Ranking the finales (Part 1)

Have you recovered yet? Are you ready to come out? Have you come to terms with last Saturday’s gut-wrenching end to the beloved onscreen partnership of the last two years? Are you able to hear Clara’s name spoken without breaking down in tears yet?

Or, alternatively, have you chewed away all your frustration and exasperation? Have you stopped muttering “f*cking Moffat” under your breath every thirty seconds?

Yes, it’s been almost a week since Series 9’s grand finale, Hell Bent, aired, and has reliably left the fandom in as dazed and sucker-punched a state as always. Perhaps by now we’ve processed the dizzying blows of Hell Bent and are ready to articulate our thoughts in something approaching coherent form.

So how does Hell Bent measure up against all the other finales of the revival? I’ve decided to set out, definitively, how the finales stack up against each other. This post will detail my assessment of the ninth to fifth-ranked finales. Tomorrow (probably) I’ll post the final four.

So without further ado…


9. The Name of the Doctor (Series 7)

I don’t dislike any of the finales so far, but The Name of the Doctor works for me the least. To be sure, I think it’s a good episode. At the time, I was really impressed; it had one of the best pretitles sequences in the show’s history, and I thought the idea that Clara had entered the Doctor’s timestream, broken herself into a million echoes scattered across the Doctor’s timeline to save him from the devices of the Great Intelligence was nothing short of awesome. I thought that was a spectacular resolution to the Impossible Girl arc, and seeing that montage of Clara manifesting herself in scenes from the Doctor’s adventures was exhilarating. I love that this finale bound together the Doctor and Clara on a cosmic level, so important had Clara become to the Doctor. I love the emotional “goodbye” between the Eleventh Doctor and River Song, and I love the wonderfully enigmatic introduction of the War Doctor, leading into the 50th Anniversary.

No, what leaves me somewhat unsatisfied about this episode, as a series finale, was that not all that much actually happened. It was very much an episode about an idea (Clara = the girl who was born to save the Doctor) rather than a substantive story, and most of the episode was written as material leading up to the big, flashy montage at the end. The stakes in the episode were just as high as any other finale (the end of the universe, as usual), but it did feel a lot like it was mostly style over substance, or a really cool idea over a proper, satisfying story. I don’t know, I guess I just want something meatier to sink my teeth into in a series finale.

Full review here.

8. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (Series 2)

Okay, let’s be honest here. The only thing the Series 2 finale is ever remembered for is Rose’s farewell. Rightly so, it’s the best thing about this finale, arguably the most heartbreaking and memorable companion exit of all, a traumatising parting of the ways that never fails to move me. The acting of David Tennant and Billie Piper in those moments is some of their best in their respective terms, both of them mustering up everything they’ve got to eke out as much emotion and pain from the audience as possible. It’s justly considered one of the show’s most memorable ever scenes.

But there’s a lot more to this finale than Ten and Rose’s breakup, and it’s that that brings this finale down for me. It’s not a bad finale, by any means, but it all feels a bit sloppy. The Daleks versus the Cybermen was one of those ideas we could all fantasise about, but which we knew would never work onscreen. And this finale doesn’t really do justice to the idea — there’s some amusing banter between the Daleks and the Cybermen, but the actual battle scenes were never going to be as good as the idea of a Dalek-Cyberman standoff merited. No, apart from the emotional goodbye between the Doctor and Rose, and Tennant and Piper’s fantastic performances throughout the finale generally, this is a pretty nondescript finale for me.

Full review here.

7. Dark Water/Death in Heaven (Series 8)

Maybe I’m still smarting from the wholly underwhelming letdown that was the second half of last year’s finale, but I can’t bring myself to rank the Series 8 finale any higher. My enduring impression of Dark Water/Death in Heaven is that it was a big two-part finale that set itself up so well — my first viewing of Dark Water is one of my most treasured memories watching this show — but failed so thoroughly to follow through on the great work of its first half. Death in Heaven was a disappointing letdown if there ever was one. I find it really hard to forgive that, probably more difficult than if it were just rubbish from start to finish.

What I really do like this finale for, though, is its willingness to delve into very dark and grown-up themes, that is to say: death and the afterlife. Dark Water got Doctor Who into a bit of trouble for the whole “Don’t cremate me!” thing, and, to be sure, it was very disturbing. But, at the same time, that was easily one of the best moments of the episode. Dark Doctor Who is always absorbing Doctor Who. I also loved Missy — I felt the Cybermen were, again, portrayed poorly, but Michelle Gomez as Missy was just mesmerising. In addition, I found very satisfying and gratifying the way the Twelfth Doctor’s character arc over the series was resolved in Death in Heaven, with the Doctor coming to the realisation that, no, he’s not a good man, but he tries to be, and helps out where he can, which is what matters. It was really uplifting, in the finale’s denouement, to see Capaldi’s Doctor finally assured of his own identity after a series of a self-doubting, brooding new Doctor.

Full review here.

6. Hell Bent (Series 9)

The recent Series 9 finale improves every time I watch it. As a character piece centring on the Doctor’s attachment to Clara Oswald, showing how far the Doctor was prepared to go for Clara’s sake, it was incredibly powerful and affecting. We were all expecting, I think, an epic, blockbusting Doctor v. Time Lords standoff, the Doctor’s historic return to Gallifrey for the first time since the Time War, filled to the brim with mythology development and revelations about mysterious hybrids. That would, I admit, have been awesome, and I’m a tiny bit disappointed that that’s not what we got—but in the end, Hell Bent was a far more, intimate, emotional and character-driven piece about the extent of the Doctor’s love for Clara, his grief over her fate, and his anger at the Time Lords.

