Tag Archives: Twelfth Doctor

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?

Who Review: Dark Water

DoctorWho_DarkWater_smA car accident claims the life of Danny Pink. Distraught, Clara first asks the Doctor to take her to visit a volcano, and then to take her back in time to save Danny. The Doctor refuses since this would create a paradox, but Clara doesn’t give up. She finds all seven of the TARDIS keys and threatens to throw them all into the volcano unless the Doctor saves Danny. The Doctor refuses, and Clara throws in the last key… only to find that the Doctor has tricked her. They are not at the edge of a volcano and the TARDIS keys are on the floor of the ship. She has been in a trance so the Doctor could observe how far she would go to get Danny. Despite her betrayal, the Doctor offers to take her to find Danny. He has always wondered if there is an afterlife, and this would be a great opportunity to find out. The Doctor plugs Clara into the TARDIS’ telepathic interface, tells her to think about Danny, and to the Doctor’s surprise, the TARDIS sets off. The place they end up is, however, not at all what either of them expected. Something’s not right in Paradise–something that threatens humanity. And the person in charge is not all she seems to be, either!

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 I’ve mentioned before, I get a little nervous when Doctor Who appears to tackle topics that could be controversial. But thankfully, it turns out “Paradise” is not at all the afterlife, at least not as Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others might conceive of it. Indeed, this is all a plot to harvest the souls of the dead and transplant them (minus emotions) into “new” bodies. Of course, these bodies are not new to us–they’re cybermen! That aspect of the story was a mild surprise. The promotional pictures (and last week’s trailer) already told us the cybermen would be in the finale, so we figured they’d play a part somewhere. The big surprise–at least to many–was the identity of Missy. Speculation has been rife for over two months as to who this woman is. All is now revealed: Missy is short for Mistress… or The Master, regenerated in female form!

I say this was a surprise to many, but I have to say, I kinda called this one. Not here, I don’t think, but on a Doctor Who blog back in August (see HERE–scroll down to see my comment). With all the fuss over whether the Doctor would regenerate into a woman, I could just imagine Steven Moffat thinking that no-0ne would suspect a female Master. It sounds so preposterous, few would entertain the idea. Which is why I thought that’s what Moff might do. As I mentioned last time, Michelle Gomez’ performance in the trailer did sound a little Rani-ish. But watching her last night, you could see the John-Simm-Master’s mania in the things she says and does: Telling her doctor to “Say something nice!” before killing him. Snogging the Doctor saying it’s part of the “welcome package.” All very 2008/2009 Master.

I’m not sure about other Whovians, but I’m totally on-board with this female Master. The fact that a Time Lord can regenerate into a different gender has often been talked about without objection, but this is the first on-screen evidence of the fact with a known Time Lord. And, as I said, Michelle Gomez did an excellent job conveying enough of the old Master so we’re on somewhat familiar ground, but also giving him her own “Missy” twist.

As for the rest of the episode, I enjoyed it. Clara’s reaction to Danny’s death was, I think, exactly what I would expect. Of course she would call the Doctor. Of course she would want to save the man she loves. The fact that he was on the phone with her at the time of the accident ramped up the heartbreak, too. I’m not sure what this does for my “something’s up with Danny” theory, but this was good storytelling. In the world of Doctor Who, what better, and more believable, way would there be to get us into “Paradise” than trying to find Clara’s dead boyfriend? (I don’t know if Moff intended it or not, but this seems to play a bit on the story of Aeneas visiting his dead father in the underworld; but I don’t think there were any cybermen in Virgil’s story.)

Once the Doctor and Clara arrived in “Paradise” the action slowed down and a lot of the time was spent exploring this world, finding out what’s going on. Some may complain about this, but we need to remember this is the first of a two-part story. One of the advantages of two-parters is you get to do a bit more world building and character development. I expect we’ll see much more action in the next part.

Again, great performances all around. The effects were good, and this was another good Steven Moffat story with lots of drama, tension, and humor (e.g., the Doctor not understanding why anyone would want to use “dark water” in a swimming pool).

I’ve just scratched the surface here and I’m sure there’s a lot more to talk about. What are your thoughts? What did you like? What did you not like? How do you feel about a female Master? Please comment!

