Thoughts on: Thin Ice

This was very political, wasn’t it? I tend to try to avoid talking about politics when reviewing Doctor Who, because I generally think politics are beside the point when you’re assessing the quality of a children’s show, but political themes were so overtly at the core of this script that a review that omitted to talk about its politics would be fundamentally incomplete. So let’s talk. Yes — it was political, in more ways than one, and in good ways and bad ways. This was a script with a message to convey. There was a great, ancient, probably prehistoric beast chained to the bed of the Thames. Its captor, an odious man called Lord Sutcliffe, was using the creature’s exceptionally potent excrement to power his mills and turbo-charge his industry. He employed local roughs to lure unwitting Londoners onto the frozen Thames as food for the beast.

This episode then, was about exploitation. “Slavery is still totally a thing,” said Bill at the outset of the episode, causing the Doctor to cast a doleful look over the gay scene before him and mutter wistfully, “Yes… it is.” It’s an indictment of the way countless Africans were put in chains with the blessing of English law for the end of building the Empire and its wealth. “These happy people,” the Doctor doubtless reflected as he looked upon the merry fair-goers, “Do they know that their Crown protects slavers in far-off colonies? Do they know that their civilisation rests on the backs of human beings in chains?” If it wasn’t clear enough, the Doctor even delivered what surely ranks as one of the greatest speeches ever in this show driving home that theme. If your wealth and “progress” and your glittering civilisation is built on the suffering of living beings, is it worth it?

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It’s uncomfortable, given the profound strides in human material progress that the industrial revolution represented (and it did, by every measure of human well-being you care to offer), to be challenged to think about the virtue of that progress in this way, even to choose between progress and exploitation. But the value of every single life has been a consistent theme in this show since its inception, but particularly in the modern era, and rightly so, and it’s bracing to see the message put so emphatically. In reality, of course, the situation wasn’t so stark — slavery was certainly a stain on the British industrial revolution, but the industrial revolution wasn’t built on slavery by any means — and the episode wasn’t making that claim — and by and large it was a virtuous epoch of unprecedented material progress which is rightly celebrated.

There was another way in which this episode was political. I’ve no doubt I wasn’t the only one to notice that the only major speaking characters (apart from the pantomime villain) were Georgian persons of colour, or the pains the episode went to in ensuring at least two people of African or Indian origin were seen in every shot of the Frost Fair. I know the intention behind this was nothing but admirable, but I’m not sure it was the wise choice to pretend London in 1814 was as multicultural as London in 2017, especially when you include for good measure a scene involving a pantomime racist getting sucker punched by the Doctor. Whether intended to come across that way or not, it looked cynical, and felt preachy. Because acknowledging the presence of Indian and Caribbean communities in 19th Century London is one thing, but disingenuously trying to convince the English that their past was checkered is the other side of the coin to trying to convince the English that their past was white.

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But the story. This was deftly written. It’s at least as good as Sarah Dollard’s first script for the show, Series 9’s Face the Raven. Like that script, Thin Ice gives the Doctor and his companion an intriguing mystery for them to solve. It’s an engaging way of fleshing out the episode and placing the Doctor and Bill successively in a variety of different situations as they follow their noses where the mystery leads them. It rarely gets slow and it rarely gets tedious, and the quality of the writing and the dialogue holds it all together tightly.

Speaking of quality dialogue, though, Sarah Dollard gets the prize for the most riveting passages of dialogue yet in this series. I’ve already mentioned the Doctor’s “value of a life” speech, which, in its understated rhetorical power, was phenomenal. But the quarrel between the Doctor and Bill after Bill witnesses death for the first time was sublime. The “companion’s first death” scenario isn’t something that’s done — at all, really — but future writers take note: this is how you do it. Being desensitised to death isn’t a normal thing, and it’s welcome that the show is choosing to approach the subject this time around so maturely and realistically. Even the Doctor’s own attitude towards death is examined more intimately: if you put this scene together with the Doctor’s speech to Lord Sutcliffe, we get a very candid look at the Doctor’s attitude towards death. He’s a Time Lord who cares viscerally about the suffering of living beings, but who has in his long age and experience become hardened about the utility of being ruled by his heart. “I care, Bill, but I move on.” Twelve is a man who prefers to show how much he cares in his actions, rather than his words.

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The Doctor has always had a hardheaded Benthamite streak in his attitude toward saving lives. He was the Time Lord who was prepared to slaughter two entire races to end the Time War and avert the destruction of the universe (in one timeline it still happened). In Series 8 he was the man who was frank about his pragmatic approach to death, killing a soldier in Into the Dalek to gain information about the sick Dalek. In Series 9 we thought we’d seen a matured Twelfth Doctor, a Twelve who managed to find his heart in the indeterminate period of time between Last Christmas and The Magician’s Apprentice. But here we’re right back in Series 8 territory with Twelve. Almost. The compassion behind the eyes, the lack of callous gruffness, the visible discomfort when Bill asks him if he’s killed before, show that Twelve did change, permanently (and for the better), between Series 8 and Series 9, but since then he’s clearly reconciled himself with the cold and stern person he knows is very much a part of him. The romantic and whimsical elopement with Clara ended — traumatically — and the Doctor has been forced to move on, and grow up. “I’m two thousand years old,” the Doctor said. This time we believed him.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: Smile

I groaned when I heard the news that Frank Cottrell-Boyce had been invited back to pen another episode of Doctor Who. His last effort, In the Forest of the Night, was interesting for its uniqueness, but it was written by someone who clearly didn’t understand the show, and it could very well have ended up a burning, stinking flop. Many fans were of that school of thought. I thought it succeeded — barely — but perhaps more by fluke and exceptional direction than anything else. It didn’t inspire my confidence in Cottrell-Boyce as a Doctor Who writer. Hence my vocal indicia of complaint. I had never really been convinced of the wisdom of enlisting the man who scripted the surreal London Olympics opening ceremony to write for Doctor Who in the first place, anyway.

