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Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express (Review)

“You know, Doctor, I can’t tell if you’re ingenious or just incredibly arrogant.”

“On a good day, I’m both.”

Mummy on the Orient Express is Doctor Who in a blender. It’s classic period piece, genre pastiche and science-fiction spectacle, mixed with a healthy dose of creature feature horror and a solid development of the themes running through the eighth season so far. It’s clever, witty and energetic. The episode is a delight from beginning to end, beating out Robot of Sherwood and Time Heist to claim the title of the year’s best “romp” – as you might expect from a story that is a Hammer Horror murder on the Orient Express in Space.

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Doctor Who: Deep Breath (Review)

“Dormant.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. Just hoping.”

– the Doctor and Clara discover things haven’t changed too much

The regeneration from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi represents the third time that Doctor Who has changed its lead actor since its relaunch in 2005. It is the third time that a regeneration has forced a change in the opening credits. Along the way, there have been a number of other on-screen regenerations, from Derek Jacobi to John Simm through to John Hurt to almost!Christopher Eccleston. And that excludes River’s transformations or David Tennant’s pseudo-regeneration at the end of the fourth season.

All of this is to say that, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the revived Doctor Who, audiences are quite familiar with the concept of regeneration. This isn’t as dramatic a shift as it was when Christopher Eccleston melted into David Tennant at the end of The Parting of the Ways. That was a freshly relaunched show swapping out its lead actor after less than a year. In contrast, Deep Breath marks a much more orderly and logical transition. It isn’t earth-shattering.

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All of this means that producer and writer Stephen Moffat gets to have a bit of fun with the concept. Moffat’s previous regeneration episode, The Eleventh Hour, had the burden of demonstrating that Doctor Who could survive without both Russell T. Davies and David Tennant. In fact, it was rumoured the BBC had considered just cancelling the show at that point. As such, The Eleventh Hour was an episode designed to reassure fans that not everything had changed; this was still the same show. Moffat’s first season as showrunner was very much “business as usual.”

Deep Breath has no such weight attached to it. It is an episode that doesn’t feel the same need to reassure its audience that everything is okay and everything is the same. Instead, it can revel in what is different; it can celebrate what is new. Deep Breath lacks the sheer energy and powerful charisma that made The Eleventh Hour so fantastic, but it has a comforting sense of certainty to it that makes it a joy.

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Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (Review)

“Good guys do not have zombie creatures. Rule one, basic storytelling.”

– Clara understands the way the universe works

And here our big theory that this anniversary season is a “greatest hits” collection runs into a bit of bother. Okay, Cold War was definitely a Troughton-era throwback. And Hide had a definite Hinchcliffe-and-Holmes feeling to it. (“The Baker Street irregulars” in 1974.) Maybe you could stretch it a little bit and argue that The Bells of St. John is a tribute to the Pertwee era by way of Russell T. Davies; and The Rings of Akhaten definitely feels a little like a classic bit of Hartnell-era world-building.

Making the case for The Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is just a little bit harder. After all, The Crimson Horror is another throwback to Hinchcliffe and Holmes, while Nightmare in Silver is another “base under siege by classic monster” tribute to Troughton. So there’s only one missing piece here. If that “greatest hits” argument holds, then Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS must be one gigantic shout out to the John Nathan Turner era.

Hear me out.

A shining beacon of light...

A shining beacon of light…

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Doctor Who: Hide (Review)

Say we actually find her. What do we say to her?

We ask her what she is, how she came to be.

Why?

Because I don’t know and ignorance is… what’s the opposite of bliss?

Carlisle.

Yes, Carlyle. Ignorance is Carlyle.

– the Doctor and Clara

Hide is the best episode of Doctor Who to air since The God Complex, almost two years ago. Writing an affectionate tribute to gothic horror Doctor Who, Hide allows even the most skeptical member of the audience to forgive writer Neil Cross for his somewhat clunky script for The Rings of Akhaten. It’s a nostalgic and atmospheric trip back in time, and a reminder of just exactly what this show is capable of, offering a creepy haunted house horror that manages to morph into an epic love story by the time the credits have rolled.

What lies beyond?

What lies beyond?

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Doctor Who: Cold War (Review)

Hair. Shoulderpads. Nukes. It’s the eighties. Everything’s bigger!

– the Doctor

The theory that this fiftieth anniversary half-season is intended as an homage to Doctor Who‘s rich and varied past holds up with Cold War. If The Bells of St. John was a Pertwee-era invasion tale, and The Rings of Akhaten was a shout-out to classic Hartnell world-building, then Cold War wears its influences even more brazenly. It’s the archetypal “base under siege” story popularised in the Troughton era, to the point where it even brings back one of the era’s most iconic monsters.

Indeed, the “Troughton base under siege by classic monsters” story is the only classic Doctor Who formulation that this half-season visits twice. While Cold War is easily weaker (and less ambitious) than Nightmare in Silver, it still fills that niche remarkably well. After all, if any Doctor Who writer can channel nostalgia, it’s Mark Gatiss.

Going green...

Going green…

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Doctor Who: The Rings Of Akhaten (Review)

The Rings of Akhaten is a visual feast. Both the Mill and Millennium FX deserve a tremendous amount for realising the eponymous environment, which stands out as the perhaps the most impressively alien landscape to appear on Doctor Who since the show began broadcasting in high definition. It’s a solid demonstration that Doctor Who has come a long way since the eighties, and that the show is well able to keep pace with its American competitors. However, it also makes the news that the Mill has been forced to shut down all the more depressing – especially since that shut-down was partially due to the reduced number of Doctor Who episodes being produced each year.

In fact, a lot of the bigger problems with The Rings of Akhaten can be traced back to the decision to structure this seventh season of the revived show, split over two different years instead of across a single year. Most obviously, there’s the fact that we are half-way through this season of Doctor Who, and The Rings of Akhaten feels like the second or third episode of a given season. So much time is taken up with matters and concerns associated with the first half of a given season that The Rings of Akhaten ultimately feels quite light and almost insubstantial.

Burn with me...

Burn with me…

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Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John (Review)

There’s something in the wifi.

– the Doctor does his best Jaws impression

The Bells of St. John is an intriguing piece of Doctor Who. This is the first time that the show has had to manage a companion swap in the middle of a season. That said, it doesn’t really work to think of the seventh season as a single cohesive entity.

The first five episodes are something of an abridged season, akin to the 2009 season of specials starring David Tennant. They are dedicated to tidying away lingering plot threads from the last two years of the show, and resolving Moffat’s lingering plot threads. The Power of Three and The Angels Take Manhattan are very much about tidying up the Doctor’s lingering connection to Rory and Amy.

In contrast, the second half of the season has a much more celebratory feeling to it, tied together by the over-arching mystery around Clara. While Clara pops up in Asylum of the Daleks, she’s very much a teaser of a mystery to come rather than a character in her own right. Instead, the themes of the season start in The Snowmen, introducing (or reintroducing) the Great Intelligence and Clara, and outlining the mystery of “the twice-dead girl.”

As a result, The Bells of St. John feels very much like a season opener to an unfortunately brief season of celebration.

Maybe that should be "thrice dead"?

Maybe that should be “thrice dead”?

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