Doctor Who The Doctor Falls Review

Well! That was Matt Smith’s The Time of the Doctor done right! That was the multi Master story I never knew I wanted! With the exception of the weird deux ex machina at story’s end, that was a near perfect Who finale! Heck! That was Skyfall meets Doctor Who! And I really, really, really liked Skyfall!

This week we start on level 507, a hologram countryside idyll filled with children and their single female adult protector. Mondasian cybermen dot the landscape, bound to stakes in a kind of horrifying version of the modern day scarecrow, trying to upgrade the children. As Simm’s Master helpfully explains, children are easier to upgrade. And there’s less waste.

The doctor falls

The Doctor minus his Sonic

This series has had a strong focus on The Doctor sans sonic which has been a welcome change on New Who. I liked the flashback to how The two Masters, cyber Bill, Nardole and The Doctor made it to Level 507. The Master and Missy are equally callous in how they taunt The Doctor, wheelchair bound as he is on a rooftop, as the exodus of the cybermen is set to begin. Of course it’s Missy who violently and cooly slaps him into the computer keyboard (and again because of another nuanced performance from Ms Gomez, I’m still not sure if she did that intentionally or otherwise), but The Doctor is relying on smarts alone when he changes with some careful key strokes just what the cybermen are looking for to upgrade. The Doctor wouldn’t have gotten far without Nardole either, and it was a nice touch to have Nardole turn up with a ship to evacuate everyone from the level.

The Life and Death of Bill Potts

After watching World Enough and Time, my biggest fear was that Moffat would ‘magic’ Bill back from her cyber state straight away. Thankfully, he doesn’t. Instead, Bill spends over two thirds of the episode as a mondasian cybermen, simultaneously tolerated and feared by the children and their keeper. Rachel Talalay has done great directorial work on New Who in the past, and this week is no exception when she carefully cuts between the world from Bill’s point of view (where we see Bill as herself because she sees herself as unchanged) and Bill as the world sees her (first shown through the mirror gifted to Bill by the first child she sees when they come to Level 507). Though this episode is nowhere near as horrifying in a scary hide behind your sofa kind of way, this sequence is pretty damn disturbing.

Simm’s Master doesn’t help matters either. His pantomime villain knows that the best way to hurt The Doctor is to hurt his companion. ‘You missed her by two hours,’ he gloats as he tries to goad Bill into anger knowing that that anger will lead to destruction. But Bill is made of stronger stuff. She hasn’t been around long, but for me, Bill has some of the best qualities of a Doctor Who companion. She’s awfully human, but she’s brave in her own way too. She rises above The Master and his petty games. She wills herself to calmness. She’s better than the bully, and she and The Doctor know it.

Even so, The Doctor doesn’t have much to comfort her or us with later. Will the show reward Bill for her courage and her humanity and her inherent goodness?
For a brief while, it seems the show is going to deny us a happy ending. Capaldi delivers his lines with a melancholy gravity that is very believable.

Bill: You said… I remember, you said you could fix this. That you could get me back. Did you say that?
The Doctor: I did say that, yes.
Bill: Were you lying?
The Doctor: No.
Bill: …Were you right?
The Doctor [sadly]: No.

Still, while there’s tears there’s hope, The Doctor reminds Bill and the audience lest we think things are getting too bleak. It is fitting that Bill stays with The Doctor till the bitter end. That said, I don’t know that Bill’s ending worked for me. This episode would have been a perfect ten score if it had ended with Bill’s battered cyber body lying alongside The Doctor’s ashy flesh as he regenerated.

As it stands, I found the Heather deux ex machina confusing. I’m not sure if Bill is alive or committed suicide and the ending is too similar to Clara’s from a mere series ago. Moffat said he ended Bill’s story the way he did because ultimately Doctor Who is a hopeful story where heroes always win in the end. Though I understand where he is coming from, I agree with an author who was talking last week about what children find in fiction. She said that children can find hope in ambiguity. Even when an ending is bleak or beyond their comprehension, they’ll find a way to make the story fit into their understanding of the world. Then when they’re older, they’ll find the darker layers. I can’t help but think that the story would have been stronger leaving Bill as dead or standing alone with a regenerating Doctor, rather than dramatically changing gear and tone with the reappearance of Heather and the ‘new lease of life’ for Bill. Though I like Bill very much, I hope we don’t see her again.

