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Who Review: The Krotons

The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to the planet of the Gonds. These people are living in subjugation to the Krotons, a conquering people whom they have only ever heard, never seen. Prevented from exploring the outside (“The Wasteland”) due to a poisonous gas released by the Krotons on their arrival, the Gonds receive all their knowledge from the Krotons in their Hall of Learning. As the Gonds use the Teaching Machines, the brightest of their students are summond by the Krotons to become their “partners.” They enter a doorway never to be seen again. Our heroes arrive in The Wasteland, though they suffer no ill effects. They also witness one of the students emerging from the door, only to be vaporized. Finding their way inside, they tell the Gonds what they have seen, and manage to convince them that the Krotons are not as benevolent as they have been led to believe. Angered by the deception, the Gonds want to strike back. But how can they fight an invisible menace when they have no knowledge of advanced weaponry, or even basic chemistry? It’s up to the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to either defeat the Krotons, or become their next “partners”…

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

This four-part serial first aired at the end of 1968 and the beginning of 1969. It has the distinction of being the first written by Robert Holmes, who went on to become arguably the best Who writer of the 1970s (maybe even of the whole Classic Series–I think so, anyway). It’s not a bad start, better than his next offering (“The Space Pirates”), but certainly not of the high caliber we will see from him later.

There’s some good world building and character development. The Gond society has a structure, and Holmes includes details about their way of life that the Doctor can use to help them. For example, he discovers there are significant gaps in the Gond’s knowledge. Given that they derive all they know from the Krotons, the Doctor suggests the key to defeating the Krotons is in what the Gond’s don’t know. In particular, chemistry. As it turns out, the Krotons are crystalline, made largely from tellurium, which is vulnerable to sulphuric acid. So there’s good reason why the Krotons haven’t allowed the Gonds knowledge of chemistry.

Conflict arises within the Gonds over how to rebel against the Krotons. There’s a power struggle, and one man, Eelek, played by the wonderful Welsh actor Philip Madoc, rises up to take control. At the beginning of the story, Eelek doesn’t seem to be that much of a threat, but as he gains support, his ruthlessness becomes apparent. He is willing to do whatever it takes, even hand over the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to the Krotons, in the hope that this will save himself and his people. At the end of the story, the Krotons are dead, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe have left, but Eelek is still alive. What to do with Eelek is a problem the other Gonds will still have to deal with–a loose end that Holmes is willing to let hang. Unusual for Who, but certainly more politically true to life.

There are great moments of dialog, and some good interaction between the Doctor and Zoe. The sequence when the Doctor takes a turn on one of the Learning Machines is funny, and so typically Second Doctor. As is the scene near the end where the Doctor and Zoe, captured by the Krotons, play for time by debating who stands where, and fiddling with headsets.

Initially, it seems this story doesn’t do Jamie’s self-esteem much good. His brain is considered “primitive” by the Krotons, and he is left to tend to one of the Gonds while the Doctor and Zoe go off to play brain games. But once again, Jamie shows his resourcefulness to escape the Krotons’ clutches, and inadvertently save the Doctor and Zoe. I also love the way the Doctor refers to Jamie’s mind as “undisciplined” rather than “primitive.” Not only is that less demeaning, it’s probably a lot more accurate. Jamie is far from stupid.

The biggest down-side to “The Krotons” is probably the Krotons themselves. The concept behind them is interesting: they only exist as a kind of crystalline soup in a tank until activated by the right kind of energy, which the Doctor and Zoe unwittingly provide. They then turn into these big, hulking geometric creatures with spinning heads. And South African accents. Frankly, not very intimidating (though, admittedly, they give the Quarks a run for their money). They would have been far more menacing, I think, if they’d stayed in their soup form with a disembodied voice.

I have to say, as I re-watch these episodes, I’m beginning to wonder if this TARDIS team might be one of the best the show has ever had. I wouldn’t count Zoe among my top five companions, but she really shines alongside the Doctor and Jamie. There’s such a good rapport between them, and their personalities balance each other well.

The DVD release of “The Krotons” comes with the usual commentary track and beautifully restored audio and video. It also includes a documentary retrospective on the Second Doctor, “Second Time Around,” which discusses the Troughton era, his stories, and both the fan and critical responses to them.

Maybe not an essential Who story, but certainly worth your time.

