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And the New Doctor Is…

As most people know by now, Peter Capaldi is stepping down as Doctor Who this coming Christmas. At the end of the Christmas special, Doctor Number 12 will regenerate into Doctor Number 13. As usual, speculation has been fierce over who will be taking over the role. Yesterday, the BBC announced the name of that person.

And it’s either a shock, or not a shock. Maybe a “Blimey!” moment (as it was for my brother). If you are trying to avoid finding out before Christmas (good luck with that), CLICK HERE NOW.

If you’re still reading, you probably already know that the new Doctor will be…

 

Jodie Whittaker. No, that’s not what she will be wearing. But, yes, the new Doctor will be female. First, for those who don’t know Jodie, probably the most internationally high-profile role she has had so far is as Beth Latimer in the series Broadchurch, which was written and produced by in-coming Doctor Who show-runner, Chris Chibnall.

Why is this a shock or not a shock? It’s a shock because for the last 54 years, the Doctor has been played by a man. This is the first time in the show’s history the Doctor will be played by someone of the female gender. Why is this not a shock? Because for the past three years, Steven Moffat has been toying and teasing the idea–one might say he’s been laying the groundwork–by having the Doctor’s Time Lord arch-nemesis, the Master, regenerate into a woman (“Missy”–short for “Mistress”), and making other subtle (or not-so-subtle) references to the fact Time Lords are not locked into a single gender.

Some will not take this news well. Especially for some long-term fans of the show, used to a male Doctor, this will be a step too far. They will talk about how it will change the tone of the show, or the dynamic between the Doctor and her companion, and how it’s like having the next James Bond be a woman. Some may even become TARDIS Vacantists (a little theological humor there, courtesy of one of my pastors. Thanks, Todd!) As someone who has been a fan of Doctor Who all his life (and that’s a long time, folks), I say… hogwash. There is nothing in the Whoniverse that says a Time Lord must remain the same gender with each regeneration. Yes, it will shake things up a bit. There will be a new dynamic in the TARDIS. More than likely a new companion. I hope they give her a male companion, just as they have tended toward giving the male Doctor a female companion. Though, frankly, I’m just interested to see how it works out.

As a fan, I hope it’s a success. I hope the Doctor’s gender is not an issue in the show. It’s “An Adventure in Space and Time,” after all, not “An Experiment in Social Engineering.” None of the Doctor’s traditional enemies will care whether the Doctor’s a boy or a girl. What difference does it make to a Dalek, or a Cyberman, or the clone-race Sontarans? The Master might get a kick out of it, but who’s he/she to talk (assuming Missy regenerates…)?

My final word on the matter is actually my brother’s (thanks Ian!):

“I hope she gets a lot of support and not just mad, foaming so-called Who ‘experts’ kicking off about what supposedly can and can’t happen in a fictional TV programme.”

Amen.

Welcome to the Whoniverse, Jodie Whittaker!

What do you think? Excited? Scared? Share in the comments!

Who Review: The Doctor Falls

On board a spaceship that is so large, time travels faster at the bottom than the top, the Cybermen are building recruits at break-neck speed. Not only the old Mondasian type, but also weapons-grade Cybermen, fully armored and ready to fight. Their mission is to find all the humans on the ship and upgrade them. The Master has been helping them along, but his plan to kill the Doctor personally is foiled by the fact the Doctor updated the ship’s software, expanding the definition of human to include beings with two hearts. The Time Lords, and Bill, now a Cyberman, manage to escape with Nardole’s help to another floor. Here there are lush fields, woods, and a solar farm. But they need to prepare. The Cybermen are coming, and, being lower down in the ship, time is on their side. Can the Doctor possibly fend off a relentless attack of Cybermen? If the odds aren’t stacked against him enough, the Master and Missy have their own agenda. Will even Missy, who seemed to be turning to the side of right, abandon him in his hour of greatest need? With his own time drawing to a close, growing weaker by the hour, this might be the Doctor’s last stand…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This was definitely an explosive finale, and a set-up for what could be an interesting Christmas episode. We’ll talk about that in a moment. My main disappointment was that the Doctor didn’t regenerate, so we still have no idea who Thirteen will be. We came close–we got the glowy hands and even a bit of facial fire, but no. He held it back like a full bladder in the movie theater. But he can’t hold off the inevitable, no matter how much he complains. And I guess that will be the theme of the Christmas story: letting go and moving on. But not until you get to the bathroom.

We start the episode establishing that the Doctor is not in good shape. He’s been beaten around by Master Missy, and hugged by a Cyberman that Bill put paid to with her snazzy new head weapon. One could ask how a laser on the head is an upgrade to humanity, rather than enhanced intelligence, for example, but maybe this version of the Mondasian Cyberman has moved beyond the portable light set they used to use for killing people (see “The Tenth Planet”). Missy tells the Doctor she was really on his side all along, and knocked herself out–I mean, knocked the Master out, to prove it, thus aiding their escape.

Throughout this episode, Bill is a Cyberman. But we don’t always see her as a Cyberman; much of the time, we see her as she thinks of herself–human. Except when she looks in a mirror, and then she sees herself as everyone else does: a Cyberman. It’s a good effect, and gives us one last chance to bask in Pearl Mackie’s amazing talent as an actress (at least in Doctor Who–I’m sure we’ll see her again in other things). The scene with the Doctor as he tries to break the news to her that she’s been Cyber-ized is so well played. Pearl owns the dialog and makes it emotionally real. I have to say, the whole Bill/Cyber-Bill switching was very effective, and managed to evoke sympathy for her, without losing sight of the fact that the Cybermen are really bad creatures that need to be defeated. Indeed, Bill gives the Doctor permission to kill her if and when the Cyberman programming takes her over completely.

Once more, Nardole is a gem, and provides the lighter touches to what is really quite a grim story. His parting speech was suitably Nardole, but also quite touching. “I’ll never find the right words” sums it up perfectly. Hats off to Matt Lucas, probably the biggest surprise of the season for me. I’ve said it before, but I didn’t expect to like Nardole, yet he grew on me. In many ways he reminds me of Ace, the Seventh Doctor’s companion for most of his tenure. Down-to-earth, witty, not afraid to question the Doctor’s judgment, but fundamentally loyal to the end.

