Tag Archives: peter capaldi

Who Review: The Pilot

Bill Potts, canteen worker at St Luke’s University, has a curious mind and a tender heart. Both will get her into trouble when she encounters a girl with a star in her eye. The girl, Heather, is bothered about a puddle that shouldn’t be there, and what she sees inside. But the real trouble begins when the puddle starts following Bill. And who does Bill turn to for help? A professor at the university who has just agreed to take her on as a private student. But he’s no ordinary professor. His lectures are eccentric and popular, he has the strangest looking pens in a mug on his desk, and he has full-sized police telephone box in the corner. The professor, who likes to be called the Doctor, investigates the puddle and realizes something’s wrong. The puddle doesn’t reflect a mirror image; the reflection is the right way around. Something alien is at work, and when the Doctor invites Bill into the TARDIS for safety, she is introduced to a world beyond her imagination. If she survives the girl in the water, she might never want to leave…

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 first episode of the Doctor Who re-boot’s tenth season is, in itself, a bit of a reboot. After saying goodbye to Clara and River Song, the Doctor and his companion-butler Nardole are on Earth, where the Doctor is posing as a university professor. Exactly what he’s a professor of is not mentioned, though Bill says he talked one time about poetry when he was supposed to be lecturing on physics, so I presume it’s something in the sciences. We are treated to a sample of the Doctor’s lecturing–a monologue on time and relative dimension in space, and how life is a series of pictures like frames in a movie. It sounded impressive, and makes sense within the impossible universe of Doctor Who. Mind you, Peter Capaldi could make the phone book sound fascinating.

The title is a bit of a play on both the plot and the purpose of the story. The puddle creature is looking for a pilot, someone to follow. And this episode of Doctor Who is like a pilot episode, introducing the newbie to the world of Who in a way that won’t bore–and, in fact, will please–the seasoned Whovian. There are lots of nods to Classic Who: the mug of sonic screwdrivers, the picture of his granddaughter, Susan, on his desk (next to one of River Song), the “Out of Order” sign on the TARDIS (last seen in the First Doctor story, “The War Machines”), the Movellans (from the Fourth Doctor story, “Destiny of the Daleks”), and there were probably others either I missed, or I’m not remembering. The scene with the Movellans was a particularly nice touch. When the Doctor told Bill and Nardole they were entering a war zone, and we heard the Daleks, my first thought was, of course, the Time War. But no–it’s the war between the Movellans and the Daleks, referenced in “Destiny of the Daleks.”

The basic plot of the story was, I think, a bit weak. The water creature was really just a shape-shifting blob that wants a friend, and while its modus operandi was a bit aggressive, its intentions weren’t malicious. Hence the tears when Bill had to let it go. But new companion stories always tend to be light on plot; the focus is on introducing the newcomer, and getting the newcomer acquainted with the Doctor’s world. This time around, Steven Moffat managed an increasingly difficult task: making it fresh and new. Bill is clearly astounded at the TARDIS, but at first she thinks it’s a “knock-through” (i.e., the wall against which the TARDIS stands has been “knocked-through” to allow the TARDIS interior to extend beyond the parameters of the room), and that the inside of the TARDIS looks like a kitchen. It takes a good while before she gets to “it’s bigger on the inside!” She even asks where the toilet is–a topic I don’t think has been broached before now.

Then there’s the question of why the Doctor is at a university in Bristol. I don’t doubt the mysterious vault has something to do with it. New Who usually has a running theme, or story arc, throughout the season. My guess is that vault will play a central role in season ten, and speculation will run rampant as to what’s inside. Something to do with his regeneration, which we know is happening at Christmas… or maybe sooner? Is it something he has to keep a close eye on (hence the lecturing job, so he can stay close by)? Will the fact he throws caution to the wind and takes Bill on board the TARDIS be a factor in whatever happens with that vault in future episodes? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The performances are top-notch, as usual for New Who. Pearl Mackie is a relative unknown, even to British television viewers, but she gives a solidly genuine performance, owning every line. A very promising start, and, I daresay, a bright post-Who future on television if she keeps this up. I’m looking forward to seeing how her character develops over the next eleven weeks.

In all, this is a good start to the series, despite the story itself being far from one of Moffat’s best. As I said, we can forgive that since it was a great introduction to Bill Potts, and Doctor Who as a whole. Definitely one for the new Whovian to watch.

