First impressions: World Enough and Time

(Since it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, my policy is to do a single full review of multi-part stories unless I think the episodes are distinct enough to justify separate reviews, as in the case of the Monk trilogy; otherwise I do these informal “First impressions” posts for the first part of two-part stories just to jot down my initial thoughts. Expect a lot of this, albeit rewritten, to make it into the full review).

  • I thought this episode was phenomenal. I thought everything about this episode was exquisite: writing, directing and acting. I don’t remember being so absorbed by an episode of Doctor Who since, probably, Hell Bent. I haven’t stopped thinking about the episode since I saw it, a good 32-odd hours ago at the time of writing this, and I can’t remember the last time that happened to me after watching an episode of Doctor Who.
  • There’s so much to talk about in this episode, but let’s take things chronologically.
  • Missy. Missy’s play-acting the Doctor (“Hello, I’m Doctor Whoooh”) was as delightfully funny as I expected it to be. I was a particular fan of the dab, which will forever be etched in my memory as Missy’s finest moment, as well as “Comic Relief” and “Exposition”. The funniest little sequence of this series? Maybe. Probably. What’s clear is that Michelle Gomez owned the part of Missy, owned the screen when she was given the chance, and will be sorely missed when she’s gone. To be honest, I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of Missy being the Doctor — she’d barely stepped out of the Tardis before the Doctor decided to take over again. But that’s absolutely a compliment to Michelle Gomez.
  • Bill getting shot. Good. I’m a big supporter of companions getting hurt, ideally permanently, from travelling with the Doctor. Maybe the companion will actually stay dead/injured/cyber-converted this time. That’s not to say that Bill shouldn’t get the emotional sendoff she deserves, though.

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  • That moment was sensationally directed, though. The Doctor, giving his usual arrogant spiel, absolutely confident that he would save Bill and take control of the situation, only for the blue crew member to rudely interrupt him by blasting a great ugly hole through Bill’s midriff. Cue the Doctor, in shock and disbelief, slowly turning to face Bill, uncomprehending of what had just happened. Brilliant.
  • The conceit of putting the Doctor and Bill on opposite ends of a spaceship reversing out of a black hole, so that time is running much more slowly for one than the other, was good. It’s a bit like The Girl Who Waited, except this is a lot more elegant, and a lot cleverer. It doesn’t end up being that central an element of the story (the episode could probably have followed the creation of the original Cybermen without putting the Doctor and Bill in different time streams), but it certainly makes for some really interesting storytelling, and makes possible the tragic transformation of Bill into a Mondasian Cyberman.
  • Okay but the genesis of the Cybermen though. In telling a story about the Cybermen this episode was perfect. It’s perhaps the first Cyberman story since the 1960s, arguably even since The Tenth Planet itself, which, in my opinion, has truly understood the Cybermen and got them 100% right. Even though only one appeared in this episode. That’s not actually ironic: the whole point of the Cybermen is that they’re human. Or rather, they’re humans who’ve been stripped of everything that makes them human. They’re a mutilation of humanity. The Cybermen are not supposed to be scary, they’re supposed to be tragic — or, rather, they’re supposed to be scary by virtue of their tragedy. Which, frankly, still makes them a lot scarier than the stomping killer robots in their comic book Iron Man suits the show is afflicted with today.

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  • To that end, going back to the beginning of the Cybermen was the perfect way to explore what the Cybermen are about. I’m also so happy that the original Cybermen were recreated so faithfully. The ghostly cloth faces, the eerie lilting voices, the wretched patched-together look, all of it. (Shame about the stomping though — the original Mondasians ambled like zombies). Those who haven’t seen Classic Who might not “get” it, but for those of us who remember how creepy and entrancing the original Cybermen were in The Tenth Planet, it really is very special to see them back, straight from 1966. And Rachel Talalay did admirably in making them very scary, not necessarily an easy task given that, admittedly, the models have rather aged since 1966.
  • The hospital and its ghoulish patients, by the way, was wonderfully creepy. It all reminds me a bit of Steven Moffat’s first Doctor Who story, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and I’ve no doubt I would have been terrified by this just as 10-year old me was when I first saw The Empty Child. Never mind children, though, the sight of heavily-bandaged and mutilated people using an electronic voice simulator to say “Pain” and “Kill me” will get under any appropriately sensitive grown-up’s skin. This is the US President committing suicide over an ancient gnostic text levels of dark, and it’s brilliant.
  • The revelation of John Simm’s Master was suitably jaw-dropping, even though, along with everyone else paying the remotest attention to Doctor Who news, I knew it was coming. I do feel that the revelation of both the Master and the Mondasian Cybermen would have been so much better if the BBC hadn’t spoiled us all for the publicity. I think an unspoilered revelation (I’m sorry I refuse to use the word “reveal” as a noun) of John Simm’s Master in particular would have been sensational, and we’d all probably have died right then and there.

