Interesting news about Chris Chibnall’s plans for Doctor Who

From Radio Times yesterday:

It looks like new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall is set to shake up the long-running sci-fi drama when he takes over at the end of the year.

In an interview with Television, the in-house magazine of the Royal Television Society, Chibnall says that all options are on the table for the programme, including a whole-series storyline of the kind he pursued on three series of Broadchurch.

Asked if this approach were possible, he replied “yes”, adding that “what the BBC was after was risk and boldness” when they approached him for the job.

Admitting that he resisted accepting the role “for a very long time”, Chibnall said the BBC had agreed with his ideas for the show – somewhat to his surprise.

“I had ideas about what I wanted to do with it,” he said. “When I went to them and said, ‘This is what I would do’, I actually expected them to say, ‘Ooh, let’s talk about that’, but they said: ‘Great!’”

Interviewer Mark Lawson writes in the same piece: “Chibnall’s general tone suggests that there may be a radical revamp of Doctor Who, which will please those who have suggested the show needs a kick up the Tardis.”

I’ll be writing my review of The Empress of Mars soon–probably tonight if all goes well–but I just wanted to comment briefly on this very interesting bit of news about Chris Chibnall’s plans for Doctor Who post 2017.

Basically, Chibnall appears to be toying with plans for a radical shake-up of Doctor Who’s format when he takes over. There’s a reference to the possibility of a series-long storyline à la Broadchurch in the article–which would be radical indeed, and if Chibnall is considering that, then it’s a pretty good indication that anything is possible for Series 11. Even more interestingly, it looks like the BBC is totally on board with any radical revamping of the show Chibnall is proposing to undertake.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is some of the most exciting Doctor Who news we’ve heard in a long time–and yes, that includes the return of John Simm and the Mondasian Cybermen. I was literally only thinking yesterday about how the best thing Chibnall could do for the show, other than produce great stories, would be to shake up the format. I actually didn’t think it was likely to happen, but an iconoclastic overhaul is exactly what the show needs right now.

I hate to say it, but as brilliant as the Capaldi era has been, at least for us diehards, the thing is just getting a bit stale. A bit passé. I was reflecting on that in my review of Extremis, where I struggled to be enthused by what was undoubtedly one of the boldest and most boundary-pushing episodes we’ve seen on Who. That the show has been sticking to the formula Russell T Davies employed when he brought it back in 2005 has a lot to do with that. Sure, there have been stylistic changes along the way–Moffat in particular has cycled through as many stylistic shifts as he’s done seasons–and the character of the fanbase has changed in tandem, but on the whole Doctor Who in 2017 remains the same show it was in 2005. And I think if it stayed that way any longer we’d all, even us diehards, get bored of it and it would get cancelled.

So, yes, the show needs to change to survive, and more than to survive, to remain interesting. The experience of the show’s first cancellation should be instructive: by 1989 the show had become repetitive, had become boring, had lost viewers, and was canned. The changes need to involve more than more two-parters or extending the format to 60 minutes (although both would be welcome changes). The experiment with a three-part story in the Monk trilogy was a welcome venture, even if that storyline rather flopped. The idea of a Broadchurch-style series-long storyline is even better.

I think I’d also want to see a major stylistic shift under Chibnall. Moffat made a significant stylistic shift away from Davies’ familiar (and relatively consistent) style when he took over in 2010, and has moved even further away from Davies’ style since then, but by and large the show still looks much like it did in 2005, and a casual viewer wouldn’t necessarily be able to distinguish between the two. Just compare televised Doctor Who to the audio Doctor Who Big Finish is making to discern how little the show has actually changed since 2005. Doctor Who is still by and large a soap opera clothed in science-fiction garb, admittedly with more emphasis on the science-fiction bit now than in 2005. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but after 12 years it’s starting to feel stale. It’s hard to get consistently large numbers of people excited about the same thing you’ve been making for 12 years.

Doctor Who should feel fresh again. Series 11 should be a reboot in every sense except continuity. Series 11 should feel like 2005 again, not stylistically but in the sense of freshness and newness, in the sense that you’re seeing an old, familiar show totally remade into a new one. In 2005 the rebranded, revamped Doctor Who captured the attention of a nation–and it can do so again if it successfully does what it’s always been good at, and changes, regenerates.

I was starting to feel uneasy about the prospect of Chibnall as showrunner, given his indication that he was going to throw out all the current writers (even Mathieson and Dollard)–and I’m still uneasy about Chibnall on this front–but he’s just given me a very good reason to be excited about Series 11.