There were many wonderful, powerful and emotional moments in there, such as the scene between the Doctor and Clara in the Cloisters, the face-off with Rassilon, and, of course, the final, tear-jerking goodbye between the Doctor and Clara. Whatever you thought about Clara’s death being reversed, or “qualified”, surely we would all agree that the Doctor forgetting Clara, one of his closest and most beloved ever companions, was utterly heartbreaking. What brings it down, for me, is that it did feel a bit messy and busy, as though there was too much going on, and it took a few attempts to cut through it all and discern what this finale was actually about. I think that was due to the decision to feature the return of Gallifrey and the emotional, character-focussed narrative in the same script. They both, to an extent, rather crowd each other out.

Full review here.

5. The Wedding of River Song (Series 6)

The Series 6 finale is often spoken about in a tone of exasperation and derision by fans. I think the popular view of The Wedding of River Song among the fandom is that it’s a somewhat incoherent ejaculation of arc-resolution, mostly incomprehensible and inaccessible if you’re not intimately acquainted with the multifarious and confusing Series 6 arc. I think there’s some truth in that, but that’s never been my impression. True enough, you need fairly good prior knowledge of the Series 6 arc to understand The Wedding of River Song, but, equally, the series finale is not there to appeal to the casual viewers who tune in and out when it suits them—it’s to reward the committed viewers who’ve come back and followed the show week-to-week. That’s always been the nature of Doctor Who’s series finales, and, at least in the modern show, it couldn’t really be otherwise.

With the requisite background knowledge of the Series 6 arc, then, The Wedding of River Song, I’ve found, is a really rewarding, engaging and satisfying culmination of Series 6. It’s unusually arc-dependent, even for a series finale, but I don’t think the arc material is dealt with in a way that inhibits the telling of a genuinely engaging and beautiful story about two fated lovers, the Doctor and River Song, and how one’s love for the other nearly ripped all of time apart. There are scenes, like those between the Doctor and River, especially the actual “wedding” of the Doctor and River, that are properly chilling, and constitute the actual heart, the essence, of this finale, when you cut through all the arc and timey-wimey stuff. It’s similar to Hell Bent in a way, in that Moffat has made a conflict of sweeping, all-consuming scale out of something profoundly personal and intimate: it’s River’s love for the Doctor that threatens all of time. I think that’s beautiful, and it’s a beautiful story.

Full review here.


Make sure to check back tomorrow for my top 4!

Thoughts on: Hell Bent

Warning: spoilers.

In the week before Hell Bent aired, I had prepared myself, along with many, for a barnstorming, ambitious finale of grandiose scale — the Doctor’s spectacular, long-anticipated return to Gallifrey and his epic face-off with the Time Lords. Indeed, for the first fifteen or so minutes, that was what the episode looked like it was doing. There was the Doctor strutting back into town, channelling Clint Eastwood, facing down Rassilon in something like a Time Lord Western. It was all wonderfully atmospheric and intense. But, ultimately, for better or worse, this wasn’t a Time Lord Western or the Doctor’s legend-making homecoming to Gallifrey. The Doctor’s face-off with Rassilon was dealt with quickly, and the episode became an intimate, character-driven piece about the Doctor and Clara Oswald. It was about an ecstatic, passionate, but dangerously flawed friendship, and the terrible lengths to which the Doctor would go for Clara.

It took me a couple of attempts to see this and to really appreciate it. I think perhaps my preconceptions and expectations had something to do with my equivocal first impression. I had prepared myself for one thing, and when the episode took a turn (or a couple of turns) I didn’t expect and turned into something completely different, I was thrown. Making an effort to put aside my preconceptions, though, it was only after a couple of viewings that I came to appreciate the episode for the involving and emotional character piece that it was. Whether an episode centred on the Doctor’s return to Gallifrey would have been better is a relevant question, but, assessing the episode for what it was, and what it was trying to do, I think it was a success, though not without its faults. Watching the Doctor, completely devoid of self-awareness, hell bent on saving Clara at any cost, and witnessing the lengths to which he would go to save his friend, was a compelling and exhilarating story in itself. As a personal, character-driven piece about how far the Doctor’s emotion and grief would take him, it was very powerful and involving.

That said, I do think there is a fundamental problem at the heart of this script that saw the episode leave me (at first), along with many others, with a queer taste in our mouths. It’s that this finale, to an extent, tries to be two things at once. It tries both to be the long-anticipated return-of-Gallifrey episode, and Clara’s exit episode. Gallifrey didn’t need to feature in Clara’s exit. The Doctor didn’t need the Time Lords to meddle with time and save Clara. At the same time, the Doctor-and-Clara plot rather crowds out Gallifrey’s return, something which surely merited its own episode (if not two). The result was a finale that felt, to me at least, rushed (even for a 65-minute episode), disjointed and unfocussed. It took some concentration to keep up with everything that was going on. You think it’s going to go in one direction, but without warning it changes tack and veers in another. Sometimes this sort of thing works, but here I found it disorienting. You’d be forgiven if, somewhere along the way (especially since the narrative was heavily dialogue-reliant), you lost track of what was going on. I didn’t, but I struggled, more than I should have, to keep up.

