Thoughts on: Face the Raven

Warning: spoilers.

I’m glad she died. No, not like that. I’m glad that she went the way she did: death, as opposed to something short of death, as has been the pattern in modern Doctor Who. That’s not just because I feel that it’s about time a companion died, as opposed to succumbing to some faux-tragic ending. I feel that death was the only appropriate way for Clara to go. I feel that death, a really tragic, pathetic death, like the one she got, was the only fitting, logical conclusion to Clara’s story, and that an exit for Clara that fell short of death would have been anticlimactic. The Doctor and Clara together have been through so much. Clara has been more important to the Doctor than arguably any companion before. Clara and the Doctor are inseparable, on a cosmic level, and it seemed inevitable that the only thing that should separate them would be death. Clara couldn’t just walk away like Martha did — it would kill her. Clara couldn’t have been trapped in another dimension, like Rose, or in a paradox, like Amy — the Doctor would have stopped at nothing to bring her back. She had to die.

Moreover, it’s been clear for some time that Clara’s recklessness, her thrill-seeking and disturbing flirtation with danger would ultimately end in tragedy. As far back as Series 8 the show has been dropping ominous hints about the way Clara is becoming more and more like the Doctor. Remember how she couldn’t keep away after she stormed out in Kill the Moon? In Series 9, the hints that Clara’s recklessness would lead to her untimely death have come thick and fast. When she was finally faced with her death, she asked the Doctor, in response to his regret over allowing her to become so reckless, “Why can’t I be like you?”, more a plea than an argument. In those poignant words, layered with plaintive longing and wistfulness, she reveals herself. She reveals how much her dangerous, fantastic life and her association with the Doctor has consumed her as a person. How much of a dream, an unreal fantasy, her life has been for so long. It was inevitable: it was all going to come crashing down sooner or later, the question was only when.

ftr

All that said, I regret that I have to say that the actual scene of Clara’s death left me somewhat cold, or at least a lot cooler than it should have. The whole episode was leading up to this scene, and I suppose I expected something more momentous. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel it. I’m not just griping for the sake of it — my regular readers would know I’m the last person to engage in that kind of cynical, self-regarding analysis. I really, truly, viscerally wanted to be moved by the scene. This show’s capacity to make me feel for characters to whom I have an emotional connection is a big part of why I watch it, and these infrequent moments, and the way they make me feel, are what I remember most vividly from watching this show. I remember how intense the feeling was when I watched Donna’s, Ten’s, Amy’s and Eleven’s exits for the first time. This time, I regret to say, it didn’t work for me. I know that it did for many others: my Twitter feed for hours after the episode aired was filled with hysterical bleatings after Clara, and I must have read at least a dozen accounts of people who were left in tears by the scene. Obviously it was effective; it obviously did its job, at least for some.

Is it me? Has excessive reviewing rewired my brain and numbed my capacity to feel in respect of this show? I really hope not. All the elements were there: the emotional farewell between Clara and the Doctor, Clara facing her death so bravely, “Let me be brave”, Clara screaming silently with that maudlin music playing in the background. I should have been moved to tears by all that. But in the end, the only time I felt genuinely emotionally involved in the scene was when the Doctor was raging at Ashildr, which I found really bracing and exhilarating to watch. What does that say about me, I wonder. One substantive criticism I will make about the scene, though, that might’ve affected my engagement with it, was that Clara’s exhortation to the Doctor, moments before she was about to die, to try to cope after she was gone, felt a bit unreal and seemed to reduce Clara in the moments before her death to a narrative device to move along the Doctor’s emotional state. I don’t know, but that was the moment I felt most disconnected from the scene. I did find it very poignant, though, when the Doctor walked back into the room, looking totally forlorn and broken, oddly incomplete without Clara by his side.

twelveclaraa

Sarah Dollard, the first of my countrymen to write for Doctor Who since the 1960s, acquits herself well in her debut script. It’s brimming with interesting ideas, and I can tell that, if it were a self-contained story without the burden of effecting a companion exit and major arc progression, it might have been an instant classic. Moffat did, after all, choose Dollard’s original, draft script (and a debut script no less) for Clara to go out on, so it must have been impressive. It’s just that, while there are clearly fantastic ideas behind it — trap streets and an alien refugee camp — and it was engaging enough while it was an unassuming story about Rigsy’s tattoo and trap streets, the superimposition of the series arc material onto Dollard’s pre-existing script somewhat compromised its integrity — it’s an awkward edit — and makes it all feel just a bit directionless and messy until the final scene. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good story, though. It was at least as good the episode that came before it (which I liked), it’s just that the awkward way Dollard’s story has been sacrificed for the purpose of progressing the series arc left the end result feeling slightly underwhelming.

