Thoughts on: Robot of Sherwood

Just when I had lost all faith in Mark Gatiss, he goes and delivers this, which has to be the most enjoyable, entertaining, eminently watchable script he’s ever written for Doctor Who. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for this episode beforehand. The synopsis and the teaser trailer indicated that this one had “mediocre early series filler episode” written all over it, à la The Curse of the Black SpotThe Shakespeare Code and The Beast Below. And Robin Hood and robots aren’t exactly the kind of story ingredients that get your Whovian heart racing (unless you’re Clara, who makes for an adorable fangirl). But I was pleasantly surprised — this has to be the most engaging writing Gatiss has ever produced for Doctor Who, even if only because it was so terrifically funny. To be sure, it was fairly light on plot, and it’s obvious Gatiss expended minimal time in conceiving its villains, generic robots from outer space, but I’m willing to forgive it these faults because everything else — the dialogue, the characters, the comedy — was done so well.

There are so many memorable scenes I could watch over again and again. The Doctor’s spoon-fight with Robin Hood had me grinning from ear to ear. I’m not entirely convinced Gatiss didn’t just start with the totally awesome idea, “the Doctor sword-fights Robin Hood with a spoon” and wrote the rest of the script around it. The Doctor and Robin Hood’s testosterone-fuelled alpha male rivalry throughout the episode was an absolute lark to watch, made all the funnier by the two actors’ hilarious performances. You wouldn’t think that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor could make you laugh as much as that, but Capaldi’s most famous role before Doctor Who, of course, was the comedy character Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, and it’s obvious Capaldi is consciously channelling Tucker in the Doctor’s fiery, wit-laden exchanges with Hood. In particular, I was clutching my sides watching the Doctor and Hood tearing into each other while chained to the floor of a medieval dungeon. I’ve honestly never laughed more at a Doctor Who episode than I did watching that.

After the very dark and heavy Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, this episode puts the Doctor in a more congenial setting, and we get to see another side, or at least the suggestion of another side, to our new Doctor. The Doctor spent a lot of time in his first two stories brooding and generally being grumpy. To be sure, he was substantially grumpy in this episode, too, but, through the generous displays of his dry wit, and the way he behaved around Hood, it’s clear that he at least has a sense of humour, and that there’s more to him than brooding amateur philosopher. The positively adolescent way he behaved around Hood, and the way he vied with Hood for Clara’s attention, showed there’s still a whimsical side to this Doctor, although it’s expressed a little differently to how it was Matt Smith’s and David Tennant’s Doctors.

Something I would have changed about the episode would have been to make Robin Hood and his Merry Men conform less to their storybook depictions. It’s just that if Robin Hood were real, he almost certainly wouldn’t have resembled the way he’s portrayed in storybooks and remembered in folk legends anywhere near the Robin Hood in this episode did. Hood surely would have been closer to an unscrupulous highwayman with delusions of moral rightness, more like a Ned Kelly figure, than the positively camp figure portrayed here who looks like he’s wandered in from a Laurence Olivier Shakespeare set. I don’t blame the Doctor for being so ardently sceptical of him. It would have been more consistent with the theme of the episode, of the legends of great men like Robin Hood and the Doctor consuming the actual persons themselves. We all know that the Doctor is just an idiot with a box and a screwdriver, but the rest of the universe, it’s been made clear several times, sees him differently.

Rating: 8/10.

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 Wedding of River Song

I have friends who are casual viewers of Doctor Who who’ve told me the show became far too confusing for them in Series 6. Perhaps it’s true that complicated series arcs put the casual viewers off, since traditionally (i.e. under Russell T Davies) Doctor Who has been a show you tune in for an entertaining “story of the week”, rather than a show with a continuous serialised narrative you need to keep up with, like Game of Thrones. For the casual viewer, then, The Wedding of River Song might seem like impenetrable nonsense. It relies heavily on an understanding of the Series 6 arc for its appeal. For us fans who do tune in eagerly every week, though (or at least for this fan), it was an exciting and gratifying culmination of a host of irresistible arc-related mysteries we’d been teased with all series. Although the episode looked messy (there were cars with balloons attached floating around London…), and moved at a pretty quick pace, it didn’t actually end up the undignified ejaculation of arc-revelation that it might have been (and which a certain regeneration episode ended up being…). The answers to the mysteries surrounding the Doctor’s death and the Silence and River Song were conveyed satisfyingly and didn’t end up unduly impinging on the scene-setting and plot progression.