I know Steven Moffat relished the opportunity to write for both the Master and Missy. And they were very good together, especially as Missy plays turn-coat on him-her-self. Just this past week I learned that Michelle Gomez had decided to leave the role, so with the demise of both the Master and Missy, that leaves open the question of whether the Master will return. How can he return? The Master shot Missy will a full dose of his lethal laser screwdriver which means she can’t regenerate. But this is the Master we’re talking about. How often has he come back from certain death over the past 46 years? Plenty. And, as if in parallel to that, the Doctor was shot multiple times by a Cyberman such that even he believed he was dying. The fact he didn’t regenerate until Bill’s tear triggered the process leads us to believe that, without Bill’s unintentional intervention, he would in fact be dead. Deceased. An ex-Time Lord. Could something similar happen with Missy? I imagine it will. And the next Master will come with a clean slate, and all this talk of standing with the Doctor long forgotten.

So Bill is dead… but not quite… or not really. The return of Heather the Pilot from episode one was a surprise, and she was a useful plot device to get the Doctor and Cyber-Bill back to the TARDIS. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised; Moff likes this self-referencing, bringing back characters from earlier stories we had forgotten about, and using them to save the day. Maybe a bit deus ex machina, but I suppose we had to get the Doctor back to the TARDIS somehow, so I can live with it. In my review of the previous episode I said I hoped that was it for Bill, as much as I liked her as a companion. While Moff didn’t somehow magically un-Cyberman her, through making her a water-entity like Heather, he opened the possibility that Bill could return, though not as a regular companion. Moff’s intention was to keep Doctor Who an optimistic, positive show in the midst of so much negativity. Previous companions have died without a happy ending (Katrina, Sara Kingdom, Adric, Peri–at least for those who don’t buy the whole King Yrcanos story), but this is NuWho, and in NuWho, even companions who die move on to something nice (Rose with her human Doctor, Amy and Rory together, Clara with her diner). Some may object, but I’m okay with that–as long as they stay gone. Let’s have finality and closure. Of course, with Moff departing, it’s unlikely Bill will return, and I hope Chris Chibnall will only bring her back if a story demands it. Maybe the 60th anniversary story?

Now let’s talk about the ending, and the teaser for Christmas. The TARDIS has taken the Twelfth Doctor to a snowy wilderness. He stumbles out of the TARDIS, falls to his knees, and fights against regeneration. A figure in the distance comes closer. His voice is familiar. Why… it’s David Bradley reprising his role as the First Doctor from “An Adventure in Space and Time,” Mark Gatiss’s brilliant docu-drama on the origins of Doctor Who made for the 50th anniversary. The set up for Christmas, then, is the Twelfth and First Doctor… doing stuff! Since there will be a regeneration at the end, I expect the episode will be an hour-long dialog/adventure convincing the Doctor to let go and change. But I understand what Moff’s up to–at least I think I do.

One of the problems having a leading character who can regenerate when he dies is that the Doctor is never really in any life-threatening danger. Spider Man could be shot. Batman could fall and break his neck. Even Superman could overdose on Kryptonite. The Doctor would just change into a new person. What the new series has tried to do is introduce the idea that regeneration is not an easy way out. It’s painful. It means changing into someone you don’t know. The Doctor gets comfortable with each persona, so a change is like moving house: an enormous upheaval to go through, and it takes ages to settle in and get to know the new surroundings. The Tenth Doctor loved his incarnation, and didn’t want to leave it. Eleven seemed okay with the change, though he had just been granted a new regeneration cycle by the Time Lords, so it would have been a bit churlish to get uppity about it. Twelve, now, is resisting. He’s not done. Or maybe there are other reasons he wants to stay as Peter Capaldi. I expect we’ll explore this more at Christmas. I hope there’s more to the story than just Twelve and One chatting about life for an hour, as interesting as that might be. Good theater, perhaps. But as Steven Moffat’s final Who, I’m looking for a strong story, explosions, and plot twists. In other words, no Bill the Snowman. Please!

To sum up, I think this was a fitting conclusion to an excellent season. A “Must-See” for Whovians–this and the previous episode, and for everyone else, great acting, great effects, and everything you could want from good television. Definitely not a waste of your time.

What did you think?

Program Note: The Who Reviews are taking a break for the rest of July. We’ll pick back up with my review of the Classic Fourth Doctor story, “Destiny of the Daleks” the first Tuesday in August.

Who Review: World Enough and Time

The Doctor believes Missy really wants to shed her evil ways and become good, so he devises a test for her. The TARDIS picks up a distress call, and responds. Wherever they end up, the Missy will be “The Doctor” and lead Bill and Nardole in figuring out the problem, solving it, and saving lives, just as he would. Bill is not too thrilled about this plan. She doesn’t trust Missy and is afraid it’ll backfire. The Doctor assures her he will be monitoring the situation, and will intervene if things go awry. They land on a colony ship in distress. Missy, Bill, and Nardole determine that the ship is trying to pull away from the event horizon of a black hole, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Then they are confronted by what seems to be sole survivor of a miles-long ship that was carrying hundreds of people. And he’s pointing a gun at them. The Doctor intervenes, but that doesn’t improve things. In fact, a shot is fired, and someone dies. They are taken to the lower part of the ship where they will be “repaired.” However, the ship is so long, there is a significant time difference between the two ends. But that’s not the only surprise waiting at the bottom of the ship. It seems the crew didn’t all die. At least not in the traditional sense. They too were repaired. And the ship isn’t from Earth, as they at first thought, but from a planet very like Earth–its twin, one could say. For both the Doctor and Missy, the past is about to catch up with them…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The spoiler-free version of my review is as follows:

OH MY GOODNESS!! You… wh… huh?? Ha! Awwww!!! What?! Oh my! In other words, you will really want to watch this episode, and probably the next one too since it’s part one of a two-parter.

