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Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Forest of the Dead originally aired in 2008.

Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives.

– River brings Moffat’s contributions to the Davies era a full circle

There’s actually quite a lot to like about Forest of the Dead. Like Silence in the Library, it doesn’t really push Moffat’s work on Doctor Who that much further. A lot of its big ideas can be found in Moffat’s earlier Doctor Who work. Still, it is quite clever and quite well-written, and a pretty well-constructed episode. This is, after all, the last episode of the Davies era that is not credited to Davies himself. Given it’s written by the showrunner elect, that celebratory feel is justified.

At the same time, however, there are some very uncomfortable gender roles at work in Forest of the Dead for female characters like Donna or River. Moffat would come under a lot of fire during his tenure producing Doctor Who for the way that he wrote female characters, but I’d actually argue that the problems with Forest of the Dead are more in keeping with wider Davies-era trends towards the way that female characters are written.

It just clicked...

It just clicked…

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Doctor Who: Silence in the Library (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Silence in the Library originally aired in 2008.

There’s the real world, and there’s the world of nightmares. That’s right, isn’t it? You understand that?

Yes, I know, Doctor Moon.

What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real.

– Cal and Doctor Moon get to the root of what makes Moffat scripts terrifying

Ah, Silence in the Library. The Steven Moffat story that isn’t, that doesn’t. The first Steven Moffat script that isn’t the strongest story in its season by a clear margin; the first Steven Moffat adventure that didn’t claim the Hugo for Doctor Who. The biggest problem with Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead is that they can’t quite measure to The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace or Blink. That’s hardly an unforgivable sin, and there’s no shame in not being quite as good an episode of Doctor Who as Midnight was.

I’m quite fond of the two-parter, even though I’ll concede that it has its problems. The most obvious of which is the fact that – four years into the revival – the audience has had a chance to come to appreciate “Moffat-isms”, with many viewers able to recognise the writer’s preferred genre tricks and tropes. Silence in the Library is far from the most original script of the season, but it’s well written and well executed.

It’s just a little too familiar.

Going by the book on this one...

Going by the book on this one…

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Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (Review)

How do we get down there? Jump?

Don’t be silly. We fall.

– Clara and the Doctor set things straight

Like The Wedding of the River Song, The Name of the Doctor suggests that Moffat might be better served by reverting to the Davies-era model of two-part season finalés. The strongest season ender of the Moffat era (and probably the best season finalé of the revived show) was The Big Bang, because it felt like Moffat had enough space to allow his ideas to breathe. The Name of the Doctor is a lot sharper and a lot more deftly constructed than any of the closing episodes from Russell T. Davies’ seasons, but it feels a little too compact, a little too tight for its own good.

To be fair, Moffat is has very cleverly structured his season. The mystery of Clara was seeded as early as Asylum of the Daleks and hints have been scattered throughout the past year of Doctor Who. Even the build-up to the final line of the episode feels like an idea that Moffat has been toying with since The Beast Below. Despite all this, it still feels like The Name of the Doctor could do with a little more room to elaborate and develop the concepts at the core of the story.

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

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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: The Wedding of River Song (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Wedding of River Song originally aired in 2011.

“I had to die. I didn’t have to die alone.”

– The Doctor

That was a really crammed 45 minutes. If I’m ever looking for an example of how much plotting Steven Moffat can fit into a single regular-sized episode of Doctor Who, I think I only need to look back at The Wedding of River Song. It’s a piece of very smart science-fiction writing, bristling with ideas and tying up quite a lot of the questions that Moffat raised over the course of the last two years, while raising even more.

It’s something that Moffat’s Doctor Who seems to struggle with, balancing the show’s appeal and accessibility with long-term arc-based story telling. It’s a conflict that’s playing out across a variety of television shows, building off the massive success of Lost, and demonstrating that television shows with serialised plot elements can draw (and, for the most part, keep) large audiences.

It’s still a risky gambit for any television show, particularly one like Moffat’s Doctor Who, where the episodes are so few and so far spaced across the television season. Arcs like this run the risk of extending some of the problems with the season as a whole, rather than playing up the individual strengths of the episodes.

Death of the Doctor…

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Doctor Who: Night Terrors (Review)

I’ve really liked Mark Gatiss’ contributions to Doctor Who. While not amongst the very best the series has to offer, The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot’s Lantern were both very solid monster-of-the-week episodes with clever concepts, a huge amount of energy and a sharp wit. Night Terrors shares all these attributes with those two earlier of Gatiss’ stories, but benefits from a wonderfully endearing sense of nostalgia and a very effective urban setting we really haven’t seen since the end of the Davies era.

George needs professional help…

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Doctor Who: Let’s Kill Hitler (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Let’s Kill Hitler originally aired in 2011.

You’ve got a time machine, I’ve got a gun. What the hell. Let’s kill Hitler.

– Mels drops a title

Well, Steven Moffat made it quite clear from the outset that he was going to play with the structure of his second season as executive producer. The show was split and broadcast in two blocks, straddling the summer. It opened with a rather epic two-part adventure that seemed to show us the end of the Doctor’s journey. Let’s Kill Hitler is positioned in a very strange way. It is simultaneously the light and quirky opening episode of the season’s second block, and also the hour devoted to resolving a lot of the lingering questions overshadowing the arc-driven sixth season of the revived Doctor Who.

It is, in short, a mess. It’s a confident and occasionally brilliant mess, but a mess nonetheless.

Crashing the Nazi Party…

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