The female Doctor question once more

It’s been almost a month since Peter Capaldi announced his intention to leave Doctor Who at the end of 2017. In remarkably quick time the fandom has turned from lamenting Peter Capaldi’s impending departure, to speculating excitedly about the identity of the actor who will be playing the 13th Doctor, to now fighting angrily amongst itself in the latest fandom war to break out in this exceptionally quarrelsome fandom. I’m talking about the controversy over the question of whether the Doctor should be played by a woman. It’s not really a new controversy—it rears its head every time the question of the next Doctor comes up and every time anyone publicly speculates about the future of Doctor Who. Not to mention every time Steven Moffat gives a self-indulgent wink to the fans indicating the possibility of the Doctor one day undergoing a sex-flipping regeneration.

But there’s something different about the discourse about a prospective female Doctor this time. It’s like the calls for a female Doctor have finally reached fever pitch. The people calling for a female Doctor are calling louder and shriller than ever before. There’s no humility in the calls for a female Doctor any more. What used to be speculation and suggestion about the possibility of a female Doctor has turned practically into demand, coupled with an intolerance for the views of those who don’t want such a radical change to the show’s format. I’ve never seen it like this before. It’s practically at the point where those pushing for a female Doctor won’t accept any new actor cast as the 13th Doctor who isn’t a woman.

I’ve elaborated on why I don’t want a female Doctor before, but with the female Doctor idea being pushed so forcefully at the moment, I feel compelled to reiterate my position. I’ve seen various reasons put forward in opposition to a female Doctor, but fundamentally, for me, it’s about being true to the character. For me, it’s simple: the Doctor is a male character. The Doctor is a man. I’ve never thought of the Doctor as anything other than a man. I don’t think generations of fans and producers of this show since the 1960s have ever thought of the Doctor as anything other than a man, as indicated by the fact that in 53 years and 13 regenerations, the Doctor has only ever been played by male actors. For me, at least, casting a female actor to play the Doctor would not be true to the character. I would feel that a 13th Doctor played by a female actor would lack something intrinsic and fundamental to the character, which is the character’s gender. Seeing the Doctor played by a woman, I think and I fear that I would feel, “This character is not the Doctor. She is another character (maybe even a good character) but she is not the Doctor.”

As I said in my earlier post on the subject:

I’ve come to love this character, the Doctor, independent of any of his individual incarnations. When I think of the Doctor, no individual incarnation springs immediately to mind, but I think of a number of essential traits that make this overarching character, this person, who he is: heroic, principled, selfless, eccentric, lonely, mysterious — and a man. I very much get the feeling that, throughout his various incarnations, despite looking and feeling different after each regeneration, the Doctor remains the same person, and it’s very important to me, for my investment in the character, that the Doctor always feels like the same person. To an extent, at least, I’d feel that the Doctor had become a different person if the Doctor were to become a woman. After thirteen or however many incarnations as a man, I think I’d feel that I couldn’t recognise a female Doctor as the character I knew and loved; that a female actor is likely to depart in a fundamental way from how the character has been portrayed in the past would only exacerbate this feeling.

“But Time Lords don’t have a fixed sex, it’s been shown they can regenerate into the opposite sex, so the Doctor is not a man” might come the objection. My first response to that would be that all that’s been shown onscreen is two Time Lords regenerating into the opposite sex, one, the Master, after a long history of having been a man (like the Doctor), and one, the General, whose first words after regenerating were “Back to normal, am I?” It’s not been established canonically when and how Time Lords can regenerate into the opposite sex—it certainly hasn’t been confirmed that every Time Lord can do it, or that a sex change is a 50% chance for every Time Lord. That the Doctor has been a man 13 times out of 13 so far suggests that there’s more involved than pure random chance.

