Thoughts on: The Unicorn and the Wasp

A story idea about Agatha Christie and a giant wasp is naturally going to incite scepticism. It just sounds too silly for words. Remarkably, though, this story managed to play out that idea totally convincingly and without a hint of self-conscious irony. Admittedly, the giant wasp was the most problematic aspect of this otherwise fantastic episode (as a giant chicken was in a subsequent story about a historical figure)—some other alien form could surely have been used?—but the story itself was so enjoyable and well executed that the ludicrousness of a giant alien wasp didn’t overtly detract from the quality of the story. The story premise of a murder mystery in a 1920s aristocratic house featuring the investigative team of the Doctor and Agatha Christie was inspired, and was played out onscreen as thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining viewing. Excellent use was made of classic Agatha Christie motifs in tribute to the latter’s stories: the charming setting of a party at an upper class country house, the interrogation of witnesses (who are all lying, of course), the dignified dinner scene in the midst of murders, the scene where the investigator gathers the witnesses and suspects to reveal the murderer…

Agatha Christie was played really well by Fenella Woolgar, who captured the novelist’s character perfectly. It was endearing seeing Christie cope with her insecurities about her works and her personal life, especially when she seemed irritated when the Doctor and Donna kept praising her works. Donna’s intimate conversation with Christie was especially touching. Seeing that side of Donna, caring and compassionate, always brings a smile to my face. The investigative partnership of Christie and the Doctor was excellent: the ultimate detective duo. I also liked how Christie, that paragon of respectable Englishness, was shown to be opening her mind to the weird and wonderful due to the Doctor’s influence, much like Charles Dickens did.

I didn’t have particularly much to say about this episode, just that it was an enjoyable and successful tribute to arguably the greatest crime novelist of them all. That said, there should definitely be a story in which the Doctor meets Arthur Conan-Doyle…

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: The Doctor’s Daughter

The Doctor’s Daughter was both a fun and powerful story, managing to insert solemn and compellingly-explored moral themes into what was at the same time a fun romp about the Doctor’s cloned “daughter”. Jenny was simply awesome. Apart from being completely gorgeous, Georgia Moffett’s character was sweet, adorably exuberant, feisty and spirited. Who, honestly, watched Jenny seduce the guard to steal his gun, or somersault her way through the laser beams, without a broad grin on their face? (By the way, where did she learn to seduce like that? Surely she didn’t get it from the Doctor…?) I think the audience would have been left exceedingly fond of Jenny by the end of the episode, looking forward to seeing her begin travelling with the Doctor. I was, at least. She would have made an excellent companion to the Doctor, I think. At the very least, her character had too much potential for nothing more to be done with her, especially given that very suggestive final scene. It’s an enormous shame that her character has been all but forgotten about ever since, and too much time has passed for something substantial to be done with her. Even a one-off appearance would have been nice (would still be nice?)

Another great aspect of this episode was its exploring of the Doctor’s feelings about the Time Lords and his lost home. The Doctor at first refused to accept that Jenny was a Time Lord, considering that to call her a Time Lord would be an insult to the memory of his lost civilisation. “You’re an echo, that’s all. A Time Lord is so much more. A sum of knowledge, a code, a shared history, a shared suffering. Only it’s gone now, all of it. Gone forever.” Tennant portrayed, as always, the Doctor’s pain and suppressed trauma over the loss of his planet and people really powerfully, saying so little but expressing so much. Tennant does that very well. The Doctor warmed to Jenny when he saw that she was more like him than he realised, although uncertain how he would deal with being constantly reminded of the Time War if Jenny were to come with him. The Doctor admitted something very telling when he agreed with Donna when she said “You talk all the time, but you don’t say anything.” The Doctor grieves in private. From the rare instances where we see the Doctor open up about the Time War, it’s obvious that his grief and pain is simply too much to bear talking about, to even bear thinking about. So what do you do when you’re in emotional suffering but find things to distract yourself with? That about sums up the Doctor of the revived series.