Now the spoilery version:

All season we’ve been promised the return of the Mondasian Cybermen–the original Cybermen from 1966–and John Simm as The Master. Steven Moffat decided to keep us waiting the whole season for the realization of his promise. And what a way to do it! I’ve said before in my reviews that Steven Moffat was by far the best writer of the Russell T. Davies era, but his writing suffered when he took on show-running duties. Some of his stories have been good, but others have been below par. His plots have tried too hard to be clever, and at times his attempts to be unconventional or surprising have resulted in stories that, to some degree, lack credulity. In this story, however, he gives us a Cyberman origins story (itself a daring move to make) that I can buy. On top of that, he throws in at least one twist that caught us all by surprise: Bill getting shot and turned into one of the first Cybermen.

There were other potential plot surprises: the return of the Mondasian Cybermen, and the return of the John Simm Master. If we had not known about these months ago, they would have been truly amazing surprises. The Master’s disguise as Razor is one of his best yet (some of his Classic Series disguises were quite… um… not impressive), and it took me a while before I started getting suspicious. Of course, if I hadn’t been expecting John Simm, I probably wouldn’t have been looking for him under the make-up, and that would have been a surprise of “Earthshock” proportions.

For his final finale, Moffat also took the opportunity to resolve an old issue among Whovians: “Doctor Who.” We know that’s the name of the show, but the title character has always been called “The Doctor,” except for a couple of instances where he is referred to as “Doctor Who.” The one that springs to mind most vividly is in the First Doctor story “The War Machines,” when WOTAN, the computer, says “Doctor Who is required.” So, which is it? Missy solves the problem for us: “Doctor Who” is his real name, or at least the name he originally chose. But it was too “on-the-nose” in the mystery department, so he shortened it to “The Doctor.” I think that’s as good an explanation as any, and probably better than most.

As we’ve come to expect with NuWho, the effects, scenery, costumes are all top-notch. I liked that the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver doubles as a marker pen (watch for that in the shops in time for Christmas). The fact he carries a screwdriver around with him, not a gun, is so typically Doctor Who, so it only makes sense that there’s a pen hidden inside, not a knife. We aren’t told if the blue guy on the ship is of the same race as the blue people we met in “Oxygen,” but knowing Moffat’s penchant for arcs and self-referencing, I wouldn’t be surprised.

But what about Bill? Is that it for her? Is she now a Cyberman, i.e., for all intents and purposes, dead? Or will the Doctor do something to bring her back? As much as I’ve enjoyed Bill as a companion, as well as Pearl Mackie’s outstanding performance, I want to say that I hope not. I really do hope this is it for Bill. It was heartbreaking to see her get shot, and to be betrayed by Razor after all the time she spent with him while waiting for the Doctor. I think it would undermine the drama, and ruin the tone of the finale if she were to suddenly be brought back. And please… PLEASE… once she’s gone, let her be gone. All those Danny and Clara reappearances after their demises became really quite annoying in the last two seasons. Let them go, Steven. Kill your darlings and let them go.

This was an excellent episode of Doctor Who. I want to say “Must-See,” but it has a context. For the Whovians who know the show’s history, yes, this is “Must-See.” For everyone else, I would encourage you watch it. And I hope I can say the same for part two, “The Doctor Falls.” We’ll have to wait and see…

What did you think?

Who Review: The Eaters of Light

The TARDIS lands in second century Aberdeen, where Bill wants to prove a theory to the Doctor. The history books talk of the disappearance of the ninth Roman legion, but Bill is convinced they just vanished, or left. The Doctor counters that they were annihilated in battle, even though no physical evidence of their existence has ever been found. However, the missing legion soon comes to light. The Doctor and Nardole find their shriveled remains scattered across a field near the woods. Death by light deprivation. Meanwhile, Bill manages to find the remnants of the army: a small group of frightened teenagers living in underground caves. They rescue her from the mysterious monster that has been tormenting them, driving them into hiding. That strange creature with glowing tentacles wiped out almost the entire legion. And now it’s coming for them. The Scottish Picts are also living in fear. It was they that set the monster on the marauding Romans, but that monster is now loose, and, as the Doctor and Nardole explain to them, unless that monster is sent back to where it belongs, the sun, the stars, and life on Earth is doomed.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

The big story with Episode 10 of Season 10 is that it was written by Classic Series writer Rona Monro–not only one of the few women to write for the Classic Series, but the woman who wrote the last story of the Classic Series, “Survival.” We’ve had Classic Series Doctors, companions, monsters, and directors, returning to the New Series, but Rona is the first returning writer. I don’t know why there’s been such a hesitation over the last 12 years to bring back Classic Series writers. Maybe they’ve all moved on and are not interested (some of them have, sadly, moved on permanently and are not able), or maybe the New Series production team didn’t think the Classic writers could handle the new style and new format. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see a familiar name, and I hope this is the start of a trend. There were some talented writers emerging in the late 80s, some of whom plied their skill post-TV Who in the Virgin and BBC book ranges. I think they would do well with the New Series. We’ll see.

That said, I was hoping “The Eaters of Light” would be the knock-out, best episode of the season. It’s good, very good, in fact. For a start, it’s an interesting premise for a story: settling a historical argument. After all, Bill just has to produce a Roman soldier to show they lived, and the Doctor just has to find a battlefield littered with bodies. And so they go their separate ways, not a care that they might be walking into danger. Which, of course, they are. The Doctor and Nardole end up with the native Picts, while Bill ends up with the Roman invaders. The Doctor had mentioned before that the Picts liked to tell stories of other worlds, and they created cairns believing them to be portals to those other worlds. Except one of them actually is, and the young Pict leader, Kar, was guarding the cairn, but opened it for the monster to get out and destroy the Romans. The Doctor isn’t shy about making sure she understands the stupidity of what she has done. And that stirs her resolve to make it right.

When Bill first encounters a Roman soldier, she laments not learning Latin so she could speak to him. But then she discovers that he can understand her–she is speaking Latin though it all sounds to her like English. Then later, when Bill and the Doctor bring the Picts and the Romans together, Bill notes she can understand them both, and they can understand each other. Long-time Whovians are well aware of the TARDIS translation capability, and Bill figures out this strange telepathic power is somehow connected to the Doctor. The other eye-opening insight Bill gets is how much a common language levels the playing field. Indeed, when the Picts and the Romans all speak English (to her ears, at least), they sound much more their age. From that develops a plan for the two former belligerents to join forces against a common foe: the monster.