But I recognise that Moffat (or Chibnall, if he is so inclined) could easily retcon that continuity and establish with a single throwaway line in a forgettable script that the Doctor has an equal chance of regenerating into a man or a woman, and that he’s just had exceptionally unusual luck so far. So the more important answer to the objection above is that just because the Doctor can be made to regenerate into a woman, doesn’t mean he should. The whole idea of sex-flipping regeneration is very new in the history of the show (2011 was the first reference I believe), and the Doctor has now been a man for 13 regenerations and 53 years offscreen or over 2,000 years onscreen. He’s long been widely and popularly identified as a male character, and the Doctor was entrenched in the fandom’s consciousness and the broader cultural consciousness as an iconic male character long before Steven Moffat turned up on the scene, late-coming, and told us all that, actually, the Doctor isn’t a male character, he’s actually a bisexual gender-fluid sequential hermaphrodite (as I once saw it amusingly put), and that our long-standing identification and association of the Doctor as a male character is wrong and misplaced.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth. I fully respect the views of those who disagree with me and take a different perspective, as long as they respect mine. Because it’s an increasingly common thing among the more ardent supporters of a female Doctor to dismiss everyone who doesn’t take their position as misogynists. Because apparently there’s no other possible reason a person might be reluctant to radically change a fundamental part of the format of a 53-year old show other than hatred of one half of the human race. Even the substantial number of female fans who oppose a female Doctor. Apparently they hate women, too. Sounds legit. Perhaps there are people who oppose a female Doctor because of misogynistic motivations, but I would assume their number is minuscule, because one wonders why misogynists would spend their time watching a show which so proudly elevates and empowers its female characters.

I know that the majority of supporters of a female Doctor are reasonable, intelligent people who do not believe that opponents of the idea are all misogynists. I’ve been in many debates about a female Doctor before and the majority of those arguing for a female Doctor have been reasonable and respectful of the views of those of us who disagree. But there is a vocal minority who do take that line, and they’re incredibly stubborn and infuriating people to argue with, who are typically projecting their own profound intolerance onto others. In this respect it’s regretful to see that Radio Times has, since Peter Capaldi announced his departure, become a prominent voice pushing the “all-opponents-of-a-female-Doctor-are-misogynists” line with its articles containing thinly-veiled suggestions to that effect, giving unwelcome respectability to that view.

Something else I worry about with the push for a female Doctor is that it would be done for all the wrong reasons. If it’s done for genuinely creative reasons, because the producers are interested in the creative possibilities casting a woman as the Doctor opens up, that’s fine. I respect that, even I don’t agree with it. I can’t respect the decision if it’s done for political reasons, to promote a social agenda, or simply to be progressive or politically correct. Doctor Who isn’t another front for a progressive social agenda, another hive of reactionary social oppression that needs to be prised open by the winds of equality, it’s a TV show for kids. When it comes to casting for a TV show, “it’s time” just isn’t an argument. Why is it time? Is it oppression to be denied the opportunity to be Doctor Who? Is playing the Doctor a human right now? Should we inform the UN, in that case? Forgive my saltiness, but I really don’t have patience for arguments like this. A casting decision should always be a creative one with the purpose of making the best work possible, not a political one, because when politics is elevated above art in making casting decisions, by definition worse casting decisions are made and the show, as art, suffers.

I mean, I wonder what would be gained politically by turning an established and iconic male character into a woman as a purely symbolic act, especially considering the backlash from the substantial proportion of fans who don’t want a female Doctor. I’m not sure that the campaign to turn established male characters into women is the best progressive strategy considering how much it annoys fans (male and female) of the franchises in question. In any case, I’m not even sure a decision to turn an iconic and long-established male character like the Doctor into a woman, when the person making that decision knows that they would face a huge backlash from a substantial number of fans if they did so, can ever not be political. Even if the decision is made predominantly for creative reasons, the decision to cast a woman as the Doctor, after 13 men have played the character and after the character has been entrenched in popular consciousness for so long as a man, couldn’t not be fundamentally political. It would almost certainly be perceived that way, especially if Chibnall uses the words “it’s time”, as he would, in reference to the decision.

All that said, I’m not necessarily saying that if a woman were cast as the 13th Doctor, I wouldn’t give it a chance. As I said in my earlier post on the subject, I would most likely continue watching the show and I would keep an open mind about the change—I would even be interested in how a female Doctor would be played out, like most fans, I’m sure. I would be prepared to admit that I was wrong about how I thought I would feel, and that I end up continuing to identify a female Doctor as the character I love. But I think my reservations are legitimate, and I would rather it not happen at all than see it go ahead on the unlikely chance that I end up warming to the change. And it’s not just me—as I mentioned a number of times, there are a substantial number of fans, if not a majority, who are opposed to a female Doctor. It’s worth considering whether what the idea’s supporters want from a female Doctor is worth alienating a huge proportion of the fandom for.