Who Review: The Invasion

The TARDIS reassembles itself, with crew safely inside, after the adventure with “The Mind Robber,” only to run into further difficulties. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe land on Earth, but a fault with the visual stabilizer renders the TARDIS invisible. The Doctor decides to call on Professor Travers, their friend from the Yeti adventures, to help with repairs. After hitching a ride to London in the back of a van, they find Travers is not at home. But the young lady who answers the door thinks her uncle, Professor Watkins, might be able to help. Except Professor Watkins hasn’t been seen since he went to work for International Electromatics. Indeed, there’s something not right about I.E., and the person in charge, Tobias Vaughn. And when our heroes try to investigate, they find not only their own lives are in danger, but Vaughn has allied himself with an alien force that plans to take control of all the inhabitants of planet Earth…

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

This eight-part story follows directly on from “The Mind Robber,” creating a neat three-story arc that started with “The Dominators.” It was common in the First Doctor era to have stories that ran into each other, particularly when each episode had its own title (overarching story titles only came in Season 3 with “The Savages”), but we haven’t seen as much of that with the Second Doctor. Unlike modern Who, these story arcs don’t have any connecting thread throughout (e.g., “Bad Wolf” or “Torchwood”)–they’re just follow-on adventures.

“The Invasion” was written by former script editor Derrick Sherwin (the legendary Terrance Dicks had just taken over the script editing job). At the time, it was the longest Doctor Who story since Season 3’s twelve-part epic “The Daleks’ Master Plan.” Some think it’s too long, but I beg to differ. It’s actually quite a well-paced story. I particularly like that we don’t actually encounter the central villains (the Cybermen) until the end of episode 4. Hints are dropped throughout (Vaughn’s unnatural blink rate, and the robotic voice Vaughn talks to, for example), but up until that point, the story plays out like an Earth-bound thriller, with Vaughn as the all-too-accommodating evil mastermind.

This story sees the return of Colonel Leithbridge-Stewart, now promoted to Brigadier, and in charge of a newly-formed military group, the United Nations Intelligence Task-force (U.N.I.T.). The purpose of this group is to investigate extraterrestrial phenomenon. We will see more of the Brigadier and U.N.I.T. in later stories. Indeed, part of the reason for U.N.I.T.’s creation was anticipating the following season, when the Doctor would be on Earth more permanently.

There’s a lot to like about “The Invasion,” not least is the fact that, again, Jamie and Zoe are made good use of–they aren’t just side-line characters who ask questions and make cups of tea. In fact, there’s a nice part near the end where Zoe asks the Brigadier what she can do to help. You’re expecting the Brigadier to send her away to put the kettle on. Instead, he has her help one of his men, and then is given room to use her mathematical genius to wipe out a whole fleet of Cyberman spacecraft.

I also like the way the Cybermen are used in this story. They’re not in every shot, and their appearances are dramatically staged. In fact, they are actually scary, which is not always the case in other Cybermen stories, unfortunately. There’s a scene when Vaughn calls his Security Chief on the visual display, and after a pause, a Cyberman’s face appears. It’s unexpected, and creates a wonderfully terrifying moment. And, of course, there’s that iconic shot of Cybermen pouring out of the sewers and walking down the steps in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral (a scene re-created in the New Series 8 story “Dark Water”).

Kevin Stoney does an excellent job as the villainous Vaughn, whose body has already been converted by the Cybermen, his brain being the only part of him still human. There’s a chilling scene where Vaughn invites the enraged Professor Watkins to shoot him, which he does. It’s really quite adult for a 1968 children’s show. Vaughn slaps Watkins because he won’t do it. Provoked, Watkins points the gun and fires three shots. We see gun blasts, and hear Vaughn laugh off-camera. Watkins reels. Then we see Vaughn, still laughing, three smoking bullet holes in his shirt. Very effective drama.

The story was released as a 2-DVD set, with the eight episodes split over the two discs, along with a good amount of extras. Episodes 1 and 4 of “The Invasion” are missing from the BBC archives, so for this release, famed animation studio Cosgrove-Hall re-created the episodes using existing pictures and footage, along with the audio for each episode, to guide them. It’s not an animation style I particularly like, where most of the action is in the eyes and mouth, but it does help bring the audio to life. They did do a good job of matching sound to action, which I don’t doubt is hard to do. One major snafu, however, is that they have Zoe wearing the wrong clothes at the beginning of episode 1. She should be wearing her shiny jumpsuit from “The Mind Robber”; instead she’s in the blouse and skirt she changes into later. Oh well.

The DVD extras include a commentary track, a 50-minute “Making of” feature, and videos of how the animation was done. There’s also a really interesting short documentary, “Love Off-Air” in which Who fans talk about how they used to audio record their favorite show in the days before VCR. It includes interviews with long-time fans whose tape recordings are the only record we have of some early Doctor Who episodes.

In short, I would say “The Invasion” is must-viewing for Whovians, and essential viewing for fans of the Second Doctor.

The Big Who News

imagesZPQ2HQB2If you’re an avid Whovian, then you are already aware of the big announcement made this weekend. If not, then allow me to break the news to you. There are three parts to the news, so here it is:

  • There will only be one episode of Doctor Who this year (2016)–the Christmas special. Season 10 will broadcast in the Spring of 2017.
  • There will be a new companion for Season 10.
  • Season 10 will be Steven Moffat’s last as show-runner.