Some final thoughts. My critique of the final scene above should in no way be taken as a slight against the acting of either Jenna Coleman or Peter Capaldi. Both were fantastic throughout this episode, and were given meaty material to gnaw into, which they did with gusto. Peter Capaldi, especially, was surpassing. Capaldi was frightening to behold when the Doctor was thundering at Ashildr. At the same time, he portrayed the Doctor’s wordless sorrow over saying goodbye to Clara sublimely. The man has awe-inspiring range. Rigsy was a wonderful addition to this week’s cast, and Joivan Wade’s character is truly a beloved member of the Whoniverse now, if he wasn’t already. Maisie Williams is impressive as always as the ever- morally-ambiguous, untrustworthy Ashildr, now over 1,000 years old. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Ashildr this series. Surely, if she’s in league with the Time Lords and accessory to their plot to abduct the Doctor, we’ll see her again in Hell Bent? I hope so.

Rating: 7/10.


Quote of the week:

“Clara, go back to the Tardis. Pick up all my most annoying stuff.”

Thoughts on: Sleep No More

Warning: spoilers.

I’ve watched Mark Gatiss’s latest effort, Sleep No More, three times, and have had more time than usual (due to preoccupation with exams) to think about it and mull over my impressions. I think that’s for the better in this case, because my impressions of the episode now have shifted quite considerably since my first viewing. If I’d reviewed this episode on the day of broadcast, this review would probably have read quite differently. While I won’t presume to tell others to watch it again and reconsider their opinions, I think this is definitely one that needs to be watched at least twice to be properly appreciated. Needless to say, this has also been one of the most divisive episodes of Doctor Who I’ve seen—the most divisive, at least, since Kill the Moon, and even that one received a broadly positive reception. This one has divided opinion more violently than almost any I’ve seen.

Divided opinion is to be expected from a script as experimental as this. Whenever the show, Doctor Who seemingly more than any other, does something differently and left-of-field, there are inevitably going to be fans who love it and fans who hate it. It’s not just the found footage style that’s different about this episode, although, to say something about that, I found it effective. For the most part, I didn’t notice the difference from a regular episode, but, at its best, it allowed for the amplification of the intrigue and atmosphere and thrill of the episode. It provided for some wonderful moments, including the numerous moments Peter Capaldi spoke directly to the camera.

sandmen

They were sand… and they were men… like… a hybrid?

But it’s also the way the story, and its overarching conceit, played out that’s bound to frustrate some. If you’re like me, you probably came out of the episode upon first viewing more than a bit confused about what had just happened and feeling rather unsatisfied. After two subsequent viewings, I’ve managed to wrap my head around the slightly convoluted conceit the script was weaving—that all the events of the episode were orchestrated by the dust to tell a story to keep the viewers hooked, to infect them with the Morpheus signal—and I appreciate the “action” of the episode a lot more with that in mind. Although the episode plays out like a stock-standard base-under-siege with some gimmicky camerawork, it’s really quite a concept-heavy piece. Again, I think you need to watch it a few times to fully appreciate that. Its narrative appeal is primarily on the meta level, and if that isn’t to your taste, then this episode is probably not going to work for you, especially if, like me upon my first viewing, you found the action a bit boring and the plot overly complex.

