Tag Archives: Twelfth Doctor

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?

Who Review: Thin Ice

It’s London, February 4th, 1814, and the last ever frost fair. For hundreds of years, the Thames has frozen once during the winter. It has become such a regular event, the city has made a tradition out of throwing a party on the river’s uncommonly icy surface. And this year is no exception. Fair food, acrobats, sword-eaters, games, and even elephants draw thousands out into the snow and onto the Thames for this once-a-year festivity. But something is amiss under the ice. The Doctor and Bill turn up in time to witness a child swallowed up by the river. Both Bill and the Doctor noticed little green lights under the surface, gathering around the boy’s feet just before the ice opened and he was sucked down. Whatever is hiding out in the Thames is not human, but something human seems to be pulling its chain. And this person has plans that could jeopardize the lives of many, unless the Doctor and Bill can stop 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!

If there’s one thing the best of the New Who writers grasp, it’s that you don’t need an overly ambitious concept to write a good story. Sarah Dollard, who wrote last season’s Clara finale, “Face the Raven,” this time gives us a tale of human greed, and the lengths to which it will go. The villain of the piece is not the giant serpent creature living in the Thames, but rather Lord Sutcliffe, the compassion-challenged aristocrat who wants to make money from the serpent’s extraordinary excrement. Poop that burns at twice the heat of coal and lasts longer could change the world and make him very rich. For that, he’s willing to sacrifice the creature’s freedom, and the lives of however many “forgettable” people it takes to keep it fed.

Once again, Pearl Mackie’s Bill Potts is superb, and if this keeps up we’re both going to get bored of me saying it for the next ten weeks. She draws the Doctor’s attention to the fact that her melanin count might be a problem in Regency England since, well, to put not-too-fine a point on it, “Slavery’s still totally a thing!” Then, when they venture out to watch the shows, Bill notes the variety of people in the crowds. “Interesting,” she says. “Regency England. A bit more black than they show in the movies.” To which the Doctor responds, “So was Jesus. History’s a white-wash.” This is quite a provocative comment, though admittedly quite accurate. This was the first time (as far as I can remember) that Jesus has been mentioned in Doctor Who by name, and the Doctor noting Jesus’s real ethnicity indicates the Whoniverse accepts the historical fact of Jesus. I know, that’s not an endorsement of Christian theology, but it’s better than I expected of a show produced largely by atheists and secularists.

Back to Bill, I really appreciate the genuine wonder and excitement she brings to the show. When the Doctor gives her the decision whether to leave the creature in chains or set it free–after all, it’s the future of her people, human beings, that’s at stake–she doesn’t need to make a speech about the huge responsibility being placed on her, and the mind-blowing idea of acting as representative of humanity. It’s on her face. And again, at the end, when the Doctor reminds her that the change in fortunes for the street urchins was because of the decision she made, the look on her face says more than words could. Excellent acting.

I’m glad we actually had a villain. I was afraid this was going to be another “Beast Below” (see New Who Season 5), where the “villain” was actually a victim of ignorance. Granted, the villain here is not one that will go down in the annuls of great Who monsters, but he gave the story an antagonist, which gives our heroes something to fight against.

The BBC always do a good job with period drama, and this story is no exception. Everything looks wonderfully believable, the effects are top-notch, and even the kids put in good performances on top of being adorable.

Nardole got just a few minutes in at the end, solidifying his role as the Doctor’s butler and caretaker. The “vault” story arc advances a few paces too, with the strange knocking that takes Nardole by surprise. Is it just coincidence that it’s three knocks? Remember the Tenth Doctor’s finale…?

Another great episode of Who. At this rate, this may end up being Capaldi’s best, as well as last, season!

What did you think of “Thin Ice”?

Who Review: Smile

For her first “proper” TARDIS trip, Bill chooses to visit the future. The Doctor takes her to a time when the Earth has been evacuated, to a planet that is to be the future home of the colonists. The place has been designed to appeal to humans, and make them content and comfortable. Emoji-robots monitor the city, making sure everyone is happy, while microscopic robot “Vardies” take care of construction, and agriculture. But happiness is more than just an aspiration–it’s a requirement. As the advance party found out, anything less than a smiley carries the death penalty. And when the Doctor and Bill find their skeletal remains, they realize they must do something before the colonists arrive, or the human race will be annihilated…

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!