OK, so the second piece of news is not really a surprise, but the first and third? If you’ve been following my Season 9 reviews, you’ll know that I already suspected Moffat’s tenure is coming to an end. In my review of the Christmas special (“The Husbands of River Song”) I noted rumors that Season 10 could be Capaldi’s last as the Doctor. Those are still rumors, but it’s not unprecedented for a change of show-runner to come with a change of lead actor (e.g., Russell T. Davies left with David Tennant). This gives the new show-runner a clean slate, his own Doctor, and the opportunity to start fresh. On the other hand, keeping Capaldi around for another year allows the new guy the chance to settle in, surrounded by people who know the ropes. So I could go either way on this one.

Who is the new guy? The show-runner for Season 11 (broadcasting, presumably, in 2018), will be Chris Chibnall. Chris wrote the Who episodes “42” from Season 3 (“burn with me!”), “The Hungry Earth” & “Cold Blood” from Season 5 (the return of the Silurians), “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” from Season 7 (the one with Filtch and Lestrade), and “The Power of Three” also from Season 7 (the one with the little black boxes). Chris has been a fan of the show since childhood, and was a member of the Liverpool branch of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society in the 1980s. In fact, he was part of a panel discussing the show on BBC’s “Open Air” show in 1986. Here’s a clip (watch for “Chris” in glasses and an off-center yellow tie):

Perhaps a foretaste of what to expect from the new show-runner? [Note: A better quality version of this clip can be found as an extra on disc 4 of the DVD set “Trial of a Time Lord.”] Chris Chibnall was also head writer for Who spin-off series Torchwood, and for Law and Order: UK. He also wrote the highly popular series Broadchurch starring David Tennant. So I think Who will be in very capable hands.

My thought’s on Moffat’s departure? Again, if you’ve been following my Who Reviews, you can probably guess my feelings. Moff’s a great writer, and did wonderful work under RTD. Hopes were high that the same caliber of storytelling would persist under his leadership. That hasn’t been the case. There have been some excellent stories over the past five years, but only occasionally has Moff grazed the heights of his best work pre-2010 (“The Empty Child”, “Blink”). He will go down in Who history as the show-runner who took Who to the rest of the world (particularly the States), his crowning achievement being the 50th Anniversary Special, and its 90+ country simulcast. Moff still has another season to go, so maybe his best is yet to come, but I think it’s time for a change at the top. And in Chris, I think he’s chosen well.

So we have a bit of a break between now and the next episode of Who. A good opportunity to get caught up if you’re behind. I’ll continue to post reviews of the Classic Series, but it looks like we’ll have to wait until Christmas for the next new episode.

Your thoughts?

 

Who Review: The Mind Robber

To escape the rising lava on Dulkis (see “The Dominators”), the Doctor has to make an emergency departure, taking the TARDIS outside of time and space. When the TARDIS lands, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves in a void, surrounded by a white nothingness. Or are they in a void? Jamie hears bagpipes, and sees pictures of Scotland on the TARDIS scanner. Then Zoe sees The City, her home. Despite the Doctor’s warnings to stay inside the TARDIS, Jamie opens the doors and runs out to find his homeland. Zoe, concerned for Jamie’s safety, follows after him. What they find isn’t home, but white robots, and a world where, it seems, anything can happen. Can the Doctor rescue his companions and find a way back to reality…?

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

“The Mind Robber” is one of the more interesting Classic Who stories. It’s certainly an unusual premise for the show, and perhaps in-keeping with the trippy atmosphere of the late 1960s. Written by Who newcomer Peter Ling, it was originally a four-part story, but Script Editor Derrick Sherwin expanded it out to five episodes (after cutting the previous story, “The Dominators” down from six to five episodes), by writing episode one. This enabled him to not only set up the premise for the story, but also link this story with the previous one. However, the production team still only had a four-episode budget. Sherwin was able to eliminate costs on the first episode by using an empty set (which fit with the story), and recycling the robot costumes from another show. Extending the story also resulted in reduced episode lengths. At only 18 minutes long, episode five is, to date, the shortest Doctor Who episode ever.

The world our heroes end up in is one of fantasy and fiction, where they encounter a minotaur, a unicorn, Gulliver, and other characters from novels and comic strips. But they are not there simply to entertain: they serve “the Master,” who, it turns out, is a writer from Earth, kidnapped and forced to write stories to keep this world going. He wants the Doctor to take over from him, and hence his efforts to capture him and his companions. The Doctor has other plans, and manages to thwart the Master’s overlords, and return everyone back to reality.