Donna was exemplary in this episode. Again she showed what a caring and compassionate person she is when she made the Doctor see Jenny for who she is, his daughter; and in her not unsuccessful efforts at getting the Doctor to open up about his feelings (something I think Martha would not have had success in doing). The writers have really put a lot of attention into making Donna a quality companion whom the audience cares about, and Donna truly is a great companion to the Doctor as a result, in every sense of the word. Donna also showed her resourcefulness in figuring out the mystery behind the numbers printed everywhere, showing she’s more than just a good mate to the Doctor.

The setting was really intriguing, and the war between the humans and Hath made for a great opportunity to discuss the futility of war and the morality of fighting. I sometimes find it remarkable that, after all this time, the Doctor still holds to his lofty, some would say naïve, pacifistic ideals. Surely after 900 years and having seen war and bloodshed everywhere he goes, and having engaged in his fair share of violence himself, he would be jaded and resigned to the reality of an unrelentingly violent world? I think, in this story, we’re given a compelling answer to that particular question: it’s exactly because of all the violence the Doctor has seen and done that he continues to so abhor it. He said, very tellingly, to Jenny: “The killing. After a while, it infects you. And once it does, you’re never rid of it.” He’s as good as admitting that his own experiences in war, probably one war in particular, caused him to develop a terrible revulsion of violence, and repelled him from ever contemplating violence again. Excellent writing in any case, particularly the very powerful “I never would” moment. Wonderful stuff.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky

The one thing this story did fantastically was the thing it substantially set out to accomplish: to re-introduce the Sontarans. I would confidently say this story was the Sontarans’ best, in the sense that the Sontarans were portrayed the best. This story was hugely successful in re-introducing the Sontarans, perfectly encapsulating what they were and what they were about: a race of clone soldiers who glory in war and violence. The Sontarans in this story were intimidating and fearsome, as well as somewhat comical, but not in such a way that detracted from their menace. I wasn’t as impressed with the story on the whole. The plot, concerning the mystery of the Sontarans’ uncharacteristically reticent invasion of Earth, was fleetingly interesting, but not so interesting to keep me gripped for the full ninety minutes of this fairly run-of-the-mill alien invasion runaround story. “Aliens are invading (21st Century) Earth” has become such a hackneyed trope in modern Doctor Who that stories employing the formula are invariably wont to be repetitive and tiresome. This one is no exception. As far as alien invasion runarounds go, it doesn’t particularly stand out: swap the Sontarans with any hostile alien species and one would scarcely be able to tell the difference.

Apart from the effective deployment of the Sontarans themselves, the only thing that redeemed this story was the characters—specifically Martha and Donna. Donna continues to endear herself the audience, showing what a very complex person she really is under that bluster and snark. She showed her insecurities about travelling with the Doctor in her dialogue with Martha, her concern for protecting her family, particularly her loving grandad, Wilf, from being hurt by her association with the Doctor. Although she’s not my favourite, Donna showed herself to be a unique companion in other ways: she’s not the perfect Mary-Sue that Rose and Martha were, she was petrified when the Doctor asked her to sneak through the Sontaran ship and activate the teleport pods. In a way that certainly makes her a far more relateable companion that Rose or Martha were, who both proved themselves to be extraordinary people. Although Martha spent the majority of the story locked in a basement while her clone gallivanted around pretending to be her, the little screentime real Martha got was wonderful, such as the touching dialogue between Martha and her clone. Wilf was also excellent. He’s becoming a really strong character in his own right, and easily the best friend-and-family-of-companion character we’ve had yet. One can’t help but think he’s inadvertently sending his granddaughter into danger so he can live vicariously through her…

The Doctor was good in this story, although the material he was given in the script didn’t exactly lend itself to a display of Tennant’s acting abilities. I did, however, find the Doctor a little too sanctimonious in this story—not only his frankly prejudiced aversion to soldiers (from an organisation he used to work for, no less), but his insistence on sacrificing himself at the end to “give them a choice”. How more idiotically pious could you get? The Doctor’s moralism is a central part of his character, but sometimes it goes overboard, as here. The Doctor would have known that there was approximately zero chance of the Sontarans’ backing down, so he was essentially knowingly embarking on an unnecessary suicide mission. Just not good writing, I think. I did, however, like the way the Doctor was shown to callously “use” Donna, putting her into danger for his own ends. That’s the morally-questionable-and-sometimes-outright-Machiavellian-but-essentially-good Doctor I know.