I don’t think I’m necessarily unjustified in making this (admittedly subjective) point: Steven Moffat mentioned in an interview that, for a while, he thought he might be retiring as showrunner this year. He thought this might be his last finale. Understandably, he would have wanted to tie up his Gallifrey arc before he left, perhaps sooner than he might have if he had known he would be staying on for at least another series. Thus this messy and not completely coherent script. The return of Gallifrey really did need to be its own story, preferably a two-part story, while Clara’s exit story, in my opinion, would have benefited from doing without the intrusive culmination of the Gallifrey arc. All that said, though, I think the script just managed to pull it off. The script just managed to tie everything together — Gallifrey, the Hybrid, Clara’s exit — in an engaging and satisfying way and construct an eminently watchable joined-up narrative out of it all, deftly avoiding deteriorating into an incoherent mess. There are few writers who could have done that, but Moffat, evidently, is one of them.

Moffat by now knows how to push all the right emotional buttons in the event of character exits. While I still think I might have preferred Clara to have died, as tragically and traumatically as possible, this inversion of Donna’s situation is really very tragic and heartbreaking in its own way. It was really quite clever how it was done. I’m sure every fan watching thought to themselves “Oh Christ, we’re doing Donna again,” before the episode once again upended expectations and made the Doctor forget Clara. And, bloody hell, wasn’t it painful? Right in the feels. I think the only thing worse than a companion forgetting the Doctor is the Doctor forgetting his companion, especially a companion he was as passionately close to as Clara Oswald. The sight of the Doctor in the American diner, trying in vain, like a doddering, senile old man, to remember his forgotten friend, who was standing directly in front of him, was what really got me. The way Clara looked at him at that point, wistfully, teary-eyed, was almost too much to handle. Also, “Run you clever boy…” Welp. Going to cry now. In a sense, though, it’s a good thing Clara was written out in this way: it’s horrible to think that the Doctor won’t remember Clara, but at least it’ll make for a clean restart with a new companion — there’ll be no lingering regret and angst for Clara overshadowing the next companion, à la Martha, which is good.

As for Clara’s exit itself — I think I surprised myself at how much it didn’t bother me. I was one of those who, while expecting and hoping that Clara would make another appearance in the finale (I predicted correctly that the Doctor would meddle with time to save Clara), ultimately wanted Clara to stay dead. I thought, for a companion as important to the Doctor and as close to the Doctor as Clara, and given Clara’s worrying addiction to her dangerous, adrenaline-fuelled lifestyle with the Doctor, that death would have been the only appropriate and fitting end for her. Anything short of death would have felt anticlimactic, I thought. But I didn’t consider that Clara might be given her own Tardis and companion and carry on doing what she loved, that she’d actually do what she’d always been threatening to do and become the Doctor (in a sense). I really like that. I mean, I’m disappointed that the show didn’t have the courage to kill off a companion for good, but I’m not disappointed by this way of writing out Clara, as I thought I’d be if her exit amounted to anything short of death. I quite like the idea of Clara romping around space and time with Ashildr in a stolen borrowed Tardis, just like the Doctor.

Some final thoughts. I’m not sure how I feel about the lack of definitive resolution to the Hybrid arc. In the end it didn’t really matter, because the Doctor and Clara may as well have been the Hybrid, given how far the Doctor was prepared to go for Clara. Somehow, though, I don’t expect we’ll ever get an actual answer to what the fabled Hybrid of Time Lord prophecy is. Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord Victorious act was chilling. I think this is the first time we’ve seen the Doctor genuinely unhinged since The Waters of Mars, and, although I think the Doctor was scarier in that episode, that’s not to diminish Peter Capaldi’s performance by any means. I was glad to see Maisie Williams back, more enigmatic than ever as the now-billions (trillions?) of years-old Ashildr. She emphatically convinced as an impossibly old enigma, and I’m glad that her taking up with Clara means that we may yet see her again in the show. Also, it was so gratifying seeing the classic-style Tardis. Completely unnecessary, gratuitous fanservice it was, but when was that ever a bad thing? Finally, that final scene, the Doctor donning his velvet jacket again, catching his new screwdriver, snapping the Tardis doors shut, the hero theme playing in the background — it was a wonderfully uplifting, exhilarating end to the series and the beginning of a new era. Just superb.

Rating: 8/10.


Quote of the week:

“I was a completely different person in those days. Eccentric, a bit mad, rude to people.”

7 questions before the finale

Spoiler warning: This article contains spoilers about returning villains/adversaries in the finale. If you haven’t read the official synopses for Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, and don’t want to know who the villains of the finale are, then DO NOT READ ON.


Well, that was quick. It didn’t seem that long ago that we were all drooling over every scrap and teaser the BBC were throwing us in saliva-specked anticipation for September 19th. Who can believe that it’s time for the finale already?

Before we forge ahead, though, there are some questions we all want answered in what promises to be an absolutely epic extended two-part finale.


Where has the Doctor been sent?

At the climax of Face the Raven, it was revealed that Ashildr had been manipulating all the events of the episode in order to bring the Doctor to her trap street. She was in league with a host of shadowy benefactors who were employing her to acquire the Doctor. At the end of the episode, the Doctor, Clara-less and alone, was sent by Ashildr to wherever it was her co-conspirators were taking him.

Now, if you’ve read the synopses for Heaven Sent and Hell Bent, you’ll know that it’s the Time Lords behind it all, and it’ll be the Time Lords the Doctor encounters in Hell Bent. But, in the meantime, the Doctor has to endure what has been described as his “bespoke torture chamber” in an undisclosed location. Heaven Sent is a single-handed episode essentially following the Doctor for 55 minutes as he confronts what terrors his tormentors have prepared for him. It promises to be sensational.

The question compels itself, though: where has the Doctor been sent? I have a feeling that it isn’t just a random, deserted planet that someone thought might be a convenient location for a giant torture chamber. I have a feeling that there’s something significant about the location of Heaven Sent. What it might be, I have no clue. But, given Time Lord involvement, we can make some informed speculations: the Death Zone on Gallifrey, perhaps; somewhere in the Time War; inside a Tardis; maybe even the Doctor’s (abandoned) family home on Gallifrey, Lungbarrow.