That said, there’s a lot that could’ve been improved upon. The Sandmen, notwithstanding their intriguing concept, in practice were fairly unoriginal creations. They were snarling, groping monster-men practically indistinguishable from the zombies in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. In the Sandmen there’s a reticence on Gatiss’s part to take the brilliant ideas he’s put into this script as far as they could have been taken. Why not show a person’s transformation into a Sandman? (Deep-Ando’s death was a perfect opportunity) Why not illustrate exactly how these creatures are sentient sleep dust, rather than just showing them stomping around like generic zombies and having the Doctor tell us “they’re sleep dust”. Moreover, the other problem I had with this episode is that, even given that the action was all engineered to tell a riveting story, there wasn’t enough plot to tease out to fill the whole 45 minutes. We watch the Doctor, Clara and the crew getting into scrapes and near-misses for most of the episode—yes, it was all manufactured by the dust, but after a while it all became a bit tedious. The first plot development of any significance came 30 minutes in, when the Doctor realised the dust had been recording them. By then you’d be forgiven if you’d lost interest.

But yet… I rather enjoyed it. I enjoyed it more upon each subsequent viewing, perhaps because, wrapping my head around the confusing plot points and meta-narrative, I was in a better position to appreciate the script for the clever and engaging piece of writing it was. I was in a better position to appreciate that this wasn’t just a typical monster runaround with a clever twist tacked on at the end, but that Mark Gatiss really has, for all its faults, crafted an exquisite script. And, I mean, it wasn’t that boring. Perhaps I overstated my impatience with the episode above—I was certainly unsatisfied the first time round, but, like I said, it improved for me once I grasped what the point of it all was. Contrary to others’ impressions, I found the characters all fairly well-written, especially the unsettling Rassmussen, and I loved the amusing Chopra-474 double-act. And I have no hesitation in affirming that I’d watch this episode again just for that ending. I think the last minute of the episode is the one thing everyone agrees was superb. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by suggesting it was one of the creepiest, freakiest, most chilling moments in a  Doctor Who episode ever. I’m sure if I were 10 years old, I’d have been petrified about going to bed after watching that. It just reeked of Mark Gatiss’s dark, morbid sense of humour. I love that.

Is it Mark Gatiss’s best script yet? Although that isn’t really saying much, I’d be tempted to say “yes” if it weren’t for the exceptional Robot of Sherwood in Series 8. Even if we accept, though, that Sleep No More is the weakest episode of Series 9 so far (it’s vying for that honour with Before the Flood and The Woman Who Lived, to my mind), that is undoubtedly to the credit of Series 9, because this is by no means a bad script, and I have no hesitation in saying that every series since 2005 has had episodes much weaker than this, even the stellar Series 4 and 5 had Partners in Crime and Victory of the Daleks, respectively. And, I mean, there’s a tendency to overstate the poorness of the quality of Doctor Who scripts. The average quality of Doctor Who compared to most everything else on television is emphatically higher, and even Doctor Who’s weakest scripts generally make for good television. Because we devotees of this wonderful show are used to an unusually high standard of writing and storytelling in our show, this episode might not necessarily have made for great Doctor Who, but it certainly made for stunningly good television. Admit it, you’d much rather be watching this than anything else that was on at the time.

Rating: 8/10.


Quote of the week:

“No, you don’t get to name things. I’m the Doctor. I do the naming.”

Who’s Next: Faye Marsay

The next actress we might feasibly see in the companion role come Series 10 is one of the names more often bandied about, ever since her much-acclaimed appearance in the 2014 Christmas special, Last Christmas. It’s Faye Marsay.

Faye Marsay seems to fit the profile of a prospective Doctor Who companion actress: she’s young and obviously talented, but, for now, relatively unknown—or up-and-coming, depending on how you want to look at it. A stint as a Doctor Who companion has often been a springboard for talented up-and-coming young actresses to rise to greater prominence in the film and television industry, à la Billie Piper, Karen Gillan and now Jenna Coleman, who’s now going off to play the high-profile eponymous role in Victoria on ITV.

Faye Marsay’s appeal lies in the fact that she already has an established character in Doctor Who, the quirky, endearing Shona McCullough, a “would-be” companion if there ever was one. Shona made an impressive impact upon the fandom, and Marsay built up literally overnight her own sizable faction of Shona fans who want to see Shona travel with the Doctor. That’s not just a testament to the wonderful character created by Steven Moffat, it’s a credit to Marsay herself, who’s clearly an exceptional actress, having brought vividly to life her character and captured the audience’s affections within moments of her appearing onscreen.