Some final thoughts: I thought Luke Rattigan was a really well-written character. He was a tragic villain in many respects. His motivations and objectives were so unforgivably selfish, but yet you can’t help feeling sorry for the snotty little oik, who was driven to make a terrible pact with the Sontarans out of resentment and grievance at the way the unappreciative world had treated him and his obviously vast genius. I hated the little git, but I also, in spite of myself, sympathised with him. That’s testament to very able acting on the part of Ryan Sampson, in any case. I thought UNIT were poorly portrayed in this story. They seem to have gone from being the beneficial and equal alliance of military and science for common endeavour that they were in the classic series to being a substantially militarist affair in this story. Finally, I thought the Doctor’s whipping up of the atmosphere converter to dispel the Sontarans’ poison gas could have been better explained; it looked like the Doctor just cobbled together a few bits and pieces from Rattigan’s laboratory that just happened to be the right components he needed.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: Planet of the Ood

Planet of the Ood is one of my favourite stories from Series 4, a morbid but also exultant and beautiful story featuring one of the best of the revival’s new alien species. It’s a cerebral tale bringing into intelligent relief some important real-world issues. Donna, the uncultured Londoner, was forced to contemplate uncomfortable parallels with the captive Ood in her own world, the phenomenon of sweatshops and third-world labour, when confronted with the revelation that the human civilisation of the future is built on the backs of an enslaved alien species. The episode’s discussion of slavery and the tyranny of profit, when untempered by morality, was done effectively and intelligently with the invocation of the imagery of concentration camps and racialism. Moreover, the PR girl Solana’s hesitant assistance of Ood Operations represented the way reasonable, ordinary people can become accessories to horrors just by being passive and permitting abuses to take place.

The episode itself was expertly produced, cranking up the emotiveness in all the right places to produce a beautiful, artistic work of television drama. The Ood were particularly good, and are one of the most well-conceived new alien species the revival has introduced. There’s something distinctly unnerving about them that belies their peaceable and docile nature. I tend to see them as a race of philosophers, a profoundly intellectual species that have been outrageously abused by other races out of prejudice. They’re a bit like the Jews in this way. The sequence showing the Ood singing in exultation when the Doctor destroyed the forcefield inhibiting their connection with the Ood Brain was truly stirring, the ecstatic high-point of the episode, and a genuine triumph of production. The music was also an excellent feature of this episode, and Gold was given the reins to produce something wonderful for the singing aliens.

Donna was excellent in this episode. As in The Fires of Pompeii, Donna shows what a caring, passionate person she is when confronted by the moral repulsion of humanity’s enslavement of the Ood. The poignant scene where Donna reacts to the Ood’s depressing “song of captivity” is the most powerful moment in the episode, not only in relation to the plight of the Ood, but for Donna’s characterisation, too, representing the moment where Donna’s romantic and naïve preconceptions about travelling with the Doctor were shattered, rudely thrust aside by the confronting reality. Additionally, Halpen was also a very well-written villain, who was played very well by Tim McInnerny. Halpen was made a three-dimensional, layered character who didn’t conform to the caricatured image of an evil, greedy, morally-deficient slave-driver. If Halpen was made a pantomime villainous figure, as would have been tempting, this episode almost certainly wouldn’t have been as effective as it was. The point of making Halpen an insecure, flawed, layered character rather than an unreal, crude caricature was to demonstrate that it’s not just evil men who can be implicated in evil. Much evil is prosecuted by otherwise decent people, like Halpen, who don’t think they’re doing any wrong.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: The Fires of Pompeii