Whither Clara?

So Clara died in Face the Raven. She legit died. I saw it. She fell over and everything. But did she, really? Upon witnessing Clara’s fairly unequivocal death, the fandom has reliably sprung into action with theories abounding about how Clara didn’t really die. Knowing Moffat and his penchant for aggravating twists and deaths-that-aren’t-really-deaths (see: Rory Williams), they might actually have a point.

But nevertheless, I’m quite confident that Clara really did die in the last episode. She’s dead. For one thing, given the emotional lead-up to Clara’s death and all the tortured dialogue about Clara’s death being inescapable, I don’t think even Moffat would dare to turn around and go “Ta-da! Look. she’s still alive! It was all a trick! Gotcha!”

However, we know that Jenna Coleman is appearing in Hell Bent. Clara is going to come back in some capacity—whether sometime back in her timeline, as a dream or illusion, as one of her echo versions, or something else. I think the Clara we’ve seen in publicity pictures dressed up as a rollerskated waitress in a 1950s-style diner is probably an echo version, one perhaps being given a visit by the Doctor because he wants to see Clara’s face again.

In any case, I’m personally inclined towards a theory that the Doctor will actually go back in time and change history to avert Clara’s death; in effect, bring Clara back from the grave. The very suggestive title of the final episode, Hell Bent (as in, the Doctor will bend hell itself to bring Clara back), gives some support to the idea. The idea of meddling with time to avert death has been a subtly recurring motif in Series 9: I count its recurrence at least three times, most notably when the Doctor turned Ashildr into an immortal in a very public “screw you” to the Time Lords.

She’ll still be dead in the end, though. I’m sure the Time Lords will make sure of that. But it’ll still allow for one last goodbye for Clara. Moffat wouldn’t let some amateur newbie writer write his character out of the show, after all…

Whither the Doctor?

Before hopping it, Clara’s dying wish to the Doctor was that he not take revenge on Ashildr or anyone for her death. But, knowing the Doctor, he may well not be able to stop himself. He cared deeply, passionately, for Clara. I’ve no doubt that, without suggesting anything explicitly romantic or sexual, the Doctor loved Clara. Clara has almost certainly been the closest and most important companion to the Doctor since Rose—arguably even more so than Rose. Clara’s death will have broken the Doctor, even unhinged him. If you’ve read anything about the plot of Heaven Sent, you might know that it features a Doctor apparently gone off the rails in grief and anger over Clara’s death.

The question is, then: what will the Doctor do? Will an understandably maddened and aggrieved Doctor heed Clara’s dying wish? Or will he wreak his terrible revenge? Without Clara by his side, who will stop him?

What are the Time Lords up to?

It’s almost certain that it was the Time Lords who employed Ashildr to abduct the Doctor, and who, in the next episode, have brought him to his “bespoke torture chamber”. The question is, what in Kasterborous are they playing at? Abduction? Physical and mental torture? That isn’t how you treat the man who literally saved your entire race and civilisation from total obliteration.

I really have no answer for this one. I haven’t the scintilla of an idea about what could possibly have driven the Time Lords to behave this way. The only thing I can think of is that it has something to do with the Doctor’s mysterious confession. Which brings me to…

What is the Doctor’s confession?

I asked this question at the beginning of the series, and we’re still none the wiser in respect of an answer. I shared my speculations about what the Doctor’s confession might be here. Supposedly it has something to do with why the Doctor left Gallifrey in the first place. Some terrible reason that compelled the Doctor to fly from Gallifrey in his first incarnation. Which, as far as fleshing out the mythology of the show goes, is a lip-smacker.

In short, I’m partial to the idea that the Doctor has some dark, terrible past that he left behind on Gallifrey, along with his real name, that he’s been attempting to repent for ever since. Thus “Doctor”. But I’m not dogmatic and I’d love to know the real reason for the Doctor’s flight, whatever it is.

What is the Hybrid?

Somewhat related to the above. The Doctor’s confession may or may not have something to do with a purported legendary hybrid creature which the Doctor had some hand in creating. First mentioned by Davros in The Witch’s Familiar, the “hybrid” motif has reared its cryptic head at inopportune interludes throughout the series. It’s apparently a thing.

I’m inclined to think that the Doctor’s confession actually doesn’t have anything to do with the Hybrid, that the Hybrid is something separate from the Doctor’s confession. It’s just that the Doctor has clearly already committed his confession to his confession dial, but he always seems just as mystified as we are whenever the topic of hybrids comes up. At one point he seemed to be wondering whether Osgood was the terrible Hybrid warrior of ancient Time Lord legend. Clearly, he doesn’t have a clue.

There have been many hybrids created by the Doctor throughout his travels, some of which could easily fit the description of the Hybrid warrior that’s coming in the finale. I’m thinking particularly of the Meta-Crisis Doctor, a human-Time Lord hybrid, whose bloody rite of baptism into the universe was his mass slaughter of billions of Daleks. I explained here about the fan theory surrounding the Meta-Crisis Doctor which postulates that the Meta-Doctor could have become the Valeyard, the Doctor’s “evil” incarnation.

I’m not persuaded by the Meta-Doctor/Valeyard theory, but there is a very big question mark hanging over character of the Valeyard, who was supposed to be created around this point in the Doctor’s timeline. Maybe the Hybrid is the Valeyard? It has been noted by those who’ve seen the finale, after all, that Moffat does invoke some of the show’s mythology, and engages in a bit of sly rewriting of that mythology.

