“It’s Where We’ve Always Been Going, And It’s Happening Now, Today. It’s Time To Stand With The Doctor…”
Three years after venturing into my local cinema in order to witness the first ever Peter Capaldi led Doctor Who episode in the form of “Deep Breath”, the brilliantly creepy yet somewhat divisive opening for the Twelfth Doctor, here we are reviewing the final ever regular series episode featuring perhaps my favourite incarnation of the travelling time lord since Jon Pertwee. How time flies. With the brilliance of last week’s episode setting the basis for the overall narrative of “The Doctor Falls”, what we have this week is a melancholic, fan-pleasing conclusion to a series which although lacked the consistency and sometimes perfection of Series Nine, was a solidly effective run, one which tapped into the classic sense of what a show such as Doctor Who truly offers and one which gave us some flashing moments of what we are set to miss after Capaldi’s tenure is ultimately over. Whereas last week’s episode was flawed somewhat by a ridiculous need from the BBC to over-publicise the high-profile events before the episode even aired, the twists and turns this week were more than effective, using a face from the past in the episode’s concluding moments to emphasise truly the wondrous nature of the greatest science fiction series ever.
Whilst the body-horror infliction of the Mondasian Cybermen from last week’s episode completely evaporates in favour of more daring set pieces and screen-filling explosions, their usage is still incredibly eerie, particularly within the scene in which the effects flick back and forth between the Mondasian Bill and the human Bill, building on a characterisation period throughout the series which has seen Pearl Mackie come forth as perhaps one of the standout companions of the modern era. With plot threads and series long arcs being put to bed, including the resolution of the Master/Missy timeline, the finale truly belongs to Peter Capaldi’s performance, one which mixes the inevitably of death from Peter Davison’s regeneration story “The Caves of Androzani” alongside the reluctance of passing from Tennant’s change-up during “The End of Time”, and boy does it pull on the heartstrings. Whereas many have seen Capaldi’s tenure as a mixed bag of ups and downs in terms of consistency, I believe the past few years have seen the first real classic interpretation of the Doctor since the Tom Baker years and with the Christmas special to come alongside a very, very special guest, one can and can’t wait for the Christmas special, an episode which although will see the end of a superb Doctor will also offer the opportunity to perhaps see Capaldi at his finest. See you in five months.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
Overall Season Score: 7.4/10
“Just Promise Me One Thing. Just Promise You Won’t Get Me Killed…”
One of the most obvious and thrilling elements of this week’s episode of Doctor Who was the surreal and reckless sense of abandon which show-runner Steven Moffat clearly has come to terms with, with the talented, and sometimes controversial, scribe clearly at a stage in which he sure well knows his time, much like Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, is coming to an explosive climax, and with “World Enough and Time”, Moffat has successfully created a finale first act which ticks all the boxes in regards to what I personally look for in all the classic Doctor Who stories. Suspense. Threat. Horror. Three key elements that usually end up in creating some damn fine science fiction, and whilst the rather annoying pre-release press storms have felt it necessary to show off a rafter of key details and spoilers before the episode even aired, “World Enough and Time” is still undeniably and far and away the best episode of Series 10 so far, and with twists and shifts which set the battleground for next week’s explosive finale, it too has the potential to become the definitive Moffat/Capaldi exploration of the famous Time Lord.