I think I needn’t necessarily have worried. This is a competent script. It’s vintage Who, and reads much more like a typical Doctor Who story than Cottrell-Boyce’s first attempt. There are invocations of tropes and ideas from a catalogue of other Doctor Who stories, and it looks like Cottrell-Boyce has been swotting up on his Who since last time: it feels a lot like The Ark in Space for the first 20 minutes as the Doctor and Bill amble about an empty space city alone puzzling aloud about where everyone is; the emojibots invoke the Handbots from The Girl Who Waited; the Vardy look a lot like the Vashta Nerada from Silence in the Library; and the whole “former slave race granted new agency” is straight from Planet of the Ood. None of this is heavy-handed, though. A new viewer who might have hopped aboard Doctor Who for the first time in The Pilot would never guess that this script is a pastiche of recycled ideas. That’s a good thing. Veteran fans will be able to identify the various homages in this episode, but in general you can’t see the seams, and it makes for an intriguing and fascinating story concept.

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I think that’s the best that can be said of its virtues. It has an intriguing concept, and it sets itself up so well. The first 20 minutes, where the Doctor and Bill are exploring an increasingly suspicious-looking space city, are brilliant. Those first 20 minutes felt a lot like a Classic Who story in pacing and mood, where the story would spend a generous amount of time, often the entire first episode, setting the scene and worldbuilding — the resemblance to The Ark in Space has already been noted.

But at the same time, that’s its problem. This isn’t a Tom Baker story with four to six episodes over which to stretch itself out. It’s not even a two-parter. It’s a single, standard-length 45-minute episode, and for that timeframe it didn’t pace itself well. It was too slow at the beginning and too fast in the middle and at the end. The “rising action”, “conflict” and “resolution” parts of the story all happened too quickly, without adequate fleshing-out, to make up for an overlong setup. As a result much of the action felt lazily scrawled, many important details were dropped too quickly in verbal exposition, the climax was confusing and not nearly as nail-biting as it thought it was, and some ideas which really merited more than a few offhand lines of attention (the Vardy are sentient; they’re the new indigenous species (even though they’re robots); and they and the humans are establishing a new civilisation together) were skated over disappointingly. To say all that is to say that it could have worked much better as a two-parter. Its setup, which provided for some delightful interactions between the Doctor and Bill, proved that this was an episode and a concept better suited to the longer form of serial. More needed to happen in the middle of the story — it shouldn’t have transitioned from “Where is everyone?” to “We’re blowing up the city” to “Shit, we can’t blow up the city” as quickly as it did.

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By far the Doctor and Bill were the most interesting things about this episode. This is a “companion’s first (proper) jaunt in the Tardis” episode, and the relationship and the dynamic between the Doctor and Bill is still being explored. It’s a bit different this time, though—previously the Doctor and his new companion had only met in the preceding episode, but in this case the Doctor and Bill have known each other for months (it seems). There’s little of the “getting to know you” dialogue that’s usually cycled through around this point, and the pair’s comfort with and understated affection for one another, the kind that comes from having a longstanding friendship, is palpable. I like that. I like that the Doctor and Bill are familiar enough and close enough at this point that there’s none of the awkwardness between them that we usually see in the early days of a new Doctor-Companion relationship. None of the Doctor’s embarrassing showing-off and none of the new companion’s shyness. They’re just two friends who decided to go travelling together.

And it’s an interesting dynamic. You can see what they’re going for here. They started with a concept: the Doctor as tutor and Bill as student. The Doctor is Bill’s enigmatic professor who takes her on field trips and invites her to broaden her mind. Bill is the Doctor’s wide-eyed pupil who’s enthused by the opportunity to explore the virgin pastures of a universe far bigger than she imagined. The Doctor is authoritative and experienced, cultivating in Bill the qualities and skills he thinks every good time travelling student should possess. Bill is the prototypical student, unabashed in vocalising every question that crosses her mind, and ravenous to learn as much as she can. The Doctor is cerebral and wily. Bill is exuberant and inquisitive. They’re shaping up to be a positively bewitching pair, and I can’t wait to see more of them.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: The Pilot

I think I owe Steven Moffat an apology. This time last year I was grouching over his choice of new companion. Another young modern female companion cast from the Amy/Clara mould who, let’s face it, at this point wasn’t going to out-Amy Amy or out-Clara Clara — as I complained. To be fair, Bill’s first appearance in that shoddily-written teaser involving her and the Doctor hiding from a Dalek hardly endeared her to me. Bill’s treating the Dalek as a joke (“Fat, though!”) and the whole situation as whimsy made me despair for the series ahead afflicted by this annoying, gobby, glib, woman-child with her extraordinary hair and clothes.