In the end, when they force the monster back through the portal, we expect the Doctor to volunteer as gatekeeper, keeping back the monsters. Of course, he would be there for a long time, but the TARDIS will take Bill home. After all, the Doctor can regenerate, and guarding humanity is what he does. But neither Bill, nor the Picts are having any of that. Indeed, the young Pict leader steps forward and claims it as her duty. The young Roman leader volunteers to stand with her. And indeed, all the Romans and Picts are ready to keep the monsters at bay. It’s all very heart-warming, though I’m not sure how that would work. The Doctor offered his services because, as a Time Lord, he has an infinitely greater life span than all those humans put together. I’m not sure how that suddenly became irrelevant. Granted, time slows down in the portal, so a couple of minutes becomes a couple of days. But that still means the humans will only be able to guard the gateway for a very limited time. Nevertheless, the Doctor is forced to accept the humans’ view of things, and he leaves them to get on with it.

I thought the crow noise was a nice touch. We are told early on how the crows in those days talk. They say “Doctor” and “Monster,” though we hear them say little else. The Doctor laments that the crows got fed up of humans not talking back to them, which is why in Bill’s time they just sound grumpy. By the end of the story, we know the real reason for the sound they make.

So, “Eaters of Light” is a good story, and fits in with the other good stories this season. But it’s not a classic or “Must-See.” Rona Munro lived up to the expectation of giving us a good story, with interesting, well-crafted characters, and a good plot. But it’s not exceptional, which is a bit of a disappointment. However, it’s good enough, I think, to consider bringing back other Classic show writers.

The end tag with Missy is interesting. Is she really remorseful? Was that tear a crocodile tear, or was it genuine? Could it be she’s softening, and truly desires a restoration of the friendship she used to have with the Doctor back in their Academy days? Is this something the John Simm Master will have to snap her out of? Whatever’s going on, Steven Moffat is setting us up for an explosive finale, which begins with the next episode…

Did you enjoy this episode? Are you excited for the next? Thoughts? Theories? Share!

Who Review: Empress of Mars

The Doctor, Bill, and Nardole infiltrate NASA to watch the first pictures sent from a probe orbiting Mars. This probe is equipped with new technology that can “see” beneath the Red Planet’s ice caps. To their surprise, they discover a message spelled out with rocks, a message that indicates humans had already visited the planet. Not just humans, but British humans. The TARDIS team take a trip to Mars, traveling back in time to 1881–the year the message was made. There they find a team of Victorian soldiers, with an unlikely man-servant whom they have named “Friday.” He’s an Ice Warrior, one of the native inhabitants of Mars. But why is this noble warrior willing to trade his freedom for no apparent gain? Indeed, he has not only given shelter to these human soldiers, but has also given them a powerful blasting tool, allowing them to mine the planet for its precious metals and gems. The Doctor smells trouble, and his suspicions are confirmed when the soldiers uncover what appears to be the tomb of an Ice Warrior queen. The tomb is gilded, or possibly made entirely of gold, with jewels set around the edges. Enough to make any poor, greedy Victorian soldier drool. The Doctor fears this may not be the final repose of the dead, but merely a chamber for the sleeping. And if awakened, there may not be just a queen to deal with, but a whole hive of waking Ice Warriors. The Doctor’s warnings go unheeded, and he and Bill can only watch as his fears come true…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

We last saw the Ice Warriors in Matt Smith’s final season when Mark Gatiss brought them back in a story called “Cold War.” In that episode, the Doctor, Clara, and the crew of a Russian submarine encountered a single Ice Warrior, separated from his kin by thousands of miles, and thousands of years. Aways looking for a new angle on old foes, Gatiss pits the Doctor against an Ice Warrior queen on the Ice Warriors’ home planet. Neither of these–a female Ice Warrior, and the Ice Warriors at home–have featured in previous stories. As is befitting a Victorian setting, the Victorian soldiers have come to Mars to colonize and claim it for Britannia. They got there thanks to a lone Ice Warrior who crash landed in the South African veld (sometimes spelled “veldt”–a term that refers to the South African plains), where these soldiers were stationed. In return for helping him fix his ship, the Ice Warrior promised to take them to Mars and reward them with the mineral riches of his world. When the Doctor meets the soldiers, they are mining Mars with the equipment provided by the Ice Warrior. Knowing the Ice Warriors of old, the Doctor is troubled by this, and immediately suspects an ulterior motive. When they eventually stumble upon the tomb of Iraxxa, the warrior queen, surrounded by a hive of Ice Warriors that kind-of resembles the icy tombs of the Cybermen (as seen in “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Attack of the Cybermen” in the Classic Series), the Doctor’s suspicions are confirmed. The Ice Warrior wanted to return to his hive, and made use of the soldiers to that end. The hive has been frozen for 5,000 years and is long overdue a wake-up call. However, while the hive has slept, Mars has become a desolate wasteland, and no longer suitable for their habitation. All this comes as a shock to the queen, but the Doctor hopes to use the Ice Warriors’ situation to bring about a peaceful end.

This was a good story, though not one you want to spend too long picking at. If you take it all at face value, it works well enough. But you don’t want to ask questions like:

  • Why was this lone Ice Warrior away from his hive, while the rest of them slept for 5,000 years?
  • How could Victorian soldiers help an Ice Warrior repair his space ship?
  • Why did the Ice Warrior need these soldiers to get to his hive? Couldn’t he have used the mining device himself?

Of course, these questions might have been addressed and I wasn’t paying attention. Still, it’s an interesting idea, i.e., Victorian soldiers on Mars. It’s a shame it doesn’t have enough time to develop fully, which is why some of these plot holes get glossed over. I was afraid we were going to get another “non-enemy” story, where the bad guys aren’t really bad, just misunderstood. The Ice Warriors aren’t really bloodthirsty, power-hungry Martians, as their name might suggest. Rather, they’re just another alien species trying to survive in a rough universe. If you’ve read my past reviews, you know I like my baddies to be bad, so I struggle with the idea of this warrior race being so easily talked into peace. But I can give this story a pass since it seems to be a prequel to the 1970s “Peladon” stories (“The Curse of Peladon” and “The Monster of Peladon”), where the Ice Warriors have joined the Galactic Federation, and are now trying to be play nice with the rest of the universe. Gatiss is perhaps suggesting that this incident, where the Martians are forced off their home world, is what precipitated their change of heart.

