Thoughts on: The Girl Who Died

Warning: spoilers.

[Note: I know there was a “To be continued” sign, but I’m treating these two episodes as separate stories, not a two-parter, albeit with a linked narrative, mainly because they’re obviously distinct situations, rather than a single story told over two episodes; they were also written by different writers.]

I must confess that I was a bit nervous about this one. That’s a new feeling for me—I can’t remember, as much as this, wanting an episode to be good but feeling so sceptical about what the finished product would look like. It boasted a promising lineup of personnel: first and foremost the stellar Maisie Williams, who would doubtless bring her natural acting talents into her role, not to mention some of that Game of Thrones stardust. There was also the dreamy writing partnership of Jamie Mathieson (of Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline fame) and Steven Moffat, the former being the most exciting Doctor Who writer since Moffat himself. But it was the content of the episode that made me apprehensive. Vikings — with horns. And what looked like the most pantomime aliens since the farting Slitheen in Series 1. “Please, oh, please don’t let Maisie’s episode be as rubbish as it looks,” I prayed. “Please, God forbid, don’t tell me Jamie Mathieson has been lumped with the filler episode. Anything but that.”

I shouldn’t have worried. This episode was great. Especially so given that it could have easily been a fairly mediocre episode. I should have trusted that Jamie Mathieson could take even a nondescript story idea as, admittedly, this one was, and make a riveting and absorbing episode out of it. Granted, this was Mathieson’s least impressive script yet, but that is emphatically a compliment: it was a great episode, and the man has a flawless run of stories so far, much like Steven Moffat did before he took over as showrunner (*nudge* *nudge*). If anything, this script is an exemplar of Mathieson’s versatility: he’s shown in his two scripts for Series 8 that he can do the serious storytelling and the hard science fiction, both staples of this show, but in this episode he’s shown he’s just as adept at a traditional romp, Doctor Who’s reliable mainstay. Mathieson’s take on the romp is distinctive, though, in such a way that raises it above the likes of Tooth and Claw and *shudder* The Crimson Horror. It has all the comedy and camp silliness of a conventional Doctor Who romp, but it’s also an involving and well-composed narrative, punctuated by a handful of—genuinely well-written—poignant and intelligent little moments.

Mathieson made the shrewd decision not to make the Mire the focus of this story, who were a singularly uninteresting villain, apart from the gruesome detail that they harvest warriors for their testosterone—appreciated only for their self-consciously pantomime quality. Instead, we get a fun and engaging story about the Doctor training a ragtag band of ill-equipped and, as it turns out, particularly hopeless Nordics for battle against one of the mightiest warrior races in the galaxy. It’s Dad’s Army in the 10th Century, and it makes for delightfully funny viewing. Mathieson milks the situation for as much quality humour as he can: the Doctor’s (unconvincing) impersonation of Odin; the Doctor promptly being upstaged by an enormous, comical apparition of Odin’s face in the sky, complete with beard and eyepatch (the most camp thing Doctor Who has ever done? Quite possibly); the Doctor giving the Viking villagers amusing derisory nicknames (ZZ Top was my personal favourite). It was all great fun.

But, as I said, it was an intelligent and involving script as much as it was an entertaining one. Moments like the Doctor’s translation of the baby’s (surprisingly poetic) wailing, the Doctor’s brooding over his effect on Clara, and Clara’s inevitable end, and, of course, Maisie’s poignant scene with Capaldi, gives this episode proper emotional heft. At the top of the list is that scene, where the Doctor finally understands why he “chose” his face. He goes from brooding, surely feeling the weight of his impossibly advanced years as keenly as ever, over the loss of yet another person close to him, resentful that he couldn’t do anything about it (or, rather, wasn’t allowed to), to deciding that he would save Ashildr, whatever the cost, astonishingly quickly. The spur was remembering where he got his face from, and what it meant. And we’re treated to a wonderful, hair-raising flashback to the Tenth Doctor in The Fires of Pompeii. “I’m the Doctor, and I save people!”

It was a fist-pumping “Doctor” moment, as good as any, but at the same time there was an ominous “Time Lord Victorious” vibe about it—the other side of the coin to the Doctor’s defiance of the laws of time. The Tenth Doctor defied the laws of time in Pompeii in a small, imperceptible way, remembering which was what spurred the Doctor to save Ashildr, but Ten also went on to become the Time Lord Victorious. The Doctor belatedly realised this when he expressed doubts over what he did to Ashildr, whether he’d done too much. It’s set up what looks to be an intriguing arc surrounding Maisie’s character to be carried over into the next episode, perhaps even further. That final scene, the pan around Ashildr with the universe respiring around her, her expression passing from joy to something quite chilling, what looked like bitterness, even hatred, was visually glorious as well as ominous and foreboding. And, yet again, this is the third instance in as many stories of the idea of defying the laws of time to save someone. I’m becoming more and more confident about my hunch that the finale will involve the Doctor going back in time to change history in order to avert Clara’s death, perhaps leading to another horrifying “Time Lord Victorious” moment.

Some final thoughts. Maisie tho. She really is a phenomenal young actress. She has buckets of screen presence, and her scene with Capaldi in her tent was mesmerising. Even if I weren’t a Game of Thrones fan, I’m sure I’d be proud to have her as an honoured member of the Whoniverse. Her character was obviously conceived as much like Arya, but Maisie was good enough an actress to clearly distinguish the two characters. Ashildr is definitely a very different character from Arya, which is not so much down to the writing as much as Maisie’s own acting instincts. There are many parts that Maisie could have simply played as Arya, but chose to do very differently, and she’s to be commended for that. Peter Capaldi, too, has to be praised. Sublime performance, as ever. I haven’t found the space so far this series to make this point, but Capaldi’s portrayal of his Doctor has markedly improved this series. I think Capaldi might have been allowed more freedom to forge his own interpretation of the character this series (reflected, not least, in the outfits). Series 9 Twelve is definitely more reminiscent of Tom Baker’s good-humoured bohemian vagabond (except with much better acting) than the tetchy, crotchety old man that Twelve was in Series 8. That’s a good thing, in my book, and Capaldi is quickly shooting up my “favourite Doctors” list.

Rating: 9/10.


Quote of the week:

“I’ve got too much to think about without everybody having their own names.”

Thoughts on: Under the Lake / Before the Flood

Two-parters are a funny thing. Regular readers will probably be familiar with my standard paean to the two-part format for Doctor Who stories: the format gives the story time and space to breathe; if employed well, it allows for a more fleshed-out and involving narrative; it allows for the kind of quality plot and character development that a single 45-minute episode story simply doesn’t accommodate. I don’t think two-parters are inherently better than the single-episode format—there are a handful of standout episodes that have utilised the 45-minute time-frame perfectly—but I certainly think that the two-part format facilitates better script-writing on the part of writers not limited to setting up, developing and concluding a story (a Doctor Who story, no less) in the space of 45 minutes. No surprises then that almost all my favourite stories are two-parters. I suppose it’s much like when an assessment gives you a word limit of 1,000 and you spend three hours chopping up and amputating large chunks of your perfectly-crafted essay, leaving an uncomfortably succinct rump as your submission.