Farewell to Nardole

Matt Lucas surprised me as Nardole. I’m not one for his comedy and I didn’t like his character on Who at first, but he has grown on me over time in a quiet, understated way. I liked that it was Nardole who helped protect Hazran and her children by figuring out how to set off explosions through his laptop. I liked that he befriended the children. I liked that he took their plight so seriously. And I especially liked the exchange between him and The Doctor when it became apparent that The Doctor was going to remain on Level 507 on a kind of kamikaze mission.

Like River Song who became a hologram inside a computer to protect hologram souls ‘saved’ into the drive, Nardole will see out his duty to look after these children in a hologram world until death or the cybermen come for him and for them. I like the parallel to River there, and like Bill, I hope this is a definite ending for this character as there is a kind of poetry to it.

The Master vs. The Master

After this episode aired, I ended up in a three way twitter conversation about all of the reasons why Missy is the best essentially. Don’t get me wrong, I think John Simm is as talented as the next person, but he never captured the heart and soul of the character of The Master in the same way Gomez did. His callous heartlessness for villainy’s sake is far less interesting, and comes across far less nuanced, then Missy’s conflicted battle between doing what is right and what is hard wired. Whether on the rooftop with The Doctor captured, in the empty barn leaning in far too sensually to her previous self or stabbing herself, Gomez’ Missy is at once chilling, nasty, terrifying, beautiful, tragic and human. Gomez’ performance as she teeters between hero and villain is perfectly ambiguous, allowing for multiple rewatches and multiple different interpretations. Gomez was the perfect Master, the incarnation I never knew I wanted till she twirled her way across the screen in Deep Breath in her messed up version of heaven. I am terrible sad Gomez has left the show, but oh what a way to go…

To His Coy Mistress

Without witness, without hope, without reward, The Doctor begs Missy to redeem herself, to edge back from the precipice, to end the coy game she plays. But time is running out.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

As The Doctor faces off both Missy and The Master, he makes another Moffat speech which cuts to the heart of The Doctor’s essence.

The Doctor: I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that… Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I’m going to stand here doing it until it kills me. And you’re going to die too! Some day… And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.

On a second rewatch, this scene reminded me of Sally Lockhart and the deformed pirate Ah Ling in The Tiger in the Well. In a final showdown, Sally tries to explain to Ah Ling why she tries to make a difference to the pain and poverty and wrongness she sees in the world. And how does Ah Ling repay her for her pretty speech?

‘He just couldn’t understand her. And she saw how right she’d been; he was a coarse, brutal, limited man whose manners and graces and fine connoisseurship were no more than perfume sprinkled over garbage. She’d confessed to him. She’d opened her heart to him in the acknowledgement of the hurt shed done him. She’d offered him that – and he was bored. ‘ pg 374

Simm’s Master is like Ah Ling; one dimensional in his villainy. He is callous and bored by The Doctor. He hasn’t been paying attention to The Doctor’s ‘pretty speech.’ But Missy? Missy is visibly moved, but then she walks away. Coy to the last.

The first time I watched this episode, I was so upset at Gomez leaving, I was too busy shouting at my TV to enjoy the cleverness of The Master double murder. This time around it felt right. There was no other possible way to end this redemption arc. Missy destroys her past self to go stand with The Doctor. Her past self prevents her.

What beautiful lines and delivery as Missy seductively wraps an arm about The Master to stab him.

Missy: I loved being you. Every second of it. Oh, the way you burned like a sun, like a whole screaming world on fire. I remember that feeling. And I always will. And I will always miss it.

It’s like a strange echo of Eleven regenerating into Twelve (I’ll never forget the time when The Doctor was me). And then the horror as The Master shoots Missy in the back. But then fittingly, they both go down, both stabbing each other in the back for blood begets blood and self knows other self too well. The Doctor tragically never finds out that at the last Missy aimed to stand with The Doctor, but we as the viewers know and will remember…

Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

And That Ending…

Three knocks as Twelve leaves his TARDIS behind? A snowy landscape? One and The Doctor? What will happen in the Christmas Special and just who will Twelve regenerate into?

The Doctor Falls: 9/10 inky stars for a near perfect finale marred only by the confusing deux ex machina in the final ten minutes which sees Bill reunited with Heather

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Doctor Who World Enough and Time Review

So I had to leave some processing time between initial watch and the rewatch of this episode and the finale to be able to review. Though I wouldn’t go as far as the Radio Times, who labelled World Enough and Time as the best episode of New Who, I can see how it came close. I wish the BBC hadn’t spoiled the return of the Mondasian cybermen and John Simm Master, because this episode would have been Earthshock level of drama bomb, without those pre-episode spoilers. Still, I’m pretty confident when I say this is the best episode of the series to date and the first 10/10 episode since last year’s Heaven Sent (also last year’s penultimate episode interestingly).

