Well, this past Saturday saw the end of another series of the long-running BBC drama, and if I may play my hand early, this might be one of, if not the, best series since Doctor Who was rebooted, join me now as I look back episode by episode over this past series.
Episode 1 – The Pilot
So, right from the start, this episodes job was to introduce Bill into the universe of Doctor Who, a job I’d say it did admirably. Right from the start of the series, Bill seems most like the audience surrogate than any companion I can remember, asking the questions that you’d have thought would have been asked a million times by now.
At the time I had a feeling that Bill was somewhat too workshopped and focus grouped to the point where I was worried it might work against her, with her being not only black, but also gay and adopted, it ran the risk of rubbing people up the wrong way, not that it bothered me, I’m all for representing all areas, I just thought it might stretch the character a bit thin to carry all three, luckily though Bill is incredibly likable, and pulls it off brilliantly.
Establishing Bill’s sexuality earlier and passing it off as no big deal was probably the right way to go, it wasn’t played for laughs it was introduced, it was established and moved on from as if it was just normal, which is a step in the right direction and shows extreme restraint from Moffat, he also worked incredibly hard to get us invested in Bill and Heather’s relationship in a short amount of time, the story and conclusion of it hinged on us buying into it, which luckily it was pulled off very tastefully and the conclusion definitely pulled at my heartstrings, it also planted a seed for later in the series, but more on that later.
My biggest quibble from this episode was the Dalek appearance, it was completely unneeded, and just felt like an appendence for appearances sake, the episode and the series as a whole didn’t need it, which is a breath of fresh air, seeing as the Daleks are usually the failsafe fall-back for the show. But apart from that very solid start.
Episode 2 – Smile
Bill’s first trip in the TARDIS certainly couldn’t be called boring. Landing on a planet built for human colonies by robots who communicate through emoji. I can’t say that I didn’t cringe when I first saw the robots, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t end up liking them by the end of the episode. They turned out to be a great framing device around the idea of robots understanding human emotion.
A lot of NuWho’s ‘future’ episodes don’t establish the foundations that this episode had, they always feel unbalanced, this however was brilliantly paced right to it’s conclusion and the fact that we got a resolution that meant the robots and humans could live side by side meant a lot to the humans as characters, a running theme of this series is humanity’s flaws, their greed or their wrath, something that viewed through the eyes of The Doctor is strange, as he’s never really understood humans and this doesn’t help, but here he swung in saved the day and the humans got their new colony. Bish, bash, bosh.
Episode 3 – Thin Ice
A creature under the Thames and less enlightened times. That’s probably the best way to describe this episode, it was a nice touch to include Bill asking whether she’d be alright in the past (‘I’m not exactly white’ I think were here exact words) and I don’t remember Martha saying this (although having said that, I think she said something similar in The Shakespeare Code) again Bill is fitting her role as audience surrogate brilliantly.
The story felt very Dickensian in tone, with the rich baron-type exploiting people and things for financial gain and downtrodden vagrant children. Speaking of the baron-type I don’t think Doctor Who has established such an instantly detestable character as Lord Sutcliffe, who in one full swoop shows racism and contempt for his fellow humans, and gets a smack in the chops for his troubles from the normally non-violent Doctor. I also like how he established that Lord Sutcliffe could only be human, as aliens would never be as bigoted, which makes you think really.
This episode reminds me in some ways of The Beast Below, only I prefer this one, they both concern trapped creature exploited by humans for their own gains, and The Doctor works to free the creature, a nice little story here, nothing ground-breaking and the kids can be annoying but that’s just kids I suppose.
Episode 4 – Knock Knock
David Suchet in Doctor Who? Yes please. David Suchet as a mysterious creepy landlord? All the fucks yes! Honestly this could be one of the best guest spots the series has seen in some time, he slips into the series effortlessly, playing a devious yet at the same time tragic character, driven by an ill ‘daughter’ that makes him let cockroach-like creatures take over the house, consuming it’s inhabitants.