I thought the idea of the story was really intriguing, i.e. that time is imploding because the Doctor failed to die his appointed death because River Song got sentimental and couldn’t bring herself to kill the love of her life (women, right?). There were dazzling scenes of all of time happening at once, which were just a bit nonsense, but delightful fun nonetheless (Winston Churchill as Roman Emperor anyone? Charles Dickens promoting his latest “Christmas special” on BBC Breakfast anyone?). This felt a tiny bit repetitive, as Moffat played with a similar concept in Pandorica, but that didn’t bother me too much. Any excuse to have Winston Churchill say “Good Lord, man, have you never heard of downloads?” works for me. The flashback format worked well, I think. It was an effective way both to pull the audience in, beginning the episode at the heart of the action with bloody great Pterodactyls flying around London, as well as progress through a substantial amount of narrative quickly by having the Doctor recount to Churchill what’s been happening up to that point.

I mentioned in my review of Pandorica that that finale was just a “pit stop” on the road of a much longer, greater overarching narrative. In The Wedding of River Song, we’ve moved further along that road, finding out more about what the Silence are and about their attempted orchestration of the Doctor’s death, but there’s still a great deal of mystery surrounding this long-term arc. That’s good. Like I said, this finale was already substantially arc-heavy in content, and if it had been any more so it would have been unwatchable. We did learn some more tantalising details of the greater plot at work, but the episode still made room for an enjoyable, captivating story about two fated lovers, the Doctor and River Song, and how all of time and space regrettably had to come between them. The Doctor’s ingenious solution to that particularly awkward conundrum was a satisfying way out which no one can honestly say they saw coming. That said, it was clever, but perhaps I was expecting something more? I’m not necessarily disappointed, but the makeshift resolution added to the sense that this finale was the most low-key yet (despite the stakes being just as high as Pandorica or The Stolen Earth).

In addition, this episode, although fast-paced, was peppered with wonderful, memorable scenes. There was the Doctor resisting the suggestion that he had to go to his death, before receiving a phone call informing him that his dear old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had passed away, and solemnly bringing himself to admit, finally, that his time had come, as it comes for all, time machine or no. There was the moment of the Doctor’s “death” at Lake Silencio, where, in the last seconds of his life, the Doctor selflessly chose to gently console and comfort River, Matt delivering with pathos the Doctor’s dying words. “You are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven,” in particular brought on the goosebumps. Very powerful stuff. There was the profound scene where River in the Receptor room of the pyramid shows the Doctor how much the universe loves him before he dies. “You’ve touched so many lives, saved so many people. Did you think when your time came, you’d really have to do more than just ask? You’ve decided that the universe is better off without you, but the universe doesn’t agree.” The Doctor seems taken aback and genuinely startled to learn this, especially given how much he’s been wallowing in guilt and self-loathing of late, which River was determined to snap him out of before he went, and justly so. The marriage of the Doctor and River itself was mesmerising, if a bit brief and understated. Finally, one of my favourite moments of Series 6 was the Doctor trying to set Rory up with Amy with the words “She said that you were a Mister Hottie-ness, and that she would like to go out with you for texting and scones.” Oh, Eleven. We adore you so much.