Peter Capaldi’s departure

So, for anyone who hasn’t heard the earth-shattering news, Peter Capaldi will be leaving Doctor Who after Series 10, to regenerate in the 2017 Christmas special. I wasn’t ready for the news to be honest, because it doesn’t feel that long ago that we welcomed Capaldi into the role. But, on the other hand, I was kind of expecting this. Peter’s not a young man, and the role inevitably takes its toll even on sprightly youngsters like Matt Smith and David Tennant. And three seasons, or four years, seems to have become the convention for an actor’s run as the Doctor these days. Anyway, here are some of the thoughts that have been running through my head since I heard the news.

On one level I’m disappointed. Peter Capaldi has been an absolutely fantastic Doctor and it was always going to be sad to see him leave. Although I admit it took me a while to warm to him after Matt left, over Series 9 I came to adore him, so much that I count him as my second favourite Doctor after Matt Smith, and Twelve and Clara have become my favourite Doctor and companion team after Eleven and the Ponds. Of course I knew that Peter had to leave eventually, but I thought (or hoped) that with Peter it would be different. I saw uniquely in Peter, unlike in Matt, the potential to become the next iconic Doctor Who, the show’s modern Tom Baker, if he stayed around for an extended run. I would have loved to have seen Peter establish himself in the role long-term. I would have loved to have seen his face and his name become synonymous with the Doctor, like Tom Baker was. Given how much Peter revered the show and loved the role, and given that he wasn’t a young actor like David or Matt with full careers ahead of them, I half expected him to do exactly that. But alas. It’s been a privilege to have had Peter at all, so I can’t complain that he didn’t stay for longer.

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Peter has undoubtedly been the best actor ever to star in the role. He brought compelling gravitas, intensity and passion to the role. His Doctor was utterly bewitching to watch. Unlike most actors who take up the role, usually up-and-coming actors or relatively small names, Peter was a distinguished and widely-respected actor when he took the role. It’s probably not exaggerating to say Peter was (and is) one of the most distinguished British actors of his generation. The role was, frankly, below him, but he took it up anyway because he loved the show so much and it was his childhood dream to be the Doctor. Do we realise how privileged we are to have had him? Without at all detracting from Matt or David or Chris or any of the other actors who’ve played the role, Peter’s performances were just of a higher calibre than any who’ve come before him, as the tours de force of Heaven Sent, Hell Bent, Twelve’s speech in The Zygon Inversion proved. You could see how devoted to the role he was by the way he put everything into his performances, and it’s made for some of the best Doctor Who ever (in my opinion).

When Twelve regenerates we’ll get a new actor in the role, and that in itself is exciting, as sad as it is to see Peter go. The speculation has already started (and I’m going to join in soon—watch this space!) What’s already clear is that the calls for a female Doctor are louder than ever this time round. I’ve shared my reasons why I don’t want a female Doctor before, but since the topic has come up again I’m going to write another post on the topic soon reiterating my thoughts. I’m not sure what I would do if, come Christmas, Twelve regenerates and the Doctor is a woman, but I think I would keep watching, albeit begrudgingly. I would give it a chance, at least, but I can’t see it working.

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In any case I think it’s unlikely that a female actor will be cast as the next Doctor. A new showrunner is taking over, and, with Peter (and probably Pearl, too) going at the same time, everything is going to be new. Like in 2010, it’ll practically be a reboot, and the show has to win its audience over all over again. I think, in those circumstances, Chibnall and the production team would consider that introducing a female Doctor would be too big a risk to take, because if the audience don’t take to a female Doctor and turn away from the show, the BBC might easily be tempted to make the decision that the show is finished and cancel it.

On the subject of Series 11, though, even though I would have loved to have seen Peter continue as the Doctor under Chris Chibnall and see a new showrunner’s interpretation of his Doctor, I’m also excited by the prospect of a 2010-style (soft) reboot. A totally clean slate. That means, I guess, Pearl would have to go, too. I realise it might be uncharitable to Pearl to advocate for her to leave before we’ve even seen her, but I have a feeling that she’s only staying around for one series anyway, since Series 10 is Moffat’s final series. Maybe Chibnall would have preferred to have some familiar faces around him when he started, maybe not, but the opportunity to totally reinvent the show, with a completely clean slate, is too good to pass up. I think Steven Moffat’s total overhaul of the show in 2010 was immensely successful in breathing new life into the show and ushering in an exciting new era. I’m looking forward to seeing how Chibnall recasts Doctor Who in his vision.