Who News Flash: Peter Capaldi Leaving Doctor Who!

The BBC announced tonight that Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, will be stepping down from the role at the end of this year. Season Ten, which begins broadcasting on April 15th, will be his last. He will regenerate into the Thirteenth Doctor on Christmas Day.

When Steven Moffat announced that Season Ten would be his last as show-runner, there was speculation that Capaldi might follow suit. David Tennant left when Russell T. Davies handed the show to Moffat back in 2010, giving Moffat the opportunity to choose his own Doctor. It seems Moffat and Capaldi are doing the same for Chris Chibnall, who will take over from Moffat starting with Season Eleven in 2018.

So Chris Chibnall is now hunting for a new Doctor. I expect there will be a global simulcast, like they did for Capaldi in 2013, to make the announcement. I’d say we can look for that sometime in the Summer.

Who do you think would make a good Thirteenth Doctor?

Who Review: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

The Doctor is in New York City, trying to set traps around a device he made to reverse paradoxes he had caused, when he gets caught in his own trap and finds himself dangling 60 floors from the ground. He is rescued when a boy called Grant lets him into his room. Grant is a comic book fan, with a secret desire to be a super hero with super powers. When the Doctor gives him a glass of water, and tells him to hold a rare alien crystal, Grant mistakes the crystal for medicine, and swallows it with the water. It happens that this crystal has the power to give its owner their heart’s desire. The effects would last until the crystal passes through the ingester’s system, unless it binds with their DNA. Flash forward twenty-four years, and New York City is under threat by an alien race that wants to take over the bodies of world leaders. The Doctor returns, along with his new side-kick, Nardole, to meet this threat, but finds an unexpected ally in a masked super hero called The Ghost. The Doctor and Nardole need to find a way to stop this alien race before it’s too late. But will The Ghost be a help or a hindrance…?

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

The 2016 Christmas Special was written by show-runner Steven Moffat, and saw the return of Nardole from last year’s story, “The Husbands of River Song.” Unlike most previous Christmas specials, the fact it is Christmas is simply the pretext for why Grant lets the Doctor in through his window: when he asks his parents if he can let the strange man in, his parents consent, thinking it might be Santa. Otherwise, the rest of the story could have taken place any other time of the year. Whether or not this is a bad thing depends on your perspective. Some fans have grown tired of the overtly “Christmas-y” Christmas specials, and would like to see just a straight-up Who story on Christmas Day. However, there’s also the recognition that part of the reason for the seasonal nature of the special is the fact that British Christmas specials tend to be lighter fare, more comedic, and more geared toward broad family viewing. This explains why past Who specials tend not to be as heavy as the seasons that preceded them.

That said, one of the things that struck me with this year’s offering is how much the line between sci-fi and horror has blurred, and how much horror is acceptable for a broad “family” audience. The premise of the alien plan, transplanting brains, is fairly gruesome, but we’ve seen that kind of thing before in classic Who (“The Brain of Morbius” for example). The difference here is that the effects are better, and while we don’t actually see a brain transplant, we do see alien “brains” in jars, and a victim’s eye-less corpse. Granted, there’s no blood, but it’s still an unpleasant sight. And then there are the aliens themselves who can pull their heads open, with all the requisite slime, and goopy sound effects. These are images that would never have flown for tea-time family viewing on British TV 40 years ago. But how times have changed!

Of course, with any Steven Moffat script, things are not as they seem. The “Doctor Mysterio” in the title is not the name of the super hero, but is the name Grant gives to the Doctor. His “return” refers to the fact that the Doctor re-visits Grant 24 years after his initial encounter, when the young boy is a fully-fledged super hero, and dealing with the double life that is the bane of every super hero’s existence. Unlike previous Moffat scripts, there’s not a lot of subtle layering. Aside from the the relationship between Grant and Lucy Fletcher, whom he has loved since kindergarten, though she doesn’t know it, and the Doctor coming to terms with never seeing River Song again (see last year’s story), the rest of the story is pretty much what you see.

It’s a good story, well performed, with top-notch effects, but not remarkable. Worth watching, but not one I would get excited about. As the first new Who in a year, I’m not disappointed, but given it’s a Christmas special, my expectations weren’t super high to begin with. Maybe it’ll grow on me with re-watching. Of greater interest was the trailer for the up-coming season that ran at the end.