As usual for New Who in the 2010s, the effects and the acting are exceptional. The Ice Warrior costume was always one of the more impressive designs of the Classic Series (even in the 1960s), and New Who tries to stay close to the original concept, with some enhancements. The empress is a bit screechy, almost to the point of annoying. Her voice reminds me of the Racnoss, the red spider encountered by the Tenth Doctor in “The Runaway Bride.” I guess if you’re a woman trying to do a shouty-hissy kind of voice, it’s hard not to get a bit raspy. Aside from that, Adele Lynch does well as the lead baddie, especially considering she doesn’t have huge TV resume (at least according to IMDB). Another new talent “discovery” for New Who?

I can’t leave this review without calling attention to a couple of particularly cool references. First, did you spot the painting of Queen Victoria? If you’ve been watching New Who, you might recognize the portrait as that of the Pauline Collins Queen Victoria from “Tooth and Claw.” This is only right and proper, since that’s what Queen Vic looks like in the Whoniverse. A great piece of thoughtful continuity. And then there’s a cameo at the end that made my Whovian fan-boy heart flutter. I won’t give it away, but I will note that the voice was done by the same person who did it in the Classic Series. That person is 92 now, making them the oldest returning Classic Who cast member.

When the TARDIS crew first lands on Mars, Bill falls down a shaft, and the Doctor sends Nardole back to the TARDIS for some rope. As soon as he enters, the TARDIS dematerializes, taking him back to the Doctor’s university quarters. Why did the TARDIS do this? Apparently, Mark Gatiss wrote “Empress of Mars” before Nardole became a regular character, so this was how he wrote him out. At first it looks like we’re just getting rid of Nardole to simplify the story. Okay, technically we are. But Gatiss and Moffat use this happenstance very creatively when Nardole then appeals to Missy for help to get the temperamental TARDIS back to Mars in 1881, playing into the broader Missy/Vault story arc. Nardole gives Missy use of the TARDIS, and she successfully navigates it to Mars, where they pick up the Doctor and Bill.

But now Missy is out of the vault. And what’s that look she gives the Doctor? Why does she keep asking if he’s all right? Does she have something to do with the TARDIS going wonky in the first place…?

“Empress of Mars” is a good story, worthy of the season. Not one of the best, and not one that will stand heavy scrutiny, but worth watching.

What did you think?

Who Review: The Lie of the Land

As a result of events in the previous story (see “The Pyramid at the End of the World”), the world has been taken over by the Monks, and all the inhabitants of Earth have been brainwashed to believe that the Monks have always been there. Every significant event in the development of the human race was inspired and encouraged by the Monks. Without the Monks, mankind would have died out centuries ago. At least, that’s what people are being told to believe. And on the basis of this “truth,” the inhabitants of Earth are willing to subjugate themselves to their benevolent dictators. After all, isn’t that how it’s always been? “Truth” deniers are sent away to labor camp, or executed. Yet somehow, Bill has survived, holding out hope that the Doctor will save the day. That the images of the Doctor reinforcing the history of the world as told by the Monks is just a ruse, part of some grand scheme he has to bring them down and set the human race free. He can’t really be working for the Monks. Can he…? Bill is about to learn some very uncomfortable truths. And an unlikely ally will give her the secret to defeating the Monks. But will it be worth the price?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This episode is the third in the “Truth Monk” trilogy–which is what I expect this will be called. Last time, Bill ceded control of the Earth to the Monks in exchange for the Doctor’s eyesight, which enabled him to escape the exploding test lab. Throughout that story, the Doctor warned people not to relinquish control to the Monks. The price would be too heavy; whatever would happen to the world, it would be worth it not to give control over to the Monks. But Bill ignored him…

Now the world is under the Monk’s control. But they took a sneaky way in, by means of transmitters in every city that fill everyone’s minds with the idea that the Monks have been around from the beginning of time, even though they’d only been around for six months. Bill knew the truth, however. And to make sure she didn’t forget, she created an “imaginary friend” version of her deceased mother to talk to. In the tradition of the best Who writing, this seemingly daft, but touching tribute to Bill’s mum proved to be the Monk’s downfall.

Yes, this is another great piece of Who story telling. It’s a shame Peter Capaldi couldn’t have had two previous seasons as good as this. Season nine was good, but not as consistent, and it suffered from Clara, “the impossible girl who we now totally understand but don’t know what to do with.” (Don’t get me wrong, Jenna Coleman was great, but they should have left the reveal about the “impossible girl” until the end of her time on the show, i.e., last season.) Brilliant writing, and two phenomenally good actors firing on all cylinders, is making this season one of the best of the Moffat era, at least as good as Season Seven–Matt Smith’s last, oddly enough.

I don’t know about you, but I’m warming to Nardole a lot. At first I thought he would just be a plot device, or some useless comic relief. But I think his character truly compliments the TARDIS team. Matt Lucas plays him with just the right amount of comedy: enough to bring a smile, but not too much that it detracts from the drama. And he’s not simply the Curly of the trio. He’s smart, and actually offers ideas and encouragement to the team. In this episode, he makes use of an electronic tracer he found in the TARDIS to help him and Bill find the Doctor. Of course, it turns out this was all part of the Doctor’s scheme to escape from the Monks, so the Doctor may well have told him where to find it. Even so, Nardole sold the idea to Bill as if it was his own, and in his lovably charming way, convinced her to go along with the plan.

And then we have Missy, the monster in the vault. Bill’s reaction to her is great, because she does look like a harmless woman. But I think she becomes convinced listening to Missy talk, especially when she reveals how to stop the Monks. I’m not a fan of the Missy-Master, but I have to hand it to Michelle Gomez for really selling the character as extremely dangerous without having to argue the case; just by the way she talks, and her mannerisms. Superbly done. But the tears at the end, when she and the Doctor are talking–is she really beginning to regret her past? It’s hard to believe, but maybe she does start to turn good, which is where the John Simm Master comes in…? We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. 🙂

Two thumbs-up from me for this story. I hope the season continues on this roll.