The point of a two-part story is that it’s a story in two parts. Put like that, it’s patronisingly obvious. But I feel as though it’s easy to lose sight of that point when there’s a week’s wait in the middle. My praise for Under the Lake was qualified when I jotted down my “first thoughts” last week. I thought it didn’t quite measure up to many of the other very similar stories it was consciously aping. Likewise, I felt a bit underwhelmed by this week’s episode. I felt that it was something of a feeble follow-up to wait a whole week for. But that was just it. It felt feeble because I waited a whole week to see it. Between last week’s episode and this week’s, anticipation, speculation and excitement had been swirling around my head, festering and putting me in the kind of state of mind I might possess going into a new James Bond movie or Harry Potter book, rather than Act 2 of a play, which is essentially what the second episode of a two-part Doctor Who story is. On their own, Under the Lake and Before the Flood are neither the stuff of screenwriting excellence (for Doctor Who, at least), but, watched together, they’re something quite special. A two-parter is a play of two acts, which are supposed to be watched together. That’s what I’ve taken from this experience, and that’s what I think ought to be kept in mind when forming impressions of two-part stories.

So in general I think this story is highly successful. Given the ideas it plays with, it’s hard to see how it couldn’t be. The ghosts are undoubtedly the highlight of this story: freaky, macabre, spine-tingling apparitions realised astoundingly well, just like the Mummy from Mummy on the Orient Express last year, another paranormal creature featured in Doctor Who. Everything about them is perfect, and, although I don’t have any under-twelves conveniently at hand to confirm this, I’m sure the show succeeded yet again spectacularly in its unrelenting mission to send as many children as possible to bed trembling. The blackened, hollowed-out eyes, the silently-whispering mouths, the eerie, zombie-like movement; it was all perfect. In addition, I thought the concept of going back in time to investigate the genesis of the ghosts was just a brilliant sci-fi spin on a ghost story. This is Doctor Who seizing the ghost genre and doing something profoundly different and distinctive with it. It’s all carried out to distinction, making for a highly atmospheric, irresistibly suspenseful and creepy screenplay.

Toby Whithouse displays his usual skill for crafting diverse and believable characters in this script. For such a large cast, it’s genuinely impressive that none of the characters were wasted, but Whithouse has managed to pull it off. Actually, a qualifier to that—the only character I thought was poorly written was Pritchard, the greedy corporate rep, who felt a bit like a lazily-assembled constellation of certain prejudiced ideas about business people typically harboured by persons of a particular political persuasion. Other than that, the supporting characters were all well-written and memorable (testament to which is that I can actually remember all their names). In particular, the deaf Cass was easily one the best aspects of this story. I’ll hear no talk of tokenism—Cass was a brilliant character who wasn’t wasted by any means, and easily the strongest of the supporting characters. Her relationship with her interpreter, Lund, was just lovely. And I loved the scene where Cass was being stalked by Moran’s ghost, oblivious to the ringing of the axe scraping across the metal floor; brilliant suspense.

We haven’t seen any conspicuous indication of a series arc yet as such (somewhat to my disappointment), but I think we’re seeing some very subtle foreshadowing of what’s to come later in Series 9, especially surrounding the circumstances of Clara’s coming departure. It’s clear the Doctor has been worrying himself over Clara’s alarming new-found thirst for adventure and danger, her troublingly reckless pursuit of an adrenaline hit. This builds on her character development in Series 8, but it seems to have become more acute since then, as though Danny Pink’s death has seen her throw care and caution to the wind, such to cause the Doctor to begin worrying about her. There’s a heavy suggestion that we’re going to see tragedy strike. The Doctor’s going to lose another one, it seems. It was much the same in Series 7a, where Amy’s tragic end was quite un-subtly foreshadowed. At the same time, I think we’re starting to see a pattern in respect of the “changing history to save a loved one” motif—that’s the second time that idea has cropped up in two stories; added to that the fact that the title of the final episode of the series is the very suggestive “Hell Bent”, one wonders whether the finale will involve the Doctor attempting to recover a dead Clara by changing time. Something to speculate about, anyway.

Some final thoughts. The Fisher King was a brilliant creature, a towering, terrifying skeletal figure, but somewhat underused, I think. It would have been great to see some of his purportedly terrible power, but at least he went out like a boss. The pretitles sequence to Before the Flood, in which the Doctor breaks the fourth wall and pontificates on the bootstrap paradox, was wonderful, but I thought it might’ve worked better if it weren’t put right at the beginning of the episode—perhaps it might’ve worked better closer to the end, if not at the very end, as a kind of contemplative endnote. I just adored Prentis, who couldn’t have constituted a more incongruous contrast to the menacing, nightmarish figure of his ghost. He was just hilarious. By the way, is it just me or did Doctor Who just indulge in a bit of very smutty innuendo in Prentis’s tantalising offer to the Doctor to peruse “a selection of items you can oppress me with”? It wouldn’t be the first time, actually.

Rating: 8/10.


Quote of the week:

“Someone get me a selection of flags.”

Cue Clara giving the Doctor a look that says “I can’t believe you actually just said that.”

First thoughts: Under the Lake

Warning: spoilers ahead.

  • I really enjoyed this. It was a refreshing change of pace from the sweeping, epic scale of the opening two-parter; a more low-key and intimate story, but, at the same time, still genuinely thrilling and gripping Doctor Who.
  • That said, compared with the very non-traditional storytelling of the opening two-parter, this episode is very traditional Doctor Who. The base-under-siege is a familiar staple of the show, and this episode couldn’t help call to the mind of any Doctor Who fan similar base-under-siege stories in the new series like 42The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and The Waters of Mars. It feels a lot like each of those stories, and comparisons are inevitably going to be made. Don’t get me wrong, Under the Lake is a fantastic exemplar of the base-under-siege format, but, when looked at beside those stories, it falls just a bit flat.
  • But, I hasten to remind myself, we’ve only seen the first part of a two-part story. A great deal hinges on how well the second half turns out. The trailer makes it look amazing: scaling out from an anomalous incident in an underwater base to something of far greater moment. So I can’t really form a judgment about this one until I’ve seen the whole picture. As it stands, the second episode could either entrench this two-parter as an instant classic, or, if it fails to satisfactorily expand the plot and the narrative, leave it an enjoyable but unremarkable story that will be forgotten by this time in the next series, which is basically my opinion of the strikingly similar 42. But, just from the trailer, I’m confident that Whithouse will follow through with an absolute corker. I absolutely love the conceit of going back in time to discover how ghosts came to be, and I’m a great deal more excited for Before the Flood than I was for this episode.