Now, let’s start preparing ourselves for another emotional regeneration. What am I saying? You know you’re going to cry, you may as well accept it. At least we’ll get to see Twelve with Clara again… *lip quivers*

On Steven Moffat’s departure

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Save your #moffatmustgo tweets, Moffat haters, because you’ve finally got your wish: Steven Moffat is retiring as Doctor Who showrunner after Series 10, to air in Spring 2017 (Autumn for we antipodeans), to be succeeded from Series 11 onwards by Chris Chibnall. I don’t mean to be resentful: it’s fair to say that Moffat’s era and style of Doctor Who hasn’t been received with universal adoration by the fandom — Moffat has had his legions of ardent fanboys and fangirls (like me), and conversely, a sizeable contingent of dissenters for whom Moffat’s interpretation of Doctor Who rubbed them the wrong way and who’ve never stopped clamouring for him to go. I know personally someone, a good friend and devoted Whovian, who will be delighted by this news. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either perspective.

For my own part, I’m both saddened and gratified by the news. Anyone who reads this blog would know that I’m a huge Moffat fanboy, an unabashed Moffat partisan who will defend him and his era to the death. I think he’s by a substantial distance the best writer ever to contribute to the show, the best showrunner Doctor Who has ever had, and, I would propose, one of the best things ever to happen to Doctor Who. His era is easily my all-time favourite; he created my two favourite Doctors, Eleven and Twelve; and my favourite ever companion, Amy Pond. I became a fan of the show during Moffat’s tenure. Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, in short, is my Doctor Who.

At the same time, I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that it’s about time for Moffat to go. As much as I’ve loved Steven Moffat as showrunner, Doctor Who thrives on change and renewal and reinvention, and the show should not ever become synonymous with one person’s creative vision. I don’t think Moffat had begun to run out of ideas at all — Series 9 has been the most creative and pioneering series in years, I would suggest since Doctor Who came back, in terms of pure boldness of vision. It suggests Moffat is still brimming with interesting ideas for Doctor Who. I’ve no doubt that Moffat could, if he wanted to, go on indefinitely directing Doctor Who and producing a high-quality show. But, by the end of Series 10, Moffat will have pretty much reached the limit of how long a single showrunner should be in charge of the show. If Moffat were to continue on after Series 10, it would be too long for the show to have been stuck in a familiar style, directed by a familiar vision employing familiar tropes and motifs. A new voice is needed. Which is why I’m glad about Moffat’s departure, even if I’m going to miss the man enormously. It’s, frankly, the perfect point for him to leave.

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As for Moffat’s chosen successor, Chris Chibnall, this isn’t an announcement about which I’m not without reservations. To be sure, I’ll be glad of a fresh vision guiding the show, but Chibnall would not have been my first choice (that would have been Jamie Mathieson, although I realise that was a pretty optimistic hope). Chibnall has commendable showrunning experience in producing Broadchurch, an absolutely fantastic show which is a huge credit to Chibnall’s ability to make high-quality television. He was also showrunner of a lesser-known BBC period drama called Born and Bred, which is also an exceptional show, and one of my favourite ever dramas (I highly recommend watching it). It’s his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred that makes me very excited about the thought of Chibnall as Doctor Who showrunner.

But it’s Chibnall’s work on Doctor Who about which I have reservations. In his Doctor Who scripts to date, he has never particularly distinguished himself as a writer. His best script, in my opinion, was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a delightful romp, and in my opinion the best episode of Series 7, but not really what I’d call the most memorable of episodes. In contrast, when Steven Moffat was announced as showrunner, he’d written four all-time classics under Russell T Davies: The Empty Child/The Doctor DancesThe Girl in the FireplaceBlink and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Chibnall has nothing like Moffat’s Doctor Who writing record under his belt going into assuming creative control of the show. That said, he’s written a few very good scripts for Torchwood: CountrycideAdrift and Fragments. But he was also responsible for Cyberwoman, one of a small handful of stories in the wider Doctor Who franchise that I can say without hesitation that I hate with a visceral passion.

On balance, I think the jury’s still out for me on Chris Chibnall as showrunner. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what he produces before I pass judgment. And, frankly, at the end of the day, I am very excited, as well as trepidatious, to see how Chibnall does. At the very least, it can be said that he’s a real Doctor Who fan, he understands the show, and he’s likely to have an interesting vision for the show, which will probably be quite different from Steven Moffat’s. He’ll also be inheriting probably the best stable of regular writers the show has had since it came back: Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Sarah Dollard, Toby Whithouse, so he’ll be very well-equipped as showrunner. One thing I will say unreservedly in his favour, though, is that he seems to have tremendous skill and instinct for writing characters. This is unmistakable from his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred (again, I can’t recommend watching this show highly enough), as well as his writing for Doctor Who; he did create the character of Brian Pond Williams, after all, for whom the only apt description is “amazing”.