Within the episode’s many successes, the return of the Mondasian Cybermen is an absolute stroke of genius. Whilst the 21st century incarnations of the famous Who foe have never really managed to get the characterisation and fear factor bang on, the utterly insidious look of the classic era baddies results in “World Enough and Time” genuinely being one of the most terrifying episodes of Doctor Who in years, with the body-horror type sets in which they are painfully hooked up to an unknown liquid harking back to not only the gas-mask people in “The Doctor Dances” but looking too like something out of a classic horror movie convention. The threatening nature of the Mondasian Cybermen aside, the inevitable links between the fate of the First Doctor within “The Tenth Planet”, an episode which featured the very first appearance of the Cybermen on Mondas, and Capaldi’s current incarnation are inevitable, particularly when regeneration energy is so clearly seen to be seeping out of our beloved hero. Overall, “World Enough and Time” is an excellent episode of Doctor Who, and whilst the episode would have been better served to be left to its’ own devices in terms of unravelling its’ secrets itself, grab the popcorn and get ready for a concluding piece next week which so clearly needs to keep to the standards set so far. Oh, and John Simm though.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Time To Grow Up. Time To Fight Your Fight…”
Whilst the notion of centurions within Doctor Who automatically resorts to times gone by within the era of Matt Smith, this weeks’ episode featured a budding mystery regarding the fate of the Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman Army amidst a narrative which featured too a time-splitting leading alien entity and an incredibly talkative creepy crow. Isn’t science fiction great? Penned by Rona Munro, a writer already well-versed in the ways of all things Time Lord, with her previous works including the Sylvester McCoy led episode “Survival”, the final Classic Who story to air on the BBC until its’ return all the way back in 2005, “The Eaters of Light” is a passably fun tale of adventure, one which comes across as a surreal amalgamation between the BBC-ran adventure series Raven and the portal-weaving adventures within Stargate, but too a tale which feels ever so slightly underwhelming at times to really be considered anything other than just a precursor to much more interesting developments which are set to unravel within next weeks penultimate episode, adding to a year of stories which have been solid enough, but lack in a certain amount of wonder in comparison to the critical acclaim of Series Nine.
With events taking place in the homeland of Capaldi, it comes as no surprise that the inclusion of an abundance of fellow Scots results in an array of Scottish-targeted quips. most of which are expertly managed by the straightforward tone of Capaldi’s take on the travelling Time Lord, and whilst the underlying true-to-life mystery at the heart of the story laid down a possible interesting narrative, “The Eaters of Light” is ironically the most straight-forward tale of good vs. evil so far this series. Aided by an array of slightly dull secondary characters, Munro’s script does ultimately come across as slightly pre-21st century Doctor Who at times, with the cliched plot one in which I struggled to really engage with and whilst the design of the titular monsters is interesting enough, the threat in which they pose is minimal to say the least. Throw into the mix some shady and rather cringe-laden CGI, “The Eaters of Light” is not means a terrible episode, it just lacks the invention and spark of many which have preceded it.
Overall Score: 5/10
“That’s Not Just Any Tomb. This Is The Tomb Of The Ice Queen…”
Ah, the Ice Warriors. Those awfully designed, avocado shaped, freezer magnets. Whilst many contemporary Who fans would have been made aware of their existence in the slightly better than average, Matt Smith-led “Cold War” back in Series Seven, their history through the Whoniverse begins all the way back within Patrick Troughton’s stint in the late 1960’s, with their second appearance within “The Seeds of Death” arguably being the biggest fan-favourite episode in which they are the primary antagonist of the piece. Returning this week and facing battle with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in “The Empress of Mars”, the Ice Warriors are moulded into submission by constant Moffat companion Mark Gatiss who returns as a guest scriptwriter, following on from Series 9’s fan dividing episode “Sleep No More” and whilst many are aware of Gatiss’s love for all things Doctor Who, the multi-talented sci-fi geek is behind a script which although is pleasing in many aspects, also suffers from a slight feel of anti-climax, particularly in regards to the trio of episodes most recently, and whilst Gatiss’s work on Doctor Who has never really been consistently excellent, “The Empress of Mars” is arguably the weakest episode of the series so far, if remaining to the motif of a more “classic Who” feel which has been more than rife throughout this year’s series.
