Watching Chris Ecclestone’s Doctor again, it’s so clear that a “dark” Doctor doesn’t have to be the aloof, trickster, testing personality that Capaldi’s playing to perfection right now- he is still the same man at heart(s), and doesn’t want to torture, tease, and even kill those who he comes into contact with. Anyone else of the same page here? Either way, I think that Moffat needs to hand over the reins to someone else and focus his attention on Sherlock, as it seems to be where his mind is at right now anyway. I’ll have you yet, Moffat. But if you can pull of next week, I’ll call off the hordes.
So, blogosphere, I’ve decided to forgo a review this week- basically, I thought In The Forest of The Night was an eye-rolling disappointment and thoroughly enjoyed listening to my dad shred it into comedically tiny pieces- and everything that I’ve been saying over the last eight weeks pretty much applies to this episode. Bad pacing, cluttered plot, a crammed-in enviromental message (I’m really, really, really not sure how to feel about the Doctor encouraging a girl on medication to stop taking it because the voices in her head were saving the world, because it seems wildly irresponsible. And seems to back up that widely-held theory that those with mental health problems who choose to take medication to control it- like me- are cutting off some brilliant part of themselves as opposed to taking control of an illness), not enough Danny Pink, oddly cold Doctor, and a cool idea thrown to the four winds of blah. So, this week, I’m going to share my theories about the season finale, a two-parter that kicks off next week with Dark Water. Take a drink for every time I get proved right. Expect to stay sober.
1. Danny Pink
I’ve been theorising for weeks that Missy and the Nethersphere are actually a big Maguffin, and the really twist will involve Danny Pink. Here’s my thinking: we met him in Into The Dalek, in the same week we spent some time with a soldier named Journey Blue who had lost her brother in a war at the start of the episode. There’s a link with the colours in their names, and Zawe Ashton and Samuel Anderson don’t look entirely different (big brown eyes). I think Danny was the brother who died, was sent to the Nethersphere, and offered a chance to live again if he brought Clara and the Doctor back with him. His past is mysterious- all we know is that he was a soldier who had “one bad day”, and that he very probably killed someone he feels an immense amount of guilt about-and, when we meet his grandson, it’s revealed that one of that man’s grandparents was a time-traveller. I initially assumed that this was Clara, but could it be Danny instead? Anyway, I think his plotline will involve him being turned into a cyberman upon his return to Heaven, and that may or may not be the last we see of Mr Pink. If it is the last we see of him, the series is going to have to do something spectacular to win me back.
We know there are hundreds of echoes of Clara all through time, so where did these echoes go? Did they die and….wind up in the Nethersphere? The trailer showed a lot of abrupt costume changes and seemingly personality changes too, and I think that a bunch of vengeful Claras have ended up in Heaven wanting to wreak revenge on the Doctor. In this theory, Missy is definitely one of these Claras, having orchestrated the whole thing to make sure she gets revenge. The Clara in this series has been an echo of the real Clara who remained trapped in the timeline (River said she would die, but maybe she got it wrong?), aged into Missy, and eventually ended up in heaven (see Missy’s “You know who I am” in the trailer). At this point, anything they can do to really stretch Jenna Coleman’s considerable talent and charm to make her a real match for Capaldi’s colder Doctor will be warmly welcomed. If it’s not this theory, then I think that all the cybermen will be Claras from various timestreams.
I wrote an article about my theories on Missy at the start of the series, and I still think it’s up in the air. However, I’m leaning towards The Rani, because it makes sense, and it would be really cool. She’s presumably evil, very likely experimenting on her charges, and has a beef with the Doc. I’m even going to go waaaay out there and tentatively suggest that Chris Addison is also a timelord, and both of them, after a timelocked Gallifrey was basically brought back, are still in defensive mode and believe that they need to defend themselves against another attack with cybermen. The fact that most of the victims have come from the episodes we’ve seen is to do with the fact that they’re able to manipulate the Tardis into a matter transporter to get them there, and has nothing to do with the Doctor’s guilt as I initially thought.
But then again, the episode is called Dark Water so it WILL be River.