This was a quality episode, a great recovery from the lacklustre series opener. The episode had an excellent story premise which ultimately sees the Doctor implicated again in another ancient Roman disaster. The burning moral dilemma of the story is established early on when the TARDIS duo realise that they’ve landed in Pompeii, not Rome, and it’s the day before Mount Vesuvius erupts. Donna implores the Doctor save the town, but the Doctor rightly insists he can’t. The only criticism I’d have is that, having established the major moral dilemma so early on in the episode, the matter is mostly shelved until the volcano actually erupts forty minutes later. That leaves a lot of somewhat distracting (although not itself uninteresting) collateral plot progression in between, such as the affair with the Sibylline Sisterhood. Nevertheless, the sequence where the Doctor callously leaves the Pompeii people to their doom, only to be swayed to save the Caecilius family by Donna’s impassioned entreaties, was emotionally compelling stuff.

Implied in the moral dilemma that forms the premise of the episode is the Doctor’s burden as a Time Lord. The Doctor knows he has the capacity to save this whole town, if he wanted to, but grudgingly accepts that he can’t, however much it pains him that doing so is permitting an untold horror to take place. This was really effectively played out onscreen, and Tennant portrayed so compellingly the Doctor’s anguish at what he’s being forced to do, and his resentment of the intolerable burden placed upon him as a Time Lord; the last Time Lord. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. The Doctor was also faced with the dilemma he faced on Gallifrey, at the close of the Time War: of wiping out Pompeii, or allowing the whole world to be conquered by the Pyroviles. In this case he resentfully but unhesitatingly chose to destroy Pompeii for the sake of the world. He made the right choice, I think, as his decision on Gallifrey was the right one, although undoubtedly he would have preferred not to have been forced to make either choice in the first place. This is a reason why I wasn’t happy about how Moffat portrayed the Doctor as having wanted to go back and change what he did on Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor: here the Doctor showed that he would do again without hesitation what he did on Gallifrey, because he knew it was necessary.

I thought Donna was very well-written in this episode. Although I appreciated the chemistry the Doctor and Donna had when we first saw them together, the Doctor-Donna partnership is shaping up to be surprisingly good in other ways. Donna showed herself willing and able to stand up to the Doctor and his “I’m a Time Lord” pretensions, to rein him in if necessary. Donna’s there to keep the Doctor’s moral compass intact, and is proving herself more than capable of doing so. I think the Doctor’s more assertive, domineering incarnations need a companion with a strong personality, like Donna, to keep them in check. I’m reminded of Evelyn Smythe in Big Finish, who was created as a companion able to counterbalance the Sixth Doctor’s assertive personality and occasionally (frequently, in fact) put him in his place. Donna does that for Ten, and, as a result, they make for a very enjoyable pair to watch.

Some final thoughts: Peter Capaldi was excellent as Caecilius in this episode, although the script he was given didn’t do his acting talents justice. I thought Murray Gold’s overbearing music accompanying the scenes of volcanic devastation was really inappropriate; I felt it just seemed to make light of the sheer traumatic horror of what we were witnessing, which was the fiery death of thousands and thousands of people, one of the worst natural disasters in history. That sequence would have worked far more effectively with no music or very subdued, understated music. What we got just made me cringe. Finally, I appreciated the humour of the Romans’ hearing “Celtic” whenever the Doctor and Donna uttered a Latin phrase. Much amuse.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: Partners in Crime

The Series 4 opener was a good (re-)introduction for Donna Noble, now to be taken on as the Doctor’s full-time companion, but the episode was not without its faults. The main issue that stuck out like a swollen part of the anatomy was the almost facepalm-inducing story premise. It’s about an alien species growing living fat babies from obese humans. I’m not quite sure what was going through RTD’s mind when he decided this was a cracking idea for a series opener… I really can’t comprehend it. What made it worse was that those walking fat babies were realised in CGI so comically (I mean that in a bad way). It was just silly. More than ever before, this show felt like a children’s show. Series 4 is an exceptional series on the whole, but its opener is probably its weakest point for the inane storyline. Granted, this opener was more about introducing Donna—which it did exceptionally—than the plot, but given the quality of previous companion introduction episodes, Smith and Jones and Rose, I’m not as disposed to overlook the poor story that I might have been.