It looked like minimal thought had gone into creating Bill, as though Moffat had just rearranged his favourite companion tropes — outgoing, perky, feisty, witty, flirty — into a slightly different configuration and went ahead and found a new actress to play to that tired script. And, to be honest, that is in a way what Moffat has done with Bill. Bill embodies many of the same character attributes as Amy and Clara (and River), and she can be seen as yet another new iteration of the same character formula Moffat has trotted out three times before this.

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But I underestimated Moffat. Sure, Bill is similar in many significant ways to the two (or three, if River counts as a companion) companions who’ve come before her. But I was struck in this, her introductory episode, by how much better she was written than her predecessors. Far from minimal thought having gone into Bill, it feels like a lot more thought and care has gone into creating and writing Bill than ever went into Amy or Clara before their first jaunts in the Tardis. This is palpable from how much more relatable Bill immediately felt than arguably Amy or Clara ever felt. Amy was a fairytale and Clara was an engima. Before they were characters they were concepts. Don’t get me wrong, I adored both Amy and Clara, but I don’t think either felt completely like real people.

Bill, on the other hand, just from this introductory episode feels more real than Amy or Clara ever felt. We’ve been given a tour through her life: her foster home, her job at the university canteen and what she does for fun (attend lectures on quantum physics apparently). We’ve seen how her experiences have affected her and shaped who she is. And the intimacy with which Bill’s character is written adds a level of nuance and detail to her character that I think was lacking in Amy and Clara. By the time Amy and Clara exited the show respectively there was still a degree to which they remained enigmas to the audience — like celebrity royalty, there was an extent to which they were simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar to us. There’s none of that with Bill, with whom the contrast is striking. We feel we’ve got to know Bill intimately right away. We feel familiar with Bill, like there’s little more we feel we need to know about her.

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And we like her. She’s a likable and endearing character. I wasn’t right in thinking I’d be bored or irritated by Bill, even if she is a reiteration of the Amy/Clara/River model. That’s substantially due to the writing, because I imagine I would be bored by Bill if she weren’t written as well as she is. Bill is distinguished from Amy and Clara in one respect worth noting though (other than her sexuality), and that’s that she’s probably the first genuinely normal companion in Doctor Who since Donna — that is, since Russell T Davies’ era. Unless I’m tragically premature in making this observation about Bill, she does appear to be the first of Moffat’s companions who isn’t at the eye of an elaborate narrative arc. No Girl Who Waited, no Impossible Girl. And frankly, that’s bloody refreshing. Unlike, it seems, most fans, I found the Impossible Girl arc intriguing and interesting, but it’s nice to return to a companion who’s just normal. Just Bill. Even her name is refreshingly simple and unfrilly.

I’ve just spent five paragraphs talking about the new companion and haven’t even spared a word for anything else in this episode yet. That’s because, by far and away, the new companion was the most important thing in this episode. The plot, let’s face it, was pretty lacklustre. For a writer who usually insists on making everything far more complicated than it needs to be, Moffat has turned in a fairly threadbare and unremarkable story. As a story concept, strange women emerging from mobile ponds sounds like something that belongs in Class or Torchwood’s early series, or maybe Doctor Who’s sillier early days under RTD, than as the opener to Moffat’s swansong series. But that’s not really the point of this story. This story has one objective and one objective only: introducing Bill and setting her up as the Doctor’s new companion. The star-eyed girl in her locomotive puddle was a pantomime threat deployed as the impetus for bringing the Doctor and Bill together. As an aspect of the story, it wasn’t important. It played a secondary role.

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And it served its purpose. As far as companion introductions go, Bill probably received a better character debut than any companion since Rose. Maybe even better. As an introductory episode, I think I’d give it a more middling ranking — The Eleventh Hour is still the superior introductory episode in my book. Because I do think a case can be made that, while The Pilot‘s plot served its purpose in the story, it still could have been, well, less predictable and pedestrian. Less Series 1 Sarah Jane Adventures. The visual realisation of Heather as the phantasmic eponymous “pilot” was appropriately freaky, but the revelation of what the creature was and the way its threat was resolved was something of a lazy anticlimax. Still, it all provided for some very fun whizzing around in the Tardis as the Doctor attempted to outrun the creature (and I’m delighted that Australia got a look in).

On that note, just as the whirlwind whiz around time and space in the Tardis was supposed to be Bill’s first exciting voyage with the Doctor, the impetus for her boarding the Tardis as the Doctor’s companion, this episode was obviously supposed to be scripted as a soft reboot to the show. That was certainly how it was being touted by the likes of Moffat and Capaldi, a new “jumping-on point” for new viewers of the show à la The Eleventh Hour. Certainly, everything old was made new again in this episode. Old fans will have smirked knowing smirks as familiar tropes of the show were hashed out again for new viewers, albeit with subtle variation for the old fans: the “bigger on the inside” scene, “Doctor Who What?” and the companion’s traditional vomit of questions about the Doctor and the Tardis (“Why are the initials in English?”). Even as a veteran fan, though, the moment Bill turned around and saw the inside of the Tardis, wide-eyed and stunned, and the Doctor said those words, “Time and Relative Dimension in Space — TARDIS for short”, I got chills. This show never stops being magical.