There’s so much that’s right in bringing Shona back as a companion. She’s a genuinely engaging and lovable character. She’s very different from Clara, in the way she approaches the challenges she’s confronted with. She’s brave, like Clara, but she’s also, compared to Clara, refreshingly human. Clara has always displayed extraordinary qualities that make her, at times, almost as alien as the Doctor. Compared to Clara, Shona seems a much more relatable character — just an ordinary girl — and, in that way, recalls Rose.

An ordinary girl. That would be a big change in itself from The Impossible Girl, and The Girl Who Waited. But she’s also unordinary. She hasn’t got the enviable, photogenic life of Amy or Clara or Martha, and she hasn’t got the super-stunning looks of pretty much every female Doctor Who companion ever (don’t get me wrong, though, she’s still pretty). Shona is quirky and eccentric, and not a generic “Mary-Sue” by any means. She has an off-kilter sense of humour. She looks like she has a very mundane and unfulfilling life, as though she’s just crying out to be whisked away in the Tardis. In these respects, she’d be much like the Moffat era’s Donna, or even an unconventional Ace-like companion. This is good. A change from stunning, sweet-natured girls-next-door would be very welcome.

But there’s one pretty big reason I don’t want Shona to be the next companion. In almost any other set of circumstances, I’d love to see Shona board the Tardis. It’s just that, as refreshing a change as she would be, she’s still not different enough from literally all her predecessors since 2005 to make a real difference. She’d be another “ordinary” British girl from the 21st Century. In any other circumstance, Shona would be an exciting change, but, after five 21st Century British girls in 10 years, Shona would feel tedious and repetitive. To the casual audience, she’d be difficult to distinguish from the five characters with strikingly similar profiles that preceded her. The casual audience might reasonably conclude that it’s all more of the same and that they’ve seen all this before. And, frankly, I’d be bored, too.

It’s for these reasons that, as much as I love Shona’s character, I don’t want her to be the next companion.

This show really does need to get away from the standard companion archetype, at least for a while. I’ve loved all the modern Doctor Who companions, each in their own way, but repetitive and unoriginal is the one thing Doctor Who shouldn’t be. The show should even avoid the appearance of repetitiveness, as the traumatic experience of the late 1980s should have taught us.

The show did successfully break the mould of young Doctors in the fantastic Peter Capaldi, so there’s no reason it couldn’t break the mould of young, ordinary, British and 21st Century (YOB21’s?), too. The classic series always managed to mix it up fairly consistently, plucking its companions from the past, present and future, from alien worlds, and even, shock horror, from the male sex—that is, as proper companions rather than attached to main female companions.

If Doctor Who wants to keep the 21st Century British girl formula, it needs to do something radically different in respect of the profile of the next companion: Lady Christina de Souza was a superb example, and, personally, I’d have loved to have seen Lady Christina travel with Ten as a proper companion. But part of Lady Christina’s appeal was that, even with the same gender, nationality and time period as Rose, Martha and Donna, she was so different from what we were used to in a companion, and she brought such distinctive qualities to the role because of her unique profile.

Something to think about.

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.

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.

Thoughts on: Last Christmas

Last Christmas makes a distinct departure from Christmas specials in previous years. The annual seasonal romp in Christmases past has been either fluffy, frivolous “Who-lite” (The Runaway Bride, A Christmas CarolThe Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe) or a regeneration story with Christmas elements tacked on (The Christmas InvasionThe End of TimeThe Time of the Doctor). This is neither, notwithstanding the presence of Santa Claus, Christmas elves and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This is a proper, scary, traditional Doctor Who thriller. It’s a base-under-siege with terrifying monsters and an absorbing psychological twist. It’s very much standard fare Doctor Who, and especially standard fare Moffat Who. It could easily have been an episode in the ordinary series, and a well-received one at that. Although I love the fluffy, overtly Christmassy specials, this makes for a bracing, thrilling change-up, and, although I think A Christmas Carol remains the best Christmas special yet, I enjoyed this one so much it became my instant favourite.