  • These ghosts are seriously freaky. They’re astoundingly well-realised. If I were ten years younger (maybe eight, at a push), I’m sure I’d have gone to bed with the covers pulled resolutely over my head. Those blackened, hollowed-out eyes are the stuff of prepubescent nightmares, and the silently whispering mouths are the perfect final bone-chilling touch.
  • That cliffhanger was a belter. The Doctor, desiccated old Scot that he is, is maybe the freakiest of all the ghosts. Great buildup, too; my thoughts when Clara’s eyes were widening in shock when she saw who the new ghost was went something like: “Nope. Nope. Nope. NOPE. NOPE! Not him! Surely not! Oh, God, it’s him. He’s dead. Again.”
  • Cass was a great addition to the cast. The inclusion of a deaf character who communicates by signing always carried the risk of being a novelty, a hollow and embarrassing overture to the “minority representation” crowd, but Cass was unarguably one of the best things about this episode. She was easily the strongest of the fairly large cast of supporting characters (testament to which is that she’s the only one of the supporting characters whose name I can remember), and she proved vital in translating the ghosts’ silent mantra.
  • The show’s doing that ominous foreshadowing of the companion’s death thing again. Remember the not-so-subtle hinting that Amy was going to die all throughout Series 7a? I don’t know how to interpret the Doctor’s increasing concern over Clara’s worrisome thrill-seeking and recklessness other than as foreshadowing her forthcoming demise.

  • And just when I was starting to really like Clara again. Compared to Series 8, Clara so far hasn’t been given all that much to say or do (which is probably for the best; Series 8 was far too Clara-heavy at the expense of Capaldi), but, from what we have seen and heard from her, I think they’ve finally got the writing of her character right. She’s a genuinely likable character again. It’s as though they’ve finally struck the right balance, the sweet spot in between the charming but generic character devoid of distinctive personality that was Clara in Series 7, and the annoying, self-consumed drama queen that she was (at times) in Series 8.
  • Maybe the one main thing I would criticise about this episode is that too much reliance was placed on verbal exposition. Too many scenes of people standing in a room and talking. These sequences are tedious, puncture the atmosphere, and lose the viewers’ attention. When there’s as much of it as there was in this episode, it seems like disproportionately more of the episode was taken up by these sequences in one’s impression of the episode than in reality, which, I’m sure, when you’re a writer, is not what you want viewers to take away from your stories.
  • I really appreciated the humour of this episode. A selection of my favourite bits: Clara going for a high-five after she and the Doctor walked in on an overturned room, and the Doctor giving her a strange look that said “what a freak”; the Doctor assuming he can speak sign and becoming flustered when he realises he can’t; the faces Clara makes every time the Doctor says something inappropriate; the Doctor being reduced to carrying flashcards to remind him of how to conduct himself in a socially acceptable manner; “It was my fault, I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen.”

8 questions for Doctor Who Series 9

What watching Doctor Who feels like at the moment.

What’s Missy’s “clever idea”?

The sewers were revolting. The Daleks were going berserk. The Dalek city was crashing down upon itself. Amidst all that, the last we saw of Missy, she was being ganged up on by a bunch of tough-looking Daleks. Scared? Not Missy. The Time Lady broke into a cheeky, knowing smile and declared, “You know what? I’ve just had a very clever idea.” Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Missy and her diabolical schemes this series. Is she about to team up with the Daleks? A Missy-Dalek alliance might seem a bit repetitive after her collusion with the Cybermen in Series 8, but surely something momentous is going to come of this? Perhaps the Doctor will regret making his childhood friend jealous before the close of the series.

What did the regeneration energy do to the Daleks?

Speaking of the Daleks, what actually happened to them when the Doctor channelled his regeneration energy into them? The Supreme Dalek exulted, “We are renewed. We are more powerful.” Is this just like pumping the Daleks with steroids, or did the regeneration energy fundamentally change them in some way? Doubtless we’ll find out in good time, given whatever Missy’s “clever idea” turns out to be.

Was Davros being sincere?

We know Davros’s bromance with the Doctor was all a ruse to trick the latter into yielding up some regeneration juice, but was anything about Davros’s emotional catharsis sincere? I’d really like to think so. It would be extremely difficult, surely, for a creature of Davros’s age and decrepitude to produce fake tears at will, without really feeling it. I think, at least, that Davros’s teary elation over the news of Gallifrey’s salvation was genuine. That, at least, fits with his character. Davros may have a twisted and horrible morality, but he still has a morality, one dominated by fanatical nationalist and xenophobic principles. After all, as he admitted, it was what drove him to create the Daleks, which he still seems to see as his own people, his own Kaled brothers and sisters. I’m sure, in the warped nationalist worldview that guides him, Davros was genuinely happy that the Doctor had got his people and his home back.

Does the Master have a daughter?

maisie“It’s pretty, though, isn’t it? Got it in the olden days on Gallifrey. The Doctor gave it to me when my daughter—”

If you were watching The Witch’s Familiar with one eye on Twitter, you would have missed this mini-bombshell. It’s a very Moffat thing to do, dropping a fairly large new tidbit of mythology casually into dialogue like this. We know the Doctor has had children and grandchildren, including his genetic transfer-created “daughter”, Jenny, but this is the first time we’ve heard about the Master having had children. Will we get to meet her? Maybe—and this is a pretty wild and recklessly optimistic conjecture—maybe that’s who Maisie Williams’ character is?

How did Missy escape Gallifrey?

Seriously, are we ever going to learn how the Master can be in the universe now when (s)he was supposed to be trapped in Gallifrey’s pocket universe? I thought we might’ve learned how she did it in the series opener, but it wasn’t to be, it seems. Has Missy already told the Doctor offscreen?

Is the sonic screwdriver gone for good?

Capaldi rocks those sunglasses like a boss, but I don’t think I’m all that enamoured with them as a replacement for the reliable old sonic. The sonic screwdriver is a familiar staple of the show, and black sunglasses are just a bit too cool for the Doctor (unless he’s wearing them ironically). That said, I doubt the sonic is gone forever. I have a feeling this is about giving Capaldi a new sonic screwdriver, which I’m sure we’ll see him with by the end of the year. His old one, the one he gave to little Davros, was a leftover from the Matt Smith years, after all, and I’m sure Capaldi doesn’t want to feel like he’s acting under the shadow of his predecessor.

What is the Doctor’s confession?

One of the most intriguing things to come out of the Series 9 opener was that the Doctor apparently had some dark secret, which he’d committed to a confession dial, a Time Lord will, possibly relating to the reason he left Gallifrey in the first place. That this question, of what drove the Doctor to flee Gallifrey and continue running for the rest of his life, is going to be a theme or arc of this series really excites me. I can’t help myself, I’m a mythology buff, especially when it concerns the Doctor himself. I’ve come up with speculative headcanon about this mysterious subject, but I’ll be glad to learn the real answer.