As long as it’s not the Time Lord/Dalek hybrid that Davros seemed so exercised about. That, frankly, sounds too stupid for words.

Will we see Ashildr again?

Given she’s in league with the Time Lords, it seems likely that we’ll see her once more this series. I’m interested to know what becomes of her, now she’s made an enemy of the Doctor and has become embroiled in the machinations of the Time Lords. Even if we don’t see her again this series, we’ll almost certainly see her again in future series. It’d be a scandal if we didn’t.

One thing’s for certain, though: Ashildr has pretty much ruined her chances of becoming the Doctor’s companion now. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.


What do you think?

My top 5 Tardis teams

Now that Clara’s snuffed it, and the Doctor-Companion team of the last two years has come to a tragic end, I feel like I ought to assess where Twelve and Clara figure in my personal game of Doctor-Companion top trumps.

Here are my five favourite Doctor-Companion teams of the last 52 years.


5. Four and Romana

Technically this is two Tardis teams, but I really couldn’t choose between the two Romanas here. Romana (both of them) is probably my favourite classic companion, and I thought they both had superb, highly watchable dynamics with Tom Baker’s aloof, alien Doctor. To be honest, Tom Baker’s extraordinary and mesmerising Doctor makes any Doctor-Companion team he’s part of delightfully engaging to watch, but I adored most of all watching him with Romana.

His relationship with the first Romana, played by the beautiful Mary Tamm, was brilliant because it seemed like the Doctor had finally met his match in a companion. Unlike the succession of dim humans he’d taken to travelling with, who awed at his intelligence and obediently did as they were told, Romana considered herself his equal, if not his superior: she was just as intelligent as he was, if not more, and made a point of reminding him of her superior academic accomplishments. She rarely took orders from him without argument and was generally something entirely new to the Doctor. It was brilliant. Nevertheless, they had a great friendship and, despite their prickly moments, were a joy to watch together.

The Fourth Doctor with the second Romana, played by Lalla Ward, was a warmer and more intimate relationship, Romana less icy and prickly towards the Doctor, more fond of him and more appreciative of his experience. Four and Romana II had a more traditional Doctor-Companion relationship of uncomplicated friendship and mutual love of adventure, but the team of two Time Lords still made for a very unconventional and distinctive dynamic. Romana was still, in many ways, the Doctor’s equal, and, accordingly, her relationship with Tom Baker’s Doctor was nothing like that of Sarah-Jane or Leela. It was intellectual and clever and very alien. I loved that. It also helped that there was romance between Tom Baker and Lalla Ward offscreen, manifesting itself onscreen in wonderful chemistry between the Doctor and companion.

I think my favourite Four-Romana moment might have been the Doctor and Romana gadding about Paris in City of Death. They were too cute, and Romana looked just lovely in her schoolgirl outfit.

4. Ten and Donna

Ten and Donna were surely the definitive Doctor-Companion pairing of the Tenth Doctor’s era. Ten and Rose were sweet, but Ten and Donna were genuinely fun. Like Twelve and Clara, Ten and Donna were just two best friends romping around time and space, having the time of their lives together. They were just great mates, and that was their irresistible charm. It helped that Catherine Tate was hilarious, and that Tate and David Tennant had positively electric chemistry together. The banter was — literally — out of this world.

We all remember Ten and Donna fondly for the banter and the comedy and the great friendship between the two, but one of the most memorable and significant Ten-Donna moments was surely Donna’s pleading with the Doctor in The Fires of Pompeii to save Caecilius and his family. It showed how important Donna was to the Doctor personally, that she was more than just a good friend to him. To an extent I don’t think Rose or Martha would have been able to stand up to the Doctor like Donna did in that episode and cut down the Doctor’s Time Lord pretensions the way she did.

3. One, Susan, Ian and Barbara

The original Tardis team. These four were a quirky and eclectic mix of characters, but they were the most endearing and lovable group you could find. There was the tetchy, spiky First Doctor, who nevertheless exuded a certain magic and twinkle that made you love him, and who mellowed over time, under the influence of his companions, into the whimsical, charming, compassionate figure we now recognise as the Doctor. There was Susan, the Doctor’s sweet teenage granddaughter, a rather helpless figure at first, but who eventually came into her own, and eventually left in Doctor Who’s first ever heartbreaking companion exit, the beginning of a beloved tradition. Ian and Barbara, Susan’s abducted schoolteachers, were the most lovely pair, bringing a human groundedness to the first years of the show that could easily otherwise have been very alien. Together they were like a family, albeit a very odd family, all were written so well that you couldn’t help feeling a strong connection to them.

Part of the charm of their unique dynamic was that they were all stuck together, thrown together under unfortunate circumstances (the Tardis was malfunctioning), traipsing across time and space together trying to find a way out of their situation. None of them, except perhaps Susan, was particularly enamoured with the situation they had all found themselves in together at first, but they all grew so close and fond of each other over time. Even the Doctor, who was positively antagonistic towards Ian and Barbara at first, became very fond of them, and came to appreciate the little family he had found himself with, and, when Ian and Barbara eventually found a way to return to Earth, he was very upset and saddened to see them leave.

2. Twelve and Clara

twelveclara2

Now that I’ve seen two series of Twelve and Clara, I can say confidently that I love them more than any other Tardis team save for Eleven, Amy and Rory. Clara herself is kind of a middling companion for me — I like her, and she’s grown on me immensely in Series 9 — but she isn’t among my favourites. That said, though, I think Twelve and Clara are nothing short of perfect together. They’re an odd couple, the old man and the pretty young woman, but it works so well. These too are as close as any Doctor and companion can be; they’re not lovers, like Ten and Rose, but just best friends, inseparable friends, who are each other’s entire universes, enjoying each other’s company while they explore the universe together. They’re, frankly, adorable to watch together, and I’m going to miss them so much now that Clara’s gone.