The biggest distinction between this special and previous (non-regeneration) specials is the presence of a threat that feels tangible rather than throwaway. It certainly feels like a lot of care went into the construction of this story, and particularly into the psychological conceit at its heart: the “dream state” induced by the horrific Dream Crabs. I love a good psychological thriller of the likes of BlinkMidnight and Listen, which is why I was sat bolt upright, totally absorbed by this episode. The Dream Crabs are a genuinely frightening and repeatable new monster, and they definitely incite a real sense of claustrophobia and terror, and make for a convincing threat. I thought they were ingeniously conceived, as good as any of Moffat’s creature creations. The only doubt I have about them is that, if they’re used again in the future, they might give writers licence to deploy the dreaded “and they woke up and it was all a dream” get-out card to undo events. Nonetheless, I loved the Inception-ness of it all; this episode actually did something really effective with the idea of dreams-within-dreams that Inception didn’t do: you never actually knew at any point (except when it was made explicit in Clara’s dream) whether the characters were dreaming or not. I, at least, found that really gripping.

I think the real highlight of this episode, though, was Nick Frost as Santa Claus. What a masterstroke of casting that was. Nick Frost’s interpretation of Santa was a hilarious cross between a mob boss and Jack Whitehall. I know I said this about Robot of Sherwood, but I take it back: this is the Doctor Who story that made me laugh more than any other. Every time Frost opened his mouth I couldn’t help guffawing. Same goes with the elves. From the moment Santa appears on Clara’s roof, he exudes comedic energy (“How did you recognise me?”). There are so many quotable lines in this episode, particularly those from Shona’s interrogation of Santa, where Santa comes across as though he’s intentionally trolling the increasingly bewildered girl: “Obviously, I’ve got a second sledge”, “It’s a scientific impossibility. That is why I feed mine magic carrots.” Also: “It’s bigger on the inside.” Classic. The comedy of Nick Frost’s Santa and his elves appropriately lighten the mood enormously of what could otherwise been an episode too dark and heavy for a Christmas evening. I also loved the rivalry between the Doctor and Santa. Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost, two great comedy actors, were a terrific joy to watch together.

Inevitably, the episode made time for the emotional fallout from the end of the finale. The critical moment was when the Doctor and Clara both admitted they lied to each other for the other’s good, prompting them both to wistful rumination. Moreover, Clara’s dream, inhabited by a romanticised Danny, had a distinct melancholy about it, even before the Doctor showed up and ruined the party. In any case, Clara and Danny were given the touching farewell they deserved; it felt like the fitting end to that onscreen relationship, that chapter to Clara’s life. The teasing of Clara’s exit at the end was a real emotional merry-go-round. It was a profoundly beautiful scene, and, if the Doctor and Clara’s relationship had ended there (as was originally planned, before Jenna changed her mind), it would have been perfect. But the euphoric reunion of the Doctor and Clara as they run off into the Tardis again was so exhilarating that I think I prefer the real ending. Before watching this episode, I was hoping Clara would leave, but this final scene changed my mind: the sheer excitement and ecstasy of those final moments made me excited to see them both together in Series 9, presumably at ease with each other and in a much stronger, more understanding partnership than before. Roll on the new series.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: In the Forest of the Night

A contributor in a Doctor Who fan forum I occasionally frequent, with whom I disagree about virtually everything, once made a penetrating observation about fan opinion, and, for once, I actually agreed with them. They (I know not their gender) postulated that unconventional stories like Love & Monsters that fall short of fans’ standards will provoke a far more intense backlash, merely for straying from standard tropes, than equally bad stories that nevertheless follow standard Doctor Who formulas, like The Idiot’s Lantern. Notwithstanding that Love & Monsters really was a terrible, positively retch-inducing episode, the memory of which I’ve done my utmost to repress, there’s more than a grain of truth in that observation. For fans of a show that premises itself on the literally boundless concept of “anywhere, any time, any thing”, we can be surprisingly conservative and sceptical towards the show straying from the accepted storytelling tropes it uses over and over again.