I can’t say I didn’t experience some trepidation with the second episode of season ten. It was written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the writer responsible for the season eight story, “In the Forest of the Night,” which was–um–not my favorite episode of Doctor Who. Possibly one of my least favorites. Ever. Part of the problem with that story was the complete lack of real conflict. The Doctor assumed a problem that he set out to fix, only to find out there really wasn’t a problem and the earth was just taking care of its human inhabitants. A nice environmental message wrapped up in some witty dialog and tense moments with tigers and lost children, but not exactly riveting Doctor Who. Even “Time Flight” and “Love and Monsters” had proper antagonists! So, would we get more of the same with “Smile”? Or is there really a monster to defeat and people to save?

Well… sort of. Yes, the Vardies are vicious and will kill anyone who displays anything less than a positive demeanor on their emoji badges. And the human race is in peril–or potential peril–as a result of these brutal bots. But once again, we have the Doctor getting the wrong end of the stick, thinking he needs to destroy the city before the colonists arrive. No, the colonists are already there, in hibernation. And then, when Bill shows him the body of the first person to die (of natural causes), it dawns on the Doctor what’s really going on. The robots are programmed for happiness, so when the first thing happens that causes distress (death), the robots are confused, and seek to eliminate the cause of that unhappiness. And since it is the people themselves who are grieving, they kill the people. Which causes grief for other people, so the robots kill them, and so on. The Doctor’s solution? A re-boot of the system! Pop open the head of an emoji-bot, find the “reset” button, and let them discover a new purpose alongside their new human co-inhabitants.

So, there is some real danger, and a real problem to solve. But the “bad guys” are not really bad, just ignorant, and operating according to programming. And the resolution to the story was, like “In the Forest of the Night,” all a bit too easy. Indeed, the fact the Doctor could hit a reset button and make everything right put me in mind of “The Edge of Destruction,” the third ever Doctor Who story. In that adventure, the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan, are trapped in the TARDIS, and everyone seems to be turning on each other, possibly due to an outside force trying to take over. In the end, the strange behavior was the result of the TARDIS trying to warn the crew that something’s wrong with the ship, namely a broken spring on the “Fast Return” switch. So the Doctor fixes the switch, flips it, and all is restored to normal. “The Edge of Destruction” was written in two days as a filler story. I think the Who team could have come up with something better for “Smile.” For example, this could have been a great set-up for an alien invader looking to take over. Set the robots on the colonists, wait for them to be wiped out, then settle down and enjoy everything the people from Earth had created for themselves. Instead, we have something that starts out promising, end up a bit deflating, with lots of messaging about technology, emojis, and colonization.

The story isn’t without its highlights, the first being Bill. Her down-to-earth-ness and curiosity remind me of Sarah Jane, with a bit of Rose’s cheekiness. Peter Capaldi is excellent, as usual, and while the story may falter at the end, it’s a good script with a good premise. It’s easy to see the story as a critique of emoji culture, where emotions are conveyed by means of pictures, and there may well be a bit of cynicism intended. Show-runner Steven Moffat has made no secret of his somewhat-curmudgeonly attitude toward the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, but that’s mainly thanks to leaks, spoilers, and piracy, which obviously get up his nose. I prefer see it as a playful take on something that has become part of early 21st century digital life, with a gentle reminder that an emoji is no substitute for real life contact when it comes to knowing how people feel.

In episode one, we learned that the Doctor is watching over a mysterious vault. In this episode, we learn that the Doctor has promised to keep an eye on the vault, and not leave Earth. This is why he’s at the university. In his brief few seconds in this story, Nardole reminds the Doctor of his promise–right before the Doctor whisks Bill away to another time and place. The Doctor assures a concerned Bill that he will get them back before they left, so it won’t matter. But, of course, that doesn’t happen. I’m sure there will be consequences. We’ll have to wait and see.

I mentioned “The Edge of Destruction” earlier. That story ended with the TARDIS crew walking out into a snow covered landscape, to begin a new adventure where they meet Marco Polo. “Smile” ends with Bill and the Doctor walking out into snow-covered Regency London. With elephants. I presume this leads us straight into next week’s story, “Thin Ice.”