What did you think? Is there more to this story that I missed? Were you underwhelmed, or totally impressed? Let’s discuss…!

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


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?

Who Review: Sleep No More

DoctorWho_SleepNoMoreA rescue team on Le Verrier Space Station stumble upon the Doctor and Clara wandering the passageways. There doesn’t appear to be anyone else on board, so together they explore, trying to find out what happened to the crew. They soon find themselves being chased by a monster that crumbles into sand when they trap its arm in a door. On closer inspection the Doctor determines that it’s organic. Then they find the Morpheus machines, designed to mess with people’s brains so they get the benefits of a month’s worth of sleep in five minutes, enabling them to stay awake with no ill effect. The Doctor hypothesizes that the monsters are a by-product of the machines, a thought that is especially discomforting after Clara is dragged into one of them. But it also appears there are more monsters, and they are carnivorous, and restless…

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 an odd episode. First, it appears to be a single-parter–the first of the season. Second, there was no title sequence. It was also the first Doctor Who story made in what’s known as “found footage” style. That is, the whole story is told by means of a recording that was made at the time but discovered after the fact. Kind of like the movies “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity.” One could argue that the New Series 2 story “Love and Monsters” was actually the first Who episode to take on the “home documentary” look, but that story wasn’t strictly speaking “found footage” since it was Elton’s recording, and he was still around to show it.

I’m not really sure what to think of this episode. It was an interesting idea, and I don’t object to them trying something different. But did it work as a story? Coming from Mark Gatiss, who has written a few episodes of Who and who, most notably, is Moff’s “Sherlock” partner in crime, one might expect something exceptional. But I’ve found Mark’s Who contributions to be inconsistent. “The Unquiet Dead” was excellent, and both “Cold War” and “The Crimson Horror” were good. But “Victory of the Daleks” wasn’t that season’s best, neither was “Robot of Sherwood.”

The mood of this story was suitably creepy, with plenty of tension, but the pacing seemed slow to me. And the only characters that appeared to serve any purpose (aside from the Doctor and Clara) were Rassmussen and Nagata, the leader of the rescue team. None of the others stood out–they were just there to be scared and get into trouble. Is that unfair? I suppose the test of this would be to ask: if the episode had only consisted of the Doctor, Clara, Rassmussen, and Nagata, would the events and the outcome have been significantly different?

And then there was the ending where Rassmussen dismisses the notion that the effects of the Morpheus machine only applied to those who had been in the machine, saying anyone who watched the video would be affected. Of course, this is meant to spook us as Rassmussen dissolves into dust. Very “Tales of the Unexpected.” 🙂 Now, the fact Rassmussen doesn’t deny that those who have been in the Morpheus machine will eventually turn to monsters might not bode well for Clara. Is this the way Clara will exit the show, suddenly turning into a pile of dust in the middle of episode 10? I guess we’ll see…

What did you think?

PS: The pictures I’ve been using for the past couple of seasons are poster designs created for each episode by Stuart Manning. Sorry for not giving credit before!

Who Review: The Zygon Inversion

DoctorWho_TheZygonInversionZygon-Clara’s attempts to blow up the aircraft carrying The Doctor and Osgood are temporarily foiled when the real Clara wakes up in her Zygon pod. She manages to buy time for The Doctor and Osgood to parachute out before Zygon-Clara’s missile finds its target. Zygon-Clara, who, it turns out, is the commander of the rebel Zygons, resumes her quest to end the ceasefire and instigate war between the Zygons and humans. But now she has an ace up her sleeve. With the realization that there’s a two-way link between her and real Clara, she can mine Clara’s memories to find the location of the Osgood box, and transmit the signal that will put an end to the peace…

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 second part of this season’s two-part Zygon story started with the kind of cliffhanger you know can’t be all that it seems. After all, if the Doctor gets blown up, that’s the end of the show. Surely the Doctor must survive, so the excitement is in seeing how he survives. And this time it’s a close call with a parachute jump from the plane. Of course, the Doctor has a Union Jack parachute–a James Bond reference, perhaps? (See the end of the pre-titles sequence in “The Spy Who Loved Me.”)

The crux of this episode is the Osgood box, and negotiating peace with the rebel Zygons. Of course Kate Stewart survived her Zygon attack by shooting her assailant with “five rounds, rapid”–a reference to one of the Brigadier’s famous lines from the 1971 story, “The Daemons.” Kate is on hand to represent the human race when it comes to peace talks, though Kate is far more willing to destroy the Zygons than the Doctor would prefer.