I feel that much of the fan hostility towards Frank Cottrell Boyce’s divisive script has much to do with that conservative attitude towards the kinds of storytelling the show should employ. What distinguished In the Forest of the Night from “normal” Doctor Who was that, as was revealed in this episode’s denouement, there was no actual threat. It was basically an episode following the Doctor, Clara and a gaggle of schoolkids around as they became bewildered over a freak, but entirely harmless, natural occurrence. The viewer was waiting for the moment when the Doctor would be struck by a brainwave and figure out how to save everyone from the… inconvenient trees. Expecting that, the viewer is disoriented when the brainwave finally does come, but it’s in the Doctor realising that, actually, there’s nothing to save anyone from — there was no need to worry at all in the first place.

This is different; for once, the story isn’t about the Doctor beating the monsters, or the Doctor and Clara getting themselves out of a dangerous situation. It was about everyone learning a heartwarming and joyous lesson: nature is our friend, not our enemy — trust it. The Doctor has no real role to play other than being the one who realises what it’s all about. This is certainly a departure from what we’re used to, but it’s also a return to the show’s origins. In the first Doctor Who serials, the Doctor was no more the hero of the piece than the (usually captured) companions were; the show was more about following the Doctor and his friends on their adventures than about the Doctor saving the day. It was only later that the Doctor became a pseudo-superhero who saved the world every week. Many of the earliest Doctor Who serials, like Marco Polo and The Edge of Destruction, would be considered very experimental in modern Who. This episode probably wasn’t the best exemplar of non-traditional storytelling, but perhaps the show would actually benefit from expanding beyond the present narrative confines that the script-writers impose on themselves?

So, in general, despite its very visible faults, I rather liked it. It’s inoffensive, charming, enchanting, cute and heartwarming. It was different. I mean, the idea of invincible trees springing up overnight and carpeting the Earth was a bit silly, I admit, but, gosh, wasn’t it intriguing? Wasn’t it just magical? Wasn’t it at least more interesting than the constant alien invasions of London we were subjected to in Russell T Davies’ era? I actually found the idea that the Doctor was helpless to combat the green, wooden scourge to be a fantastic narrative device. We don’t see it happen enough. I thought the characters really enhanced this story, too. The children were amusing, and brought a smile to face, especially the mouthy ginger girl, Ruby. This was actually one of the few times I’ve liked the child actors in Doctor Who. Danny is the most likable and sympathetic he’s been all series, in his grounded, down-to-earth, responsible attitude towards everything, contrasting effectively with Clara’s reckless wanderlust and thrill-seeking. And wasn’t the episode just visually stunning? If nothing else, this episode was surely one of the most aesthetically beautiful the show has ever produced.

There were a few things that annoyed me, but they’re not really significant enough to unduly diminish my enjoyment of the episode. For one, the episode felt slow. With not all that much to actually do, it indulges in a lot of filler material involving escaped zoo animals and other flotsam and jetsam. There was one scene in particular where Clara and the Doctor stood around having a conversation in which they just repeated things we already knew. I felt the urge at that moment to channel Monty Python in admonishing them both to get on with it! Secondly, the scene where the tree spirits (or whatever they were) were speaking through Maebh would have been so much more effective if I could actually hear what they were saying. All I heard was a resonant rumbling in a frequency too low for even my young ears to pick up. Finally, I hate to be a grouch, but I cringed over that final scene, where Maebh discovers her lost sister hiding in the bushes. I don’t usually hate on things like this, but this time I did; I found it unnecessary and emotionally dishonest. Nevertheless, as I said, these gripes don’t overtly diminish my enjoyment of the episode, which I found, for the most part, engaging viewing.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: Flatline

It can’t be said that Jamie Mathieson just got lucky or that he just had a good day on his first writing stint for the show, which produced the instant classic Mummy on the Orient Express. His second script for Series 8 was another surpassing effort, and, at least to my mind, another classic for the Doctor Who annals. There are plenty of inspired ideas that this script plays with. Apart from the monsters themselves, the “Boneless”—riveting, high concept creations—this episode sees Clara try her hand at being the Doctor after it splits the Doctor and Clara up in the most amusing fashion possible (this episode surely ranks as one of the most eminently gif-able of them all?) I think this episode definitely benefits from a rewatch. It benefits from taking it all in over two or three viewings, from putting it in perspective and coming to see the story in a more holistic sense, as the sum of its parts. I’ll admit it took me as much as three viewings to properly appreciate the story for the superb piece of writing it is, after feeling somewhat nonchalant towards it the first time round.