Whilst Matt Lucas’s Nardole is once again cast out as side-companion, appearing only at the beginning and end of the story, Pearl Mackie is once again a real treat to be seen at Capaldi’s side, offering quick, infectious quips when necessary and holding a sense of ingrained humanity when comparing her outrageous situation to the likes of famous science fiction movies. At the heart of the narrative, the titular female leader of the Ice Warriors can only be regarded as somewhat of a major letdown, one whose one-dimensional characterisation lacks a complete sense of threat even when shooting funky lazer beams at endless cannon fodder who are transformed into anatomy defying squares of death. Whilst the endgame of the story is simple enough for even the youngest of minds, Gatiss does make up for a mediocre script with a concluding scene which links in the previous appearances of the Ice Warriors in the best fan-pleasing way possible when as soon as the high-pitched voice of Alpha Centauri was heard, my heart was won completely over and my mind was thrown back to the Pertwee years, a winning formula whenever when considering Pertwee remains my favourite Doctor to this very day. This week’s episode was good enough but still remains the weakest of the series so far. Maybe next time Gatiss.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You’re Version Of Good Is Not Absolute. It’s Very Arrogant, Sentimental…”
Whilst both “Extremis” and “The Pyramid at the End of the World” were indeed both bold and exciting tales of science fiction wonder, their role as pre-cursor for this week’s episode heeds a huge sense of pressure on the concluding part of the story this week, one which needs to sustain its’ predecessors greatness in order to really conclude whether the trilogy has ultimately worked as a whole rather than falling under the weight of the sum of its’ parts. Thankfully, taking paranoid, dystopian cues from the likes of Orwell and highlighting notions of a controlled state which has been rife in cinematic entertainment for years, “The Lie of the Land” continues the courageous recent writings by offering a narrative which concludes the past few weeks’ story in an effective and well played manner, but one which too falls short of greatness due to some middling false steps. As with most of Capaldi’s reign as Doctor, his performance continues to cement my argument that his portrayal is the first real true contemporary incarnation of the “classic” mould of the travelling Time Lord, whilst Pearl Mackie’s Bill really has the opportunity to shine this week, proving to the naysayers that her inclusion this year is indeed one of the real stand-out positives of the series.
Whilst the threat of the Monks ultimately does come across as rather limited and anti-climactic, with the trilogy not entirely providing an effective stance of their ultimate show of power, the scene in which we witness soldiers heading into battle against the background of Bill’s recorded voice, one which acts as a blocker to the brainwashing power of the Monks. is superbly done. The lack of sustained threat however does ultimately resign the Monks to a limited memorability factor, with them not entirely hitting the standards of classic Who villains by any means and this negative attribute is one of the reasons why this particular trilogy doesn’t exactly transcend to any more than something which is brilliantly bold instead of the contemporary masterpiece I believe I think it wants to be. Whilst “Extremis” is still the best of the three episodes, the differing nature of each could arguably allow for future viewings without the need to see the entire trilogy, and whilst this is a good sign for moderate viewers of the show, the overarching success of the trilogy suffers from this, but as an individual episode, “The Lie of the Land” is effective enough to be regarded as a solid win.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Do You Consent?”
Whilst the linchpin of Classic Doctor Who serials was a continual spread of episodes spread around the basis of one particular story, with the likes of “The War Games”, “Trial of a Time Lord” and “The Dalek’s Master Plan” each breaking the ten episode mark in order to completely fulfil their narrative wishes without any cause for constraint aside from a slight echo of inevitable bagginess. For contemporary Who audiences, the idea of one particular story playing over the course of months is a notion of indirect ignorance even if now and then we get an entire series which has a through-line of a narrative which attempts to link certain elements all together within stories which are primarily one-off and unrelated to the bigger picture, beginning with Bad Wolf all the way back in series one and carrying through with plot threads including the inclusion of Torchwood, the appearance of Harold Saxon and the cracks in time which cropped up across Matt Smith’s debut series. With “Extremis” last week, the continuation of that particular tale carries on this week with “The Pyramid at the End of the World” in a supposed trilogy of stories which will seemingly conclude next week, and whilst “Extremis” was an interesting precursor to the story ahead, does this weeks episode continue its’ groundwork success?