What did you think?

By the way, have you noticed the retro posters I’ve been using for each New Who story over the past few years? They’re designed by Stuart Manning, a freelance graphic designer based in London. The “Truth Monks” poster used in this story, and featured above, was actually commissioned from Stuart by BBC Worldwide! For my indie writer friends, Stuart also does cover artwork. His is top-quality work (as you can see), so I imagine he doesn’t come cheap. But I bet your books would look awesome with one of his designs. Worth an inquiry…)

Who Review: The Pyramid at the End of the World

The world is in crisis. A 5,000 year old pyramid has suddenly appeared in the Asian desert, at a disputed border where Russian, Chinese, and American troops are stationed. The Secretary General of the United Nations calls upon the Doctor to find out who is in control of the pyramid, and what they want. It doesn’t take long for the Doctor to get some answers. The monks from the Vatican vault, the ones who have been running a simulation of the planet in preparation for an attack (see “Extremis”), have come to set a countdown to doomsday. The Doctor, Bill, and the leaders of the Russian, Chinese, and American military enter the pyramid, where the monks invite them to glimpse the Earth in a year, according to their model. They see a picture of desolation; all living organisms wiped out. And, the monks explain, it will be by their own hands, their own doing. But the monks can prevent it happening. All they want is for those in authority to ask for help, to consent to the monks intervening, and to do so with pure motive. The Doctor smells a rat, a devil’s deal. No-one knows what this “consent” will entail. And yet there seems to be no other choice. With the world powers ready to cede control to the monks, the Doctor has to find out what will bring about the Earth’s demise and stop it, before it’s too late…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Last time, Bill’s attempt at a date was thwarted by the Pope. This time, it’s the Secretary General of the UN, who needs Bill to help him find the Doctor. A fun piece of continuity, and not inappropriate since this episode continues on from the last. It’s not a “part 2” however, since the last episode didn’t really end on a cliff-hanger. Unless you count the Doctor vowing to fight back against the monks as a “cliff-hanger.” Though he doesn’t take the fight to them in this story; they bring the fight to Earth, and the Doctor has to deal with it. So, let’s call it a new story, intimately connected to the previous story. Maybe part two of a duology (though I think the next episode is connected too, so part two of a trilogy!) You don’t have to have seen “Extremis” to follow along, but it helps.

I have to say, I was a little wary at first. When Doctor Who brings in world leaders, the military, and global politics, you can almost smell a message in the air. And it’s usually a message of the “why can’t we all get along?” and “love wins” variety. In itself, that’s not a bad thing, but it gets to be predictable, and invokes stereotypes (American aggression being the most popular), and can be hopelessly simplistic. However, this story doesn’t do that. It’s not the military leaders who vote for a show of strength, but the Doctor. It’s on his command that they send missiles and war planes. All to no avail, of course. And faced with the prospect of a desolate Earth, it’s the leaders who agree to accept the monks’ offer, despite the Doctor’s protests. However, they give the Doctor time to find the cause of the impending disaster and prevent it. But if he doesn’t find it soon, they will consent.

This situation creates another ticking clock, so we have both the countdown to “midnight”–doomsday hour–and the countdown to the leaders’ submission. The Doctor races against the odds to find a laboratory in Yorkshire where a lab worker recovering from a rough night makes a critical error with a decimal point, creating a lethal bacteria, resulting in a shutdown of the lab to try to contain the disaster. However, the air vent system is due to go off in twenty minutes, which will release the bacteria into the atmosphere. Another ticking clock. This is how you build tension. Three ticking clocks. And let’s not forget, the Doctor is working blind. Literally. And that will prove to be his downfall. He successfully plants a bomb that will destroy the virus. But he can’t escape from the air controlled environment without entering a number sequence into the lock. And to enter the correct sequence, he needs to be able to see the numbers. He has a little over a minute to escape before he goes down with the bacteria.

This is how you turn a story where you think you know what’s going to happen into a story where everything you thought was going to happen gets turned on its head. And right when you think the Doctor’s going to save the world at the last minute, he doesn’t. Bill does. And she does it by doing exactly what the Doctor has been saying all along no-one should do. And she does it for love, for the Doctor. Which sets us up nicely for the aftermath of Bill’s actions, which I presume we’ll see in next week’s thrilling adventure.

Another good episode of Doctor Who, worth watching, even if I’ve given away most of the plot (sorry–but good storytelling is worth talking about). And though there is a resolution to the story, it’s one that leaves us with a lot of questions. What will happen to planet Earth now? And what will become of Nardole, who clearly is suffering from having inhaled some of the bacteria? Will the Doctor regret getting Nardole’s lungs “on the cheap”? Is this the cost alluded to by the Doctor last time with regard to getting his sight back? And who are these menacing monks who want to wipe out life on Earth and take over? I guess we’ll have to wait to find out…

Did you enjoy this story? What did you like best or least? Let’s talk…

Who Review: Extremis

Deep in the Vatican vaults lies an ancient text, in an ancient language lost to the ages. Called “Veritas,” it’s a dangerous text. Those in times past who could read it have taken their own lives, a mortal sin in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. What could be so terrible that people would put their souls in jeopardy, would prefer hell, than to go on living after discovering what the text says? In more recent times, a team of people managed to translate this short document. And one by one, they all killed themselves afterwards. But before the last man ended his life, he emailed the translation. Now the deadliest written work known to mankind is out in the public. And the Vatican is scared. So scared, they call upon the Doctor. Can the Doctor read the text, discover its secret, and save the world? How can the Doctor refuse? There is, of course, the fact that he’s blind. To the Doctor, not being able to see is a mere hindrance when the stakes are so high. But he doesn’t yet realize how devastating the truth is, and the price he may have to pay to save the universe…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Steven Moffat gives us an interesting brain-twister of an episode as we hit the mid-way point of New Who Series 10. It is, in fact, two story strands that join up at the end. The first reveals the mystery of the vault that the Doctor’s guarding in the basement of St. Luke’s University. At some unspecified time in the past, the Doctor is called upon to execute a fellow Time Lord convicted of capital offenses. That Time Lord is Missy. And the execution device will stop her hearts, stop brain activity, and rob her of the ability to regenerate. But she’s a Time Lord, and one who has been known to cheat death on numerous occasions, so the Doctor takes an oath to guard her body for 1,000 years–just to be sure. Of course, the Doctor has done some rewiring, so the device doesn’t kill Missy. However, the Doctor, true to his oath, puts Missy in the vault, where she remains.