Some final thoughts. I think, for the first time, I actually saw Eleven and River. Before now, the pairing of Eleven and River always seemed somewhat awkward to me. Maybe it was the visible age difference, or the actual age difference (1,100 to, what, 40?). But I thought they were excellent together in this episode, especially in the Receptor room of the pyramid, and I totally see them now. Perhaps it’s because the Doctor seems to have noticeably aged; he seems older, more worldly, more jaded, than the energetic young puppy dog he was in, say, The Time of Angels, which makes for a more convincing dynamic with River. Secondly, Madame Kovarian was set up as a major player in the machinations of the Silence and in Series 6’s arc in general, but she was wasted in this finale. She got all of ten lines (I counted). That said, she wasn’t a particularly good character in the first place, but her presence in this episode was a bit pointless. She was basically plot fodder for Amy to get her revenge over Melody. Finally, although the episode held off answering too many questions, it pointed energetically at the way ahead by hinting really tantalisingly about where the Eleventh Doctor’s arc was heading. “On the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely, or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered…” Cue Whovians smacking their lips hungrily.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: Let’s Kill Hitler

I’ve always considered this episode a bit unspectacular, a bit of a misfire as an attempt at a mid-series “opener”. I’ve had to somewhat reevaluate this impression after this viewing. Although the episode has many problems and is far from perfect, there’s also a lot to like in there. Far from being a story about knocking off Hitler, this episode resolves the burning question about Amy and Rory’s daughter, i.e. River Song, hanging over from A Good Man Goes to War. It’s substantially a story with little in the way of plot, except concerning River’s attempted assassination of the Doctor. Maybe this is my main scruple with the episode. Without an actual story anchoring the episode, it all feels a bit messy and uncoordinated. I appreciate the revelations about River Song/Mels, and the arc development concerning the Silence’s conspiracy to kill the Doctor, and River’s role therein, but I find hard to look past how disjointed and poorly choreographed this episode feels.

Let’s talk about River, though. The “River” we see at the beginning of the episode, the delinquent Mels, is different from the River we know and love. Both River and Mels are “bad girls” with a rebellious streak, but unlike River’s misbehaviour, there’s no method to Mels’ madness, no purpose to her anarchy. Perhaps that reflects the subsequent influence of the Doctor over River? Mels was raised by a cult to be a psychopath with the sole purpose of killing the Doctor—it’s no wonder she was perennially in trouble with authority. Mels is portrayed as a delightfully diabolical woman; this was particularly apparent to me when the Doctor first realised he’d been poisoned, and his body had begun to give way, and Mels merely stood there smiling wickedly… before proceeding to terrorise the people of Berlin. But right at the end, with the Doctor on his deathbed, she becomes the River Song we recognise, giving him her regeneration energy to save his life. “Hello, sweetie.” It’s a beautiful moment. Alex Kingston was enjoyable to watch; she carried out really well both the comical (“So I was on my way to this gay Gypsy bar-mitzvah…”) and the more villainous stuff that she obviously had riveting fun playing, but also the more emotive and agonised material near the end.

The last fifteen minutes or so of this episode, in general, redeem it in my estimation. While the first half hour was messy and over-pitched, the final third was close to sublime, beginning with the Doctor struggling to hold onto life in the TARDIS, arguing with the TARDIS’s voice interface, successively taking the forms of himself, Rose, Martha, Donna and finally little Amelia Pond. The Doctor’s argument with voice-interface Pond was funny while it lasted, but also touching that Amelia Pond’s hologram’s utterance “fish fingers and custard” roused the Doctor into action. So was it also touching watching the Doctor, dying and weakening by the second, trying to force himself to save his friends, and River. Matt Smith conveyed powerfully the physical and emotional turmoil the Doctor was in as he tried in vain to struggle through his impending death to help his best friends. Supremely selfless, even at the point of death. And I’m as moved by the resolution to this episode as much as anyone: the beginning of River Song, when she rejects her conditioning and selflessly delivers the Doctor from death.