One last thought, on the 2017 air date for Series 10. Of course, I’m greatly disappointed that we won’t get any Doctor Who this year apart from the Christmas special (what is this, Sherlock!!?!?!?), but I can agree that the extended wait might be worth it. It’ll give Moffat and the crew plenty of time to perfect and hone Moffat’s final series. Moffat will want to go out on a bang, and I can anticipate that Series 10 is going to be huge, especially if Capaldi also leaves at the end of Series 10 (which I think is likely). An extra 6-8 months should surely give Moffat et al. enough time to hone Series 10 into the best series it can be, and, above all, make it worth the wait and worthy of the showrunner’s swan song. At the same time, though, I’d have thought, at least, that we’d get some Doctor Who in 2016: at least a couple of specials (à la 2009), or a split series. In that case, though, Series 10 better be worth the wait. I’m just wondering what on Earth I’m going to write about for the next year.

Thoughts on: The Power of Three

It was unconventional, I’ll give it that. This episode strayed from Doctor Who’s tried and tested forms of storytelling by casting the story from the companions’ point of view. The episode was enabled to do that by the central premise of the episode in which the Earth finds itself invaded by trillions of small black cubes which… do absolutely nothing. Thus obliging the Doctor to wait around in the Ponds’ house until the cubes do do something. Both devices — the companion POV and the lack of immediate threat — were unconventional for Doctor Who. The episode deserves praise for daring to be different, at least, but unconventional doesn’t necessarily mean effective. Watching the Doctor hanging out with Amy and Rory and trying vainly to pass the time while waiting on the cubes and, failing that, whisking Amy and Rory away for adventures of which we only see the entertainingly absurd endings, was charming and amusing, yes, but didn’t really make for particularly gripping storytelling. I was wondering impatiently when the episode would get to the point while watching all this.

When it did, belatedly, things started to improve. Although “the invasion of the cubes” is the kind of idea that initially makes you wonder what the writer was thinking, the cubes turned out to be a properly intriguing mystery. Especially so after they “activated”. The countdown was spiced with tension, and things really started to hot up when people started collapsing in the streets. The gruesome grill-mouthed men posing as hospital staff, spiriting away patients and nurses’ unsuspecting fathers through a goods lift to an ominous looking spaceship orbiting the Earth, had real fear factor, but their child-scaring potential was unfortunately not fully exploited. Moffat should beat into Chris Chibnall Rule 1 of Doctor Who: take no prisoners when it comes to trying to traumatise children.

For the episode’s build-up, though, both the revelation and the resolution felt undignifiedly underdeveloped. The idea that the shadowy alien masters of the cubes wanted to use them to exterminate the human race before they spread into the universe was fine enough, but the whole thing felt like an afterthought. It felt awkwardly lynch-pinned on, the revelation of these malignant, semi-legendary “pest controllers of the universe” (the Pesticide Lords?) sitting incongruously with the light, fluffy tale that had preceded it. I didn’t feel the conviction in that scene; neither in the writing nor in Matt Smith’s delivery of the “humans rule, OK?” speech. Nor was the resolution any good. I’m not among those who insist the sonic screwdriver is an overused “magic wand”, but if one were to point to a perfect instance of the sonic screwdriver being used as a magic solve-all, it’d be here, where the Doctor seemingly waves his sonic screwdriver at the screen and brings billions of people back to life. It was all disconcertingly over in a matter of seconds.

This episode couldn’t stand on its plot, but where it does succeed is its character element. It’s great writing and directing, along with acting from the three leads, portraying the Ponds’ anxieties and equivocation over having to sort out their “real” lives from their Tardis lives. Seeing the Ponds increasingly committed and content with their “normal” life, and seeing the Doctor’s apprehension about that, is charming and just a bit sad (I loved the Series 6 Doctor-Ponds dynamic, and it pains me to see the Doctor and his best friends drifting apart from each other like that). This emotional element of the story led to a couple of tender character moments—the Doctor and Amy’s emotion-laden conversation outside the Tower of London was particularly beautiful. The Doctor’s poetic exposition of why he runs to things, not away from them, was only topped by his assertion that he keeps coming back to Amy, “Because you were the first. The first face this face saw. And you’re seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you, and Rory, before you fade from me.” Also very poignant moments were the Doctor’s admission to Amy earlier that, all the adventuring around time and space aside, he missed her. And his being forced to admit to Brian what happened to his former companions—you can see the repressed pain and regret written all over the Doctor’s face.