The only clue the episode gave was that the Doctor’s secret may or may not involve a legendary “hybrid” creature of some kind, which the Doctor had some part in creating. Davros mentioned it, assuming the Doctor was referring to a Time Lord-Dalek hybrid created with the Doctor’s regeneration energy, but that theory seems pretty bust. The reason we can’t dismiss what Davros said, though, is because Missy also mentioned it. Whether the hybrid thing really is the Doctor’s confession remains to be seen. The only idea I have is that it sounds a little like a fan theory that’s been circulating for some time that posits that the Meta-Crisis Doctor we saw created in Journey’s End, half Time Lord and half human, became the Valeyard, the “evil” incarnation of the Doctor who persecuted the Sixth Doctor in The Trial of a Time Lord, driven mad after tragedy prematurely destroys the perfect life with Rose in the parallel universe that the Meta-Doctor was supposed to have.

It’s a pretty big stretch, but the only reason I mention it is that David Tennant was spotted visiting the Doctor Who studios in Cardiff during filming. I don’t think that’s it, though. It would be cool if it turned out to be what the Doctor’s “hybrid” was, but I don’t think Steven Moffat would want to “ruin” Rose’s happy ending like that. (On the other hand, he’s Moffat…) And fan theories have a habit of being laughably wide of the mark.

What’s with the episode titles?

The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar have surely got to be vying for the episode titles most seemingly unrelated to their actual episodes. No one can agree whom the titular “apprentice” and “familiar” is/are supposed to be. Okay, the “witch’s familiar” is not too ambiguous—Clara played the role of familiar, or companion, in the entertaining Missy-Clara double-act, following Missy around and doing what she said. Clara seemed especially like a witch’s animal companion (“familiar”) when she hopped into that Dalek shell.

Who the “magician’s apprentice” is supposed to be is less obvious. I have a feeling little Davros is supposed to be the apprentice, and the Doctor the magician, especially given that final scene of The Witch’s Familiar, where the Doctor takes little Davros in hand and imparts to him the importance of mercy, hoping to influence Davros and, indirectly, the creation of the Daleks, for the better.

I also have a feeling (or maybe a vain hope) that there’s more to “the witch’s familiar” than first appears. If Clara is the familiar, and Missy the witch, I’m hoping more details of the “woman in the shop” mystery will be revealed before Clara departs. It would be very like Moffat to drop a big hint like that that no one figures out until it all becomes clear later on. That’s assuming that the “explanation” offered in Death in Heaven, which I found wholly unsatisfying and infuriating, isn’t the whole picture. I mean, there has to be more to Missy’s bringing the Doctor and Clara together than “I thought you two might hit it off”. Please let there be more.

Thoughts on: The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Oh, Moffat. Miffie. Stevie-babes. Why do we let you out? You’ve just gone and created the ultimate fan-pleasing story. Did you hear that strange high-pitched wailing noise as you were watching this? That was the sound of fans everywhere squeeing for dear life in perfect unison. We knew this would happen one day. Ever since we saw William Hartnell’s mug five times over the course of Series 5. Steven Moffat is an über-fan, and this is a script only an über-fan could have written. And it’s magnificent. As a series opener, it’s perfection; exactly the way to start a new, hotly-anticipated series of Doctor Who (and a late one, no less) — not with a pathetic whimper, as we were too often offered in Russell T Davies’ era (*cough* New Earth *cough* Partners in Crime *cough*), but with a resounding, earth-shaking roar, the roar of an electric guitar being rocked by—who else?—the Doctor.

We’re hit with a pretty huge bombshell within minutes of the episode’s opening as the Doctor discovers a little boy trapped on a battlefield amidst a field of hand mines, who, we learn shortly, is a young Davros. The Doctor helpfully conveys how thunderstruck we feel in his own stunned expression. It’s a staggering way to begin this opening two-parter; the breath has been wrenched from our lungs before the thing has even got started. It couldn’t portend more effectively that this series opener is going to be big. And this is really well conveyed by the following sequences. A shadowy, hissing figure who refers to himself in the plural searches the universe for the Doctor. Missy, who makes an absolutely brilliant entrance, freezes the skies of Earth just to get Clara’s attention because she can’t find the Doctor either. “Where is the Doctor?” the episode asks. What could possibly make the Doctor hide himself away like this? And why has the Doctor made a Time Lord will and testament?

It all very effectively conveys the impression of there being a greater narrative at work here, lending the episode a sense of scale and moment that makes it feel more like an epic series finale than an opener. The impression is, if anything, reinforced by the, frankly awesome, scenes of the Doctor throwing himself an outrageous party in medieval England. The Doctor’s entrance was jaw-droppingly amazing (the message: “Doctor Who is BACK, baby!”), but the sight of the Doctor acting so preposterously out-of-character makes acute the feeling that something is very wrong. Indeed, the whole thing feels very different from what we’re used to in Doctor Who, even for a two-parter. The weight of a large-scale narrative lends, at least to the first part, a flow and form that almost makes it feel like long-form serialised drama, like Game of Thrones. The very heavy invocation of the show’s continuity and history, the sense of strong connection to past events, and progression of an ongoing story, only reinforces that impression. Those who’ve commented that this story, The Magician’s Apprentice in particular, doesn’t feel like a Doctor Who story are right — it’s composed very differently from what we’re used to. Some don’t like that, but I really do. I think it’s at least good that the show is experimenting and trying to break out of the standard, tried-and-tested formulas it’s employed since 2005, and doing something different.

As an indication of the sweeping scale of this story, it churns through so many compelling and brilliant ideas, one after another, many of which could easily be the seeds of potentially fantastic stories of their own. The disappearance of the Doctor, for example. The story had great fun while it was playing with that particularly gripping idea. The hand mines — a wonderfully scary, well-conceived new monster. The relationship between the Doctor and the Master, “A friendship older than your civilisation, and infinitely more complex.” The question the Doctor posed to himself, “Who made Davros?” The apparent extermination of Clara and Missy at the mid-point cliffhanger, and the terrifying lengths to which the Doctor would go, either to bring them back, or to exact revenge. I could go on. This all sounds very messy, but the writing is tight. The script indulges itself momentarily in the various ideas it brims with, but doesn’t get sidetracked. It all forms a very coherent and engaging whole, as a story, apparently, about the Doctor and Davros’s final meeting.

Davros has called the Doctor to his side on the eve of his death, for reasons that don’t become clear until the second episode. Steven Moffat has said that part of the inspiration for this story was his desire to write a prolonged “face-off” between the Doctor and Davros, lamenting that all the scenes between the two over the show’s history have been electric, but that all were far too brief and cursory. Accordingly, the Doctor and Davros duly receive a proper chance to talk, for once, and Davros is served better than he’s ever been. It’s not just that the character is profoundly chilling and macabre, even at the point of death (my highest praise to Julian Bleach), the character of Davros is taken to entirely new territory. It’s captivating watching Davros weeping over the news of the salvation of Gallifrey, doubting his own life and morality, coming very close, like a dying penitent to a priest, to asking the Doctor for absolution, even sharing a joke with the Doctor. In short, Davros totally convinced as an ancient creature near death. Sensitive, emotionally intelligent and bewitching, as it was, it was some of the best writing Steven Moffat has ever produced for the show. And both Julian Bleach and Peter Capaldi gave utterly magisterial, mesmerising performances.