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As effective and accessible this episode was as a reboot to the franchise and a jumping-on point for new viewers though, it was also deft in setting up what looks like it’s going to be the arc of this series. There’s a big, menacing-looking vault in a cellar under Bill’s university, and the Doctor doesn’t want anybody to know about it. He’s apparently set himself up as a professor at the university and has been there for as many as 70 years keeping watch over that vault. It’s a credit to Moffat’s writing that the most curious aspect of this episode — why the Doctor has been earthbound, lecturing at a university for upwards of 70 years — almost passed unnoticed. Attention wasn’t drawn to it. It was written as though it didn’t even need explanation, and as a result the audience just accepted it without asking for an explanation. It was understated and clever and not overt and heavy-handed like last series’ Hybrid arc setup (as intriguing as I found that, too). The subtle and inconspicuous way the arc was set up allows narrative space and time for the Doctor to go gallivanting around the universe with Bill at his leisure before he inevitably needs to return to the vault, and in that respect it was well deployed.

Apart from the introduction of Bill, what I really liked about this episode is that it represents such an optimistic and exciting beginning to this series of Doctor Who. Everything is fresh, everything is new, and we have a bushy-tailed new companion chewing at the bit to get into the Tardis and see the universe, and a Doctor apparently excited by the prospect of taking her to see it with him. I think I’d like to have seen some more caution and trepidation on the Doctor’s part of drafting Bill into the Tardis, more acknowledgement by him that the last time he did this he got his companion killed (technically) — the episode rather skirted over that — but I suppose when you’re trying to reboot the show anew again for a new audience, that audience might find it confusing if the show referenced too significantly events of previous series. But the result, the conclusion to this episode was always going to be the right one: Bill breathlessly hops aboard the Tardis and she and the Doctor take off into the universe, a whole series of exciting adventures ahead of them. This episode made me excited for the series ahead, and for that reason it was successful.

Rating: 8/10.

Five predictions for Doctor Who Series 10

Doctor Who is today. It’s literally today. Well, tomorrow for me (sometimes it sucks being an antipodean). I decided to write this last-minute post sharing five of my predictions for what we might see in Series 10.

The Doctor will be different

Within the first few minutes of the Twelfth Doctor’s initial appearance in Series 9, the character development he had undergone offscreen since we had last seen him was conspicuous. The cold, brusque and callous Twelve we met in Series 8 was nowhere to be seen. It was clear that between Last Christmas and The Magician’s Apprentice, the Doctor had found his heart, learned some social skills, taken a figurative chill pill or two and possibly smoked some pot. He was still recognisably the Twelfth Doctor we were introduced to in Series 8, but a developed and more emotionally mature version of that character. I liked it, and I liked him. The personality adjustment, I think, was successful and necessary character development which it would have been unsatisfying for him not to have undergone.

And I think we can expect to see further character development in Series 10. Some of the advance reviews of The Pilot have noted that Twelve has once again undergone a degree of personality adjustment offscreen. I don’t think there’s anything surprising about that. Twelve in Series 9 wasn’t a fully-developed character either. He was developed, but not matured, like a fruit that you can eat but isn’t fully ripe yet. It still tastes a bit sour. Twelve in Series 9 was like the teenage version of his character— let’s say late teenage. He had his electric guitar and his black sunglasses and his scruffy clothes, and he was still riding the high of his intense and exhilarating relationship with Clara.

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I think in Series 10 we can expect to see a matured Twelve. Especially after the events of Hell Bent and The Husbands of River Song which have forced him to mature from his teenage mindset of Series 9. I think we can expect him to be softer and gentler, wiser, more emotionally stable, and psychologically older. A more rounded, nuanced and more mature person in general, but maybe jaded from experience and age, like Matt Smith’s Doctor was in the latter days of his regeneration.

I’ve mentioned my feelings about Bill before, but perhaps a companion like Bill is exactly what the Doctor needs in Series 10. Bill is young and energetic and starry-eyed and enthused by the prospect of all of time and space at her fingertips, and someone like that is exactly the kind of person Twelve needs after the losses of Clara and River Song. As that brief sequence of dialogue between Twelve and Nardole in The Return of Doctor Mysterio revealed, the Doctor is clearly still hurting from his losses, and I would not be surprised if it’s aged him and jaded him. He needs someone to make him feel excited about life again.

Bill will leave at the end of Series 10

There’s no reason necessarily why Pearl Mackie shouldn’t cross over into Chris Chibnall’s era of Doctor Who. There’s no rule saying the companion has to leave with the Doctor, or that the entire personnel of Doctor Who has to leave when the showrunner leaves. As we learned, Chris Chibnall asked Peter Capaldi to stay on as the Doctor under him. It’s not inconceivable that he also asked Pearl to stay, too.

But somehow I think Bill is going to be a one-series companion. There’s no doubt that the appeal, for Pearl, of remaining in the role after 2017 is definitely there. Before now she was virtually unknown in British entertainment (this is her first television role), but she’s gone and landed herself one of biggest and most sought-after gigs in television. The longer she can stay, the more experience and visibility she will receive, and the steeper the trajectory of her career will be from this point onwards.

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But at the same time, Bill just looks like a companion who was never intended to stay for more than one series. She’s simple, Bill. A simple concept, that is. For once, we have a companion who’s relatively uncomplicated and normal. She’s not an enigma or a mystery like Clara, the Impossible Girl, or Amy, Fairytale Amy, the Girl Who Waited. She’s just Bill. Bill from Bristol. And Bill from Bristol looks like the kind of companion who isn’t going to obsess or enthrall the Doctor for multiple seasons. She’s going to come aboard the Tardis, have a great time, tag along for a while, then decide she’s had her fun and learned a lot about herself but that it’s time for her to get back to the real world. Nothing complicated. No intense, emotionally-charged relationship with the Doctor à la Clara Oswald. No elaborate arc consuming her and no nagging mystery hanging over her that the Doctor needs to solve. She’ll go adventuring with the Doctor in her summer holidays and then head back to school for the Autumn term.