Onto Donna. I liked the Ten-Donna partnership in The Runaway Bride, so of course it’s excellent to see them together again. Donna was re-introduced really well here. She was shown to be a frustrated woman; all the motivation and the energy to make something of herself that the Doctor had inspired in her the last time they met was seemingly frustrated as she found seeing the world and doing something with her life “easier said than done”. This received beautiful exposition in some touching dialogue between Donna and Wilf under the stars as Donna spoke wistfully of her longing to find the Doctor again. It’s all the more ecstatic when the Doctor and Donna are reunited again, in that genuinely hilarious scene involving the Doctor and Donna playing charades through the windows at Adipose Industries. I think the tone of the Doctor’s accepting Donna as his companion at the end of the story was really optimistic and sweet, and I’m looking forward to seeing their “matey” partnership play out over Series 4. One more thing—I like the way Donna has been toned down from her “shouty fishwife” characterisation in The Runaway Bride and made a gentler person. It’s a sensible character development: Donna seems more jaded and humbled than she was when we saw her last. I think her experiences at Christmas and since have given her a lot to think about, which has ultimately changed her outlook and attitude.

Wilf, by the way, is already shaping up to be an excellent recurring character. Also, that cameo of Rose’s was stupefying, and a just a bit hair-raising. Although of course I know what’s coming, it’s clearly setting up something big for the finale, and did that brilliantly. I only wish I’d been a Doctor Who fan when that was first broadcast, so I could hear the sound of fans’ jaws around the world dropping in dumbfounded unison.

Rating: 6/10.

Thoughts on: Voyage of the Damned

I enjoyed that a lot more than I thought I would. Having not seen this one in quite a long time, my sketchy memory of it was of a mindless action-packed romp, a formula I find very tedious, its main distinction being the presence of Kylie Minogue. To an extent, it was a mindless action-packed romp, but it was so well executed that I found myself hugely enjoying it in spite of myself. I’d certainly say that this is Russell T Davies’ best Christmas special yet. The adaptation of the disaster movie formula was done effectively, making for an exciting and gripping story. The scene in which the Doctor and his hangers-on were attempting to cross a metal bridge over a flaming chasm was particularly exciting, especially when the Host showed up to complicate matters. The homage to The Robots of Death in conceiving the Host introduced a scary element of sci-fi terror into the 1930s Titanic aesthetic.

One of the highlights of this Christmas special was the cast of quality supporting characters. First there was Astrid, played by Kylie Minogue. Astrid was an endearing character who made for a promising would-have-been companion. She was sweet, caring and brave, and her embodiment of the “young Aussie traveller” trope was appreciated by this Australian. That said, I didn’t really believe in the brief romantic dalliance between Astrid and the Doctor. It felt a bit forced, particularly given that the Doctor is (apparently) still grieving over Rose. Astrid’s death, however, was just tear-jerking, measuring up as one of the sadder deaths the show has done, even more so because of the frustrated life and potential Astrid’s death represented, and how affectionate the audience had become of Astrid over the course of the episode.

The other supporting characters of Mr Copper (Clive Swift), Alonso (Russell Tovey), and Morvin and Foon Van Hoff (Clive Rowe and Debbie Chazen), and even Rickston Slade (Gary O’Brien) were great additions to the production. I didn’t much care for Bannakaffalatta, though. I found him annoying and thought his character lame and not particularly well-conceived, although I suppose the show can get away with that in a Christmas special. Max Capricorn was delightfully villainous, a fun, camp villain whose appearance made the previous forty-five minutes or so worthwhile.