This week we have the full blown return of Missy with The Doctor testing Missy’s redemption arc by asking her to fill his role in the story (much like Clara did in the series 8 finale) with Bill and Nardole as her reluctant companions. She seems true to her word. The trio land on a ship getting sucked into a blackhole after The TARDIS intercepts a distress call and Missy, albeit with some sly digs, does try to get to the bottom of the problem. And then things go horribly wrong…

The End is My Beginning (and vice versa)

Surprisingly for me, the shock start to this episode was one of its least interesting aspects. The Doctor begins regeneration in a winter wonderland and then before we know it we’re into the opening credits and the story goes back in time. Presumably, it will be the Christmas special which sheds light on this opening sequence so little can be judged about it or its place in the story arc till then.

Two Good Friends

I am one of those people who didn’t like Capaldi till the end of series 8. He was too extreme in his curmudgeonly nature, a little too harsh and cold and cruel to poor Clara. For me, it was the clash of belief systems in The Doctor and Missy in the series 8 finale which sold me Twelve. It was in Dark Water where he told Clara, ‘did you think I’d care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?’ and when he said to Missy in the Death in Heaven, ‘Thank you. Thank you for reminding me…’ speech that Capaldi became The Doctor to me. For me, then, Missy is key to Twelve and her stories with Twelve and the stories of Twelve which she impacts upon (such as the series 9 finale two parter) are the most interesting. They cut to the heart of the difference between The Master and The Doctor.

This Doctor yearns with all of his two hearts to have his friend back. Why? Not because he likes and cares for his human and other species companions any less (lest we forget that they remind him why he needs more than the Time Lords to fulfil the promise implied in his name), but because The Master was one of his oldest friends.

The Doctor: She’s the only person I’ve ever met who’s even remotely like me… she was my first friend. From my first day at the academy…

They are almost the same, but for one key difference which Capaldi told Clara in the series 8 finale and he repeats it again to Bill in this episode:

The Doctor: We had a pact, me and him. Every star in the universe. We were going to see them all… she never saw them. Too busy burning them…’

But like The Doctor and Missy called and responded to each other in Extremis (I upped my star rating on that one to 9/10 it got that much better with a re-watch), ‘without hope, without witness, without reward,’ The Doctor believes that Missy can change. She can learn to be a true friend.

Bill is afraid of Missy and with good reason and she cannot possibly understand why The Doctor would want to give Missy more chances. Just as Clara didn’t understand. The Doctor tries to argue that morality and ethics aren’t so simple. That the pig who made the bacon on Bill’s sandwich might see her eating that bacon as murder. That the ethics and morals of Time Lord actions are somehow relative and different. ‘Different how?’ Bill demands and The Doctor cannot answer her.

But we as viewers already know the answer gifted to us via River Song:

River’s Diary: Only in darkness are we revealed. […] Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

More on this next week…

Bill

Capaldi has had quite a few complex and dark episodes which would have confused and terrified me if I had been viewing them through a child’s eyes. World Enough and Time is no different. It is genuinely one of the most alarming stories New Who has ever done. The Doctor admits, as he sits on the rooftop with Bill, that he can’t make promises about her safety, that he can merely keep her safe within reason. Travel with The Doctor is wonderful and glorious and life changing, but it is mortally dangerous too. Rose is separated from The Doctor in a parallel universe, Martha is psychologically scarred by her encounters with The Master and the impact he had on her family, Donna forgets everything of her travels. Only Amy and Rory and Clara live happily ever after, and Clara only because she has lost all normal earth ties.

I suspected something terrible would happen to Bill. I didn’t suspect that she would be shot in the chest by an ally in the opening fifteen minutes. But deaths are meaningless in drama without consequence. So Moffat showed us the world Bill inhabited whilst, like Amy, she waited (the blackhole explanation for the difference in time between above and below made perfect sense too which was a nice change for a show which often does a lot of hand waving to get emotional beats to work). The combination of ‘asylum’ stereotypes in Matron and Razor as well as the body horror of the bandaged people was both Gaimanesque and genuinely unsettling. Indeed, the echoes of the people beneath the bandages was the most unsettling and upsetting thing Doctor Who has done since ‘don’t cremate me’ in Dark Water (another story about The Master, cybermen and contorting humanity, but then again with Moffat, my end is my beginning). The cliff hanger ending is truly heart breaking as a cyberman says to The Doctor, ‘I waited… I waited… I waited for you.’ Would Doctor Who really turn such a beloved companion into a cyberman and then follow through by showing the consequences of that conversion in the series finale episode? It certainly seemed that way.