This premise gives the writers and production staff a large imaginative palate to work with. And work with it they do! Some find the characters and situations a bit abstract, nonsensical, and even silly, but I think there’s a sinisterness to them. The oddness makes things that much more unsettling, which lends to the overall atmosphere of the story. The part where Jamie gets shot, resulting in him turning into a cardboard cutout with no face, is a little perturbing. The Doctor then has to reassemble Jamie’s face from a series of possible cut-out eyes, noses, and mouths, which he inevitably gets wrong, giving us a different Jamie for an episode. (This sequence was actually added due to actor Frazer Hines contracting chicken pox and having to be substituted for an episode. It works remarkably well with the story.) And, of course, there’s the unforgettable episode 1 cliffhanger where the TARDIS explodes in space, leaving Jamie and Zoe clinging to the console, Zoe’s screams fading into the credits. Spine-tingling stuff!

This is a bit of a weird Who, but worth watching. The “Master” here is not supposed to be the evil Time Lord we’ll encounter later, but there’s food for fan fiction in that possibility! Again, Jamie and Zoe show themselves to be capable companions, using common sense, and even fighting skills (e.g., Zoe’s hand-to-hand combat with “Karkus”). And, of course, the Second Doctor is simply wonderful. As always. :)

The DVD comes with extras, including a “making of” feature, and a fascinating retrospective on Frazer Hines’s (Jamie) time as a Who companion. The story’s audio and video have been lovingly restored to better-than-ever quality, which alone makes the cost of the DVD worthwhile.

Who Review: The Dominators

The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe to the planet Dulkis, a place that long ago outlawed weapons, and whose inhabitants are known, at least to the Doctor, for their pacifism. It’s a return trip for the Doctor who assures his friends, as they carry a beach ball and deck chair from the TARDIS, that they can relax and enjoy themselves.

But the Doctor doesn’t realize they have landed on an island known as “The Island of Death.” And there are other visitors to the island: the Dominators, with their vicious robot Quarks. These Dominators travel the galaxy enslaving and taking what they need with ruthless abandon. The Dulkians are powerless to stop them ravaging their planet. Their only hope is the Doctor and his friends. But how can he help a weaponless planet of pacifists resist the cruel Dominators..?

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

“The Dominators” launched Doctor Who’s sixth season–Patrick Troughton’s last as the Doctor. It was originally written as a six part story by Henry Lincoln and Mervyn Haisman, who were responsible for the two Yeti stories in season five (“The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Web of Fear”). However, delays in completing the scripts meant that script editor Derrick Sherwin ended up writing and re-writing a lot of it, so Lincoln and Haisman took their names off the story, using the pseudonym “Norman Ashby” instead. Sherwin also cut the serial down to five episodes.

As it turned out, it’s not a bad story. The idea of a race of pacifists confronted by alien visitors who embody the very antithesis of pacifism is an interesting one (and quite fitting for 1968), though it is, perhaps, pushed a bit too far. Most of the Dulkians are far from inquisitive, willing to take everything at face value, and regard anyone who shows the slightest curiosity with suspicion. Without the Doctor’s intervention, they would have been wiped out, but did they learn anything from their experience with the Dominators? It doesn’t seem as if they did.

The two Dominators give unspectacular performances, saved perhaps by the friction between them. Rago, the commander, is trying to focus on the job at hand, but Toba, his subordinate, wants to blow things up and kill the native life forms. In one scene, Rago leaves Toba, warning him that there had better be the same number of natives alive when he returns. Not that Rago has any sympathy or compassion; he just doesn’t want Toba annihilating their slave labor.

The big issue with the serial, however, is the visuals. The male Dulkians look like they have curtains tied around their chests which appear extremely impractical. As for the Dominators, their huge shoulder pads mean they’re forced to look forward. Maybe that was the idea, but it looks silly. The menacing Quarks are nothing of the sort. It seems Lincoln and Haisman hoped they would replace the Daleks as the most frightening Who monster. Bless the pointy-headed little robots, but Jar Jar Binks would have been a scarier foe for the Doctor. The sets are okay, but there are times when the rocks so clearly aren’t, and everything looks very almost-but-not-quite.

Overall, it’s not a stand-out serial, but it is the Second Doctor, and he and Jamie really make it worthwhile. Indeed, if you’re a Jamie fan, this is one to watch since he manages to destroy two Quarks, disable one, and he comes up with the plan to stop the Dominators. (It’s a simple plan–“so simple, only you could have thought of it,” says the Doctor.) The scene where the Doctor and Jamie play stupid for the Dominators is also quite entertaining. Zoe’s no wallflower either on this, her first outing in the TARDIS. As well as using her considerable intelligence, she carries rocks and digs tunnels along with the guys, so she’s not just there to be a pretty face and to scream. Oh, and this serial marks the second appearance of the sonic screwdriver, demonstrating its flexibility–it doesn’t just unscrew things! :)

The DVD has some interesting extras. There’s a commentary option featuring Fraser Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), and some of the other cast and crew, as well as a 22-minute “Making of” feature which is quite interesting. There’s also an installment of the “Tomorrow’s Times” series, which looks at the various newspaper reviews and reactions to each of the Doctors and their stories. Naturally, the episode on this DVD concerns the Second Doctor. And, of course, the five episodes have been lovingly restored so they look as good as (and possibly better than) they did when they first broadcast.