This special pulled the disconcerting trick of inverting the usual Hollywood formula for stories like this, by killing all the people the Doctor promised to save. All the “nice” people, the Van Hoffs, Astrid, Bannakaffalatta, were cruelly dispatched in agonising succession, while the slimy Slade lived. This turned our expectations on their head, and it’s very well that it did, too—if it hadn’t, the episode would have ended up being entirely predictable and totally forgettable. It’s good that the Doctor is shown to fail people and fail to fulfil his promises. He’s not the messiah (he’s a very naughty Time Lord), and, to be honest, if the Doctor always saved everyone we like, this show would not be half as interesting as it is.

I couldn’t find anywhere to put this, but I also thought the Doctor’s “I’m the Doctor” speech was a bit cringeworthy. This special, in general, though, was a fun and engaging story which defied the conventions of the genre it was so mischievously aping to produce a surprisingly effective and engaging tale.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

I think Russell T Davies has finally done it. His attempts, in writing a finale, to perpetually outdo the previous finale have finally resulted in his overreaching himself and producing something that, while not necessarily a poor story, in many respects fell flat and failed to measure up to the previous years’ finales. There were good and bad aspects to this finale, but, ultimately, I think that, in its overblown extravagance, it came up a messy and unpolished story. Bringing back the Master and following a story about his diabolical conquest and tyrannising of the world was a decent story premise in itself, I just think it could have been played out a lot better—I think the story got overly caught up in the magnitude and epicness of it all such that quality of storytelling suffered as a consequence.

Among the fandom, particularly fans acquainted with the classic series, John Simm is something of a love-it-or-hate-it incarnation of the Master. Personally, I thought Simm as the Master was one of the genuinely great aspects of this finale. Simm’s Master was manic, menacing and delightfully deranged. I love that. I loved the maniacal, unhinged characterisation of the Master that Simm gave, and it’s easy to tell that Simm absolutely revelled in playing the Master that way. He looked like he was having splendiferous, rollicking fun playing the demented megalomaniac, making for a wonderfully entertaining and convincing performance. He also had a great dynamic with David Tennant as the Doctor—I really got the sense that these were two estranged friends (acquaintances?) with a complicated history and an even more complicated relationship. I came away with the impression that the Doctor and the Master were equally matched in wits and charisma, the last two Time Lords in existence. The dialogue between these two, particularly in The Sound of Drums, was electric. I also thought the Doctor’s grieving over the Master when the latter died at the end of Last of the Time Lords was profoundly moving, expressing so much more about the Doctor and the Master’s relationship than words could.

Moreover, I like the way the story gave the Master a depth of character and background that was previously absent in the otherwise uncomplicatedly camp and diabolical villain. The Master was changed by the Time War just as the Doctor was: the Master ran and hid himself away at the end of the universe to escape the war. There’s a quality—fear, submission—we never saw in the goatee-stroking Master of the classic series. The Master was also shown to have this condition, the unrelenting drumming in his head, which perhaps drives his endless destructive machinations. I appreciate this addition to the Master’s character. It offered a deep-seated and believable reason—madness, insanity—for the Master’s evil, which went some way in ceasing requiring our having to accept that the Master just hates everything for no particular reason. The Master is an enjoyable character whom it is always fun to see, but he needed some depth and development of his character backstory to be a convincing villain, which this story went a good way in providing.

In terms of plot, as I said, the story had a good idea which could have been better executed. The Toclafane, the Master’s laser-happy minions, struck me as a particularly ill-conceived idea. I don’t necessarily object to the idea of the Toclafane’s being the wretched humans of the distant future “saved” and brought back by the Master—which was suitably horrible—but the robotic sphere devices and those sickly-sweet childlike voices made them so comical that the horror of what they were was largely negated. That said, the idea that the Toclafane are what ultimately becomes of our species is truly gruesome (the blank look of defeatism on the Doctor’s face, like that of a man trying to come to terms with emotional trauma, really brought it home for me). That knowledge made it even more horrific when the Toclafane proceeded to execute the grandfather paradox on an unthinkable scale “because it’s fun” (although the sequences showing the Toclafane’s mass murder would have worked a lot more effectively without the overweening music). These were some very dark and grisly ideas, it’s just a shame the Toclafane seemed to be floating robotic spheres with Tellytubby voices.