The Master

Surprisingly, I didn’t recognise John Simm’s voice as Razor under all of the prosthetics. I was deeply upset by his interactions with Bill. I knew there was something horribly wrong about him as a character, but it wasn’t till episode’s end in his show down with Missy that I realised who Razor was. But then… The Master did so love disguises in classic Who.

This version of The Master especially, doesn’t understand how to ‘do’ human companions right. He got it wrong with Lucy Saxon, and he gets it wrong a second time with Bill.

Razor: You are dear to me. You are dearest person. Like a mother. When you hug me, it hurts my heart.
Bill: Aww sweet.
Razor: No. Your chest. It digs right in.

This version of The Master only knows how to self-destruct, bringing down everyone else in his wake. He only knows how to hurt and frighten and to act the callous wolf in sheep’s clothing. He wins Bill’s trust over years and then leads her to the upgrade chamber to ensure she will stop caring about pain because Bill is loved by The Doctor. This Master thinks that converting a companion into a cyberman will see The Doctor wallow in self-pity Ten style. He thinks that his success in fooling Bill is a form of oneupmanship. But he doesn’t know just how much the rules between him and The Doctor have changed through Amy and Rory, through River, through Clara, and finally through Missy. Hence:

The Master: Hello Missy. I’m very worried about my future.

Though the literal meaning of this episode’s title is about the difference in time between those closest to the black hole on the ship and those furthest away, it is really an application of the poem ‘To his coy mistress’ by Andrew Marvell:

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.

By episode’s end, the poem refers to more than simply Bill waiting for The Doctor. It is a terrible tragedy not just about Bill or about The Doctor strangely, but also first and foremost about The Master. The Master does not have world enough and time to decide how he wants to express his relationship with The Doctor. His coy acts of teasing The Doctor with false hope cannot go on forever, and eventually you have to choose what you really want and what ideals you really believe in. But can a villain ever really change his or her spots? Should we believe it’s possible and why does it matter to believe? Next week’s finale held the show runner’s answers in the strongest finale since series 5…

World Enough and Time: 10/10 inky stars

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Doctor Who Eaters of Light Review

Review disclaimer: A friend of mine commented on my low score for the previous Gatiss penned episode. By way of explanation, it’s pretty tough to rate Who episodes out of 10 from week to week anyway given the wide range of genres and scenarios the writers have the freedom to explore, but even when an episode is above average, it might not get get much above 6/10 from me because it’s fine in terms of plot, characters and story of the week, but it’s not memorable beyond that stand alone story. In other words the episode is adequate, yet not very memorable in terms of a wider series arc or when compared to the many, many episodes New Who has given us over the years. I am thinking of moving my score system to a number out of 5 just to make review score clearer for those reading

This week’s The Eaters of Light was penned by classic Who writer Rona Munro, she of Survival fame. I’m one of those people who really dug McCoy Doctor and especially his time with Ace and the often surreal, gothic and multi-layered stories that came about towards Seven and the show’s demise, so I was already pretty keen for this episode. I also love Celtic Britain and stories of that lost world of nature meeting the supernatural.

BBCA_DW_1010

The Doctor, Bill and Nardole find themselves splitting up early in this episode to find the missing ninth legion. Of course, Bill finds them first. Meanwhile, The Doctor and Nardole discover a Pict tribe with a portal to a bizarre parallel world where a kind of light eating alien colony resides (how Stranger Things!)To defend themselves from the invading army, the Pict leader, Kar, releases one eater of light into our world. The Doctor is horrified and the episode essentially retreads the same ground as the previous week’s The Empress of Mars in forcing two opposing sides to find middle ground for the middle ground. I believe it probably just comes down to personal preference to decide which episode you prefer, though I do agree with other review sites who point out how similar the two episodes themes are to choose to play them back to back in the series run.