Some final thoughts. I thought the story of Mels’ growing up with Amy and Rory was charming. Especially the moment we see Amy and Rory get together. Too cute. Rory himself was written well in this episode. He’s steadily becoming less of the wimp he was when we first met him, and more of a brave action man. Marriage apparently suits him. Although, as I said, the episode is not without its very visible problems, the last fifteen minutes are exceptional, absorbing viewing, and effectively redeem the episode in my eyes. That raises out the company of “meh” episodes and into that of “good” episodes, in my book.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: The Curse of the Black Spot

This episode is often maligned by fans as the underwhelming follow-up to the explosive Series 6 opener, a mundane pirate story with Hugh Bonneville its only redeeming feature. That used to be largely my opinion, too, but, upon this viewing of the episode I found it a lot better than I remembered, and I found myself appreciating it more than I used to. It’s an inventive use of the base-under-siege formula, involving a pirate ship under “attack” by an infatuating feminine spectre which spirits away the injured and sick. Perhaps the premise itself is pretty ho-hum, fairly uninspired, but it was executed well enough that it kept me interested throughout. It was at least as interesting as the two least impressive stories from Series 5, The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks. I compare it to those two stories because it occupies the same place as them—the front end of the series following on the series’ opening story. And I think it compares favourably with both of them, which were both fraught with problems despite ultimately holding up well enough; this story is pretty well-rounded and doesn’t sport any glaring faults, and is even actually enjoyable and memorable (I find it enjoyable, at least).

One thing at which this episode succeeds is comedy: this script is just overflowing with genuinely funny dialogue, almost from the moment we see the Doctor and the Ponds. “A bit more laughter guys?” the Doctor coaxes as he stands at the end of a gangplank. “What kind of rubbish pirates are you?” Amy scoffs as the gang of brutish-looking pirates quail at the sight of the cutlass in her hand. “I’d like a beard. I’m going to grow a beard,” announces Rory in a daze as he ogles the pirates. “You’re not,” Amy stoutly rebukes him. And so on. Not everyone (few, in fact) would count it among the best stories of Series 6, but, God, it’s funny. And who, honestly, would deny that Amy’s sword-fighting with the pirates was pretty damned awesome? The Doctor’s alpha-male competition with Captain Avery was also very amusing to watch. Hugh Bonneville made an excellent arch-pirate, giving a very entertaining and convincing performance. However, the one significant criticism I would make of this episode is Matt Smith’s performance; he lacked the authority and the energy and the conviction that he usually carries, which he displayed as recently as the previous story, the opener. This is the first time in my marathon of Matt Smith’s era that I’ve noticed his performance being distinctly lacklustre. Perhaps I am seeing the first signs of the phenomenon, remarked upon by some fans, but which I haven’t noticed before, of the gradual decline in the quality of Matt’s performance over time?

One of the moments in this episode that really did stand out was Amy’s resuscitation of Rory at the end. It truly conveyed the strength of the love between these two, especially Rory’s confidence in Amy’s capacity to resuscitate him because he knew she would “never give up”. That was touching. It was torturous viewing watching Amy desperately, tearfully attempting to revive her husband, and the relief was sweet when, after a couple of horrific seconds, Rory began to cough up water and breathe again. They’ve been through a lot, these two, but this show keeps putting them through more trials and traumas, it’s no wonder they’re as close and as strong as they are. By the way, I thought I saw something poignant in the Doctor’s visible relief when Rory came back to life. I think he was reminded all too uncomfortably of how dangerous he and his lifestyle is to the friends he brings with him. He thought he’d almost lost another one. That was why he began to travel alone before he picked up Amy, after all. I wonder if he’s rather recklessly kicking the matter into the long grass here. If Rory had died (for real this time; there’s no coming back from actual real-world death), he would have been forced to confront directly his companion issue, but here it looks like he’s put the matter out of his mind because it’s too uncomfortable to think about. If only he knew…