And then it was revealed to be all a trick. All a ruse, exploiting the Doctor’s compassion to deceive him into employing his regeneration energy into reviving Davros and “renewing” the Daleks on Skaro (whatever that entails). I hate to say it, but I was a bit annoyed when this happened. I so, so wanted Davros’s apparent catharsis to be genuine, even if Davros ultimately lived. It would have made us see the character in a radically different light, a creature we once thought to be irredeemably evil, perhaps at least capable of redemption after all. And maybe it was time that something radically different was done with the character of Davros? If Davros were ultimately to repent for his own creations, it would open up exciting narrative possibilities for the future. That was ultimately what I was hoping for when I saw the “next-time” trailer in which the footage of Davros apparently offering the Doctor the opportunity to commit genocide against the Daleks was deceptively shown. I thought The Witch’s Familiar would involve Davros finally seeing the Daleks for the evil creations they are, and allying with the Doctor to destroy them. That would have been so much more bold and exciting than what we got, i.e. just Davros, the psychopathic evil scientist, up to his old tricks again. Nothing new to see here.

But I have to be fair. What we did get was still superb and amazing. Maybe I’m disappointed that the story squandered an exciting opportunity to do something truly audacious and interesting. Maybe I regret, in the spirit of the Tenth Doctor, that this story could have been so much more. But, considering the story on its own merits, for what it was rather than for what it could have been, it’s still the best thing Steven Moffat has written since the Series 5 finale in 2010. It’s still, to my mind, an instant classic, and one of the best Dalek stories ever; certainly the best Davros story ever. And considering the story in context, as a series opener, raises it even higher. It’s just the perfect story to usher in a new series of Doctor Who: grand, bold, extravagant, visually stunning, with an irresistibly seductive swagger. It makes you excited about Doctor Who again, and excited to see what the rest of the new series brings. Like The Eleventh Hour, this story is ideal for what it’s trying to do. The Eleventh Hour involved a fairly insubstantial plot, but, for an episode introducing a whole new era of Doctor Who, it was perfection. Likewise, this episode is just the perfect way to kick off a new year of Doctor Who, and I can forgive it its shortcomings to that end.

Some final thoughts. As good as this story was as a whole, I think my favourite thing about it was Missy (and Clara). I have to admit that I was somewhat ambivalent towards Missy in Series 8, but, after watching this story, I think I’m in love (figuratively speaking). Missy absolutely steals the show; it’s obvious Michelle Gomez is having delightful fun playing the bonkers, unhinged, comical she-Master, and it genuinely shows. There are so many brilliant scenes. Missy’s entrance alone was a total hoot, and the budding (and more than a little abusive) relationship between Missy and Clara was just a joy to watch. Gomez completely nails every line, from “No, I’ve not turned good!” to “Get in” (which was just pure comic genius). At the same time, Missy retains all the unsettling psychopathy and unpredictability of the character, as when she vaporises two soldiers in the plaza in response to a casual remark from Clara about her turning “good”, and when she attempts to trick the Doctor into killing Clara. She’s great fun, Missy, but she’s definitely not to be trusted. In any case, she’s firmly established herself as my favourite Master, surpassing John Simm by bounds. She can’t return soon enough.

Finally, I love this story as a Dalek story, as much as a Davros story. There were chilling sequences that made the Daleks a genuinely scary villain again. The cliffhanger scene, where the Daleks’ primal urge to kill was, if possible, palpably visible, was as suspenseful and frightening as anything in a Dalek story. Portraying the Daleks as predators, driven by an overpowering animalistic urge to hunt and kill, really injected, I think, the fear factor back into the Daleks. As well as this, the portrayal of the Daleks as channelling emotion through their guns was a fascinating, and chilling, insight into the way the Daleks work. It’s fascinating, albeit horrifying, to realise that emotion, any emotion, even love, is ammunition for the Daleks’ gun, is converted into lethal energy harnessed to kill. It’s a gruesome, horrific thought that, as much as it repulses me, actually also makes me feel for the Daleks as well.

Overall, an exceptional start to Series 9, and an undoubted classic to boot.

Rating: 9/10.

First thoughts: The Magician’s Apprentice [SPOILERS]

As per my blog policy of reviewing two-part stories together, I’ll wait until The Witch’s Familiar airs next week before doing a full-length review of the whole story. This is just going to be a quick round-up of my initial thoughts after watching the first episode.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

  • I’ll just say that I thought it was absolutely fantastic. If the second half holds up, this will easily be, by a good length, the best series opener so far. More than that, it’ll easily propel itself into the company of the show’s all-time classics if the second half is as good as the first. I think my mouth was stuck in a comical ‘o’ shape for the whole duration of the episode; I literally could not take my eyes off the screen. I’m going to be reeling for a fair while after this (and so you should be, too).
  • Something I really appreciated was that this was a very different kind of storytelling to what Doctor Who has traditionally done. Trust someone who’s gone through and reviewed every episode — this one is going to be somewhat more difficult to analyse and review because it’s so different to what I’m used to. This episode presents Doctor Who more as a serialised drama, with its strong continuity connections and its setting up of arc and narrative threads. It’s not Doctor Who’s traditional “monster of the week” format. There was a sense of scale and overarching magnitude that no Who episode has carried since The Day of the Doctor. The events of this story are definitely not going to be forgotten about any time soon.
  • And so the rumours about the Doctor meeting Davros as a child and being faced with the choice of whether to kill him or not were true. I thought that was an inspired story idea at the time, but seeing it onscreen is exhilarating. I love it when the show presents the Doctor with torturous moral dilemmas. In his decisions we learn something about the Doctor’s character, which can be every bit as exciting as new, scary monsters and alien planets. Here we learn that the Doctor would leave a small child to die in the hope of averting the creation of the Daleks (or, alternatively, since it isn’t explained, as punishment for what Davros would do in the future). “Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?” Really meaty, riveting stuff, this.
  • By the way, can I just indulge myself for a moment: OMFG DAVROS IS BACK!!!!!!@@@@ And back in jaw-dropping fashion. Davros’s return was not wasted by any means.
  • Dat cliffhanger tho. That was torturous. That was cruel. The last time we saw a lead character (let alone two) die onscreen was when the Doctor died in the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut, before he came back 5 minutes later. I think these were legitimate deaths, though. Not like Missy’s “death” at the end of Death in Heaven. It’s obvious how the story is going to go about reviving Clara and Missy (i.e. that final scene where the Doctor points a Dalek weapon at little Davros and declares he’s going to kill him to save his friend(s)). Or, at least, that’s how the episode wants us to think it’s going to happen. I sense Moffat deception afoot.
  • Skaro!!! It’s lovely to see the place again, and it looks amazing. It’s nice to see Doctor Who sojourning to legit alien planets again, after a very earth-bound Series 8.
  • I’m really intrigued by the Doctor’s “confession”. This seems like it’s going to be separate from the plot of this story, like it’s going to form part of an overarching narrative of Series 9. Those who’ve read enough spoilers would have a good idea that it has something to do with why the Doctor left Gallifrey in the first place. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, HUGE.
  • The Doctor rocking out with his guitar and his Ray-Bans and his (fish-)tank in medieval England was possibly the coolest thing ever. I didn’t think old Twelvie had it in him. Although I’m not sure I like the Doctor’s new look — too scruffy. The Doctor has the biggest wardrobe in the universe, surely he could find something with fewer holes in it?
  • Missy’s entrance was probably just as awesome as the Doctor’s. Oh, Missy, you so fine.
  • In a very continuity-dependent episode, I loved all the little touches from the past inserted. Daleks of all shapes and sizes from 1963 to 2015 (thankfully the Tellytubby Daleks weren’t invited). And the playing out of that critical scene from Genesis of the Daleks where the Fourth Doctor agonises over whether to snuff out the Daleks at birth? Pure fanservice.
  • One of the few things that annoyed me was how easily the Tardis was shown to be destroyed. This is supposed to be the most indestructible ship in the universe, and it was disintegrated by a stray Dalek laser. How, exactly, did it survive the Time War?
  • From the “next time” trailer: did…did Davros just offer the Doctor the chance to kill all the Daleks? With his help? How can I be expected to wait a whole week for this? Oh, gosh, how I’ve missed two-parters.