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  • Oh well. It was still fantastic, and I’ll admit, even with foreknowledge, that I didn’t know Mr Razor was going to be revealed as the Master. Even as he was asking Missy if she remembered being there before, when it was pretty obvious the Master was about to appear, I thought John Simm was about to stroll around the corner—I wasn’t expecting him to pull off a (very convincing) mask with all the flair of Anthony Ainley.
  • So I’m very much looking forward to The Doctor Falls, although, to be honest, the next-time trailer actually looks discouraging (even with two Masters and hordes of Mondasian Cybermen). I saw lots of explosions, lots of modern Cybermen (yech), not much that looked like it might make for properly interesting storytelling, and I saw a publicity poster where the Mondasian Cybermen were flying (for fuck’s sake). I have a feeling The Doctor Falls is about to pull a Death in Heaven, that is: fuck up a phenomenal finale opener by following it with a conventional, lazy, phoned-in, trope-ridden second part. I really hope that isn’t the case.
  • Oh yeah, the regeneration. To be honest I was more dazzled by Peter Capaldi’s magnificent Pertwee-esque hair. I don’t really have much else to say or speculate about other than that this is probably a preview of the Doctor’s regeneration in the Christmas special, and that he begins to regenerate in The Doctor Falls. I do like the idea that Twelve has been holding back a regeneration all series, though (hence Missy’s “Are you all right, Doctor?” from The Empress of Mars), possibly since he exposed himself to the vacuum of space in Oxygen, or possibly even since he saved Missy from execution (maybe because he had to substitute himself somehow in her place?).

In other news

Now that I’m free from exams, I’ll be getting round to my belated reviews of The Empress of Mars and The Eaters of Light over the next week. But I just thought I’d get this one out first while the impressions and emotions are still raw.

 

Thoughts on: Extremis

Is it a reflection on the prudence of being showrunner as long as Steven Moffat has, that my initial reaction to what is undoubtedly the most daring and experimental storytelling Doctor Who has done since the classic series (perhaps short of Heaven Sent) was a feeling of being underwhelmed? I will admit that my expectations were fairly high for this one. The synopsis sounded amazing. The vault was opening. Missy was returning. A three-part mid-series arc was kicking off. All the advance reviews were drooling with acclaim. Steven Moffat was writing. The episode I anticipated in alignment of these auspicious stars was never going to be matched by what aired on the weekend.

But I think there’s a point to be made that what is undoubtedly an exceptional and distinguished episode has the potential to fall flat for many seasoned viewers, simply because this is Steven Moffat 101, and we’ve all become exceedingly familiar with Steven Moffat 101 over the last seven years. To be sure, Extremis is Steven Moffat 101 taken farther than it’s ever been taken before. It’s Moffat in his final hours—in extremis, you might say—digging deeper into his magic hat than he’s permitted himself before now, pulling out his wackiest, most envelope-pushing ideas and saying “F*ck it, let’s do it”, just because it’s his last chance to make the Doctor Who stories he wants to make and just because he can.

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But those of us who unironically refer to ourselves as “Whovians” have got to know the creative mind of Steven Moffat very well by now, and we know in a good level of detail what the inside of his hat looks like by now. So when we’re confronted with something new from inside the hat, even something from deeper within the hat than we’ve seen before, we’re not necessarily surprised anymore, and we’re not necessarily as impressed as we might have been seven years ago. It’s meta-reality. It’s timey-wimey. It’s clever psychological gimmicks. It’s Things Which Are Not What They Seem. It’s locked boxes (literal or figurative) with flashing neon question marks hovering over them. It’s the Doctor as pseudo-deity. It’s The Pandorica Opens. It’s Silence in the Library. It’s The Impossible Astronaut. It’s the distillation of a number of the familiar tropes and ideas we’ve seen in Steven Moffat’s writing many times before, and arranged into a configuration which is entirely new and interesting, but yet still familiar.