Who Review: In the Forest of the Night

DoctorWho_InTheForestOfTheNight_smLondon has been taken over by a forest overnight. In the confusion, young Coal Hill student Maebh Arden has stumbled upon the TARDIS and asks the Doctor to help. Meanwhile, Danny and Clara have taken a class of students for an overnight stay at London’s Natural History Museum, so they are as surprised as everyone else to find the city turned into a jungle. They meet up with the Doctor at Trafalgar Square–or what they can find of it–where the TARDIS is parked, only to narrowly escape Nelson’s Column as it topples over from the growing foliage. But that’s not the least of their worries. Animals have escaped from London Zoo and are hiding amidst the trees. And it seems Maebh knows more about this than even she realizes. What are the voices she keeps hearing? And how is it she was able to predict the coming solar flare? Is the earth fighting back against the humans? With the Doctor running out of ideas, it seems the trees have won…

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!

Remember this now, do you? I can quite understand if, after the “Next Week” preview, you’ve quite forgotten what this episode was about. More of that later…

Another interesting concept–a major metropolitan city becomes a forest. Trees everywhere. And then the whole world becomes forest land. As you might imagine, my main disappointment with the episode was… a non-baddie! Now, I admit, this was a nice idea–the trees are our friends, protecting us from the sun. It even has some scientific foundation, which is always a plus with Doctor Who (*ahem* Kill the Moon *ahem*). However, as you know, I find these benign threats tend to suck the potential drama out of the story. After a good juicy bad guy last week, this was a bit of a let-down. But not too much.

The CGI and effects overall were great. If you saw the related episode of Doctor Who Extra (it’s on YouTube), you’ll know they used a forest near Newport, Wales for the forest scenes, planting replicas of phone boxes, Underground signs, traffic lights, etc. in strategic locations. Very cleverly done, and, I thought, quite convincing. As usual Capaldi and Coleman gave great performances, as did Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink. Whatever the failings of this season, you can’t fault the acting. Everyone from the lead stars to the child actors has brought their A-game, which really helps lift even the dodgiest episode.

The fact that this episode featured children quite heavily made this more of a children’s episode than a broadly “family” episode. This is a story I could expect from The Sarah Jane Adventures. That’s not necessarily a criticism (I enjoyed The Sarah Jane Adventures… *sniff*), but it does make it stand out from the other stories this season–especially the previous two (“Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline”) which have been particularly dark and scary. The kids were superb (special shout-out to red-headed Ruby, played by Harley Bird, and Abigail Eames who played Maebh), but they rather dominated the episode. If I was still a kid, maybe I’d have appreciated that more.

With ten episodes of season eight behind us, we are left with two to go: the two-part season finale. And what a finale it looks to be! What’s up with Clara? “Clara Oswald has never existed!”?? Clara telling the Doctor he’ll never step inside the TARDIS again?? Perhaps I’ve been suspicious of Danny for too long and I’ve missed something with the Impossible Girl? Then we have Missy’s “that was a surprise” comment at the end of the episode. And, of course, Cybermen! What have they got to do with all this? Are you looking at me for answers? I’ve seen some of the theories (and there will be many more before Saturday), some suggesting Clara’s a TARDIS, or she’s an cyborg, or she’s one of the fragments of Clara that scattered throughout the Doctor’s time line in Name of the Doctor… and frankly, I’m suspicious of them all. Too complicated. Too convoluted. Perhaps Clara’s comment was taken out of context to get everyone to watch the episode. As if we wouldn’t anyway! Seriously, though, I’m still holding out for Danny being not all he appears. I’m not convinced there’s more to Clara than we already know (my goodness, how much more CAN she be after last season?!)… but let’s not put anything past Steven Moffat. I’m still trying to figure out Season 6!

So, share your thoughts! Did you like In the Forest of the Night? Any speculations you’d like to share about the finale? Remember–document it here, and if you’re right you have bragging rights for life!