I thought the device of leaving the Doctor helpless at the mercy of the Master, and to be helpless as the Master commits unspeakable atrocities against the world for a full year, was really effective. It did something that we don’t see happen enough in Doctor Who, which is showing the Doctor fail, showing the bad guys win, and showing that the Doctor won’t always save the day. Although we watch this show to see the Doctor save the day, and, of course, in the end, he always does, showing the Doctor lose so completely, and so undignifiedly, like this, has the healthy effect of disabusing us of the notion that the Doctor will always be there to save us. That said, I really liked the, erm… I don’t know how to describe it other than as a “religious” aura surrounding the Doctor when the “power of prayer” restored him and transformed him into a kind of angelic, godly figure, of whom the Master, wide-eyed with disbelief, trembled in fear. Coupled with the “I forgive you”, I don’t know how you could see that as other than a religious subtext. The message was that the Doctor was humanity’s salvation; the Doctor will deliver humanity from evil against all odds. That’s a glowing, heartwarming message, and made for a very emotively powerful scene, but my sense tells me that the show shouldn’t be going down the route of making the Doctor into a godly, messianic figure, given that he’s just an ordinary Time Lord (or is he?).

The Doctor’s being rendered helpless by the hands of the Master at the end of The Sound of Drums also made for an opportunity for Martha step into the Doctor’s shoes. She truly showed how extraordinary she was in her almost single-handed efforts in bringing down the Master and restoring the Doctor to a body that lent itself to combatting the Master. Her exit was understated but actually quite lovely, if bittersweet, given the heart-wrenching departure of Rose only a season ago. The tone of her exit (“So this is me… getting out.”) was a testament to how poorly treated her character was by the writers this season. I don’t blame Martha for feeling compelled to leave after such a short time with the Doctor; she groaned continually under the shadow of Rose, and she clearly deserved more than what she got from the Doctor, who seemed to be consciously spurning her emotional needs. For the Doctor, Martha really was just the rebound girl with whom he never had (nor really wanted to have, except perhaps after she’d finally decided to leave) anything like a genuine bond. I felt quite sorry for her.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: Utopia

Although Utopia forms a linked three-part narrative with the final two episodes of the season, I tend to consider it separate from The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords so will be giving a separate review from the latter two episodes. Utopia was fairly light on plot—there’s not much in the way of a complication or conflict to be resolved in this story, unless ensuring the success of the Utopia voyage counted. The threat of the Futurekind to the remnants of human civilisation represented the inkling of a substantive plot, but ultimately this and even the Utopia voyage itself proved to be peripheral to the focus of this episode. As such, although I’d normally considerably fault a story for such dearth of… well, story, I feel that it would be unfair not to overlook it here as the objective of this story was not on such substantive plot issues, but on setting up the finale. The whole episode was leading up to the revelation of the Doctor’s great arch-nemesis of old, the Master.

Derek Jacobi, playing Professor Yana and/or the Master, was absolutely phenomenal. He brought a theatrical majesty to the production that truly put everyone else to shame. David Tennant, who was by no means anything short of wonderful in this episode, looked positively average next to the acting genius of Jacobi. He portrayed both Yana and the Master masterfully (sorry). As Yana, he depicted powerfully the gentle old scientist’s internal trauma as echoes of his old life returned to him, brought on by the appearance of his old adversary, the Doctor. Yana’s transformation into the Master was chilling, Jacobi invoking the dramatic style of the stage in portraying adeptly, physically and verbally, his character’s fundamental metamorphosis from sweet old man to sadistic megalomaniac. The revelation of the Master in general was spectacular, one of the most dramatic and captivating sequences the revival has given us. Jacobi summoned up one last spell of theatrical intensity in the Master’s regeneration scene to give us what will surely live on as one of Doctor Who’s greatest moments.