Basically any scene where Twelve and Clara are having fun and enjoying themselves together is vintage Twelve-Clara. Take your pick. A particular favourite of mine was Twelve lecturing Clara on the use of the word “space” before things in Sleep No More. But also the final moments of Last Christmas were terrific, Clara and the Doctor gazing fiercely, almost lovingly, into each other’s eyes, the spirit of adventure taken hold of them both, their connection stronger than it’s ever been.

1. Eleven, Amy and Rory

What can I say? Eleven is my favourite Doctor and Amy is my favourite companion. Eleven’s era is my favourite era of the show, in no small part because of the wonderful characters of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond, and her long-suffering husband, Rory Pond Williams. Amy and Rory were just the most adorable, romantic couple, and their relationship with the zany, wacky Eleventh Doctor made them an irresistible Tardis team, and a positive joy to watch together.

I have a sentimental attachment to these three, because, having only started watching the show in earnest during Eleven’s era, they were my “first” Tardis team, the first Doctor and companion team I followed week-to-week. I think they might have been a major part of the reason I became a fan of this show, because I adored these three wonderful characters so much.

Some of my favourite moments with these three include their reunion in The Pandorica Opens — the Doctor’s hilarious reunion with Roman Rory, and Rory’s touching attempts to get through to Amy. Also, just watching these three muck about was magical, as in episodes like The Power of Three, otherwise a fairly unremarkable script.


What are your favourite Doctor-Companion teams?

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.”

Thoughts on: The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion

Warning: spoilers.

A criticism, or a critical observation, that could be fairly levelled at the Moffat era thus far is that it boasts a dearth of out-and-out classics. There have been very few, if any, stories that, generations from now, the fandom will look back upon with undiminished reverence. The Russell T Davies era has given Doctor Who its generous contribution of timeless classics (ironically, most of them written by Steven Moffat), but one would struggle to name many stories from the Moffat era that match the stature of BlinkHuman Nature/The Family of BloodSilence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, etc. There are a few that arguably meet the mark – the Series 5 finale, and The Day of the Doctor – but few would argue that the show since 2010 has produced as many stories of such universal acclaim and genuine timeless worth as the show did in its first five years.

I think, with this two-parter, we finally have a story that can indisputably claim to be the kind of story that will be venerated and treated by future Doctor Who fans with the same reverence they will reserve for any of the gleaming gems of the RTD era. I think in this two-parter, we have in our hands the first genuine, unequivocal classic of the Moffat era. It was a long time coming, but, gosh, it was worth it. Perhaps it’s the result of bringing in new blood to provide Doctor Who scripts. The two biggest finds of the Capaldi era have both been new writers — Jamie Mathieson and Peter Harness. The latest script from veteran Who writer Toby Whithouse, Under the Lake/Before the Flood, was good traditional Who fare, but hardly the stuff of legacy. Whereas the two scripts Harness has delivered so far have displayed a freshness of style and vision that takes this show into exciting uncharted new territory. In Kill the Moon, it resulted in a quality but inevitably divisive script that was not without its shortcomings — which was why I was initially apprehensive about Harness having been commissioned a second time. I needn’t have worried. In this two-parter, Harness has got it right. So, so right.

zygoninvasion

The writing is taut and purposeful. No moment or line is wasted. It positively drips with suspense throughout, especially in the second half. It paces itself fluently and generally feels impeccably choreographed. Steven Moffat is credited as co-writer in the second episode, but I suspect his contribution was minimal. There’s little to nothing in either episode that feels like it was written by Moffat. It doesn’t come with the excess and self-indulgence of a Moffat script: it’s tighter, cleaner, more restrained, and intelligent in a way that isn’t self-regarding and self-consciously clever. It’s actually composed with the kind of finesse and refinement that was characteristic of Steven Moffat’s scripts when he was writing for Russell T Davies, when he only had to write one story a year. Moreover, it makes exquisite use of the two-part format, not only successfully stringing the narrative out over the two episodes (as opposed to one and a bit episodes, with the rest padded out), but making the kind of contrast between the two episodes that gives them both a very distinct tone and feel: from the sweeping, worldwide conflict of the first episode, to the intimate, local, personal conflict of the second. It’s clever and effective.

This story feels a lot like a 1970s UNIT story, particularly one from Jon Pertwee’s first season, in which the show was as political and ponderous as it’s ever been. Now here’s Doctor Who once again wading bravely into very controversial waters, offering its thoughts on the issues of contemporary society. The analogies were unambiguous, and they were deployed effectively. Immigrant Muslim communities in the West, and the radicalisation among the younger generations thereof; domestic terrorism; the crisis in the Muslim world; immigration and assimilation. It was all dealt with intelligently, penetratingly and sensitively. It’s exhilarating to watch Doctor Who when it has something to say. It’s exciting to watch Doctor Who trying to be relevant and worth listening to. That it talked about “radicalisation” and the sacrifices that have to be made for peace is hugely significant. This is emphatically not a children’s show any more. Having said that, it justly recognised that the issues it was discussing were complex and multifaceted, and that reasonable people can reasonably disagree over them. It correctly didn’t beat the audience over the head with any single point of view. It did make its position movingly clear on one thing, though: there is nothing that justifies suffering.