The exchanges between Bill and her friends are quite welcome here, it’s nice to see into a companions personal life from time to time, not to the extent we saw Clara’s life away from the Doctor, but enough is established about Bill to drive her character forward, there’s a somewhat awkward moment between Bill and a male housemate, but this is resolved quickly and moved on from, so we’re keeping the tone up here.
The ending twist really helped the story too, as The Landlord’s story unravelled and we saw the reason behind his motives, it brought great closure to the character, also we got a happy ending where everyone survived which is rare in The Doctor’s world, so that was nice, there’s some nice moments in this episode but it doesn’t measure up as a high point in the series, it’s still good, just overshadowed by later episodes.
Episode 5 – Oxygen
I read prior to this episode that this episodes aim was to make space ‘scary’ again, and well, it certainly achieved that. In recent times space has been somewhat sterilised, and this is an effort to give it the terror it deserves.
It’s another episode that focuses on mankind’s greed, which may turn people off somewhat but this episode deserves a watch for the claustrophobic atmosphere and the ideas presented, the idea of having to buy oxygen in space is terrifying enough without the thought of turning into a space zombie on your mind. Essentially people are being killed because it’s more expensive to keep them alive with oxygen, so of course The Doctor does something smart and makes it so it’s more expensive to kill them, thus saving those still alive.
Now, for that ending twist, I’m trying to keep things spoiler free for those waiting for a DVD release but I can’t go without mentioning this as it’d limit what I can say about future episodes. The end of the episode sees the Doctor going blind as a result of spending too much time in space without a helmet, a near ingenious way of keeping the series free, and pursuing new ideas.
Episode 6 – Extremis
The opening chapter in a rare three-parter, Extremis lays the groundwork for the upcoming story arc surrounding The Monks, a race of decaying-corpse like creatures, who want to save the world, in return for total control. The Doctor is recruited by The Pope himself to translate a text known as ‘Veritas’ that makes whoever reads it commit suicide.
Elsewhere in the plot, in the past, The Doctor is given the task of executing Missy for her multiple crimes, the running time is spent cutting back to see if the Doctor went through with it, he didn’t of course, which isn’t really a spoiler because isn’t that obvious? Instead locking her in the vault that has been the mystery box from episode one, a bit of an anti-climax, but Missy is always great so what they hey.
The Doctor working around being blind in this episode really is a treat, using his sonic sunglasses to help him, but ultimately he can’t go far because he can’t read the text to translate it. Also, Nardole comes into his own as a character here, with some great dialogue, and you see how important he’s become to The Doctor, especially in trying times.
The ending is another twist, in a series becoming as fond of a twist as a rollercoaster designer, which leads us nicely into the next chapter of this story, and gives us an explanation of how the story can continue, I won’t spoil, go watch it yourself.
Episode 7 – The Pyramid at the End of the World
So, The Monks land a giant pyramid in the middle of a tense military zone, bringing their warning on impending destruction with them, insisting that they only help if they are ‘loved’ and under no other motivation, meanwhile a computer mistake in a lab in Yorkshire produces a substance that can reduce humans to mulch, the threat of ultimate destruction at an all time high brings the humans to beg the Monks.
The way The Doctor works out what will kill the human race is mind-boggling in his usually way, there truly isn’t a room he stands in where he is anything less than the smartest person there, there was a nice divide in this episode too, between The Doctor, who wants to avoid the Monks at all costs, and the world’s military powers going to beg them for help.
As the middle part of a larger story it was always going to leave dangling threads, leading into the conclusion, but the way it leads in is entirely unexpected, catastrophe is averted, but the monks are still asked to save one person, out of love, they do and that leads us into next week…
Episode 8 – The Lie of the Land
The Monks rule the world, and no one remembers it being any different. The Monks have whitewashed history so only they are seen as benevolent saviours, all while ruling with an iron fist in their mysterious pyramid.
Once again we’re sent back into Bill’s past too, as we learn more about her mother, and the importance she’ll have to the world, as well as Bill having the importance of restoring the norm.