The point I’m trying to make in saying all that is that I just wish I could have had the privilege of watching this episode having not seen all of Moffat’s previous work – several times – before. Because it is a brilliant script. It’s an ingenious and daring script. It’s pushing against the outer limits of what’s possible on Doctor Who, and that’s always a good thing. This is Moffat taking his familiar ideas and making something genuinely innovative and interesting out of them, as opposed to, you know, The Name of the Doctor. It’s just that I feel I need to take a step back and take a more objective view of this episode to truly appreciate it as the brilliant piece of writing it is. As I said, apart from the final 15 minutes, I finished watching this episode feeling underwhelmed. But it’s ironic because this script had everything I want and ask for in a Doctor Who story: it was experimental, it was dark, it was atmospheric, it had huge, thrilling, audacious ideas that it wasn’t shy in teasing out indulgently. It improved on a rewatch, but I can’t shake the feeling of ambivalence. I think it really is that I’m just getting bored of Moffat’s style. For what it’s worth, my dad, a Casual Viewer™ whom I’m in the process of converting into a proper Whovian, absolutely adored this one. Which I think is very telling.

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To actually say something about the story, though. I’ve already waxed about how daring this script was, but can we just take a moment to appreciate the significance for Doctor Who of the ideas this story is playing with? There were an unbelievably suspenseful five minutes or so when it looked like the episode was about to say that the Doctor and Bill—the Doctor and Bill we know—were part of the computer simulation, that everything we’ve been watching for six weeks was part of the computer simulation—if not everything since 1963. I’d have been awed, if profoundly disconcerted, if the episode had gone that far, but, perhaps for the best, it didn’t. Still, I think hyper-advanced aliens creating an elaborate computer simulation of the Earth to practise conquering the planet is my favourite idea the show has played with. And telling the story from inside the Matrix makes for thrilling, mesmerising storytelling, as well as some of the out-and-out darkest material we’ve ever seen on Doctor Who. Existentialism aside, the depiction of an apocalyptic gnostic text causing the mass suicide of the scientists at CERN and the suicide of the President of the United States alone in his office, was bracing and provocative in the best way possible.

There were bits of the episode that positively didn’t impress me. It felt excessively busy. I think it could have done with less globe-hopping, a tighter and more compact narrative, or else a full 60 minutes to allow for something more slow-burning and detailed. Although I realise in the case of the former that we wouldn’t have then got the brilliant scene in CERN. The alien monks, I thought, were also quite nondescript and perhaps lazily conceived and designed. They looked like a cross between the Silents and the Pyroviles, and in design conformed to the typical profile of ugly humanoid Doctor Who aliens. I can perhaps forgive the design of the alien monks though, because as yet we don’t know what they are—I expect we’ll find out more about them in the next episode. I’m aware of the popular theory that the monks are the Mondasian Cybermen, and I’d be delighted if that were the case. But I’m sceptical that they are the Mondasians—somehow it doesn’t seem like their style, and I’d question why the Mondasians (or the Cybermen generally) would want to make themselves look like weird ugly blue aliens in the simulated reality rather than humans. Design and conception aside, though, I’m intrigued by the monks, by their identity and what their purpose and intentions are. Actually, on the connection of learning more about the monks in the next episode, I’m prepared to forgive a lot about this episode when I consider it in its context as the first part of a two- or three-part arc. As a standalone, it needs some work, but as Part 1 of 3… let’s wait ‘til we see Part 2 and 3.