Another great aspect of this episode was the welcome return of Captain Jack Harkness. I echo those who say his presence was missed in Series 2, but it was excellent to see him back again with the Doctor. He added a touch of humour and frivolity that made the majority of this episode a lot more engaging than it would otherwise have been. A much beloved character who’s always welcome in Doctor Who, Jack had great chemistry with the Tenth Doctor. They were very amusing to watch together, particularly their banter in the scene Jack was removing the engine clamps in the irradiated room. Martha didn’t have a particularly big role in this episode, making it, in my calculation, only the second episode where Martha wasn’t absolutely brilliant (the other being Blink, where she had all of 15 seconds of screen time). I’m a bit peeved that, even in the final throes of the series, Martha’s character is still living under the shadow of Rose. I think she’s justified in being resentful, and I think her character was poorly treated by the writers in that, even now, she’s still the “rebound girl”, Rose’s replacement, rather than a companion with a personal connection with the Doctor in her own right.

John Simm, in his few moments as the regenerated Master, was positively electric and terrifying. It seemed, in the apparition of Simm, as though the Doctor had finally met his match, a kind of demented version of himself, just as manic and as brilliant as he was. My heart was pounding at that point—the episode had just reached an exhilarating crescendo leading into… that cliffhanger. Yes, I couldn’t possibly write about Utopia without mentioning that torturous cliffhanger. Surely that has to be one of the best cliffhangers in the show’s history? Having decided beforehand to watch Utopia today and leave the final two episodes for tomorrow, it certainly left me with the urge to forge ahead…

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: Blink

“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast, faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink. Good luck.”

Who could have followed up the masterpiece that was Human Nature/The Family of Blood but Steven Moffat, with probably the most acclaimed Doctor Who story ever. With the exception, perhaps, of The Empty ChildBlink is probably the creepiest thing Doctor Who has ever done. The Weeping Angels are an absolute masterstroke of a new monster, such a simple but chilling concept with an inspired psychological gimmick that makes these the best monsters since the Daleks. Giving them the form of angels has the curious effect of making them even more sinister a villain, in a similar way that evil clowns are a particularly terrifying inversion. The first time you watch this episode and see the angel’s face contorted in bestial passion is a truly startling and frightening experience. I’ve watched this episode countless times now, but I’m still struck by the terror the Angels, and the episode in general, is still capable of inducing, a testament to its timeless genius. Congratulations, Moffat, for once again terrifying an entire generation of children.

This episode was in general masterfully produced. It really encapsulates what makes a perfect single-episode story: it was exciting and gripping without feeling rushed; the pacing was perfect. The cinematography was superlative, effectively inducing an entrancing aura of claustrophobia, panic and mystery. The marked absence of the Doctor from the majority of the episode added to the sense of claustrophobia, as it created the feeling that a reassuring presence was missing. That said, that “Don’t blink” quote (above) by the Doctor in the recording was genuinely spine chilling. This episode revelled in timey-wimey creepiness that made for an intriguing plot device. We all know Steven Moffat loves his timey-wimey devices, but arguably timey-wimey was done better here than in anything he’s written subsequently; here it was used elegantly and with finesse and subtlety, while in stories like Pandorica and The Wedding of River Song (and pretty much Series 6 in general), it’s overly heavy-handed.

Carey Mulligan is to be praised for an exceptional performance as Sally Sparrow. Sally was an endearing character in whom the audience quickly became emotionally invested. She was clever, brave, kind and likable, and fit the bill perfectly for a “could-have-been” companion. I can see her travelling the universe with the Doctor, piping up with the occasional playful, snarky remark to keep the Doctor in check. Given that she became embroiled in this affair by wandering into an abandoned haunted house, I would say she definitely has the curiosity and character to be a companion. Billy Shipton was also a great character, played well by both Michael Obiora (Billy the Younger) and Louis Mahoney (Billy the Elder).

I don’t have any hesitation about giving this one top marks. Although not, in my opinion, the best Doctor Who story ever, it certainly comes close. Within the New Who run, I would rate only The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (another Moffat triumph) above it, as I stated in my definitive list of the top 20 New Who stories. Nevertheless, Blink is unarguably a timeless masterpiece of the highest quality which, as my own experience attests, never gets old.

Rating: 10/10.