To sum up: “Smile” is a good story with a disappointing ending, worth watching mainly for the chemistry between the Doctor and Bill. While it’s much better than “In the Forest of the Night,” it’s by no means a classic, and I doubt it will be the talk of the series.

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: The Woman Who Lived

DoctorWho_TheWomanWhoLivedTracking down a dangerous amulet, the Doctor finds himself in seventeenth century England. He disrupts the attempted robbery of a carriage by a highwayman known as “The Nightmare.” To his surprise, this highwayman turns out to be Ashildr. But this is not the same Ashildr that he left in the Viking village. Immortality has changed her, and not for the better. And it seems her desire for danger and excitement has teamed her up with some questionable company…

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!

While this is the sequel to last week’s episode, “The Girl Who Died,” it transpires that these two stories are really two stand-alone episodes connected by a common character. “The Girl Who Died” explains why Ashildr is still alive 800 years later, and gives some character context, but you don’t need to have seen it to follow this story. The producers appear to have understood this since we didn’t get a “Previously…” recap at the beginning, making this an unusual two-parter. But that’s good. Not every multi-part story has to follow the formula.

Eighteen-year-old Maisie Williams (of “Game of Thrones” fame) puts in a great performance as the young-but-old Ashildr, now going by “Me,” because that’s the only name she ever remembers. Also notable is the fact that this is one of the few Doctor Who stories written by a woman (Catherine Tregenna, who has previously written episodes of Torchwood, Eastenders, and Casualty). Historically, Doctor Who has been fairly cutting edge in the fact that women have played a key role in its life (Verity Lambert, the first producer, to name just one). However, there haven’t been many female writers. In the classic era, Barbara Clegg wrote the Fifth Doctor story “Enlightenment,” and Rona Munro, wrote the last Seventh Doctor story, “Survival.” In the New Series era, we’ve had Helen Raynor, who wrote the Season Three Dalek two-parter, and… I can’t think of any others until now! But Catherine isn’t the only woman writing for Who this season. Sarah Dollard, an Australian writer working in the UK, has written Episode 10, “Face the Raven.”

Speaking of writing, the fact that this and the previous episode work as stand-alones is underscored by the fact that they were written by two different people. Usually, a two-part story is penned by the same person.

Enough of the interesting factoids! What about the story? I thought it was good. A different pace from last week, with a lot more introspection and soul-searching, and less action. I don’t recall much CGI work aside from the brief alien shoot-out near the end. That’s not a bad thing, but it does show that the focus of this story was on what it means to watch loved ones die, and how that affects someone who, as a result, chooses to live alone. Ashildr has become hardened, desperate to see time pass quickly, and losing sight of the value of friends, even the value of life itself. While this is told in terms of Ashildr’s experience, it clearly reflects on the Doctor, as we see in the hug he gives Clara at the end. If I didn’t know Clara would be leaving soon, I would be very VERY suspicious.

Ashildr’s new friend, Leandro, is a leonine creature (i.e., he’s a anthropomorphic lion). The last time I recall leonine aliens in Doctor Who was in the Fourth Doctor story, “Warrior’s Gate” (Romana’s last story). I don’t think they are the same race, however. The “Warrior’s Gate” aliens were Tharils, while Leandro says he’s from Delta Leonis.

The only minor quibble I have with this episode (aside from the return of the sonic sunglasses–NOOO!!) was Ashildr’s sudden realization that she actually does care about people. And perhaps it’s not so much that she suddenly showed concern for the townsfolk under fire from the aliens, but that she told us, “Oh my! I do care!” The old writing adage, “Show, don’t tell” really ought to have kicked in here. In the heat of the moment, we should have seen Ashildr trying to help people find cover, pleading with the Doctor to do something, etc. And then, when it’s all over, and she’s relieved and celebrating, the Doctor draws her attention to the fact that she cares more than she thought. That would have been much better than having Ashildr announce her change of heart to everyone.

But it’s a minor quibble. Otherwise, the BBC have delivered yet another cracking episode of Who. If this standard maintains, Season Nine will go down in the annals as one of the classics.

Next week–the Zygons return!

That’s what I thought. What did you think?