Who Review: The Enemy of the World

The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria to a beach in Australia in the year 2018. It seems the perfect location for some R&R, but just as the Doctor’s getting his feet wet in the ocean, the travellers find themselves under fire. They are rescued by Astrid, a member of a small resistance group attempting to undermine one of the most powerful men on the planet. They believe this man, Salamander, is using his influence to destroy political opponents and suppress damaging information, all the while presenting himself as the world’s savior. Salamander grows crops to feed the world’s hungry, and is able to warn about impending natural disasters, saving thousands of lives. Astrid and her colleagues plea for the Doctor to help their cause. The Doctor wants hard evidence, and Astrid knows just the way to get it, exploiting the fact that the Doctor bears an uncanny resemblance to Salamander. But will the Doctor and his friends risk their lives on the chance Astrid is right and Salamander’s up to no good?

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

This six-part Second Doctor story, originally broadcast in 1968, disappeared from the BBC archives in the 1970s (along with a number of other Second Doctor stories), and remained lost (apart from episode 3) until 2013, when it was recovered from a television relay station in Nigeria. Fans who had before relied upon the novelization, the existing audio track, and pictures to reconstruct the missing five episodes could now see it all as broadcast.

“The Enemy of the World” is an unusual Who story in that there really isn’t much sci-fi to it. In fact, it’s more like a James Bond movie with undercover operations, and a seemingly benevolent, but actually horribly malevolent, bad guy. If you like your Who with space gagetry and monsters, then this is not for you. But if you want something a bit different, with neat plot twists (the reveal in episode 5 is particularly cool, I think) then you’ll enjoy this one. Also, the fact it’s set in what it to us now (i.e., in 2016) the very near future makes it all the more interesting!

The real joy of this story is the fact that Patrick Troughton gets to play both the Doctor and the villain, Salamander. And he plays them both well. Doctor number two is already my favorite, but Troughton’s oily, scheming baddie shows off his acting range marvelously. His Salamander has the politician’s smile and even temper, while at the same time projecting menace to those who cross him. He makes it easy to see how people might trust the public Salamander, and how those who know his true intent could hate him.

The story was written by David Whitaker, one of my favorite Classic Who writers. And this story shows why he’s one of my favorites. The Doctor doesn’t just blindly accept the claims of the “good guys.” All the way to the end he insists on proof, and only goes along with their plans on the promise that the end result will be conclusive evidence of Salamander’s evil-doing. The dialog’s good, and the story moves along, every scene pushing the narrative forward without pointless time-fillers.

Not long after the story’s discovery was announced, the BBC made all six episodes available for purchase on iTunes. Later, they released the fully restored (i.e., cleaned-up picture and soundtrack) story on DVD. Unlike other Classic Who DVD releases, this is pretty bare-bones. No extras, just the six episodes. For 150 minutes of quality Who, though, it’s worth it.

Who Review: The Husbands of River Song

DoctorWho_TheHusbandsOfRiverSongIt’s 5343, and the Doctor is on the human colony of Mendorax Dellora where he soon finds himself mistaken for a surgeon. King Hydroflax is in desperate need of surgery to remove a projectile from his brain before it moves further in and kills him. This request for assistance didn’t come from Hydroflax himself, but his wife. To the Doctor’s astonishment, Hydroflax’s wife is none other than River Song. But she doesn’t appear to recognize the Doctor, and looks at him clueless whenever he tries to jog her memory. Instead, she assumes he’s the surgeon she sent for, and insists he remove the projectile quickly, even at the cost of her husband’s life. As she explains to the bewildered Time Lord, the projectile is an extremely rare and valuable diamond, and since she actually married the diamond, she is quite happy for the Doctor to remove the King’s head to get to it. The King, however, overhears River and the Doctor’s conversation. Much to their chagrin, the King shows himself to be a cyborg, and removes his own head to prove it. He then orders the Doctor and River Song to be killed…

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!

As is normal for Christmas episodes, this was a bit of a lighter story, nothing too deep or serious, though important for River Song’s story arc. In fact, I suspect part of the reason Capaldi was cast as the Doctor was for this very story. And this is the ideal moment to fill in this gap in River’s narrative. The Doctor is between companions, and has just completed a season with no major cliffhangers. This gives Moffat the freedom to write a stand-alone story with no dependence on any of the preceding season’s stories to understand it (though an awareness of the Doctor’s prior adventures with River is very helpful).