Bill

One of the most fun aspects of Bill is that she’s just an ordinary university student with a chip making job on the side and so for her the universe is so full of wonder and discovery. I loved Bill’s slow realisation that the TARDIS was helping her and the centurion she finds to understand each other. I also loved the discussion of fluid sexuality between her and the centurions and that, surprisingly, the Romans are unfazed by her sexuality.

Finally, at episode’s end she serves as The Doctor’s hubris reminder (God I love that Moffat companions do this) when she tells him, no, no he cannot simply enter the portal as a protector for all eternity and assume he is the only person capable of sacrifice. The Doctor’s companions should do many things in my opinion to be deemed successful. They must find the universe wonderful, a place of discovery, to remind the Doctor just how wondrous his lot in life is. They must help The Doctor to remain kind. And they must remind The Doctor not to presume he must solve everything, to be the solution to every problem, to consider himself as the most important person in the room. I think Bill does all of these things for Twelve and this is one of the reasons she is so good as the current main companion.

Nardole

Matt Lucas has definitely grown on me as time has gone on. His performance has grown subtler with each episode of series 10. Still, I am not sure that he is actually needed here or elsewhere this series. He provides light comic relief and is an interesting mixture of cowardice and strength, but I am not convinced he plays any important role in any of these stories (and certainly not when compared to the role companions like Rory played in overall main companion arcs). I did enjoy him in a dressing gown Arthur Dent style (Who has an obsession with HHGTTG references) and the difference between him and The Doctor when it comes to meeting new people. Nardole tries to assimilate, to befriend, to be a part of the community. The Doctor feels he needs to hold himself aloof, so he can better assess the problem he faces and to prevent himself from growing too attached. There must be a way to reduce the hurt he feels when he fails to save people.

The Doctor

I don’t feel that this series has had all that much to say about The Doctor when compared to other series with Capaldi. Eight had a strong theme about what makes a good man whilst series nine had stories about The Doctor’s aloneness and his way of dealing with companion grief. When Missy isn’t present in the story, I’ve felt that this series is more interested in Bill and Nardole and what travelling with The Doctor says about them, rather than what The Doctor’s approach to the problem of the week says about him. This isn’t a bad thing by the way. It’s just an observation.

I didn’t like Twelve much this episode. He is a bit of a dick when he criticises Kar’s decision to release an eater of light into the forest to stop the Roman invasion.

The Doctor: So, you thought the Eater of Light could destroy a whole Roman army.
Kar: It did!
The Doctor: And a whole Roman army could weaken or kill the beast.
Kar: Yes.
The Doctor: Well, it didn’t work! You got a whole Roman legion slaughtered, and you made the deadliest creature on this planet very, very cross indeed. To protect a muddy little hillside, you doomed your whole world.

Kar couldn’t have known this. She and her tribe were frightened and desperate. Their world hangs on a knife edge. Why shouldn’t they use any weapon at their disposal? I understand that it is the fear of the Romans and the Scots which prevents them from finding a way forward in peace and that this is one of the points the episode is making, but I still was annoyed with The Doctor in this moment and quite pleased that Bill brings him down a notch or two five minutes later.

The Allegory of the Raven

I knew that the writer of Survival would go in for allegory, and with an episode set in Celtic times, it makes sense. Allegory is so important in the stories told by the Celts to connect to their world. The physical landscape and its creatures are symbols of gods and goddesses, gateways and keys to the supernatural, part of important magical rites.

It was therefore a nice touch to have the ‘caw caw’ of the crows as a throw back to Kar. Kar lives on in the calling of the crows. And they know her name because once upon a time, humanity could speak with animals. The mythic was reality.

Quote of the Episode

Ironically, not from the story of the week but from the Missy epilogue.

The Doctor: That’s the trouble with hope. It’s hard to resist.

The Eaters of Light: 7/10 inky stars (for a story that was well done but a little too similar to last week’s and with an oddly tacked on coda with Missy which felt a bit out of place)

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Doctor Who Empress of Mars Review

Well that was a surprise. I actually kinda enjoyed that. I’ve said before on numerous occasions that Gatiss isn’t my cup of tea on Who every time. For every Crimson Horror, there is a Victory of the Daleks and I’m never sure from season to season what I’m going to get from him.

What happened this week? The Doctor and Bill end up on Mars and improbably find themselves with some Victorians and a lone ice warrior. Nardole gets trapped in a rebounding TARDIS and asks Missy for help (take note kids: This is never a good idea). The lone ice warrior is trying to awaken his Queen and a clash of civilisations happens on Mars.

