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Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls (Review)

In many ways, World Enough and Time felt like a nostalgic return to classic Doctor Who.

The first part of the season premiere luxuriated in its relaxed pacing, as Bill watched grainy black-and-white footage that moved at a glacial pace. When the Cybermen appeared, they were explicitly classified as “the Mondasian Cybermen” and designed to evoke their earliest appearance in The Tenth Planet. When John Simm revealed himself, he was wearing a “rubbish beard” under an overly-elaborate disguise. There was a sense that Steven Moffat was bidding farewell to Doctor Who with a celebration of the classic series’ eccentricities.

March of the Cybermen.

In contrast, The Doctor Falls is much more of an encapsulation of Moffat’s themes and ideas during his time on the show. Even the title of The Doctor Falls evokes the Moffat era; The Doctor Dances was the first episode to include the words “the Doctor” since Holiday for the Doctor, the first part of the First Doctor serial The Gunfighters. Moffat’s fascination with the Doctor as a character and concept is born out with his repeated reference to the character in the titles of his era; Vincent and the Doctor, The Doctor’s Wife, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.

More to the point, The Doctor Falls returns to the idea of Moffat’s “Doctor trilogy” as the heart of his tenure as executive producer, the narrative running through The Name of the Doctor, The Night of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Positioned roughly half-way through his run in terms of seasons and episodes, those stories encapsulated a lot of what Moffat felt about the character and the concept. It makes sense that The Doctor Falls should return to those ideas.

Masters of the Universe.

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Doctor Who: World Enough and Time (Review)

The Moffat era will likely be remembered for its “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” plotting, so perhaps World Enough and Time is an appropriate end point.

World Enough and Time begins what will be Steven Moffat’s last season finale, and what will be his last run as both writer and showrunner on Doctor Who. It is the beginning of the end. It is in some ways a less dramatic farewell than that overseen by his predecessor, with a year of specials meaning that Russell T. Davies was credited on the last nine episodes of his tenure. Instead, World Enough and Time is the first of Steven Moffat’s last three scripts for Doctor Who.

Heart-to-heart-implant.

World Enough and Time is bookended by these references, reminding the audience that time is running out for the Doctor. The teaser suggests an inevitable regeneration, as the Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS burning with energy. The closing shot of the “Next Time” trailer at the end of the episode is the Doctor digging his hand into the soil as the energy flows through his body. There is a definite sense that the Twelfth Doctor is (a lot) closer to his end than two his beginning.

Indeed, even the inclusion of the Cybermen in World Enough and Time plays into this idea. The Daleks have arguably always functioned as the death drive within Doctor Who, the Last Great Time War serving as a metaphor for the traumatic cancellation. The Cybermen provide an interesting inversion. They represent the continuation of life through grotesque means. The Cybermen are monsters that sacrificed their humanity to survive. While the only answer to the Daleks is life, the only answer to the Cybermen is death. Death comes to time.

No time for Missy-ing.

There are several interesting aspects of World Enough and Time, from the decision to build the two-parter around the Cybermen rather than the Daleks through to the decision to include two versions of the Master. However, the most strikingly “Moffat-y” aspect of the episode is how it approaches the question of time itself. The central hook of World Enough and Time is a colony ship where time has been dialated by a black hole, but that is not the most interesting “timey wimey” element of the series.

Instead, World Enough and Time is notable as a surprisingly nostalgic indulgence. It is an episode seems to bring the show back to its earliest days, from the Master’s campy disguise to his rubbish beard to the quite pointedly “Mondasian Cybermen” to the time spent watching a black-and-white show waiting a week to see what would happen next. World Enough and Time is a surreal curiousity, rather than a bombastic event. There is something very surreal in that.

Doctor Who watches Doctor Who.

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Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (Review)

“I think we’ve lost her, Doctor.”

“No. No, no, no, no. We just don’t know where she is. Not the same thing at all.”

Caesar the day.

The Eaters of Light is notable as the first episode of the revival Doctor Who to be written by a writer who worked on the classic series.

Of course, Russell T. Davies populated his relaunch with veterans of the interregnum, of the period between the cancellation of the classic show and the debut of the revival. Mark Gatiss had written books and audio plays. Steven Moffat had scripted The Curse of Fatal Death. Paul Cornell had overseen his own stillborn reboot in Scream of the Shalka. Rob Shearman had written for Big Finish. So it was not as if the series had ever completely abandoned its history and roots.

Torchbearer.

Indeed, over the course of the return, various landmark events occurred. The Autons were the first villains to reappear, appearing in Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Autons and Rose. William Thomas became the first actor to appear in both the classic series and the revival, scoring guest appearances in Remembrance of the Daleks and Boom Town. Graeme Harper was the first director to work on both iterations, directing The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks, before becoming a go-to director during the Davies era.

In some ways, The Eaters of Light offers another such landmark in the evolution of the series. Rona Munro becomes the first writer to work on both the classic series and the revival.

Stones of blood.

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Doctor Who: Empress of Mars (Review)

Empress of Mars might be the last script that Mark Gatiss writes for Doctor Who for a long time.