Some final thoughts. I have laudatory things to say about two characters in particular. First, Kate Stewart was a wonderful invention. I’m not sure who, of Moffat or Chibnall, gets the credit for Kate, but her conception was ingenious. She was written well and played impressively by Jemma Redgrave, who has become the face for Moffat’s new-look, revamped science-driven UNIT. She’s a fitting successor to the venerable Brigadier. Brian Pond Williams is shaping up to be the next beloved companion parent. Few could convincingly fulfil that role after Bernard Cribbins played the endearing companion parent par excellence in Wilfred Mott, but Brian really pips it, an adorable, quirky, devoted old man who truly deserves his status as an honorary Pond. Although Amy has slowly matured since we first met her at the beginning of Series 5, it occurred to me that the difference was particularly marked in this episode. She still retains a few of the familiar old Pond-isms (Rory: “There are soldiers all over my house, and I’m in my pants.” Amy: “My whole life I’ve dreamed of saying that, and I miss it by being someone else.”), but, other than, obviously, physically*, she’s distinctly older, more mature, and even audibly older — her vocal range and speech patterns seem less, er, teenage girl-ish and more mature young lady. Amy’s character development over her two-and-a-half seasons has been really subtle and well-orchestrated, and I’d say the most successful character development yet of any of the New Who companions.

* She and Rory calculated that it’s been 7 years in (relative) time since they first took up with the Doctor, which makes them about 26 in this episode. The age of their friends indicates what age they’re supposed to look.

Rating: 6/10.

Thoughts on: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

In this desperate marathon of mine through all of New Who I’m beginning to get into the episodes with which I’m less familiar. I have only fuzzy memories of most of Series 7, having only seen them the one time when they were first broadcast three years ago. I especially had little recollection of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I was expecting a camp, extravagant, self-consciously ridiculous romp, forty-five minutes of heartily entertaining nonsense. By and large, that was precisely what we got: apart from the titular dinosaurs on the titular spaceship, there was Queen Nefertiti, Mitchell and Webb robots, a furious race against the clock, the Doctor riding a triceratops, and Mr Weasley. It all made for what I think is possibly the most fun we’ve ever had on Doctor Who. But what we also got was a very sober story about a truly loathsome man and what he made the Doctor do. For all its fun extravagance and larking about, this episode delved into some uncharacteristically dark themes, which makes it into something more than just a fun romp in my eyes.

The Doctor for some reason decides he needs a “gang” to tackle this conundrum, à la Scooby Doo, and we’re treated to amusing scenes of the Doctor conscripting his ace team from across time and space: he snatches a lusty Queen Nefertiti from ancient Egypt, Inspector Lestrade an Edwardian explorer called Riddell from the African plains in 1902, and, of course, Amy and Rory, along with a bewildered Mr Weasley Rory’s dad. The characters are all wonderful and add immensely to the enjoyableness of the episode. “Neffy” and Riddell are a joy to watch together, and their budding romance is too much for the screen. “You clearly need a man of action and excitement. One with a very large weapon.” Yowza. They made amusing “companions” to Amy, and it was fun seeing Amy have to deal with what the Doctor deals with from his companions.

Amy and Rory are surprisingly useful, Amy, in the Doctor’s absence, putting into practice what she’s learned from all her experience travelling with the Doctor (“press buttons”), and Rory coming across very clever and competent. He’s even quite badass when he’s enjoining the poncey robots to brush up their etiquette and threatening death by fiery liquefaction. Rory looked especially good next to his hapless, baffled father, although Brian, too, eventually got into the swing of things with his trowel and golf ball related initiative. There was an instance of foreboding foreshadowing where the Doctor tries to soothe Amy’s anxieties about his visiting her less often, promising “You’ll be there to the end of me.” To which Amy unthinkingly rejoins “Or vice versa.” The stupefied look on the Doctor’s face just about summed up the appropriate response to that moment. The message: oh, cripes, they’re going to die.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a genuinely hateful villain on Doctor Who, someone whom you have no qualms about despising unreservedly. Solomon, played to perfection by David Bradley, was entirely despicable, and it was obvious the show was inviting the audience to loathe him as much as the Doctor evidently did by showing Solomon committing various enormities such as threatening to kill Brian, his cruel murder of the triceratops, and his kidnapping and, in a particularly grisly line of dialogue, thinly-veiled threat to rape Nefertiti. We were made to hate Solomon to soften the shock of watching the Doctor effectively murder him by cruelly leaving him to die in his ship. The Doctor was quite scary in his last words to Solomon, “Did the Silurians beg you to stop? Look, Solomon. The missiles. See them shine? See how valuable they are. And they’re all yours. Enjoy your bounty.” The Doctor was cold and remorseless about sending a man to his death. I found that very confronting when I saw it originally. It was probably the one thing about this episode I remembered vividly three years later. Solomon was despicable, true, but what happened to the “man who never would”? We’re seeing an entirely different side to the Doctor’s character here, and it’s exhilarating. This builds effectively not only on the previous episode’s portrayal of the Doctor’s questionable morality, but also on the theme embarked upon at the end of Series 6 about the Doctor not being a hero.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood