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: Vincent and the Doctor

I have to admit, I don’t know the first thing about Vincent van Gogh. I’ve never been particularly interested in art, although I appreciate beauty, and know shite, when I see it. Likewise, I think, for many laypeople watching this episode. Vincent and the Doctor, to this end, does a wonderful job of portraying the story of the great and tragic artist Van Gogh to an audience who might otherwise never have known his name. I found that I cared about Van Gogh, and knew him intimately, after watching this episode, from having scarcely known who he was prior to viewing. This episode was a poetic and poignant tribute to an extraordinary artistic genius, conceived by a writer, Richard Curtis, who clearly appreciated Van Gogh enormously. Few of the uninitiated, myself included, who watched this episode could say that it did not inspire in them at least a special appreciation for the talents and the life of the eponymous artist. To this extent I think the episode did a much better job at showcasing Van Gogh than other episodes did in the Doctor’s visits to other historical figures, such as The Shakespeare Code and The Unquiet Dead.

Aside from showcasing the extraordinary artistic talents of Vincent van Gogh, the episode dealt with the artist’s infamous depression, and with mental illness more broadly. It was a delicate but confronting appraisal of the nature of depression as seen in Van Gogh’s erratic behaviour. I’m fortunate enough to have never experienced depression, and thus know little about it, so I have to be careful here and I can’t really comment on how accurately the episode portrayed depression, but it seemed the episode provided a sympathetic but penetrating portrayal of the state of mind. We saw how a casual, seemingly innocent offhand remark from the Doctor, “We’ll be out of your hair by this time tomorrow,” triggered an intense depressive episode in Van Gogh. We saw how Van Gogh still succumbed to his depression and took his own life after everything the Doctor and Amy had done to help him. It was an intelligent but sobering metaphor, that the Doctor could save the universe, defeat monsters and change history itself, but the spectre of Van Gogh’s depression was beyond even his powers. Thus the Krafayis visible only to Van Gogh. All this used to go over my head, and for a long time I honestly couldn’t see the appeal of the episode, but, after understanding this aspect of the story, I now see it for the intelligent, poetic masterpiece it is.

There’s so much more than a clever metaphor to like in this episode, though. It carries an emotive power which makes it hard to watch again without putting a long period of time between one’s last viewing. I’ve known devoted fans who’ve said they’ve only seen the episode the one time because it’s such an intensely emotionally affecting story. The scene where the Doctor takes Van Gogh to visit the gallery in Paris to see his works on display, and to hear Bill Nighy pronounce upon the great legacy of his work, to a weeping Van Gogh, overcome with emotion, truly pierces the heart. That was a truly beautiful, memorable scene, as was the more bitterly poignant subsequent scene, viz. the Doctor’s speech about the bad things not necessarily spoiling the good things. Apart from that, this episode was just visually stunning. The direction was masterful, and the episode easily stands out as one of the most aesthetically beautiful stories of the Doctor Who canon. The episode was a fitting tribute to Van Gogh’s work in the way it beautifully recreated scenes from his paintings in “real life”. The visual tribute par excellence in this episode was the scene where Van Gogh, the Doctor and Amy lay beneath the starry night sky, and Van Gogh made them, and us, see the world the way he sees it—vibrant and utterly magical. “I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing quite as wonderful as the things you see.” Indeed.

I could pick holes in this episode. I could mention that the metaphor was just a little too subtle to register for many, thus my original bafflement over the appeal of this episode. I could mention that, even given the metaphor, the Krafayis was a bit of a distraction—the giant chicken in the room, to coin a phrase—from what should have been the overwhelming focus of this episode upon Vincent van Gogh, his genius and his life. The episode might have thus worked better as a pure historical, where the Doctor and Amy visit Van Gogh, stay with him, admire him, but realise they can’t help him, and are forced to leave him to his demons, real or figurative. Indeed, these are valid critiques which not only I make of the episode. But I’m so overcome by the beauty and artistry of this episode as it is that I find it hard to entertain these criticisms when it already achieves so spectacularly what it sets out to do, and when it inspires the profound response it does in many. By no means is it perfect, but true beauty rarely is.