The second strand is the main plot of this episode: the mysterious “Veritas” text, and why it is causing people to kill themselves. The premise isn’t new to sci-fi, but this is an interesting setting for it, with an interesting twist. What if reality as we know it isn’t real, but a simulation, and because we don’t know any better, we carry on as if it’s reality? Now–what would we do if we found out the truth, and were given a way to demonstrate that it’s true? Many people, thinks Moffat, would be driven to rebel by killing themselves. Some would carry on regardless. And some, like the Doctor, would fight back. Especially when they discover the purpose of the simulation.

Why the Vatican? At first I wondered if Moffat was getting all Da Vinci Code, and maybe Dan Brown’s novel was partly influential. But, to be honest, the Roman Catholic Church sets itself up for this by the very nature of its own bureaucracy and secrecy. I don’t take this as a slam against my faith because, as a Christian of the Reformed persuasion, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t represent my beliefs. There is no secrecy to the gospel. And the Doctor’s quip that religion is like the Vatican vault, where “the layout is designed to confuse the uninitiated,” is perhaps true of Roman Catholic tradition, dogma, and ritual, but that’s not Biblical Christianity. Suffice to say, I took no offense from the “religion” content in the story.

I think Moffat did a good job here. There’s credible, witty, and thoughful dialog, a strong plot, and plenty to keep the viewer intrigued. I also like the way he made the Vault reveal seem gratuitous, until the end when it’s clear the Doctor’s going to need Missy’s help. I thought he pulled those strands together well, though the next few stories will tell how well they hold. He threw in a couple of things that might come back later as significant (something Moffat likes to do). For instance, when the Doctor hooks himself up to the box that temporarily restores his sight, he refers to it as “borrowed” tech from the future, for which he will have to pay somehow–permanent blindness, loss of regenerative power, or something else… He also brought back the sonic sunglasses, only this time they are of practical value, so no complaints from me.

As far as acting and special effects go, I couldn’t fault this episode. Pearl Mackie continues to impress with her portrayal of Bill. Certainly one of the best New Series leading ladies so far, by my reckoning. I’d be very surprised if the offers aren’t pouring in when she’s finished with Who. Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas also continue to deliver solid, believable performances. I even appreciate Nardole’s comic interjections, partly because there’s a gravity to them. He’s not funny to make light, but because he’s scared and genuinely concerned for his friends. It’s a very human reaction, and it adds depth to his character.

“Extremis” is not Moffat’s best, but it’s a very good addition to a great season so far. Worth watching.

Who Review: Oxygen

“Space, the final frontier. Final, because it wants to kill us.” Against Nardole’s better judgment, and contrary to the oath he took to guard the vault, the Doctor takes Bill and Nardole for a trip into space. And of all the places he could have chosen, of course, the Doctor picks the one with the distress signal. A mining ship is having problems with its space suits. Designed for best economic efficiency, the suits are programmed to deliver a limited amount of oxygen before the wearer has to buy more. Any unlicensed oxygen will be filtered out of the suit, killing the occupant. However, the suits on this ship have received a single line command: “Deactivate your organic component.” Deactivation involves shutting down the wearer’s central nervous system. When the TARDIS team arrive, there are four of the forty crew members still alive, thanks to their suits being offline when the message was sent. Thirty-six zombie suits are, however, roaming the ship hunting down the survivors. Was this command a malfunction, or is someone trying to kill the crew? Cut off from the TARDIS, and facing insurmountable odds, the Doctor needs to figure out who sent the command and why before they all join the walking dead…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Episode five of New Who Season 10 takes us deep into space, and pits the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole against space zombies. Written by Jamie Mathieson, who brought us “Mummy on the Orient Express,” “Flatline,” and “The Girl Who Died,” this episode is, in my estimation, the best of the season so far. It’s an interesting concept with some foundational science, and plenty of OMyGoodness moments to keep the viewer riveted to the screen. There are some significant plot developments too that will, no doubt, play into the larger themes of the “vault” and the Doctor’s upcoming regeneration. While there isn’t a “bad guy” in the traditional sense, there is at least a malevolent force behind the drama in the form of capitalism taken to an extreme, where human life is expendable for the sake of saving, or making, money. “Profit over people” is, sadly, something we see all to often in real life, and this was a creative way of connecting the other-worldly with the familiar.

The space adventure starts with the Doctor giving Bill the choice of destination. She wants to see reviews, something like online hotel ratings, to find the best place. For the Doctor, however, the universe really only shows its true face when it’s asking for help, which is why he gravitates to where there’s a distress signal. A short while later, when Bill wants to run from the danger, the Doctor puts to her the other side of this: “We show ours by how we respond.” I’ve noted in past reviews how much a Who story is strengthened when the Doctor has clear motive for staying. Here we have the Doctor’s reason for not running back to the TARDIS: there was a distress signal, and it’s not in his character to walk (or run) away from that. He has to help. Of course, they have further reason to stick around when they are separated from the TARDIS by a door that’s vacuumed sealed. But at least we have a credible reason why the Doctor doesn’t just leave at the first sign of life-threatening danger.

When the Doctor and Bill encounter the first corpse, he is just a lifeless body standing in a suit. This introduces us to the idea of the suits having a “life” of their own (albeit robotic). Even when the wearer is dead, they can stay upright, and can keep track of oxygen use. They then come across an unoccupied suit doing manual labor, showing us that the suits don’t have to be worn in order to function, at least on a basic level, and can communicate via synthesized speech. Both of these concepts are important for understanding the situation on board the ship. I appreciate this kind of thoughtful writing, where important plot points are incorporated naturally into the story early on to preclude later questions.