So, why do I think Capaldi was cast–in part, not totally–for this story? Think back to our first encounter with River Song (Season 4’s “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”). When she sees the Tenth Doctor:

  • She knows him, and recognizes that incarnation, even though he doesn’t know her.
  • She comments on the fact he looks younger.
  • She has her diary.
  • She has a sonic screwdriver the Doctor gave her.

In this story:

  • She doesn’t recognize him, but has pictures of all his previous incarnations.
  • The Twelfth Doctor looks older than the Tenth.
  • She has her diary, and names a couple of Eleventh Doctor adventures.
  • The Twelfth Doctor gives her the sonic screwdriver she uses with the Tenth.

Given all the above, and the fact that River Song’s encounters with the Doctor are out of sequence (such is life with a Time Lord), I think this story is immediately prior to “Silence in the Library” (note also the fact her diary is almost full, and what that means to her). And it’s clear she needed to see an older Doctor prior to meeting the Tenth Doctor, hence Capaldi. As I said, I believe this is one factor in the choice of Capaldi. Clearly he has made the role his own, and is more than worthy of playing the Doctor for a host of other reasons.

To the episode itself, I thought it was good–a fun romp with action and wit. Sure, I could get all upset about River’s abuse of the godly institution of marriage, but do we really look to River Song as a role model for relationships? And when it comes down to it, she did only ever marry one person.

All the performances were excellent, and the effects to their usual high standard (even the nasty part where Scratch opens his head to take out the device he uses to transfer the funds to pay for the diamond).

This might well be the last time we see River–I don’t think there are any loose ends to tie up now. Of course, given the non-linear nature of her adventures with the Doctor, there’s no reason she couldn’t meet future incarnations. But personally, I think this is a good time to draw a line and say goodbye to her. Unless I’m missing something…?

There are rumors floating around that the coming season will be Capaldi’s last. That wouldn’t be totally surprising and without precedent. Not counting the specials, David Tennant did three, and Matt Smith only did three (even though he played the role for four years–season 7 was split over 2012/2013). In the classic series, Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor), Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor), and Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor) all did only three seasons. However, Capaldi is clearly enjoying himself, so there’s no reason to think he wants out. This is a decision he will make along with the production team. If you ask me, I could make a case for Capaldi leaving (the grueling, time-consuming shooting schedule, the desire to do other things, wanting to leave while he is popular), and for him staying (he loves the role, he’s just finding his stride and gaining acceptance as an “older” Doctor, he already has a fine body of work behind him, so he’s not as concerned about career building). So I’m not willing to predict. We’ll see. In any case, we don’t even yet know who the new companion’s going to be! So, first things first…

What did you think of the episode? Share your thoughts on this and anything else Who you want to talk about…

Who Review: Hell Bent

DoctorWho_HellBentIn a diner in Nevada, the Doctor tells the waitress his story, how he faced down the leader of a mob gang because of a war and the death of his best friend. At least that’s how he recounted his return to Gallifrey, and how he dealt with the welcome he received, first from the military, then from the high counsel, and finally from the President himself. As Gallifrey sits at the edge of time, there is fear among the Time Lords regarding the much-prophesied “hybrid”–a terrible being constructed from two warrior races that will bring about the end of all things. The Time Lords believe the Doctor knows something, but for the Doctor to help, he needs his friend. Yet she died on a hidden street several billion years ago…

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 story for this final episode of the season seems to be the Doctor trying to save Clara from death. He manipulates the Time Lords into pulling her out of her time stream at a point between her final heartbeats. But the Doctor doesn’t want her to return, so he kills the army General and escapes to depths of the Citadel with her, eventually leaving by means of a stolen TARDIS (First Doctor style–that was nice to see). This act of murder goes against the Doctor’s pacifistic nature, especially since we had just seen soldiers laying down their weapons to side with him. He’s always the one who goes into battle without a weapon. The Doctor has been known to shoot when absolutely necessary. However, it’s questionable whether this time was absolutely necessary. After all, he could have just returned Clara to her time stream, couldn’t he?

It was the Time Lords’ fear of the prophesied “hybrid” that drove them to lure the Doctor to Gallifrey. They thought he knew something about it, but it seems the best he had was the theory that it’s Ashildr–the human/Mire hybrid. Ashildr’s own theory is more plausible, however: it’s actually two people, the Doctor and Clara, brought together by Missy, the maestro of chaos and destruction. I’ve been trying to think how Missy brought the Doctor and Clara together, going back to Season Seven with the Eleventh Doctor. I don’t recall the Master being a part of that at all. Maybe Ashildr was just referring to the first episode of this season, “The Magician’s Apprentice”? In any case, the idea of the Doctor and Clara being this powerful force, constantly pushing each other on to greater and greater deeds, leading ultimately to the end of time and space, works with what we know of them. It also gives good reason to why their partnership needs to end–Clara has to die.