Okay, so I ended up writing a lot more than I anticipated (approximately the length of one of my proper reviews, actually), but meh. There was a lot to talk about.

12 things I’d like to see in Series 9

In no particular order…

1. A series arc

My favourite series of Doctor Who is Series 6. I know it’s not everybody’s bowl of fish custard, but I adore it, warts and all. To a large extent that’s due to its absorbing series arc; and Series 6 was the most overtly arc-heavy of any series of the revival. I like the capacity for arcs to make the series feel like a extended narrative. I like the way I become invested in the series by following the arc, and interested in seeing the series through to the end. I like the sense of purpose and direction that a series arc lends to the show, and the palpable energy behind the writing when everything forms part of a single narrative whole. In Series 7 and 8 the show spurned the serialised storytelling of Series 6 and reverted to the traditional anthology format, but I’m certainly hoping for a return to series arcs in Series 9. Given that we’re getting an unusually high volume of two-parters in Series 9, I may just get my wish…

2. Continuity development

During his tenure as showrunner, Steven Moffat has displayed commendable boldness in his willingness to push forward the almost-52-years-and-counting story of the show. He gave the Doctor a wife, aged him at least 1,100 years, introduced the character of Clara Oswald, whose importance in the Doctor’s life can’t be described as anything short of celestial, and, in his crowning achievement, brought back Gallifrey. Not all of Moffat’s authorial decisions have been met with enthusiasm from all quarters, but there’s no denying that his mind is always brimming with exciting and creative ideas for the show’s directions. I don’t think Moffat thinks he’s finished with what he wants to do with the show yet, and every indication is that Series 9 is going to be huge. Those who’ve read Moffat’s (very spoilery) Series 9 episode guide in the Radio Times might have an idea of what’s coming…

3. Progress on Gallifrey

Somewhat related to the above, I’d love to see some progress on the Doctor’s search for Gallifrey. At the end of Series 8 we were left with a heartbreaking scene of the Doctor lashing out in a violent rage after discovering that Missy had lied to him about the whereabouts of his home planet. So it’s approximately 1000 years and one regeneration since the Doctor saved Gallifrey, and he’s made 0 progress in finding it. Surely something has to happen next series? Gallifrey doesn’t necessarily even have to come back in Series 9, but some progress would be nice.

4. Doctor development

If Series 8 was about the Twelfth Doctor finding himself, learning about himself, rediscovering who he, the Doctor, was, then Series 9 should give us a fully-formed Twelfth Doctor in his prime. Capaldi’s Doctor should be a magnetic presence in every episode, assured of his identity, confident in his own skin, and enthusiastic once again about being the Doctor in the Tardis. These should be the glory years of the Twelfth Doctor, and they should be unforgettable. Moreover, we should see a measure of personal development for Capaldi’s Doctor. I’d like to see Capaldi’s Doctor mellow somewhat; a Doctor who’s softened and become less abrasive, less prickly, more relatable, perhaps under the erstwhile influence of Clara Oswald, similar to the mellowing of those previous “difficult” Doctors, the First and the Sixth.

5. New monsters/villains

We already know from the trailers that there are going to be a host of very interesting new monsters and villains in Series 9. It all looks wonderfully exciting. This is much appreciated, as Series 8 was noticeably devoid of new creations, apart from the Teller and the Listen entity, and there’s only two of the former and the latter may not even exist. Is it unrealistic to hope for a well-conceived and genuinely repeatable new monster, akin to the Weeping Angels?

6. Who is Gus?

Seriously, I’m dying to know who or what was behind the events of Mummy on the Orient Express. Was it just a one-off mystery villain, or is Gus connected to something bigger? I’m hoping for the latter.

7. Something to mark the 10th anniversary of New Who

True enough, given Doctor Who just had a big, extravagant celebration two years ago to celebrate the show’s fiftieth anniversary, it might be a bit confusing to then ostentatiously celebrate a tenth anniversary, but it would be nice if the show did something to mark passing 10 years since the show’s revival. Something in an episode would be nice, even some small tribute, but a minisode could work just as well. Perhaps previous Doctors could make a surprise return, maybe even (whisper it) Christopher Eccleston?

8. A new recurring character

I’m thinking about Maisie Williams’ character here. Although I really wanted Maisie to be an old acquaintance of the Doctor (Susan, Romana, Jenny, take your pick), that possibility seems to have been ruled out after Moffat confirmed she wasn’t a returning character. So next best would be for Maisie to be a new recurring character, a new member of the extended Doctor Who family, the next character for whom we fans always clamour to return, à la River Song or Captain Jack. I think I could die happy if the actress who plays my favourite character in Game of Thrones became an integral character in the Whoniverse.

9. Experimental storytelling

It’s already confirmed that Series 9 is going to feature two very different episodes, one written by Mark Gatiss composed of entirely of old film reel footage, and a “one-hander” written by Steven Moffat that features Peter Capaldi as the Doctor by himself for 45 minutes. I am so very excited for both of these episodes, especially the latter, which, given how astounding an actor Capaldi is, surely cannot prove to be anything other than amazing.

10. “Why did I choose this face?”