Who Review: Mummy on the Orient Express

DoctorWho_MummyOnTheOrientExpressIt seems Clara has calmed down since the end of the last episode and has told the Doctor she’s done traveling with him. But she doesn’t want to end their time together on a sour note, so she agrees to “one last hurrah.” For her final TARDIS journey, the Doctor takes Clara for a trip on the Orient Express–not the original, but an exact replica that flies passengers through space. Clara’s hopes for a peaceful ride are dashed when people start dropping dead. There’s talk of an ancient superstition: a mummy who can only be seen by the person he’s about to kill, and once they see him, they only have sixty-six seconds to live. The Doctor’s interest is piqued, and then made mandatory by the train-ship’s computer, Gus. He has assembled the best minds around to work out how to capture this creature, and they need to hurry up before it kills them all…

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!

Despite some minor quibbles, this was another excellent Who episode. The BBC always does a great job with period drama, so recreating the 1920s vibe was a no-brainer that they pulled off with style. There’s so much in this episode to call out for praise: the performances by all the main characters (Frank Skinner is relatively unknown here the US–okay, I’ve been here over 20 years and I’d never heard of him–but he was a great side-kick to the Doctor), the design of the train-ship, showing the 66-second count-down on screen to amp-up the drama, and the mummy himself, which was another triumph of design and execution. I loved that the Doctor used the period cigarette case to hold jelly babies. And I really hoped someone (preferably the Doctor) would say “are you my mummy?”–and I wasn’t disappointed. That’s the third time the line’s been used (see “The Empty Child” and “The Poison Sky” for the previous two), and it never gets old!

While I’ve liked Capaldi’s tougher-gruffer Doctor, I was beginning to wonder if maybe it was going too far. The First Doctor was a crotchety old man, but he had a heart and he wasn’t above showing how much he really cared for his companions. In this episode, the Doctor seemed to show his compassion in taking a risk that could have cost him his life at the expense of someone else. We need to see that even from this dark Doctor, just to remind us that the other Doctors are all in there too.

The minor quibbles? First, yet again, we have a monster that’s not really a monster–he’s just an ancient soldier trapped into thinking he’s still fighting a war, waiting for the enemy to declare surrender. When the Doctor figures this out, he cries “I surrender” at the last minute, and the mummy salutes and dies. All very nice and heart-warming, but a bit anticlimactic. This “misunderstood bad-guy” theme seems to be popular this season, and it’s all a bit too postmodern for my taste. Even the Dalek in the second story was a “good” Dalek! Maybe it’s a symptom of the culture, but what happened to the classic “good vs. evil” confrontations? I’m reminded of the Second Doctor’s speech in “The Moonbase”: ” There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought.” I think we’re losing sight of that with these stories. Right now, the Twelfth Doctor would say: ” There are some corners of the universe which contain beings that have very different values than us. Beings which appear to act against our preconceptions of what’s right and wrong. They must be understood.” That might go down well in certain parts of modern society, but, frankly, it doesn’t make for consistently good drama.

Other quibbles? Clara’s domestics, and the part-time TARDIS traveling… still happening… say no more…

So what’s up with Danny and Clara now? That call at the end was an interesting development. Danny was checking in to make sure Clara was okay and “that was it.” She gets off the phone and tells the Doctor Danny’s okay with them traveling together, and she doesn’t really want to end her time with him. So, after lying to Danny about the Doctor, she finally told him the truth, and, last week, kept her word by telling Danny when the Doctor pushed her too far. Now, she has lied to Danny about being done with the Doctor, and lied to the Doctor that Danny’s okay with things. Further, since when was her traveling with the Doctor up to Danny? It was Clara who wanted to call it quits, so why does she say it’s okay to carry on because Danny said so? As I’ve said before, I think something’s up with Danny–he’s not all that he appears to be. He’s been passive-aggressively trying to drive a wedge between Clara and the Doctor. Maybe Clara’s becoming wise to that and is choosing sides? And the Doctor seems blissfully ignorant of this whole situation, but is he really?

Your turn! What did you love and/or hate about this episode? Were you heart-warmed or disappointed by the resolution? Do you want more evil baddies or are you happy with the misunderstood foes? And what do you think’s going on with Danny? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Who Review: Time Heist

DoctorWho_TimeHeistWhile Clara gets ready for her second date with Danny, the Doctor tries to persuade her to join him on another trip in the TARDIS. Both plans are scuppered by a telephone call to the Doctor. We skip to the Doctor and Clara sitting at a table with two other people, all holding memory worms. Neither the Doctor nor Clara remember anything from the time the Doctor picked up the phone until that moment. Their two new friends, Psy and Saibra, are similarly oblivious to why they are there. There’s a metal briefcase on the table containing a message from “The Architect”: they are to rob the most secure bank in the universe. And they need to hurry up because they’re in a room in the bank, the guards know they’re there, and they are coming for them…

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

The Doctor robbing a bank? We know the Doctor has always lived on the edge, but he always operates with the best of intentions. The only way the Doctor would agree to a bank heist would be if there was some really good reason. And throughout the entirety of the episode, we are kept wondering what that reason could possibly be. Perhaps the Doctor isn’t a good man after all..?