Mathieson’s two stories so far have relied on simple but ingenious conceits in their monsters—in Mummy the idea of a monster only the victim could see; and here the monsters existed only in two dimensions. The “Boneless” were an inspired creation, and they were explored and realised fascinatingly onscreen, when they finally adapted to three dimensions, by creepy, malformed bodies materialising out of the earth and slithering menacingly like the living dead. One of my favourite moments of the Boneless was when the Doctor and Clara were trying to communicate with the creatures using the loud speakers, and heard in response a macabre high-pitched tremolo, like a message from some arcane alien intelligence from beyond the stars. It sent a shiver down my spine—maybe because it made the aliens (or whatever they were) feel more eerily real than any of the preposterous Sontarans or Daleks that look like they’ve come from a Marvel comic book; I could imagine hearing that in real life and freezing as I realise I’m hearing something unmistakably alien.

Clara is forced into the role of the Doctor after our eyebrow-wielding hero gets himself stuck in his miniaturised Tardis. And what ensues is very revealing. As the Doctor himself admitted, Clara made a fine Doctor. She took charge of the disoriented group, deploying her wits and asserting her personality to rout the threat and save the day. But in the course of saving the day, she was forced to do some very typically Doctor-ish things indeed. She lied to the group, gave them false hope, and let at least two of them down. This all builds into the running theme of Clara increasingly understanding what it is to be the Doctor, to be forced to be cold and cynical, even heartless, if it means saving people’s lives. The Doctor, clearly somewhat uncomfortably, admitted as much when he “reviewed” Clara at the end. But the fact that it all came so easily to Clara increasingly indicates that Clara herself is becoming like the Doctor, especially given her use of lying to manipulate both Danny and the Doctor. It was all really riveting writing, and added a depth to the conceit of Clara’s playing the Doctor that made it more compelling than if it were just done for pure novelty’s sake.

The moment the Doctor, restored to full size, stepped out of the Tardis and repelled the Boneless, was a brilliant, furious coup de grâce. It was one of those spine-chilling, fist-pumping, hair-standing-on-end moments when you can only stand in awe of the Doctor. Like in The Christmas Invasion, the fact that the Doctor was more or less absent for most of the episode made the moment when he finally appeared and repulsed the baddies so much more dramatically satisfying. But it was also significant for another reason. This is the second week in a row we’ve seen the Doctor play the exultant, conquering hero. The Doctor finally seems to be getting back into his stride. And just listen to his speech to the Boneless: “You are monsters. That is the role you seem determined to play. So it seems I must play mine. The man who stops the monsters.” This is a long way from the Doctor’s agonised navel-gazing at the beginning of the series over whether he’s a “good man” or not. The Twelfth Doctor’s character arc over this series has been very subtle (I’ll admit I didn’t pick up on it the first time round), but still consummately executed, and really effective. It’s been genuinely engaging and satisfying watching the new Doctor’s emotional development over this series.

Some final thoughts. I know it’s become a standard trope of mine to gush over Capaldi’s acting in these reviews, but I don’t do it without justification. He really is a superb actor, and here he delivered another sublime performance. Ironically, being confined to Clara’s purse for most of the duration of the episode actually gave Capaldi even greater opportunities to display his acting skills, and the several Doctorish monologues he delivered to the empty Tardis console room were captivating to watch. The characters in this episode were very well written. Rigsy was an engaging and relatable character, played endearingly by Jovian Wade, while Fenton was a singularly disagreeable man, and the fact that Christopher Fairbank made me hate his character so much is a credit to him. Finally, this must have been Missy’s most intriguing appearance yet. “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well.” Eek. Cue wild speculation.

Rating: 9/10.