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Doctor Who: The Web of Fear (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 Web of Fear originally aired in 1968.

See, now this is interesting.

The Enemy of the World had the luxury of arriving almost unannounced, a genuine honest-to-goodness classic story that had been written off by all but a minority of fans as a generic run-around James Bond pastiche. It was recovered, it turned out to be quite brilliant, and so was a massive surprise. Indeed, even if it had been merely “good” or “fine”, it would have been a joy to watch, because the episode was being measured against a popular imagination that had never really been too bothered with it. I don’t think it was too near the top of the majority of fans’ “would love to recover…” lists.

There were no expectations, so The Enemy of the World didn’t have to worry about measuring up to anything. The fact that it was quite brilliant was icing on the cake. In contrast, The Web of Fear has a lot of expectations to live up to. It is being measured not against the weight of continuity – featuring a much loved monster and introducing a recurring character – nor the sky-high expectations of fans. It is measured against the popular imagination. While The Enemy of the World probably seemed like an after-though to most Doctor Who fans, The Web of Fear is a massive part of what Doctor Who is to the general public.

Fur and loathing...

Fur and loathing…

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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: 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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