The Doctor’s impassioned speech to the Zygon commander, recalling “The Day of the Doctor,” and the terrible decision he almost made (and actually did make before he went back an un-made it… wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…). Capaldi is on form, pleading for the sake of both humans and Zygons, for thoughtfulness. What would a Zygon victory look like? What would a world populated with only Zygons be like? Who would make music? Who would make the instruments to play? And how would the Zygons protect themselves against the next rebellion? And the next? And the next? “Break the cycle!” he implores. Which they do. The Zygon commander stands down, and the Doctor causes everyone to forget about the rebellion. Everyone except the Zygon commander. He wants her to remember, so she won’t let it happen again. And, in what I see as a gesture of her best intentions, she takes the form of Osgood–so there are two Osgoods to keep the peace once more.

This was a good story, though it doesn’t leave much room to bring back the Zygons–at least not on Earth. Writing, acting, effects–all top-notch as usual. The Doctor’s speech does make some good points about the futility of war, and how often war is undertaken with no thought to what life will be like after. However, even though I hate war, I have to admit that while I wish it was that simple, it isn’t always. Sometimes, war is necessary to stop obstinate, evil people (e.g., Hitler), and in what is (from a Christian worldview) a fallen world, there will always be a need to use force from time to time. But the Doctor’s point of view is well-taken.

I think we’re coming up on the end of Clara’s time. If you recall, at the end, Clara says to the Doctor (and I’m paraphrasing a little), “You really thought I was dead?” To which he responds, “Worst month of my life.” “Month?” says Clara. “More like five minutes”–or something like that. Then, in the trailer for next week’s story, we see this Morpheus machine that can let people go a whole month without sleep…

So, what did you think?

Who Review: The Zygon Invasion

DoctorWho_TheZygonInvasionAfter the peace treaty forged in “The Day of the Doctor” (the 50th Anniversary Special), the Zygons were allowed to live on Earth, taking on human form, and co-existing with the humans. But after a while, a faction of Zygons became dissatisfied with this arrangement. It wasn’t enough to co-exist; they wanted to take over. And now the time has come for that plan to play out, starting with the capture of the embodiment of that peace itself: Osgood. And with Zygons located all over the planet, is there anywhere safe? Does UNIT have the resources to fight? And does the Doctor stand to lose everything…?

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!

Back to a more traditional two-parter with a cliffhanger. Like many other fans, I was pleased to see Osgood return. Bringing characters back from the dead is always risky, given the often lame explanations for why they didn’t die, or how they “recovered.” This one worked, since she was a Zygon double. But not simply a double: a hybrid. I had to chuckle at the conversation she had with the Doctor about the fact he used to wear question marks on his shirts. This costume choice has long been a sore point among fans, since it took the underlying mysterious element of his character and shoved it in your face. So, it wasn’t a complete surprise it was handled with humor and cheek.

Sonic sunglasses sonic sunglasses sonic sunglasses… grumble grumble… okay–I’ve got that out of my system. 🙂

The story itself–at least so far–was good, and makes an important point about trust. As the Doctor pointed out, while Zygons had gone rogue, it was a faction, not the whole. Granted, a faction of rogue Zygons can do a lot of harm, but the response needs to be measured to protect the innocent as much as possible. I’m sure there was an intentional parallel to our real-life situation, where often a response to a threat is necessary, but it’s too easy to go in with all guns blazing, painting an entire people group with the same brush for the sake of a “simple” solution.

I don’t know whether it was the story, or the direction, but it felt a bit like watching an episode of “The X-Files.” Again, not necessarily a complaint, but maybe more an observation on the style of story-telling this production team seems to enjoy.

Lastly, I was a bit uncomfortable with the Doctor’s acceptance of the “President of the World” title, and his using that title to procure an aircraft, just because he likes to “ponce around” in planes. The whole guitar/rock star bit is wearing thin for me. Yes, the Doctor has a fun, playful, even childish side to him. And maybe this kind of behavior can fit with the Doctor. I can’t say I like it though. I’m used to a bit more humility from the Time Lord (aside from the occasional, “Don’t kill me, I’m a genius!” type of comment).

But all in all, another good episode, I think. Performances, direction, effects, writing, all top-notch. Hopefully the next part will be at least as good!

What did you think?