Ashildr failed to persuade the Doctor to return Clara to her time stream, allowing him to simply wipe her memory and return her to Earth, hidden away somewhere. But Clara overheard the plan and reversed the polarity on the memory wipe device. It’s the Doctor who now forgets most of his time with Clara, while she is left to roam time and space with Ashildr, though without a pulse, it seems, in their Diner-TARDIS. I suppose it’s a nice idea that, between her last two heartbeats, Clara has adventures in her own TARDIS. But oh the questions this raises! Has she been with the Doctor long enough to know how to fly and maintain a TARDIS? Is this not like my thirteen-year-old daughter, who has traveled in our car countless times, taking the keys and driving off on her own? I shudder to think! Personally, I think Clara should have returned straight to her time stream and taken that final heartbeat. Let her go, Moff. Let her go.

In a comment prior to broadcast, Moffat said this episode will leave fans “devastated.” It was a good episode, but I can’t say I was devastated. What was I supposed to be devastated about? I enjoyed it, but I can’t say I was driven to emotional extremes. I think “The Angels Take Manhattan,” where Rory and Amy are taken by Weeping Angels, was probably the most devastating ending to a Doctor Who story, with Donna’s departure in “Journey’s End” not far behind. This one didn’t come close to either of those. I had already accepted Clara’s demise, so I was actually a bit disappointed to see her return. Let her go, Moff. Let her go. :)

Yay! The Doctor has a new sonic screwdriver. And it’s a redesign especially for the Twelfth Doctor, with lots of lights. I daresay it’ll be on shop shelves in time for Christmas.

So, that’s it for Season 9! The Doctor returns at Christmas with “The Husbands of River Song.” My review will follow a few days later.

I’m sure there are lots of things I didn’t mention, but that’s what you’re here for! Use the comments to talk about what you liked and didn’t like.

Who Review: Heaven Sent

DoctorWho_HeavenSent

Still reeling from the events of the last episode, the Doctor finds himself transported to a mysterious castle. Intent on revenge, he explores the twisting stairwells and many rooms looking for clues to his captor, and possible ways of escape. All the while he is pursued by a mysterious, ominous veiled creature that appears to leave death in its wake. Driven by anger, fear of death, and following clues that lead him from room to room, there seems no end to this castle prison. Will the Doctor find a way out, or will death finally catch up with him?

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 another experiment, but one that worked a whole lot better than “Sleep No More.” For the first time ever in Who history, we have a virtual one-man performance. This wasn’t just a companion-less story–there have been plenty of those (e.g., “The Deadly Assassin,” “The Next Doctor”, “Planet of the Dead”, etc.). Rather, this was the Twelfth Doctor on his own, talking himself through the situation, offering confession, speaking truth, whatever he needs to do to find answers, to escape, to win. The only other cast members are “The Veil,” which doesn’t speak, a brief cameo by Jenna Coleman who has a few lines, and a young boy at the end who says nothing. Otherwise, it was 55 minutes of pure Capaldi. And he was terrific. A stellar performance. If there was any doubt that Capaldi owns the role of the Twelfth Doctor, they were put to rest with this episode.

What of the story itself? This is one of those stories you have to stay with  to get the most out of it. At first it seems frustrating because we’re not even sure who or what the enemy is, and the Doctor appears to be running around this castle getting nowhere. But along the way we pick up clues. The Doctor confessing to the Veil, speaking truth, and then, finding door twelve. Behind door twelve is the thick block of Azbantium that he needs to break through. But it would take many lifetimes to chisel through such a block. Then the Doctor realizes that when he leaves, the rooms reset, and since death comes slowly to a Time Lord, even after the touch of the Veil he would have time to get back to the room in which he arrived, newly reset. He would then die, giving his life energy to power the teleporter bringing himself back into the castle. It’s a bit like a time loop–except his work on the Azbantium never resets. He remembers the bird in the Grimm Brothers’ story who slowly chips away at a mountain with its beak, and realizes that he can keep returning to this point after the Veil “kills” him to resume work on the block. Sure enough, after a long time, and many cycles of death, he breaks through the Azbantium, and escapes through a doorway. That doorway and castle resolve themselves into a disc, which seems to be the Doctor’s confession disc from “The Magician’s Apprentice.”