The Silurians are the latest classic monster to be brought back in this gripping two-parter. Although it was in many ways a rehash of the same themes featured in previous Silurian stories, I think this story stands in its own right and does a fantastic job of re-introducing this classic villain to a modern audience, just as The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky did with respect to the Sontarans and Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel did the Cybermen. The story successfully established who the Silurians were, what they were about, and even gave us a privileged glimpse of the Silurians’ civilisation. Accordingly, the story adroitly avoided casting the Silurians, or anyone really, as the “bad guys”, except for perhaps the deranged warmonger Restac, and the theme of the story was the same inter-species political dilemma that played out in Doctor Who and the Silurians and other Silurian/Sea Devil stories.

In general this story had a very interesting and compelling plot, although my major criticism of the story would be that it seemed overlong. There simply wasn’t enough happening to fill the full ninety minutes and keep the viewers interested. Perhaps more plot could have been written to convincingly fill the two episodes, but, as it is, the story felt slow. That said, I thought the first episode, although not all that much necessarily happened, was more exciting than the second half. It played out as a unique iteration of the base-under-siege format as the humans attempted to hunker down in an old Welsh village church while unknown subterranean enemies assailed them from beneath the earth. It was seized with urgency and irresistible mystery and made for very gripping viewing. The second half had more in the way of plot and action, but somehow seemed to plod along without the urgency of the first half. One thing I’ll say for the second episode, though, is that it offered wonderful insight into the Silurians’ civilisation, with stunning scenes of the Silurian city and tantalising glimpses of their technology and science and social organisation. It felt like convincingly alien surroundings, something a show about space and time travel doesn’t, presumably for budgetary reasons, show as often as you’d expect it would.

Like the classic Silurian stories, these episodes were heavy with political undercurrents and intelligent parallels with real-world political issues. Does not the conflict between a group of original owners of a territory and that territory’s present inhabitants carry certain pertinent real-world associations? I’m reminded of Israel and Palestine, or issues surrounding indigenous peoples of the world and settler populations, such as in Australia and North America. Like these real-world issues, the Silurian situation has no easy solutions, and, to its credit, the story confronted and recognised that. Other parallels with these real world-issues were seen in the conflict between the more conciliatory tendencies and the more hardliner fundamentalists on each side, with Eldane and Malohkeh representing the conciliatory voices among the Silurians and Restec representing the militant fundamentalists, while Ambrose arguably represented hardliner attitudes among the humans. I think the script’s moralising about sharing and finding common ground between disparate groups was a refreshing and heartwarming ecumenical message, but I found it did get a bit cringe-inducingly preachy at times, as near the end where the Doctor was telling the humans to spread the “prophecy” that the Earth was to be shared.

There were robust performances all-round in this story from the leads and the supporting cast. Elliot was an endearing child and the child actor Samuel Davies really made the audience care about his character. Meera Syal was excellent as Nasreen Chaudhry, a singular, spirited woman who had the potential of a fantastic would-have-been companion. Nia Roberts was also very strong and convincing as the flawed but redeemable Ambrose. Matt Smith delivered an understated but commanding performance as the Doctor—there were no standout “Doctor” moments as such in this story, but there were several subtle little moments where Matt shined, such as his confrontations with Alaya and Ambrose. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were both excellent, as always. Particularly in that whopper of an ending. Rory’s death and Amy’s desperate struggle to cling onto her rapidly fading memories of Rory were heartbreaking, tear-jerking stuff. Both Gillan and Darvill are to be commended for profoundly affecting performances. Moffat has really upped the ante here in regards to his series arc, though; you know now that the “cracks in time” motif is building up to something big. Really big.

Rating: 8/10.