The goss is that we’re going to find out in this series why the Twelfth Doctor looks like a 1st Century Roman. That should be an interesting revelation, if nothing else. A theme of this series seems to be regeneration, or the nature thereof, given that Karn, where the Eighth Doctor became the War Doctor with the Sisterhood’s assistance, looks to play a significant role in the series’ narrative. The matter of the Doctor’s appropriated face looks like it might tie into the broader theme of regeneration. This kind of dry backstory and mythology-building might be boring to some, but I, at least, find it riveting. Speaking of regeneration…

11. Missy’s origins

Missy’s presence in Dark Water/Death in Heaven at the helm of an elaborate Cyberman conspiracy was a mystery. Missy’s very existence is a mystery. The last time we saw the Master before (s)he appeared again in Dark Water, he (he was a “he” then) was essentially a reanimated corpse in a state of permanent decay, returning to the Time War along with Gallifrey and the rest of the Time Lords. Presumably the Master escaped from the pocket universe in which Gallifrey was trapped, but how? And how did the Master get her new body? Did she come back for a reason? All questions to which I’m dying to know the answer.

12. Clara’s departure

Whatever one thinks of Clara (I’m fairly lukewarm), surely 3 years is long enough for a companion? Any longer and Clara, a companion, will have outstayed most Doctors, and I think fans would reasonably expect Jenna to leave at the end of this series. That said, I’m hoping Clara goes on a high. I want Jenna to make me come to love her character and feel wistful when she’s gone. I’m looking forward to an exciting, energising dynamic between the Doctor and Clara in Series 9 now that the two have worked each other out and are at ease with one another. These should be Clara’s golden days as much as they are the Doctor’s. And Clara’s exit should be big. I want Clara to die. I don’t mean that in a nasty way, but surely death is the only fitting end for a companion as important as Clara Oswald? An understated, “nice” exit, or even a tragic exit that falls short of actual death, like Amy’s, would almost feel like an anticlimactic end for Clara. Clara’s exit should be a momentous occasion, one that deeply affects the Doctor for a long time to come.

Series 9 trailer impressions

I can’t breathe. This looks amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a new series of Doctor Who. It all looks so epic, so momentous. 72 days is too long for me to wait! However, on the upside, it means I will probably finish these reviews of mine before Series 9 begins.

I’m sensing a distinct change in direction, a shift in mood. Everything looks darker, grittier, more grotesque. Watch the Series 5 trailer for comparison. Series 8 was definitely a grimmer change in tone from the Matt Smith era, but Series 9 looks like it’s going even further. I saw decaying hands groping out of the earth, a creepy withered old man with blackened eyes, what looked like a man in a Chinese hat with two faces, a green spectral apparition, a Zygon grabbing a young girl, the Doctor playing electric guitar(!), some sort of frightening giant insect-faced thingy, and Missy looking as devilishly sinister as ever. The aesthetic was decidedly dark and macabre. This show is no longer for children. Into darkness we go. Good. I think Doctor Who has been a children’s show for long enough; a radical change in direction like this is refreshing and exciting. We’re in the midst of one of Doctor Who’s periodic renewals, a time when the show reinvents itself and presents itself anew, as it always has, just as the Doctor himself periodically regenerates into a new man.

I think this is the tone and the feel Moffat had always intended for the Capaldi era. Series 8 can be seen as a “transition” between the tonally radically different Smith era and the Capaldi era proper: it moved in a darker, more adult direction to an extent, but also retained some of the tonal characteristics of the Smith era, as seen in Robot of Sherwood and In the Forest of the Night, and in the character drama involving Clara and her personal life. Series 9, at least from what I can divine from this trailer, seems to be totally leaving the Smith era behind and embarking in a bold new direction. And I like it. I’m really excited. I had always thought that, if I ever had the chance to be Doctor Who showrunner (in my dreams), I would make Doctor Who much like Series 9 looks to be: dark, gritty, eerie, and unsettling in its realism; emphatically not a children’s show, but, of course, a show that (mature) children could certainly enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored the Matt Smith era. The Smith era was the era that made me into a fan of Doctor Who, and Eleven was my Doctor, but what Series 9 is looking to be is the Doctor Who I’ve always wanted to see. I never thought I’d get my wish because of the show’s hangups about appealing to a “family” audience, but here it is. I just hope it’s as amazing as my very high expectations imagine it’s going to be. If this trailer is anything to go by, I’m certainly being optimistic.

Maisie. We knew about Maisie’s involvement beforehand, but her appearance in this trailer adds a new dimension to her involvement. “You…” said the Doctor, failing to conceal his obvious astonishment. “What took you so long, old man?” Maisie replied stoically. We know that Maisie is in two consecutive episodes, The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived, not necessarily a two-parter, but it looks like the two episodes will form a linked narrative of sorts, or will be at least linked in some way. We know at least that the two episodes will be set in different time periods. That raises the obvious question, how is Maisie’s character in two different time periods? Does the Doctor’s “You…” just infer his surprise at seeing Maisie’s character for a second time in another time and place, or is there more? Given that this is a show about time travel, we could possibly make the hesitant prediction that Maisie is a time traveller, one whom the Doctor evidently knows… a Time Lady? Dare I say… Susan? I know that’s quite a leap to make from two lines, but I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to get my hopes up. Steven Moffat loves continuity references, after all, and the Susan issue had to be addressed at some point. Or maybe this is just Moffat trolling again, like he did with “I’m not Clara Oswald. Clara Oswald has never existed!” in the Death in Heaven teaser. Rule #2: Moffat is a troll (we all know what rule #1 is).

In any case, I can’t breathe for excitement. 19th September can’t come soon enough.

Resurrection of the Roundels?

Are we going to see a new TARDIS for series 9? Peter Capaldi has remarked that he would like to see the TARDIS interior renovated, noting his preference for the minimalist roundel designs of the TARDIS in Classic Who.

“Roundels. I like the old Sixties roundels. That was the coolest look and I think it’s also appropriate for the way this Doctor dresses,” Capaldi said.

“It’s got a sort of Edwardian look about it  – not the actual console – it’s the bits and pieces lying around. Cricket bats, maps and odds and ends and things. There’s a Jules Verne quality to it – I would like to make it more Bauhaus.”

Should the TARDIS undergo a retro makeover? Although I personally prefer the modern TARDISes to the old minimalist designs (Matt Smith’s original design was my favourite), I think going a bit retro could work. Rather than bring back Troughton’s TARDIS lock, stock and barrel, though, what might be a good idea is to combine the look of the roundel TARDIS with more modern elements. The console room should be large, giving the sense of space that the modern TARDIS does, with the classic roundels lining the walls. The TARDIS should also have all the raised platforms and stairways that the modern TARDIS does, emphasising the spacey-wacey-ness.

In the 50th Anniversary, John Hurt’s War Doctor was given a TARDIS that attempted to be a mix of old and new: it had the roundels and the enclosed, circular console room, but also the organic coral and the console of Eccleston’s and Tennant’s TARDIS. I didn’t think it worked, the coral next to the roundels and the metallic quality of the rest of the console room just looked incongruous to me. It might have worked better if they’d chosen some other way to mix old and new — the coral was a bad choice. It just goes to show these things need to be done tastefully, with thought and care.