bonnie

The Zygons were treated as well as they’ve ever been. They were scary, for one thing. As much as the Zygon design is, admittedly, a bit naff, it’s a credit both to the direction and the writing that the audience was able to put aside its incredulity over the red suckered blobbies and actually treat the Zygons as some semblance of the threat they’d pose in real life. It was the idea of the Zygons, as much as their physical threat, that made them such a menacing presence. In that respect, the story played really effectively upon the fears and paranoia of our age in casting the Zygons, the bad ones, that is, in the role of terrorists as opposed to generic invaders. The unsettling hostage video, the black rebel Zygon war flag, the rebel Zygons’ snatching the two little girls from a playground and spiriting them away in a white van, the staged execution — it was all unnerving, disquieting stuff for this age of terror and paranoia. The Zygons’ shape-shifting abilities were also exploited to awesome effect, in that intense and confronting scene in front of the church in Turmezistan, and in the shocking revelation that Clara was a Zygon imposter, the latter of which really brought home the profound and singular threat of the Zygons.

We have to talk about that scene, though. It’s futile to attempt to explain why the Doctor’s monologue was so good. To attempt to do so would be to diminish the effect of the words and the acting. I could never explain or describe here what the Doctor was saying as well as he said it. Just watch the scene, and let it overcome you. It would take a pretty unfeeling and aloof individual not to be moved by the Doctor’s words. I’ll freely and unashamedly admit I was moved almost to tears, and I’m one of the most stoical and emotionally reserved people I know. The last time that happened was when I was watching that part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Harry watches Snape weeping over Lily’s dead body in the pensieve. It’s that powerful. The writing was brilliant, but so much of the credit has to go to Peter Capaldi himself, who delivered one of the all-time great performances as the Doctor. No, bugger it. I’m going to go ahead and say that was the greatest performance any actor has ever delivered as the Doctor. It was breathtaking. This is what you get when you cast an actor of Peter Capaldi’s stature in the role of the Doctor, and, by God, there’s no denying that the show is the better for it.

twelveeyes

Some final thoughts. No review of this story would be complete without making room for fulsome praise for Jenna Coleman. Funnily enough, Clara was absent for most of this story, but I would venture to suggest that this was actually Jenna’s best performance yet. She took on the role of Clara’s evil Zygon double with gusto, and created a sinister, menacing character that felt very distinct from Clara Oswald. The face-off between Clara and Bonnie was electric, and it was all Jenna. Even in Peter Capaldi’s big scene, where the stage was almost totally Capaldi’s, Jenna absolutely shone in her facial acting as Bonnie, communicating so much with only expressive glares and clenched teeth. There’s not much more else to say, other than to repeat again that this one is going to be remembered. I’ve seen a couple of negative reviews and reactions — there always are (hence my “parody” review yesterday) — but the response has been overwhelmingly laudatory. Everyone seems to agree that this one is going to go down as one of the all-time greats, and justly so.

Rating: 10/10.


Quote of the week:

“I’m old enough to be your Messiah.”

The Zygon Inversion Review (Parody)

Warning: spoilers

N.B. As the title indicates, this is a parody. I’ll have my real review of the two-parter up in the next few days. In the meantime, though, if you like reading Doctor Who reviews, like I do, you should appreciate this.


I don’t want to believe that Doctor Who is in crisis, but when stuff like this passes for the “highlight” of this series, I can’t resist the conclusion any longer. In a series that has so far traversed abject mediocrity and outright crap, this really is a new low. It really does epitomise everything that’s wrong with Doctor Who at the moment, a show that just keeps astonishing me by its capacity to keep digging itself deeper and deeper into irrelevance and ineptitude.

So let’s start with the resolution to what I gather was supposed to be a suspenseful cliffhanger. Yeah no. You know, I might have been interested in finding out what happened this week if the show hadn’t been using the Doctor’s death as a plot device every single fucking week (or close enough to) this series. Yeah, I knew what was going to happen. The Doctor wasn’t going to die. We know, and Moffat knows, and Moffat knows we know, that the Doctor is not going to be killed off. Moffat wouldn’t put himself out of a job like that. More to the point, he’s just not brave enough to kill the Doctor for real. So, for the love of God, can we please stop pretending that the Doctor might actually die one of these days? It’s just a suggestion, but could we have a real cliffhanger for once?

The next fifteen minutes or so of the episode were just mind-numbingly tedious. Actually, “tedious” isn’t the right word. It’s the feeling you get when you realise you know exactly what the script is doing, where the episode is going, because it couldn’t have made its intent more blindingly obvious; because, instead of telling a story, it chose to preach. Oh, look, the Zygon rebels are just like ISIS. But this isn’t ALL Zygons, see, it’s just a deranged splinter group — see, this Zygon shopkeeper is all right. Yeah, I could have worked that out for myself, thanks. I do wonder whether Doctor Who really is more “adult” these days than in the days of the burping bins when it feels the need to patronise the audience like that and treat us like we can’t handle sensitive political subject matter without being treated like wide-eyed schoolchildren. If Doctor Who can’t deal with political issues maturely and in a non-patronising manner, it should just leave politics alone altogether.

And, by the way, while we’re on politics, could the episode have delivered a more obnoxiously bigoted message in the whole “the Zygons have to blend in and pretend to be human if they want to live with us” thing? How could that be read as anything other than a suggestion that immigrants — refugees, even — should be expected to assimilate, should leave behind their old identities and become British/American/Australian, etc, if they want to live here? If Doctor Who insists on wading into politics, could it at least refrain from encouraging the abhorrent Ukip/Trump elements of the audience? Is that too much to ask?