One very interesting scene is when Bill meets the blue crew member. Of course, she is taken aback–this is the first alien humanoid life she has encountered that doesn’t look like Earth humans. His reaction, “Great–we rescued a racist!” is understandable, and ironic, considering Bill has been the object of racism herself. Then, when she talks to him slowly, and Anglicizes his name, he is understandably ticked off. Bill isn’t trying to be racist, but this little interaction shows how easy it is to offend by thoughtlessness, and mirrors the way many people treat “foreigners” in our societies. Especially in the West.

As if being chased by zombies wasn’t dramatic enough, the Doctor seemingly sacrifices Bill when her suit malfunctions and she can’t move. The zombies catch her, and we see her get zapped. The Doctor tells her to trust him, but only later do we find out he had determined her suit didn’t have enough power to deliver a lethal shock. She recovers, but the Doctor spent too long in a decompressed environment trying to get her to safety, with the result that he is blind. Right up to the end, we are led to believe his blindness is temporary. But, as he reveals only to Nardole, it’s not. At least for the next episode, if not longer, we’ll have a blind Doctor!

Finally, the Doctor’s solution to the zombie suit problem is ingenious. Since the computers running the algorithms that determine who is expendable are driven by profit, make it inefficient and costly to kill the life forms. He does this by programming a connection between them and the ship–if they die, the station will blow, and the company will lose its means of making money. “Our deaths will be expensive!”

This is good Who, with not much to fault–at least in my estimation. It was a bit convenient that there were three “offline” suits available to the TARDIS team, so they wouldn’t be affected by the deadly message. But the suits were offline for repairs, which then makes sense of why Bill’s suit would malfunction.

“Oxygen” is well worth watching, and restores my hopes for the rest of the season after last week’s half-good episode.

What did you think?

Who Review: Knock Knock

Bill and her student friends are looking for accommodation, but finding a place big enough for all six of them at a price they can afford is proving harder than they anticipated. So when they are approached by an elderly gentleman offering them a place to live that will more than suit their needs–and their budget–it’s an offer they simply can’t refuse. At first glance the old manor house is impressive, atmospheric, and sufficiently spacious for the students. But when the Doctor helps Bill move in, he senses something odd. More than the antiquated electrical system. More than the fact they can’t get a mobile signal. More than the landlord’s ban on visiting the adjoining tower. The strange noises sound like there’s someone, or something, else sharing the house with them. A suspicion Bill begins to take seriously when her friends start to mysteriously disappear…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

After stories in the future and the past, it’s back to present-day reality for Bill. If you recall, Bill used to work in the canteen at St. Luke’s University in Bristol, but the Doctor, who is posing (quite convincingly) as a lecturer at the university, has taken Bill on as his personal student. This means she is now one of the student body, and has joined with five other students to find somewhere affordable to live. It’s a classic creepy house story, but with a Doctor Who twist: the creeks and bumps are the result of alien bugs that have been re-purposing previous tenants to keep the landlord’s ailing relative alive. These bugs swarm on their victims, and suck them into the woodwork. Potentially gruesome stuff, but with some CGI magic it all looks horrible, but nothing to turn the stomach. Unless you don’t like the sight of giant swarming roach-like insects.

The fact that the Doctor is part of the faculty makes for some awkward scenes with Bill and her friends. The Doctor tries to be “cool” with the students, but, of course it doesn’t work very well, especially since he’s not really trying too hard. He just wants to hang around so he can figure out what’s going on with the house. Bill tells her friends the Doctor is her grandfather–is this just an in-joke for the Whovians, or are we to attach significance to it? (Also, we got the season’s first reference to “regeneration,” when the Doctor explained to Bill times when a Time Lord may need to sleep. She asked what “regeneration” is, but he didn’t answer. She’ll find out soon enough, methinks…)

The sinister Landlord is played with charming edginess by David Suchet, who made his name on British TV playing Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” in the long-running series. Suitable casting for what is, essentially, a locked-room mystery. The whole ensemble do well, actually, even the young actors playing the students. One of the hallmarks of New Who is the fact they tend to get high-caliber talent, so the performances are usually top-notch.

As for the effects, they are fairly run-of-the-mill for New Who–i.e., far better than Classic Who, but nothing particularly stand-out for early 21st century television. I will give a special shout-out to whoever designed the wooden person costume for the Landlord’s relative. That particular effect was extremely well done.

The story itself is not the best so far, but it’s not bad. As I said, it starts off as a standard creepy house tale with creaking floorboards, and strange bangs and knocks. But then we see the house sprouting bugs and devouring people, which brings us into the realm of Doctor Who. For all the good acting and great effects, it lacked something truly sinister. Sure, the Landlord was fairly sinister, but in the end all he wanted was to keep his relative alive (yes, I’m deliberately veiling the relative’s exact relationship, for the sake of not giving everything away!), so I suppose we’re supposed to feel somewhat sympathetic toward him. What ended up not happening was a really big climactic finale. It just sort of fizzled. Yes, the Landlord fessed up, and cried in his relatives arms, giving us a high emotional moment. But that was about it. And, to be honest, I really didn’t feel anything for either the Landlord, or his relative. Bill might have been in tears, but I wasn’t with her.

Finally, we learn a bit more about the Vault and what’s inside. No doubt there’s someone in there, since they play the piano, and respond (albeit with music) to the Doctor’s comments. What’s unclear is the relationship this person may have to the Doctor. He seems to have a kindly disposition toward whoever is behind those doors, and yet that person is quite securely locked away. However, the Doctor has no qualms about taking food in to them. Is it Missy? The Master? Or is Steven Moffat going to pull something out of left field and bring back Susan (after all, her picture’s on his desk, and Bill referred to him as “grandfather” more than once during this adventure)?

I enjoyed the episode, and it was a good story. But I’m starting to look forward to the return of some classic monsters, as promised: the Ice Warriors, the Cybermen, the Master/Missy. I just hope they stay bad, and don’t degenerate into the kind of post-modern “not really bad, just misunderstood” mush that, frankly, does not make for gripping sci-fi adventures. I’m not saying this season has gone there totally, but I fear it’s wandering in that direction.

Did you watch “Knock Knock”? If you did, what did you think?