But that’s just a minor “aha!” moment compared to the big reveal. It appears the Doctor is on Gallifrey! But his visit is not going to be a happy homecoming. He says the prophecy about the “hybrid”–a half Dalek, half Time Lord that will conquer Gallifrey–was incorrect. The “hybrid” isn’t half Dalek. It’s the Doctor. So, are we saying the Time Lords are responsible for Clara’s demise? They were the ones who summoned the Doctor, so it was because of them the Doctor and Clara were in the hidden street in the first place. Is the Doctor holding them accountable? It looks like it, but I guess we have to wait until the finale to find out for certain… :)

Some reviewers have called this one of the best Who episodes ever. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it certainly fits right in with what has been, on the whole, an excellent Who season. And while the cliffhanger reveal wasn’t as surprising as Capaldi’s eyes in “The Day of the Doctor,” or Tom Baker’s cameo in that same story, it was a great way to end the story and tease the finale.

Before I let you have your turn to comment, I did note a moment in the incidental music that sounded very 80s Who. It was when he was looking at the painting of Clara. I’m not sure why they switched to synthesizers for that brief moment, but it was a nice touch. Also, my daughter and I both thought there were times when Capaldi’s voice-over sounded just like Tom Baker.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think?

Who Review: Face the Raven

Doctor Who "FaceTheRaven" picture by Stuart ManningThe Doctor and Clara are surprised when Rigsy–“Local Knowledge” from last season’s story “Flatline”–calls the TARDIS emergency line. He’s got a tattoo on the back of his neck, but he doesn’t know where it came from. Indeed, he doesn’t remember anything about the events of the previous night. But this tattoo is no ordinary tattoo–it’s counting down minutes. And, as the Doctor discovers, they are the number of minutes Rigsy has left to live. Together the three explore the hidden streets of London for the people who gave him the tattoo, and stumble upon a strange world of secret aliens trying to live in peace, ruled by a long-time acquaintance. It seems a crime has been committed, and Rigsy stands accused. He must either prove himself innocent, or “face the raven.” Time’s running out, and, unknown to the Doctor, the stakes are higher than he could imagine…

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 last week’s questionable offering from Mark Gatiss, we get back to form with, I think, a much more solid story. The idea that an ancient city like London might have hidden streets, like hidden closets or rooms in an old house, is very appealing. There’s so much you can do with that, like, for example, have a street where all kinds of otherwise hostile aliens co-exist under a peace agreement. Outbreaks of lawlessness are punished by death, and the countdown to death is marked on the accused’s neck. Sentence is carried out by “the raven”–a shade that can hunt a people down wherever they might be, so there’s no escaping justice. Of course, this is a fallible, Draconian justice, where guilt is determined more by crowd opinion than by evidence (do we have a bit of social commentary here?), and even stealing medical supplies for one’s spouse is punishable by death.

It was nice to have Rigsy back. He was one of the more popular characters from last season, and, given his involvement with the events in “Flatline,” I suppose he was a natural choice for a comeback. Of course, if Moff would bring back Rigsy, one imagines he has plans to bring back Shona from “Last Christmas”–she was also a fan favorite, and considered by many to be companion material. Who knows…?

Speaking of new companions, I suppose that spot is now vacant since this episode saw Clara’s departure. Russell T. Davies managed to avoid killing off companions, but Moff seems a little less willing to give the Doctor’s companions a nice send-off. Amy and Rory were both sucked back in time by Weeping Angels (“The Angels Take Manhattan”), and Clara unwittingly seals her own doom by taking Rigsy’s tattoo. Her final scene with the Doctor was very emotional, and I’m sure there were few dry eyes as Clara accepted her fate, and chose not to run but to face the raven. I have to say, while it was good and powerful, I thought it a bit drawn out. I found myself thinking back to Adric’s demise in “Earthshock.” There was something very simple and understated about it that made it, I think, at least as powerful. His last goodbye to his friends as they left him to solve the logic puzzle that would give him control over the ship–the Doctor knowing the odds were slim he would survive. The shot of Adric gripping his brother’s belt, after the dying Cyberman shoots the control panel, ending any hope Adric had of getting out alive. The shot of the ship crashing into the Earth, the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan watching helplessly from the safety of the TARDIS. The silent credit role at the end over Adric’s broken badge. That, to me, was as gut-wrenching as Clara’s speech, the Doctor’s protestations, and Clara’s slo-mo death fall and silent scream. But it was a bold end to the impossible girl’s time on Who, and, as always, brilliantly performed. The little tribute to Clara after the credits was also a nice touch.

So I was wrong about last week’s story having anything to do with Clara’s exit, which is a shame. That really does relegate “Sleep No More” to being this season’s “Love and Monsters.” Sorry, Mark! :)

It appears this was all a grand plot to capture the Doctor. Someone needs him, someone who could not have asked the Doctor directly because he would have refused. And now the Doctor has been transported away, and I can’t help thinking Missy’s involved in this somehow. I guess we’ll find out next time.

There are my thoughts–what did you think?