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As for Missy, though. The constant flashbacks to Missy was one of the things congesting this episode, making it feel a touch busier than it needed to be, but the connection between Missy’s pleading in extremis with the Doctor, and the (simulant) Doctor’s actions at the end of the episode, having discovered the horrible truth of his identity as a simulation, was quite neat and poignant. It was also very interesting seeing another side to Missy, the side of herself she only reveals in extremis. But I can’t say I’m not disappointed that it’s Missy that’s in the vault after all. There was a tweet I retweeted on Twitter after the episode that said “Missy is in the vault” with a picture of a woman covering her mouth with her hands in a mock gasp, with the caption *pretends to be shocked*. I think that was the general sentiment of the fandom upon learning that, yes, as we’ve all been expecting since we heard that piano, it was Missy in the vault after all. A part of me was hoping, anticipating, that Moffat wasn’t going to go for something so predictable and uninteresting—because it really didn’t merit the hype and the overbearing confected mystery around the vault for the last six weeks—but maybe this is just something else that sounded more impressive in Moffat’s head than it was ever going to be in reality. There’s still the (slight) possibility that it’s not Missy in the vault after all—and, knowing Moffat, I still wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t—but what’s more interesting to me now is what the significance of the vault is supposed to be. Why was Missy put in the vault at all, and why do we need to know that the Doctor spent all this time guarding Missy’s body? I’m expecting, pleading, for a worthwhile payoff for all this.

We’re at the mid-point of Series 10 now, though. Things are picking up now in earnest, as I hoped they would. After such an unassuming, albeit solid, start, this series has certainly taken an unexpected turn for the darker, and it looks like we’re in for a thrilling couple of weeks. To continue on from my theme from last week of admitting to the egg all over my face, this series has been consistently strong so far, and if this episode is an indication of the direction this series is heading, Series 10 could very well turn out to be Moffat’s strongest series of all, as I predicted. We haven’t had any stories I’d consider out-and-out classics yet (this one and Oxygen have come the closest), but I can’t believe that this series will not deliver up at least one. We still have Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse and Steven Moffat’s last-ever finale in two parts, after all.

Rating: 9/10.

8 questions for Doctor Who Series 9

What watching Doctor Who feels like at the moment.

What’s Missy’s “clever idea”?

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

What did the regeneration energy do to the Daleks?

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

Was Davros being sincere?

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

Does the Master have a daughter?

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

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

How did Missy escape Gallifrey?

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

Is the sonic screwdriver gone for good?

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

What is the Doctor’s confession?

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

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

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

What’s with the episode titles?

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

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

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

12 things I’d like to see in Series 9

In no particular order…

1. A series arc

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

2. Continuity development

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

3. Progress on Gallifrey

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

4. Doctor development

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

5. New monsters/villains

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

6. Who is Gus?

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

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

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

8. A new recurring character

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

9. Experimental storytelling

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

10. “Why did I choose this face?”

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

11. Missy’s origins

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

12. Clara’s departure

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

On a female Doctor and sex-change regeneration

The regeneration of the Master into Missy has brought to the fore debate over the prospect of a female Doctor. The debate among the fandom about whether the Doctor should one day regenerate into a female form onscreen has been as vociferous as any debate about UNIT dating, whether Susan named the TARDIS, or whether or not Adric was an annoying tit. It was first established that sex changes for Time Lords were possible when the Eleventh Doctor remarked in The Doctor’s Wife that another Time Lord, the Corsair, had regenerated into a woman “a couple of times”. Subsequently, in The Night of the Doctor, the Sisterhood of Karn divulged to the Eighth Doctor that, with their “elevated” Time Lord science, they could bring about a controlled regeneration, even to change him into a female. Now that a major male Time Lord character has been shown onscreen to have regenerated into a woman, the prospect of a female Doctor has become more real than ever.

Personally, while I thought the Master’s sex change was very successful, and while I’m not completely closed to the idea of a female Doctor, I do have significant reservations. For one, I think portraying the Doctor as a female would be incongruous with the essential nature of the character. The Doctor, to me, is an intrinsically male character — not overtly or stereotypically male in that he’s some kind of chest-beating ape, but still very much a masculine character. Paul Verhoeven explains it well. He’s a father figure to the universe, a defensive and loving dad. It’s clear he sees himself in a very paternal way — he feels he has an obligation to look after the universe, to protect his charges from bullies and meanies of all sorts, to step in and give a helping hand, as a father should. He loves and is loved by the universe as a fatherly protector.