And I think Pearl might feel she was obliged to leave along with Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. It was always going to be an awkward position to be in, to continue as the companion after the Doctor regenerates. It’s going to be especially awkward if the showrunner is leaving at the same time. Maybe Pearl would feel that it’s appropriate for her to bow out with Peter and Moffat, having done her brief but hopefully respectable stint on the show.

The Master won’t be the only other Time Lord the Doctor meets

We already know that the Doctor will encounter not just one, but two Masters this series. So Series 10 is already jam-packed with Time Lords, but I think there’s a good chance we’ll be getting at least one more than we expected. Gallifrey made its triumphant return to Doctor Who in the Series 9 finale, after all, and the Time Lords are once again on the Tardis radar and active in the universe.

I think there is a possibility that two known characters in Series 10 could be Time Lords. The first is the character played by David Suchet, “The Landlord”, in episode 4 of the series, Knock Knock. You’d be right in thinking my only reason for speculating that David Suchet’s character is a Time Lord is that, much like the Doctor and the Master, we only have a title (with a “the” in front), not a name. Not much to go on, I grant, but it’s true that, from the description of the episode, David Suchet’s character sounds tantalisingly enigmatic:

Bill is moving in with some friends and they’ve found the perfect house! So what if it’s strangely cheap to rent, and the landlord is a little creepy? The wind blows, the floorboards creak and the Doctor thinks something is very wrong. What lurks in the strange tower at the heart of the building – and why can’t they find any way to enter it..?

And what is it that “lurks in the strange tower at the heart of the building”? If you can say with a straight face that you didn’t just think “Tardis”, then you’re lying. Given that they’re dialling up the enigma factor on David Suchet’s character, I think it’s likely that the episode will climax in the character’s “true” identity being revealed. Maybe he’s a Time Lord. Or maybe we’re just supposed to think that while his real identity is something completely different — a misdirection. But if he is a Time Lord, I think it’s more likely he won’t be a returning Time Lord character. A one-off new character is more likely. This won’t be a regenerated Rassilon, in other words. Or, God forbid, a regenerated Romana.

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The other character whom I speculate may have Gallifreyan origins is Nardole. Nardole was never supposed to be anything special. He was the comic relief character played a comedian in the 2015 Christmas special. He exited the episode having parted ways with nine tenths of his body, a disembodied head sharing a robot body with another disembodied head. But for some reason seemingly unbeknownst to everyone apart from Steven Moffat and Matt Lucas, Nardole returned in the 2016 Christmas special and, we were nonplussed to learn, is set to return as a full-time companion in Series 10.

I’m almost certain Nardole is going to leave at the end of Series 10, but the question is what he’s doing there at all. Moffat has dropped hints that there is actually a purpose to Nardole’s presence in the Tardis in Series 10. I’m wondering if Nardole will turn out to be a more significant character than we realise. For all his comedy and bumbling ways, there’s a certain mystery about the character, because we know very little about him. Why did the Doctor “reassemble” Nardole at all? Why Nardole, of all people? Is he a Time Lord? It’s one possibility. There are certainly others. Given that we know so little about Nardole, it’s hard to speculate with any accuracy, but the two things I’m confident in conjecturing at this point is that there is something special or significant about Nardole, and that he will play an important narrative role in Series 10.

Which still doesn’t change my feelings about the character at all, to be honest.

This will be Moffat’s best series yet

I just have a hunch. An intuition, if you will. Moffat has spent his whole career as Doctor Who showrunner foraging around, experimenting, trying to find out what works. You can perceive the common voice throughout all five, now six, of Moffat’s series, but still each has felt different. He’s tried new formats, new moods and styles. From the “fairytale” theme and mood of the early days of Matt Smith he’s moved onto the darker, grittier feel of Capaldi’s era. From monster-of-the-week in Series 5 he’s graduated onto the joined-up and interconnected narratives of Series 9.

By now I just feel that he’s got it figured out. Sure, after eight years at the helm he may be casting around for new things to do, but I discern that Moffat isn’t someone for whom interesting new ideas are ever very far from his mind. And he has a stable of very young, talented and ingenious writers at his disposal who are doubtless brimming with ideas of their own. I do think he has a pretty good feel now for what works and what doesn’t, and I sense that, for this series, he’s really done his utmost to best himself once more before he leaves.

Everything I’ve heard about Series 10 has persuaded me that I may be right in thinking Moffat has gone to great lengths to try to make this his best series yet. Have a look at the preview of each episode Moffat gave to the Radio Times. Every single episode is unique and interesting. Each script sounds absolutely intriguing, and I’m struggling to pick which I want to watch most. There’s a conspicuous absence of The Caretaker and In the Forest of the Night type filler stories in this selection. Each episode looks like event television.