“God save the Queen”

NASA uncover God save the Queen written on the surface of Mars in a nifty flashback to the series 2 Ten episode featuring Queen Victoria and Torchwood (Queen Vic even gets a photo reference when the camera pans to a picture of s2 Vic on the wall of a cavern in Mars). The Doctor, Bill and Nardole, immediately need to hop into the TARDIS to investigate.

The Victorians

Ah, and there we have it, a welcome return to the anti-neoliberal theme of earlier s10. The Victorians see Mars as theirs to obtain. Because they are Victorians and they have ‘discovered’ this new planet, it and its resources are theirs. I quite liked the characterisation of the cowardly Victorian soldier who saw through the hubris for what it was and elected to try to make peace with the Ice Warriors and their Queen.

The Ice Warriors

Though their Queen is a little hissy, I liked that she looked to Bill for an opinion on what she should do and how she should assess the Victorians and The Doctor’s request for peace. I also liked that the lone ice warrior who had joined forces with the Victorians acted as a mirror to the cowardly soldier. I liked that the actor playing the Ice Warrior sounded grave and sad and wise, even underneath all of the costume and makeup. The reference to Alpha Centauri was confusing for my partner and I, as we’d never seen the original classic episode Alpha came from before, but once we’d looked it up, we both conceded it was a nice nod back to the past.

Missy

Nardole managed to get back to Bill and The Doctor, but not without help from an unexpected and dangerous quarter. I am fast running out of superlatives to describe the multi faceted character study that is Michelle Gomez as Missy. Her reply to Nardole as he begs for her help through the box that constrains her is chilling because it is delivered in such an understated fashion. And I loved the visuals and Gold’s music working together with Gomez when The Doctor looks horrified as he sees Missy’s reflection in the TARDIS console and Missy’s Theme plays. Then dreadful silence followed by, ‘are you alright?’ Absolutely terrifying.

The Empress of Mars: 6/10 inky stars

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Doctor Who: The Lie of The Land Review

This week is a Toby Whithouse oddity. I mostly enjoy his work on Who. I’ve enjoyed every episode he’s written with the exception of Under the Lake/Before the Flood, and even then I thought they were average Who episodes rather than terrible ones. I had high hopes he’d end the monks trilogy with a bang. Alas, it was not to be…

Orwellian Nightmare

So what happens? The story kicks off a little after we left off last week, with Bill and Nardole trying to find The Doctor to end the monks totalitarian rule of earth. The opening fifteen to twenty minutes reminded me of a combination of the superior Turn Left (one of the best episodes in Donna Noble’s run) and The Last of The Time Lords with Martha’s quest to stop a mad Master plot. The monks show humanity over and over via ‘truth’ sound bites aided by a captured Doctor who speaks live into people’s minds about the benevolence of the monks who have aided human development and history so altruistically. Up until his companions find The Doctor, I really dug the episode.

The Doctor and his Companion

What went wrong? The Doctor’s explanation of why he’d choose to help the monks makes sense, but it felt off that a) Bill shot The Doctor and that b) The Doctor would devise such a cruel test to check in on Bill’s independance from the monk’s. It’s not that it’s a bad idea on Whithouse’s part, it’s that it doesn’t really have enough character basis from previous episode’s or this one to help the audience to agree that both Bill and The Doctor’s actions are reasonable.

And what’s worse, the script makes the mistake of not giving people consequences for their actions. True: this is something New Who has never been good at (Look no further than the selective forgetting that was Ten from Waters of Mars to End of Time or Kill The Moon Clara to Mummy on the Orient Express Clara). In general, I find that script writers for drama shows are terrible at committing to character consequences they themselves have set up. And this sort of shoddy writing was just as annoying in this week’s episode of Who as it is when I find it elsewhere in drama. Surely Bill should be proper traumatised by The Doctor’s actions. Surely she should be pretty angry at him, if not immediately given the monk invasion problem, by episode’s end. She’d be feeling betrayed, a lack of trust, rage, hurt, confusion. Shed be questioning the morality of the Time Lord she finds herself travelling with.

And then we get to the second annoying writer trope I always see in TV drama, which annoys me every time I see it: raise the stakes by claiming someone important to the viewer has to die, and then come up with hand wavey nonsense to justify why said person makes it to live to another broadcast date. Sometimes narratively a character has to say goodbye, and if, as a writer, you don’t want that character to die, don’t set up a story scenario which relies on the character dying for full emotional and dramatic satisfaction. Missy is truly wonderful when she tells Bill, Nardole and The Doctor that Bill needs to die to stop the monks, but it all feels wasted in the end.