Honestly, this was probably the weakest episode of the series, and as a result the ending to The Monks Trilogy falls rather flat, it’s a twist on the ‘all you need is love’ ending we’ve seen many times before, Bill basically using her memories of her mother to defeat The Monks and then they just sort of leave, while by no means terrible, the series certainly has stronger entries.
Episode 9 – Empress of Mars
Of the ‘classic’ monsters, The Ice Warriors haven’t had the proper welcome back the rest have, sure, we saw them in ‘Cold War’ during Matt Smith’s run, but no full scale return, luckily Mark Gatiss is here with his clearly classic Who inspired story with The Ice Warriors in full force.
Gatiss is unmistakably a great writer, but his Who contributions have been somewhat hit-and-miss, this however is a hit, as far as reintroducing a classic monster in a big way, I’m surprised it’s taken 12 years to bring the Ice Warriors back in full force, as they seem to be such interesting characters, not necessarily ‘bad guys’ as such, in fact they’ve helped The Doctor in the past, and here they occupy that same grey area, being awoken from their cryo-sleep by some space-travelling Victorians.
Capaldi is stellar here, as is usual, as well as great guest spot from Ferdinand Kingsley, who plays arrogant soldier Catchlove, another easily hateable character established quickly and dealt with in a satisfactory way.
The ending is also very nicely done, rather than fighting the aliens The Doctor resolves to helping them, in this instance, helping them take their place in the universe, with the help of a fan-pleasing cameo from a certain alien (Spoilers. Shhh.)
Episode 10 – The Eaters of Light
In the same way that it took 12 years for The Ice Warriors to make their full return, it took the same amount of time for a writer who wrote for classic Who to return for NuWho. Rona Munro, who penned the last classic story, Survival, is our scribe here, telling a tale of the lost Ninth Roman Legion and a gang of Scottish children fighting them off.
There’s a theme between Munro’s two episodes of children fighting something much bigger than themselves, here a gang try and fight a legion of the planet’s best warriors, as well as a creature that ‘eats light’.
The creature design on the monster is incredible here, and the story successfully makes it threatening to not only the locals but the TARDIS crew too, the whole story feels like a labour of love from the writer which makes it all the better to watch.
It’s downfall, however, is it’s placement, between Empress of Mars and the Earth-shattering finale, it runs the risk of being forgotten to time, which is a shame, because it’s an interesting little story, and it’s based in some fact, AND a historical, which many classic Who fans want more of, so enjoy it.
Episode 11 – World Enough and Time
This is the episode I’ve watched over and over since it aired, it left my jaw slack for days afterwards, and could well be one of my favourite Who episodes ever after a few more watches, it is that good.
The TARDIS crew land on a spaceship reversing away from a black hole, a ship that once was empty, but now has thousands of unwanted passengers…
So this episode saw the return of two major figures The Mondasian Cybermen, not seen for over 50 years and John Simm’s Master. Neither of these are spoilers as it was given away in promotional material, so please don’t send me abuse.
I described this two-part story as ‘Earth-shattering’ and that’s exactly what it is, it’s an episode where the Doctor and his friends are in more danger than seems possible to recover from, back them into a corner and tears the Doctor’s hearts out. I cannot put into words just how great it is, it’s the sort of episode I’d use to show people what Doctor Who is all about.
Episode 12 – The Doctor Falls
This is it. The grand finale to an explosive series, and what a finale. Carrying on directly from last week’s episode, both Masters are working on a diabolical plan that it seems even The Doctor can’t stop.
In what seemed like an impossible move, it carries the quality of it’s first part into this one, and brought the series to a resounding conclusion in what is probably the greatest finale the show has ever had, it’s focused, it’s heart-breaking and intense. It’s also incredibly difficult to do it justice without spoiling it all.
The conclusion to the series wander into tear-jerking towards the end, but in a bittersweet way, all characters get their pay-off and The Doctor is left with the pieces and refusing to regenerate, when he’s met by a big surprise to lead us into Christmas…
So that’s it, all 12 episodes ran through, I can’t wait to hear the identity of the new Doctor and I already miss watching the show, Christmas will be bittersweet, as we say goodbye to a truly great Doctor, and a controversial, but great writer too.