Susan should be the next companion

susanSusan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter, was left by the First Doctor on Earth in the 22nd Century at the close of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Susan having fallen in love with David Campbell, a London freedom fighter, during that serial. It was the Doctor’s first goodbye, and his goodbye to the only member of his family to travel with him. I think she should be brought back as the Doctor’s companion for series 9.

Just bear with me, here…

A brilliant idea came to me while I was laying awake at midnight pondering Doctor Who (as, I’m slightly ashamed to say, I do), a “master plan” for series 9. I suspect that the “searching-for-Gallifrey” plot will be explored to some extent in series 9 — to what extent, it’s hard to predict. However, what I would propose is for the searching-for-Gallifrey plot to constitute a strong story arc encompassing the whole of series 9, and ending in its resolution in the finale, in which the Doctor finally arrives at Gallifrey (but has some conflict to overcome there — a tyrant to overthrow? The threat of a renewed Time War? A terrible decision to make?). Such an arc would be similar to the Key to Time arc — the Doctor’s search for Gallifrey would take him all over the universe, all over time and space (I haven’t fleshed out the details). For one series, the Doctor would finally have a destination, a purpose to his travels.

Which is where the Doctor’s granddaughter comes in. Assuming, and it looks probable, that Clara Oswald doesn’t return in series 9, there would be a vacancy open on the TARDIS for the position of the Doctor’s best friend. Susan should take that role. If the Doctor is looking to find and restore the home planet of the Time Lords, surely a Time Lord is most appropriate to accompany and aid him in such an endeavour? He can’t conscript a human girl for what could potentially be a long, arduous and dangerous quest. He couldn’t burden a human with that. He either needs to go it alone, or team up with the only other Time Lord left in the universe. Besides, a “going-home” quest is inherently a family affair. It is only appropriate that the Doctor seeks the company and help of another Gallifreyan for an objective in which both have a deeply personal interest. More appropriate, still, that that other Gallifreyan is the Doctor’s own kith and kin. Susan would have as much an interest in finding her lost home again as the Doctor.

How could this turn of affairs be brought about? The Doctor could, upon resolving to find Gallifrey, decide to seek out his long-lost granddaughter to ask her to join him. The Doctor links up with the TARDIS telepathic interface, asking the TARDIS to take him to Susan.* The TARDIS materialises in 23rd Century London. The Doctor is eventually confronted with a familiar female figure. She peers at him unsurely, and poses a tentative question, “Grandfather?” She looks different: she has regenerated, and is older than when the Doctor saw her last, but he recognises her instantly as his Susan. “You came back,” she coos tearily, and they embrace. She explains that, although she and David lived a long and happy life together, David had died long ago, and that she has been living out a lonely existence on Earth ever since without contact with her family or the Time Lords. The Doctor explains the resolution he’s made to find Gallifrey. He asks Susan if she wants him to take her with him, take her back home. She agrees, admitting that there is nothing left for her on Earth.

The reason it should be Susan who accompanies the Doctor on his quest to find Gallifrey, rather than some other Time Lady (such as Romana), is the potential for character development for both the Doctor and Susan. The Twelfth Doctor has been presented in series 8 as being less dependable, less “user-friendly”, less attuned to his “human” side (so to speak); darker, meaner, morally ambiguous. That’s what 900 years’ spent on Trenzalore watching people he knew and loved continually die around him, while he, only, remained, did to him — it made him, in the most painful way possible, come to the realisation that he, the Last of the Time Lords, was “nobody’s boyfriend”. Here, now, is a chance for the Twelfth Doctor’s character to mellow. In being reunited with his granddaughter, the Doctor finally has someone to care for and someone whom he is finally allowed to love with all his being. Not just anyone, though, someone like him, a Time Lord who supposedly knows what it’s like to have buried loved ones and to be alone. Susan’s experience on Earth parallels the Doctor’s experience on Trenzalore. To have each other would be the best possible thing for them.

Moreover, returning Susan could present a further opportunity to develop Susan’s character. Susan was the archetypal Classic Who “cardboard cut-out” companion whose job was to look pretty, scream, ask questions and get rescued a lot. Carole Ann Ford herself apparently resented her character’s being portrayed in this way. “New Susan”, Susan 2.0, Susan 2000 (or whatever) will have aged and matured, have become self-reliant (perhaps a cause for tension with a paternalistic grandfather?), and will have generally have changed during her time on Earth, as well as having undergone personality change due to her regeneration, in any case. Here’s the opportunity to reimagine Susan as a modern companion, a strong and capable female lead character, dear but at the same time invaluable to her grandfather.

Other opportunities presented by the return of Susan could include delving deeper into the Doctor’s past and his other family. Could we meet, or at least be told about, the Doctor’s children, siblings, or, pray, his (first) wife? Could the writers pick up where Andrew Cartmel et al. left off in 1989?** The opportunity is there, if the writers are man enough to take it. A further opportunity for Doctor Who, in this idea in general, is to move the programme away from its very Earth-centric preoccupation, to get the Doctor out into the universe and move towards more hard science fiction. In this way, Susan would be the first non-human companion of the revived series.

I know there are reams of potential continuity problems with this idea. For example, I’ve completely ignored all of Susan’s history in the extended media (having consumed none of it). I’m relying on the production team’s ability to retcon at whim to avoid these tricky questions. The extended media is, after all, secondary to the television series, and not necessarily canon. If the extended media is to be taken as canon, I’m sure there is still nevertheless a way to somehow reunite Susan (wherever she is) with the Doctor. That said, the biggest problem with my master plan is the question of what happened to Susan in the Time War. The “Last of the Time Lords” mythology would seem to suggest Susan is not in the universe — she either perished in the Time War or was trapped along with all the other Time Lords in Gallifrey’s pocket universe. It is true enough that the Doctor seems to have made no effort to locate Susan after the Time War, which would imply she really is lost or dead. If that is so, I truly am stumped. Having said that, Susan’s fate is never explicitly stated. There may be a way yet for the Doctor to be with Susan. If nothing else, the Doctor could always discover that Susan had a son or daughter with David he never knew about, whom she left on Earth to protect from the Time War…

#bringbacksusan

* Alternatively, the Doctor could simply set the co-ordinates to 22nd or 23rd Century Earth. Dark Water seems to suggest that the TARDIS’ telepathic link, when employed to take a person to another with whom one’s timeline is “intertwined”, takes one to that person’s destination with respect to one’s own point in one’s relative timeline. So, if 2000-year old Doctor linked up to the telepathic interface and asked the TARDIS to take him to Susan, he may well meet up with 1800-year old Susan, or worse, Susan’s grave.

** Whether the writers adopt the Lungbarrow interpretation of the Doctor’s and Susan’s respective origins or retcon it is up to them.