The Power of Love

The ability for love to conquer evil has long been a preferred Moffat theme. As a viewer, I am generally in the group of people who doesn’t have much of a problem with this particular theme, especially in the Smith era, which was told through the prism of a fairy story structure anyway making the love theme easier to swallow. However, I don’t think it has as much place in Twelve’s era. It came up in the series 8 finale with Danny and Clara, and was mildly annoying then, though at least the love theme made sense in terms of deleted emotions and cybermen. This time around, I have absolutely no idea how Bill’s memory’s of her mother damaged the monks. I am not quite sure how Bill isn’t dead.

Missy

At least the episode ends on a high with Missy. I could watch Michelle Gomez as Missy, especially a more muted Gomez as she is in this series, forever. My partner and I would both be happy campers at the Missy o’clock spin off show, comprised entirely of Missy messing with everyone she ever meets and killing off a lot of her temporary companions in nefarious plots geared at either saving her own skin or world domination of some kind.

Surely no one thinks Missy has reformed. Surely The Doctor doesn’t believe it. Though oh how much he wishes it might be so. Missy is the scorpion stinging the frog even as it float’s on the frog’s back. Missy is putting your hand into a jar of poisonous, hungry spiders. Missy is snake venom dialled up to eleven on the pain scale as it works through the bloodstream. And this end scene just makes her all the more chilling. Crocodile tears or the real deal. Somehow I don’t think it matters much either way…

The Lie of the Land: 5/10 inky stars for the weakest episode of the series so far…

Next episode is Gatiss. Yawn. Moving right along.

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Doctor Who The Pyramid at the End of the World Review

…Or that was a bit disappointing after last week’s strange confection. I loved Peter Harness’ series 9 Zygon two parter and loathed his abortion metaphor in Kill The Moon (not to mention the waste of a particularly strong guest star in Hermione Norris). A writer known for his political undertones, this episode is no different (Russia, the USA and China put aside their differences to face an alien threat together), but it suffers from being the middle episode in a three parter.

Back in real time, Bill is telling her would be girlfriend, Penny, about the mad cap adventures of her and The Doctor in last week’s Extremis. Last week she was interrupted by The Pope and this time, in what appears to be a running gag, she is interrupted by the UN’s head. Why? A mysterious pyramid has set itself up at the locus of contested earth territory. It’s up to The Doctor and his companion to find out the reason for its sudden appearance…

The Guest Stars

This series hasn’t been as strong on guest stars as others have been in my opinion (series 8 takes the cake for the longest list of companions who never were). However, I quite enjoyed the scientist plot. I liked that the female scientist was the smart one, the one who could follow The Doctor and keep up with his thought leaps, the one who doesn’t die, who doesn’t do something stupid. Erica (played by a quietly brilliant Rachel Denning) is compassionate, intelligent and values life.

The fact that The Doctor doesn’t trust her enough to tell her about his blindness is telling. The last few years have seen some interesting episodes which feature actors with disability. Last year’s two parter Under the Lake/Before the Flood is the first time I’ve seen a prime time drama feature signing by a hearing impaired actor. This time round, it was nice that the story didn’t comment on Erica’s height. I hope Erica is back in the next episode and makes it to the other side alive.

The Companion and The Doctor

The monks have some truly creepy glowing strands in their pyramid which show strands of humanity’s future. They claim that humanity will surrender to them voluntarily when they see the emptiness of this future. They even put the pressure on with a countdown. The Doctor foolishly runs off to try and figure out the source of earth’s empty future and tells Bill not to cave in to the monk’s ongoing demands for a human with authority.

The Doctor: You could take this planet in a heartbeat. Why do you need consent?
Monk: We must be wanted. We must be loved. To rule through fear is inefficient.
The Doctor: Of course… fear is temporary, love is… slavery.

This concept is of course interesting, but hardly developed in a 45 minute run time. I didn’t really buy The Doctor leaving Bill to resist the monks, especially after the soldier representatives of three nations are disintegrated because they speak out of fear and obligation, not out of love.

However, the last ten minutes of this episode are five out of five star brilliant. The Doctor hasn’t admitted to anyone but Nardole that he is blind and so he is his own worst enemy. He cannot see the keypad to unlock the deadlock despite Erica giving the codes to him over and over. And Bill sees this and thinks he is going to die, so out of love for The Doctor, she gives up earth to the monks.