Rating: 10/10.

Thoughts on: Victory of the Daleks

I enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it. I still quite enjoy it now, but, with the benefit of time and distance, I can’t ignore the very real faults of this episode which compromise what potentially could have been a good story. For one, I was never entirely convinced of the premise. Daleks in wartime London fighting under Winston Churchill for the British war effort. It just seems more than a bit corny to me. As far as ideas go, it’s an eye-roller. It feels like a product of the excesses of an overactive fanboy imagination, as though Mark Gatiss pitched the idea to Moffat with the words “Wouldn’t this be freaking awesome?” and Moffat, the eternal fanboy, nodded his fervent enthusiasm and, before they knew it, they were making a story about Daleks fighting Nazis. I mean, I get that World War II is a very symbolically fitting setting for a Dalek story, given that the Daleks were inspired by the Nazis, but that doesn’t prevent this idea from being cringe-inducingly corny.

That said, the mystery of why the Daleks were working for Churchill was interesting and made for an intriguing plot. However, I think the answer to this mystery could have been revealed better. In truth, it was actually only upon this rewatch that I understood what the point of it all was, i.e. that the Daleks needed the Doctor’s “testimony” to convince their Progenator device to recognise them as real Daleks (I’m not surprised; the thick pepper pots can’t even spell “progenitor” correctly). It was a slightly convoluted explanation that merited more than the brief attention it got; it was very much a “blink and you miss it” explanation. Then, with much fanfare, we were introduced to the “New Dalek Paradigm”. I think it’s fair to say that time has not been friendly to these redesigned multi-coloured Daleks. Reading contemporary reviews, the reception seemed to have been generally positive at the time, but fan opinion of the new Daleks now tends to be invariably negative; and the producers seem to have got the message: the New Dalek Paradigm haven’t been seen since. When I first saw the redesigned Daleks, I thought they were awesome. But that was when I was fifteen and thought everything Doctor Who did was awesome. I’m less starry-eyed now. Admittedly, the redesigned Daleks do have an enhanced menace due to their intimidating size and their deeper, more guttural tones, but the colours and the softer contours have the opposite effect of making them look comical. They’re Power Ranger Daleks. The old Daleks, with their stark, metallic quality, were action figure Daleks; these are plush toys. They didn’t work, as I think everyone now agrees.

Matt Smith continues to shine in his early days as the Eleventh Doctor. I’ve said this before, but already it feels like Matt wears the role with visible ease and control. He exudes authority and age, and has captured the character of his Doctor masterfully. It generally takes a while for a new actor to establish themselves in the eyes of the audience as the Doctor rather than just an actor trying to play the Doctor—I’ll admit it took me a while to accept Capaldi as the Doctor—but Matt Smith has remarkably quickly made the role entirely his own and entrenched himself as the Doctor. It’s hard to imagine anyone else as the Doctor even after only three episodes. We’re learning more about Matt’s Doctor with every episode. In the last episode we learnt that Eleven is mercurial and moody. Here we see that again in his startling, ferocious outburst against one of the Daleks. We see that Eleven is a man of passion, passion that can very easily get the better of him. We know that Eleven, while most of the time unassuming and placid, is emphatically not a Time Lord you’d want to get on the wrong side of. It’s also very telling that, in trying to convince Bracewell of his humanity, he attempts to summon up Bracewell’s feelings about the death of his loved ones, while Amy knew better to evoke Bracewell’s memories and feelings of love. Although he’ll never let on, the Doctor is a man constantly, inescapably haunted by the spectre of death.

I thought that resolution, by the way, of Amy’s evoking Bracewell’s feelings of love to deactivate the bomb, was very touching and the most satisfying thing about this episode. Amy’s dialogue at that moment was powerful, and very deftly and movingly conveyed by Karen Gillan. It was one of the redeeming aspects of this episode, which, on the whole, was a decent and enjoyable effort despite the very visible faults.

Rating: 7/10.