Chris Chibnell has expressed an interest in putting together an American-style “writers’ room” upon taking over the series. It is entirely possible that Gatiss might continue to write for the show, to the point that he has expressed optimism at the possibility. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Chibnell would have a different dynamic with Gatiss than the other showrunners; Gatiss was the first writer to write for the revival other than Russell T. Davies, and co-created Sherlock with Steven Moffat.

Forget a Hard Brexit or a Soft Brexit.
Mars wants a Cold Brexit.

Gatiss has been a fixture of Doctor Who, dating back even beyond the start of the revival. Like Davies and Moffat, Gatiss wrote extensively for the property during the interregnum between Survival and Rose. Since the series returned to television screens, Gatiss has been a regular contributor. He has written for eight of the ten television seasons to air since the show was revived in 2005. He has written for every season overseen by Steven Moffat, making him unique among the stable of  Doctor Who recurring writers. As such, Empress of Mars represents the end of an era.

Empress of Mars might just be the best script that Mark Gatiss has ever written for Doctor Who.

For Queen and Planet.

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Doctor Who: Extremis (Review)

I need to know what’s real and what’s not real.

Don’t we all.

“Book him, lads!”

“Death is an increasing problem,” reflects the voice over at the start of Extremis.

The first five episodes of the season had largely been about establishing the new cast dynamic. The Pilot, Smile and Thin Ice were an old school present-future-past triptych to start the year in introduce Bill. Knock Knock focused on Bill’s life outside the TARDIS. Oxygen marked the first episode to properly incorporate Nardole into the adventure. This was largely work setting up a dynamic that would carry across the season. However, the table has now been set.

It ain’t Oval ’til it’s Oval.

It makes sense that the season should turn its attention to the prospect of death at this point in the year. This will be the final season of Doctor Who to star Peter Capaldi. It will also be the last season produced by Steven Moffat. Extremis is the sixth episode of the twelve-episode season. It marks a point of transition for this final year, particularly positioned as the first episode in a mid-season pseudo-three-parter.

Death permeates Extremis, in a manner both literal and metaphorical. It is an episode in which the Doctor effectively commits suicide, along with many of the planet’s best and brightest, accepting his own uselessness in the context of the world around him. This primary plot is juxtaposed with a framing sequence in which the Doctor bears witness to the execution of Missy, a sequence that goes into great detail about just how difficult it must be to kill a Time Lord.

The light at the end.

Extremis is a very grim episode, in a manner that recalls Heaven Sent. Both are episodes built around the big twist that the audience is watching an iteration of the Doctor, rather than the definitive version of the Doctor himself. It is possible to contextualise this within the broader framework of the Moffat era, populated as it is by doppelgangers and counterpart Doctors; the ganger!Doctor from The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People, the Teselecta from The Wedding of River Song, even Clara at the end of Hell Bent.

However, the iterations of the Doctor in Heaven Sent and Extremis exist to ask their own particular question. These are episodes built around the challenge of what the Doctor does when he is confronted with a problem that he cannot solve, a trap that he cannot escape. In Heaven Sent, no single iteration of the Doctor can escape the clockwork prison. In Extremis, this iteration of the Doctor is actively helping the enemy. Neither is the “definitive” Doctor. What does the Doctor do when confronted with the idea that he is not “real”? He fights anyway.

He hasn’t a prayer.

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Doctor Who: Oxygen (Review)

Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.

– the Doctor about sums it up

In space, EVERYONE can hear you scream…

Oxygen plays very much like a companion piece to Thin Ice earlier in the season. Both are essentially stories about monstrous capitalism, from nineteenth century London through to the depths of outer space.

Indeed, Oxygen pitches itself as something akin to a late seventies or early eighties science-fiction film, in terms of aesthetic and politics. The episode’s production design recalls the “used future” of films like Star Wars, while the heavy criticism of capitalism invites comparison to films like Alien or Outland. Indeed, Oxygen even borrows from a similar strain of horror movies, tapping into the fear of zombies as the monstrous face of capitalism that can be traced back to Dawn of the Dead.

Station keeping.

Jamie Mathiesen has been one of the most consistently impressive writers of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, turning in impressive scripts for both Mummy on the Orient Express and The Girl Who Died, along with a genuine masterpiece in Flatline. Indeed, Oxygen is the most impressive episode in the stretch of the season, a bold and ambitious piece of allegorical science-fiction, wedded to a genuinely scary concept, top-notch production design, and any number of clever ideas.

Oxygen is a brilliant piece of work, and a reminder of just how effectively Doctor Who can blend its disparate elements into a satisfying whole.

Give him space to work.

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Doctor Who – Knock, Knock (Review)

“That’s what they’re called, Driads?”

“That’s what I’m calling them, yes.”

“You’ve gone crazy.”

“Well, I can’t just call them lice, can I?”

Performance is a bit wooden.

Knock Knock is a solid, if unexceptional, episode of Doctor Who. It occasionally feels more like a grab bag of idea welded together, more than a single cohesive story.

Knock Knock is essentially three very different episodes sutured together in a decidedly haphazard fashion. Knock Knock is, in quick succession: an episode focusing on Bill’s life outside the TARDIS, an old-school haunted house adventure, an intense familial psychodrama with a powerhouse guest performance. There is a strong sense that Knock Knock would work better if it chose to be any two of those three episodes, but that it simply cannot hold itself together trying to satisfy all three masters.

Dial it back, there.

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