And the way Moffat has been describing Series 10, as a “reboot” or “jumping-on point” of sorts, sounds like he’s taking Doctor Who back to its purest, rawest essence — adventure and fantasy and thrills and monsters — and is trying to make that version of Doctor Who as well as he can. That certainly sounds like the kind of Doctor Who I’d want to watch, and it really does look like Moffat has tried to produce a consistently high-quality and faultless series. If these episodes are as good as they sound, there’s a good chance that’s exactly what we’re going to see.

The Twelfth Doctor will regenerate in the finale

The latest trailer for Series 10 briefly showed the Twelfth Doctor hunched over in pain, gold regeneration energy wafting out of his hand. It was a very brief couple of frames at the end of the trailer which made Twitter explode. Because the Doctor isn’t supposed to be regenerating in Series 10. No. He’s supposed to regenerate at the end of the Christmas special, and then the new Doctor will appear for exactly 17 seconds before the credits. That’s how it happens. That’s how it’s supposed to happen.

Then why was the Doctor regenerating in the Series 10 trailer? The Doctor has no business regenerating at any point before the last 2 minutes of the Christmas special, let alone in Series 10.

I don’t think we should put it past Moffat to mix things up a bit. Moffat isn’t the type of showrunner who will opt for the well-trodden path (which he himself helped forge) over the opportunity to do something very different and more exciting. I don’t think the Twelfth Doctor will regenerate in the Series 10 finale and that the Christmas special will feature the Thirteenth Doctor. No one wants that and that’s obviously not what’s going to happen. But one commentator has speculated that Twelve will begin regenerating at the end of the Series 10 finale, and will spend the Christmas special in “regeneration mode”, vulnerable to actual death but trying to hold off regenerating until he vanquishes some urgent threat (possibly the Mondasian Cybermen again), until he finally collapses and regenerates into the Thirteenth Doctor.

Much like the First Doctor did.

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I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I would be very satisfied if that is how the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration is executed. But I think I’m more partial to an idea of my own, that the Doctor will begin regenerating in the closing minutes of the Series 10 finale, but, much like the Tenth Doctor’s “regeneration” in The Stolen Earth, we won’t actually see him change. It’ll be left on a cliffhanger. A six month cliffhanger which won’t be broken on 25th December by Twelve immediately regenerating into Thirteen, but by a dream sequence or perhaps a flashback. In the classic series the Doctor would hallucinate about his companions in the moments before he regenerated. This is what I’m thinking of, except the Doctor’s hallucination or dream or flashback sequence would extend the length of the episode — and it would feature Clara.

Because how appropriate would it be for the Twelfth Doctor to dream about Clara in the moments before he regenerates? How perfect would it be to have Jenna Coleman back as Clara for an episode, and to have Twelve and Clara back on our screens together again one last time before the second half of that couple makes his final leave? Maybe it would be a dream about Clara, or maybe a montage of (new) flashbacks about Twelve’s memories with Clara, but to see Twelve with Clara again, even in a dream or a flashback, one more time before Peter Capaldi leaves would be beautiful.

And when Twelve stirs from his dream state, he will rise slowly and his eyes will cloud. He will utter a word, “Clara…”, and a single tear will slither down his cheek. Then he will smile, a tender, affectionate smile, a special smile he hasn’t remembered smiling for such a long time. And then golden fumes will start to envelop his body as he closes his eyes, still smiling that smile. And then he will regenerate.

Some final thoughts before Series 10

Wait, what? Doctor Who is less than a week away? Gosh. As far as hiatuses go, that was, well, an unexpectedly tolerable 16-month break. The pains of absence, such as they were, were definitely soothed by the constant, almost weekly drip-drip of news about Series 10. I don’t think we ever went for long without getting more exciting news about what was happening in Series 10, whether it was news about writers, episodes, guest stars, or announcements that the Mondasian Cybermen, or John Simm, were going to make a very public return to the show.

As someone who’s been following the Series 10 news avidly since Doctor Who decided it needed to spend some time apart from us in December 2015, I have a lot of feelings about what I expect, anticipate and want to see over the following twelve weeks. I’m taking this opportunity, on the eve of Series 10, to organise and set down my thoughts.

My attitude has totally changed

I’m not sure I was alone, earlier into the hiatus, in feeling cynical about Series 10. I wasn’t impressed by what we had seen and been told about Bill. I thought she looked like a lazily-conceived companion cast in the same repetitive mould as all Moffat’s other female companions to date. I was completely nonplussed by the decision to bring Nardole back — at all, let alone as a full-time companion to the Doctor. By the way Series 10 was being framed by Moffat, I was frustrated that Series 10 sounded like it was going to be largely a “fluff” series pitched at the lowest common denominator of the audience: the venerated “casual viewers” who were apparently considered incapable of paying attention week-to-week (but who can follow the interwoven multi-series storylines of Game of Thrones just fine).

It felt like, after the arc-heavy and high-frequency affair that was Series 9, Moffat was deciding to really dial the show back to basics as an early-evening children’s show about poorly-designed space monsters and little more. It sounded to me like Moffat really intended to phone it in in Series 10. After delivering his masterpiece and what was supposed to be his coup de grâce in Series 9, it seemed like he was opting to phone in a final dozen scripts of simplistic plots and superficial characters before claiming his salary and leaving.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Maybe I’m being swept up in the hype and the publicity about the new series, which has been reaching intensity levels in recent weeks leading up to the new series, but at this point I’m as excited as I’ve ever been about a new series of Doctor Who. I think it was the news that David Suchet was going to play a figure called The Landlord in one of the new episodes that started to change my attitude. That particular episodes sounds fascinating, as does the character, and anything with David Suchet in it is objectively worth watching. More recently we’ve had the terribly exciting news that the Mondasian Cybermen will be making their return in the finale, and that John Simm will be returning as the Master alongside Michelle Gomez.