Bill: You can have the world, just let him see again!

Shit Bill. This is definitely not good news. Next week looks set to be a rollercoaster with the return of Missy added to the mix. Why does this feel so much like a finale just over midway through a series run?

Great Quote

Another Capaldi monologue:

The Doctor: The end of your life is already begun. There is a last place you will ever go, a last door you will ever walk through, a last sight you will ever see. And every step you ever take is moving you closer. The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments. And somewhere, unnoticed, in silence or in darkness, it has already begun.

The Pyramid at the End of the World: 7/10 inky stars for a muddled episode with a brilliant ending

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Doctor Who Extremis Review

Ah this episode was more like the old school Santa Moff penned script I know and love. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy The Pilot. I did, but I have always enjoyed the way Moffat does outlandish experimentation in directions you never expect on Doctor Who, and this is what happens again with Extremis.

Like the openers to series 6 and 9, this mid series episode felt like part one of a finale two parter. Aside from some jokes at the Catholic Church’s expense via Bill and her prospective girlfriend, Penny’s shock at the TARDIS materializing and bringing The Pope to say hi, the whole episode feels dark, foreboding and like the stakes are getting ramped up in a big way.

Missy and The Doctor

The episode opens sometime after The Husbands of River Song and the singing towers and The Doctor finding Bill we presume. We aren’t given a lot of background on why Missy is about to be executed (is it something to do with her escape with the daleks at the start of series 9? Will this story strand come up again in the s10 finale?), but the way Moffat weaves how The Doctor came to be minding the box at university actually works quite well alongside the second story strand of the episode, which is basically The Name of the Rose meets The Matrix alien invasion story.

I have always found the relationship between The Master and The Doctor to be interesting. They are both Time Lord renegades, and therefore, in some sense bound by mutual understanding of what it is to be alone, to be an outcast from kin. They are both brilliant geniuses, even if they choose to use that genius to different ends. They both play games with each other, to test that intellect, and to make sure both can still play the game.

Though Missy was understated in this episode, Michelle Gomez is as brilliant as ever, and I am heartbroken that she is set to leave alongside Capaldi. Though I still enjoyed Simm Master, he has nothing on the cold, intelligent, brutal mania of Missy. I couldn’t quite tell, as Missy knelt before her executioner, if she meant every word she said or she was just trying to save her own skin.

I have also often said in these recap reviews that Moffat has a way of verbalising via his scripts key qualities of The Doctor, the qualities which make him loved, respected and famed throughout the galaxy. This time Moff does this via Nardole, River Song and her blue TARDIS diary. If The Doctor killed Missy in cold blood, he would no longer be The Doctor (the name you choose. It’s like a promise you keep). He would take responsibility for her, he would watch over her for a thousand years because she is a Time Lord following horribly wrong paths, but he cannot kill her without destroying the part of himself that people love most. River’s diary quote felt like something out of a philosophy text rather than a TV episode, and it is no less beautiful for that.

River: Only in darkness are we revealed. […] Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

In the most extreme of circumstances, The Doctor saves The Master in the hopes that someday she will make good on her word and pay The Doctor’s kindness back. By episode’s end, The Doctor must ask one of his oldest enemies for help. The question is, at what price does Missy’s aide come? Does she truly understand the meaning of calling someone friend? Her words as her doom sat high seem to indicate so:

Missy: Without hope. Without witness. Without reward. I am your friend.

The Companions

I am still loving Bill, and this episode continued with building on her relationship with Nardole, which I am a fan of. I love that Nardole can be a ‘badass’ and then two seconds later reveal himself to be a real coward. He is a companion that grows on me more with each passing episode.

I am also enjoying the run of stories in series 10 which see The Doctor and his companions relying less on the sonic and magic Time Lord get out of jail free cards, and more focus on companions and The Doctor resorting to intellect to get out of sticky situations. This episode then is a mixed bag on this front; most of the episode is spent with characters figuring things out, yet The Doctor’s ability to email from the simulation to himself in the real world made no sense.

Extremis: 9/10 inky stars for being a chilling, yet oddly beautiful in parts episode, with some fine performances from everyone, but especially from Capaldi. His gravity when he explains to Bill that they are simulations is grave and sad.

PS: Will The Doctor’s attempt to read The Veritus affect his next regeneration? What price did Twelve pay for the brief use of his vision returned?

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