As well as this, there’s my personal subjective preference for the Doctor to remain a male character. I’ve come to love this character, the Doctor, independent of any of his individual incarnations. When I think of the Doctor, no individual incarnation springs immediately to mind, but I think of a number of essential traits that make this overarching character, this person, who he is: heroic, principled, selfless, eccentric, lonely, mysterious — and a man. I very much get the feeling that, throughout his various incarnations, despite looking and feeling different after each regeneration, the Doctor remains the same person, and it’s very important to me, for my investment in the character, that the Doctor always feels like the same person. To an extent, at least, I’d feel that the Doctor had become a different person if the Doctor were to become a woman. After thirteen or however many incarnations as a man, I think I’d feel that I couldn’t recognise a female Doctor as the character I knew and loved; that a female actor is likely to depart in a fundamental way from how the character has been portrayed in the past would only exacerbate this feeling. Think of it as if a loved one or a very old and dear friend suddenly decided to get a sex change. After the operation and after that person has assumed their new identity, I think most people would feel that, although that person bears a resemblance to the person they used to be in many ways, it would be as though the person one knew and loved had essentially gone, or at least changed to the point of unfamiliarity. That’s because sex is not just biological happenstance — the sex organs you happen to possess — it is a fundamental part of what makes a person who they are.

All that said, I said I’m not completely closed to the idea. Although I have my reservations, I’m willing to be open-minded, and consider any proposal for a female Doctor on its merits. If a female were to be cast as the Doctor, I’d certainly watch with an open (even interested) mind and be willing to embrace the change. I could very well be wrong: a female Doctor might not be as incongruous as I expect, and I might identify with her as recognisably the character I love. At the same time, I think my reservations are legitimate, and I can’t help but be sceptical and respectfully opposed to the idea. However, I think it may, at least, be worth road-testing the concept of a female Doctor in a one-off episode in which the Doctor inadvertently turns into a female for the duration of the episode. The way the Doctor, as a female, relates to his/her dumbfounded companions would be worth watching, although I think the idea might have worked better with Matt Smith’s Doctor (with the Ponds) than with Peter Capaldi’s: I can imagine Twelve turning into worse-than-everybody’s-aunt, played by Judi Dench or Maggie Smith.

Sex-change regeneration

There’s also the more academic matter of in what circumstances Time Lords can regenerate into the opposite sex. Personally, I’d rather that it not be established canonically that regeneration is completely random with regards to sex, and that Time Lords are equally likely to regenerate into the opposite sex as remain the same. That is, I don’t want it to be established that Time Lords, as one participant in such a debate amusingly put it, are a race of bisexual gender-fluid sequential hermaphrodites. That’s not because I’m a bigot, it just blatantly contradicts all history of portrayal of Time Lords on the programme, and would seem like a liberty taken with the canon for narrow political reasons, as a way of championing transsexualism.

The evidence is that one Time Lord, the Master, has regenerated into a woman after more than one regeneration cycle of being a man. All the other Time Lords we’ve seen have always regenerated into the same sex, with one offscreen exception (the Corsair). This doesn’t exactly suggest that regeneration is completely random with regard to sex. Furthermore, it hasn’t even been established that the Master’s latest female incarnation was the result of regeneration; given that the Master has a history of stealing bodies, and that his last body in The End of Time was basically an imperfectly reanimated corpse in a state of irreversible decay, it can’t be discounted, without further clarification, that Missy’s body was also stolen in the same way he stole the body of Tremas on Traken.

So sex-change regeneration is possible, but, until it is established otherwise, it can be assumed it is anomalous or unusual, rather than the norm. Personally I entertain three theories (which are not mutually exclusive) as to the circumstances in which Time Lords can regenerate into the opposite sex. The first is that same-sex regeneration is the norm, and that opposite-sex regeneration is a very rare, freak occurrence. The second is that, when Time Lords can control their regeneration (as Romana and the Master, and even the Doctor, it is implied, have been shown to be capable of doing), they can, if they have a sufficient degree of control, choose to regenerate into the opposite sex. As to why the Doctor’s regenerations have always (thus far) been random, I expect he either doesn’t know how (perhaps he snoozed through that class in the Academy), or doesn’t care enough, to control his regeneration. My third theory is that there needs to be an external influence on the regeneration to bring about a sex change, such as the potions the Sisterhood of Karn offered to the Eighth Doctor to control his regeneration. The three theories are not mutually exclusive, but the point is that sex-change regeneration at least seems to be unusual, and that some explanation is needed.