In the course of their safe-cracking adventure, the Doctor discovers the two newcomers have ulterior reasons for being there. Psy, a professional bank robber and hacker,  is an augmented human with a computerized brain. He had been in prison where, to protect his loved ones during interrogation, he erased all his memories of them. Memories he would love to get back. Saibra is a mutant human who transforms into an identical copy of everyone she touches–or who touches her. She would love to be cured of this mutation so people wouldn’t be afraid to hold her.

We also meet the newest Doctor Who monster: The Teller. This is a large bulk of a biped with a huge gaping mouth and eyes on the ends of tentacles. The one we encounter is introduced as “the last of its kind.” Ms. Delphox, the head of security, uses this creature’s ability to scan brains and turn them to soup as a means of punishing would-be criminals. Once Ms. Delphox locates the Doctor and his gang, she lets The Teller loose to deal with them.

But, of course, the Doctor is a good man. In a clever piece of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-ness, it turns out the Architect is the Doctor, and he’s sending himself and his three companions on a return trip to the bank in his past, but not to rob it. Rather, their mission is a rescue mission. The Teller isn’t the last of his kind. A female of his species is being kept in a vault as a way of ensuring the creature does the bidding of Ms. Delphox and her superior, Director Karabraxos. This elaborate scheme was the only way to get the creature to the vault and to rescue them both. The memory worms were necessary since the creature detects guilty thoughts. The fact they didn’t know why they were robbing the bank helped keep them alive.

I thought it was a clever story. It’s not easy writing time-twisty tales like this without overlooking some detail or leaving a gaping plot hole. As far as I can tell, the story seems to work well. I’m still not comfortable with all the domestic stuff with Clara, but I griped about Clara’s life outside the TARDIS last time. Suffice to stay, my complaint stands.

All the supporting cast put in great performances, with a special shout-out to Keeley Hawes who played Ms. Delphox. The air of arrogance and sociopathic indifference she gave off suited the character very well. And, again, another great turn by Capaldi. We’re really getting more of a sense of this Doctor, and he is such a contrast to Matt Smith–which is a good thing. Not that I didn’t enjoy Matt’s Doctor, but I like to see a discernible contrast between Doctors (e.g., the First and Second, or the Ninth and Tenth).

Of all the effects in this episode, I thought The Teller was particularly well-realized. Rubber-suit monsters have come a loooong way since I watched Doctor Who as a child. The attention to detail the effects team put into that creature is amazing. In fact, I would say this was even light years ahead of the Slitheen from New Series 1. Though that was nearly ten years ago…!

In all, a good and original piece of Who with moderate scares, but a lot of entertainment value.

What did you think? Did you keep up with the wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-ness? And what about The Teller? Share your thoughts below…

Who Review: Robot of Sherwood

The Doctor invites Clara to pick a time and place to visit. To his surprise, she wants to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor laughs off her suggestion saying that Robin Hood is just a legend; he doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, Clara insists and the Doctor relents. Arriving in Sherwood Forest c. 1190 AD, the Doctor is greeted by an arrow shot by a man in green claiming to be Robin Hood. This Robin then introduces the Doctor and Clara to his band of outlaws: Friar Tuck, Little John, and so on. The Doctor is determined to demonstrate they can’t actually be Robin and his Merry Men, but the strange machinations of the Sheriff of Nottingham take priority. It seems he has an army of robots, and his designs stretch a little beyond controlling this little patch of medieval England…

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!