The latter two items, really, have given me a whole new impression of what we can expect to see in Series 10. No, this isn’t going to be a phoned-in series of fluff before Moffat steals a Tardis key prop from set and scarpers. It may well turn out to be a “back-to-basics” series of Doctor Who, but it sounds like it’s going to be back-to-basics in a different way from what I was anticipating: not a return to banal children’s entertainment but a distilling of the show back to the basic elements of what makes it great, what we all watch Doctor Who for — the pure adventure and fantasy and escapism and imagination. If any reference point is appropriate, I think it’s like dialling the clock back to the early 70s glory days of Tom Baker in that Series 10, like Season 13, looks like it’s going to be a very pure iteration of Doctor Who and the essential elements that make the show what it is.

And no, this won’t be a series directed at the philistines “casual” viewers. The return of the Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm are about the two most fan-pleasing things the show has done in years.

But I’m still not sure about Bill and Nardole

Although I’ve definitely warmed towards the series itself, I’m still somewhat sceptical of this year’s Tardis team.

I didn’t understand why Nardole was being brought back when I first heard the news, and I still don’t now. It sounded then like Moffat just enjoyed working with Matt Lucas (or, at least, enjoyed his jokes) and didn’t realise that the prospect of the very-comical comic relief character from the Christmas special coming aboard as a full-time companion didn’t excite the fandom nearly as much as it excited him.

I’ve been somewhat reassured by the more subdued appearance of Nardole in the most recent Christmas special, and by the suggestion that there is actually a purpose to Nardole’s being there (some sort of “secret mission”?), but I’m going to reserve judgment until I actually see Nardole with the Doctor and Bill. Because, honestly, I thought the character we met in The Husbands of River Song was good for a laugh but I recoil from the prospect of seeing him in every episode in Series 10. I thought it must have been some sort of joke when I heard.

tardis team 2017

As for Bill, my complaints from a year ago stand. Bill will be the third companion in a row (four, if River Song counts) cast from a particular mould: an outgoing, bubbly, feisty, self-confident young 21st Century British woman who’s unrealistically fearless and glib in the face of extraterrestrial danger. I may have loved those qualities in Amy, River and Clara (I actually did complain of those same qualities in Clara, too, before I eventually warmed to her), but the fourth time round it’s become tiresome and boring. Bill seems like a minor reconfiguration of the personalities of the two or three companions who have come before her, mixed with a bit of Donna’s gob, and for that reason it’s going to be very easy to find her uninteresting and bland.

And, no, the fact that Bill is gay doesn’t make her interesting. At least not by itself. It’s great that a companion is openly gay, but Steven Moffat is right: normalising homosexuality in film and TV means not blinking an eyelid when a character is revealed as gay. It means not making a character’s homosexuality something that consumes the character and dominates their personality in our eyes. If a character is uninteresting, they shouldn’t automatically become fascinating just because they’re gay. That isn’t how this is supposed to work.

Of course I’m prepared to have my mind changed. I want to enjoy this series as much as possible, and I’m going to enjoy it much more if I can warm to Bill and Nardole. I want to have my mind changed, and I half expect it to be, if the quality of the writing this series is as good as it sounds. But it’s not like Moffat has never disappointed me before, and I think my reservations about these characters are fair.

I’m expecting something big

This is Moffat’s final series. If I know Moffat (and I do), he’ll want to go out on a fairly deafening bang. We’ve never known Moffat to balk at the opportunity to do something earth-shaking. He’s a continuity-builder, Moffat. He’s one of us, and he dorks out over geeky fan theories and wild headcanons just like us. This is his last opportunity to advance the 53-year narrative of Doctor Who and he’ll want to seize it with both hands. Since hearing the news that two Masters are going to feature, I’m under no doubt that Moffat has probably saved one of his biggest tricks yet for the Series 10 finale.

missy dabbing

As for what, we’ll have to wait and see, but I have a suspicion it will have something to do with Gallifrey. Gallifrey is back in the sky, the Doctor knows where it is, but more importantly Gallifrey knows where the Doctor is. After making such a triumphant return to the show in Hell Bent, Doctor Who can hardly ignore its existence from now on. It’s a permanent fixture of the show now, at least until the next time the Doctor blows it up. Even more urgently, Rassilon is still out there and doubtless nursing a major grudge against the Doctor for kicking him off his own planet. Whether we’ll see him this series, who knows, but he’s now another Big Bad to add to the list of the Doctor’s dangerous enemies.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Master were to be the big enemy of Series 10, given that there’s going to be two of them in the finale. Missy so far has not been an enemy of the Doctor as much as very bad friend. In Series 8 she wanted to buy his friendship with a Cyberman army. In Series 9 she accompanied him to Skaro and nearly tricked him into killing Clara. In neither of those instances was she definitively evil. But it’s time for her to be the bad guy now. After all, the last time we saw her, the Doctor had left her for dead on Skaro in the middle of a horde of angry Daleks. I’d be pretty pissed at my so-called “friend”, too, wouldn’t you?