I don’t need to spend much time talking about Jenna Coleman’s performance. She has, in the past, delivered moments of brilliance, but, for the most part, she comes off as out of her depth in a prestigious drama like Doctor Who. This has never been more apparent than here, where her portrayal of Bonnie vacillated between caricature and pantomime. The face-off between Clara and Bonnie was a good idea squandered by trite dialogue and cringe-inducing acting.

And without further ado (and, really, there isn’t much ado at all in this episode), we come to the big scene. It’s not that Peter Capaldi can’t pull off scenes like this. He’s a good actor. A great actor. But that’s the point. It’s all so below him. The character is below him. The writing is below him. If I were him I’d be embarrassed to be seen in rubbish like this. He’s clearly valiantly straining every acting sinew in his body trying to make the lines work; trying to make the scene work. Not without limited success, mind you, but even an actor of his calibre couldn’t make this clichéd, hackneyed, trite garbage convincing. Oh, Doctor, isn’t war awful? Isn’t killing a shame? God, spare me. Could this show get any more banal? There was a laudable moral and political point in there (really, Doctor Who? War is bad? Do tell me more!), but the way it was expressed was so pedestrian and patronising that I couldn’t help cringing right through that scene. And that was even before we got to the rehashed emo angst about the bloody Time War. Good God, I thought we were done with all that. After the 64th time, I’m getting sick of hearing about the Time War, to be honest.

What compounds this episode’s failure is that it really was a good idea. But, in typical Moffat era fashion, it took a good idea and bastardised it with inept and trite writing. To trash as good an idea as this as extensively as this really takes some effort, but in the sure hands of Steven Moffat the show has, once again, duly delivered.

I’m a fan of Doctor Who. I love this show. That’s why it pains me to see it being so systematically wrecked at the hands of Steven Moffat. I know this show has potential, but it’s been so long since it’s produced anything of worth that I can’t help cynically wondering if Doctor Who really is finished this time. And you know what? I don’t even care. If this is what Doctor Who has come to, maybe it’s time the show was put down. The only regret is that it couldn’t have happened sooner, so that we didn’t have to witness the undignified senility of its final days.

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.

First thoughts: The Zygon Invasion

10 minutes into invasion and chill and he gives you this look

Warning: spoilers.

  • This series is continuing its run of stellar form with what looks to be yet another modern classic. Seriously, there hasn’t been anything approaching a bung episode so far this series. The only two episodes that have fallen flat for me are Before the Flood and The Woman Who Lived, and that’s really only because they haven’t lived up to the unreasonably lofty standards set by the rest of this series’ episodes. In any other series they’d be among the series’ highlights. Both were made up for by their first “halves” anyway, and the second by Maisie, who turns anything she touches into gold dust.
  • But this episode, though. It was splendidly written, by one of Doctor Who’s most promising new writers, Peter Harness. I found it intelligent, involving and suspenseful and I’m excited af for the second half.
  • What I really love about this script is that it isn’t a generic invasion story. It isn’t “aliens are invading Earth (read: London) for the umpteenth time, OMG”, a trope that Doctor Who has done to death even only in the modern series. No, we’ve moved on from predictable Dalek, Cyberman, Sontaran, Sycorax and Slitheen assaults upon the planet and we’re given something genuinely imaginative and relevant in this follow-up to the events of The Day of the Doctor. There’s real-world analogies to Islamic State and religious radicalisation among immigrant communities living in Western countries, and that’s what made this narrative so unique and gripping.

  • And the terror analogy was really well deployed. The images of a hostage video, with two menacing Zygons leering at the camera beside a captive Osgood, and of a staged execution of Zygon “traitors”, and the black rebel Zygon war flag, were all very evocative and, honestly, more unnerving in this age of terror and paranoia than any of the monsters-of-the-week we’ve seen in recent times. This is hiding-behind-the-sofa for adults.
  • The political allusions were discussed with sensitivity and maturity. Topics including immigration and assimilation and the current crisis in the Middle East were commented upon, but, mercifully, the episode didn’t beat the audience over the head with the views of the writers. It acknowledged that these are incredibly sensitive and complex topics which have no simple answers. It gave us the Doctor’s views but also presented the opposing outlooks of Kate Stewart and Colonel Walsh with sympathy.
  • The Zygons themselves are as menacing as they’ve ever been. The directors rightly appreciated that the Zygons are most effectively scary when bathed in shadow (literally and figuratively), hence the liberal use of shots like the one above. The Zygons’ shape-shifting abilities were exploited to disquieting and shocking effect, as well, most notably in that delightfully suspenseful scene in front of the church, and in the revelation of Zygon-Clara.

  • Perhaps the one thing I didn’t like about the Zygons is the facial designs. The Zygons’ faces seem to be stuck in a permanent snarl, teeth bared and all. When those two “good” Zygons who represented the Zygon High Command, disguised as little twin girls, transformed into their Zygon forms, I wasn’t sure at first if they had been the ones speaking and making threats to the camera, because their Zygon faces were twisted into the most horrible snarls. The Zygons in the modern series have been pretty much totally faithful to their original designs in the classic series, but they may have benefited from also retaining the less, er… “snarly” faces of the classic Zygons, which look more real and less comic book.
  • “Doctor Funkenstein”. Love it.
  • I think Jenna Coleman’s having a bit too much fun playing her evil Zygon double. She’s a class act, this one, though.
  • I’m astounded that Peter Harness managed to get the two The Thick of It leads back together and resisted the temptation to script a proper shouting match between them. Maybe next week.
  • Honestly, I’m immoderately excited about the second half of this story, and I’m confident that, if it follows up on this week’s episode as well as it promises to, this two-parter will be remembered as an instant classic and a modern masterpiece. It’s already looking like the best story of this series (so far), and is easily some of the best Who we’ve seen in years.