Mark Gatiss, veteran New Series writer and Steven Moffat’s “Sherlock” partner-in-crime, wrote this fun romp that is, he admits, a bit of an homage to the Mel Brooks movie “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” So, yes, there’s a healthy dose of humor, but the story isn’t without its darker side. The Sheriff is ruthless and merciless, as is evident from the way he treats the villagers. There are some good fight sequences, starting with Robin and the Doctor (armed only with a spoon), but progressing on to the battles with the robots, and finally Robin’s high-wire encounter with the Sheriff. These were well directed and in the vain of classic sword fights where the opponents heckle each other in the midst of combat. The Doctor’s snarky skepticism is, I think, a change from 10 and 11, and harkens back a little more to the First Doctor. We’ve come to know a Doctor who is open-minded and willing to stand corrected if things aren’t quite what he thought them to be at first. Twelve remains a Hood-denier almost until the end of the episode, when he leaves Robin a gift that appears to show a concession. However, I must admit to feeling some of the Doctor’s reluctance to believe this is really Robin Hood–but more on that in a moment.

I thought it interesting Gatiss and Moffat would take on a Who-meets-Hood story. Usually, the Doctor’s encounters with historical figures have been rooted in solid fact. There really was a Marco Polo, a Richard I, an H. G. Wells, a Queen Victoria, a Winston Churchill, and so on. I can only think of two other occasions where a Who story has involved the legendary, or near-mythical. The first was a First Doctor story called “The Myth Makers” where the Doctor, Stephen, and Vicki land in Ancient Greece and get embroiled in the Trojan War, helping the Greeks to construct the infamous Trojan Horse. The second was the Seventh Doctor story “Battlefield,” where Morgaine comes to visit, and the Doctor and Ace encounter Excalibur, and find Arthur’s body. I must say, though, I came away from this Robin Hood story still uncertain of how much of the Hood legend was introduced by the Doctor and Clara… or, indeed, if the Doctor may have been right to be skeptical all along…

Which brings me to curious plot points. There’s something about this story that felt to me like it was setting us up for something later. The fact that all the Robin Hood story elements just happened to be there as expected, including the traditional attire, and even Robin pining for his Maid Marian–it just all seemed too on-point, like it was a set-up. Maybe Clara’s memories of the Robin Hood legend were being used by someone to draw them into a bigger plan. Then there’s the ship fueled by gold. Whenever gold is a plot point in Doctor Who, I think Cybermen. In the classic series, Cybermen had a strong aversion to gold. The Cybermen in “Nightmare in Silver” received an upgrade patch to overcome this, but maybe we’re dealing with Cybermen who don’t have that patch? This wouldn’t be the first time the Cybermen have used humans to handle gold for them (see “Revenge of the Cybermen”). And the fact of the Sheriff being a cyborg…? The last curious and subtle point is the Doctor’s doodlings on the blackboard during the pre-title sequence. I have no idea what that’s about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s significant. Maybe the Doctor knows something’s afoot and he’s playing along…?

Shortly before the episode was broadcast, the BBC announced that a portion of the episode involving the beheading of “a character” had been cut in light of the recent terrorist executions of American journalists. Subsequent to the episode airing, a couple of websites published the missing portion as it was in the script, and others summarized what happened. In short, during Robin and the Sheriff’s climactic fight, the Sheriff knocks Robin to the ground and puts his sword to Robin’s neck. The Doctor throws a tapestry over the Sheriff and Robin decapitates him. Just as they begin to celebrate, the Sheriff’s head rolls out from the tapestry and begins to talk, explaining that the robots’ spaceship had landed on him, and they saved his life by making him into a cyborg. The Sheriff’s body grabs Clara, Robin throws the Sheriff’s head back to his body, they reunite, and the fight continues as broadcast. I can understand the reasoning behind the cut, but, as others have pointed out, this scene helps makes sense of the rest of the story: the Sheriff’s reference to being the first of a new “half-man half-machine” race, the fact his hand could grab the edge of the vat of molten gold despite his body being dead, and, of course, the title of the story–“Robot of Sherwood,” not “Robots of Sherwood.” As you might expect, Whovians are split as to whether the cut really mattered, and some even feel the story was better without this scene. As yet, no-one has said which version will make it to DVD/Blu-Ray.

What did you think? Do you agree with my plot-point theories? Do you have any to add? Did you notice the edit? Are you glad, indifferent, or annoyed that the BBC cut that sequence? Share your thoughts in the comments!