Given that Missy’s previous regeneration is making a long-awaited reappearance, I’m getting a better idea of what Missy’s “clever plan” is going to be. And given that the only place John Simm’s Master could have come from is Gallifrey, I’m starting to wonder if the Master(s) won’t be the only Time Lord the Doctor meets.

I’ve been watching: Tomorrow When The War Began

  • An unlikely group of teenagers from an Australian country town go on a camping trip. It’s a blissful weekend spent immersed in the bush, disconnected from civilisation, with only each other for company. They bond, they grow closer to one another, and some of their number even find love. When they return to their hometown of Wirrawee, they find their homes abandoned and the town occupied by invading soldiers (which are heavily implied to be Chinese). After seeing the detention camps the people of the town, including their friends and family, are being kept in, and almost being captured themselves, they spend their time lying low in the abandoned town and avoiding capture. That is, until they decide to turn guerrilla and fight the invaders.
  • It’s a thrilling film with an attention-grabbing, high-concept plot. The sheer novelty of the idea of contemporary Australia, in peacetime, being invaded by Asian forces is wonderful. The scenes of the Wirrawee detention camp, flustered ordinary Australians being intimidated at gunpoint by black-booted, black-uniformed Asians, and the aerial battle the kids witness, give Australian as well as other Western viewers a very real and chilling sense of what a hostile invasion of our countries would look like. Those sequences were surreal, because a foreign occupation of the familiar scenes of Australian suburbia and Australian country towns sounds like such a surreal and far-fetched prospect. We believe it could never happen. Not here. Not to us. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to us. But maybe one day it will. And this is a chilling simulation of what it will look like if and when it does.
  • It was a good idea to tell the story through the eyes of a group of teenagers who, through fortuitous accident, happened to escape the occupation and detention of the population. The scenes of them panicking and flustering around as they return to a ghost town were some of the most suspenseful in the film. And, frankly, teenagers just make the best protagonists for these sorts of stories. Teenagers are angsty. They’re emotional. They’ve got overexcited hormones and they’re still learning what it means to be an adult, and not a child. They’re ingenuous idealists whose view of the world isn’t yet jaded by experience. They (mostly) haven’t developed the egos of adults yet. In short, a guerrilla band of hormonal Australian teenagers makes for a much more interesting story than a guerrilla band of rational, cynical and probably ego-absorbed Australian adults.
  • But the characters themselves brought a variety of dimensions to the story. It almost seems like they were chosen to be as varied and as unlikely a group of friends as possible, Robyn, the sweet, demure Catholic girl juxtaposed with Homer, the serial law-flouter who proudly sports his “Fuck the police” t-shirt. At points the characterisation was poor. Robyn, Kevin and especially Fiona felt a bit like caricatures who lacked any meaningful depth of characterisation, and Corrie was almost a complete nonentity as far as I was concerned. Fiona in particular was seemingly written as a stereotypical prissy stupid blonde, and the single attempt to add layer to her character was weak and unconvincing.
  • On the other hand, Ellie, Homer and Lee were wonderful characters, so it’s not all bad on that front, although I think I’d have liked to have become a bit more familiar with Lee, who by the end of the film was still a quiet, dark, interesting introvert, albeit one evidently with a big crush on Ellie. Ellie, of course, was the single best thing about this film. Her character was written brilliantly, and Caitlin Stasey proved herself equal to such a challenging character. The scene where Ellie vents at Chris for falling asleep on watch and turns the gun on him was utterly spellbinding.

I’ve been watching: Riverdale

  • For those who haven’t been keeping up with the newest hit show to come out of Netflix, Riverdale is a teen drama based on the characters of the Archie comic books. As far as I can tell (having not read the Archie comics), Riverdale is only very loosely based on the comics, and the characters bear only nominal relation to their comic book counterparts. Still, I think Riverdale is a fantastic show in its own right, perhaps because it uses the source material as a springboard rather than a script—you don’t have to have read the comics (as I haven’t) to love it, and the fundamentals of the characters and the setting are used to create what is practically an original and interesting story.
  • I would describe Riverdale as high school teen drama meets 1950s/grunge aesthetic meets Pretty Little Liars style murder mystery. It’s an interesting combination, but it makes for really addicting viewing. It’s a good thing Netflix is releasing the episodes week-to-week rather than all at once (as it typically does), because otherwise I’d probably have binge-watched the whole thing in one or two days.
  • The murder mystery aspect of the story—the mysterious death of Jason Blossom—is obviously the focus of the plot, and intriguing mystery it certainly is, but the show would be so much less interesting if not for the absorbing characters and the character dynamics. Riverdale has a cast of fantastically interesting characters, particularly the eminently ship-worthy main group of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Cheryl. As a teen drama, obviously the character dynamics and the relationships and possible relationships between the characters is a huge part of the show, which has already cycled through more ships than I can count, and with such engaging main characters it’s difficult not to be swept up in the character drama and shipping fever.
  • The show explores some interesting themes, albeit themes typical of teen dramas (or at least the more intelligent ones, which I’m gratified to say includes Riverdale): most notably the extent to which children reaching maturity are defined by their parents or their families and the expectations of their families. Most of the main characters—Betty, Archie, Veronica, Cheryl, Josie, even Veronica’s mother Hermione—have to deal in some way with a conflict between what they want for themselves or who they want to be, and what their elders want for them/who their elders want them to be. It’s a common teen drama trope, but it’s a good one, and Riverdale explores it through its characters well.