In a nutshell? Yes, and whilst the episode does include elements which are utterly preposterous and epic in stature, the bare bones of the story is rather straightforward and grounded, with The Doctor being at the centre of an impossible situation in which the separate parties around him each have differing points of view on survival. With the enemies once again being the creepy, robe wearing monks, their plan for world domination continues by using the one thing that forces any human being into rash decisions; fear, choosing the knowledge of foresight as the pawn in their domineering game of megalomania and control, whilst The Stand-esque subplot involving a mass outbreak of murderous biological material concludes with the Doctor’s sight returning for the time being, but at what cost? Although the twists and turns regarding Bill’s survival during her submission to the monks was rather obvious when it eventually occurred, the Doctor’s predicament when locked in the airlock with a detonating explosive device was effectively played, using the element of his blindness to a nerve-wracking degree which in the end has set up the play for the final endgame which is set to conclude next week. If ever there was evidence for supplying fans with longer stories into the future, these past two weeks are a strong chip to play with,
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Seem Like A Man With Regret On His Mind…”
When the opening titles roll and the words, “written by Steven Moffat” appear upon the screen amidst whirling noises of theremins and the eyebrows of the Twelfth Doctor, the unwitting desire to wonder whether the next 45 minutes will either be in the camp of superb recent episodes such as “Blink”, “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” and “Heaven Sent” or in the not-so-good area of stories such as “The Beast Below” and “The Bells of Saint John”. Whilst Capaldi does seem to get the best out of Moffat’s writing, due in part to an acting ability above the levels of which the mind can comprehend, this week’s episode, “Extremis”, is ultimately a lesser beast than the masterpieces Who fans have been treated to over the years but still a mindbogglingly brave and adventurous episode, the type of which is determined for the die-hard Who fans to watch much more than once in order to understand its’ complete complexities and impact on the season’s overall narrative endgame. Acting as a pre-cursor to the continuation of the story next week, “Extremis” answers an abundance of questions that have arisen from the series so far and unlike previous episodes, is a story primarily dedicated solely to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, something of which is rarely a missed opportunity.
With an episode which veers everywhere from the Vatican to the Oval Office, “Extremis” is an interesting experimental episode of Doctor Who which takes ques from previous episodes such as “Dark Water/Death In Heaven” in regards to the use of artificial intelligence and the notion of the finality of death not exactly coming full circle, whilst the episode’s main antagonists seem to cross wardrobes between the titular mummy from “Mummy on the Orient Express” and the Order of the Headless from “A Good Man Goes to War”, exposing skinless fingers from intergalactic portals and conveying their desires through a whispered tone of eeriness. At the centre of the narrative is the Veritas, a supposed cursed text which leads to the death of anyone who reads it and whilst the twist and importance of this particular element is definitely something of which I can safely say I didn’t see coming, it is hard to review “Extremis” as a singular episode because of the ambiguity of the ultimate conclusion which awaits us within the coming weeks. What “Extremis” does boast however is a interestingly spooky script and enough fan-pleasing elements to keep the majority of its’ audience hyped for what’s to come, even with the rather anti-climactic resolution of who indeed was the guest of the Doctor’s sacred vault.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Sent Out A Distress Call, You Should Be Expecting Company…”
When half of the population of the UK tuned into BBC One last night to get ready for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest, they probably would have witnessed a concluding scene of this week’s Doctor Who which left our time travelling hero in a state which can only be regarded as less than desired after a 45 minute science fiction spectacle which mixed in elements of horror, capitalism and a very rare sense of unapologetic threat which put our leading heroes in one of the toughest situations of the series so far. With (SPOILERS INCOMING) our beloved Time Lord suffering from the effects of being exposed to the vacuum of space in order to save Bill from a similar or even worse fate, “Oxygen”, written by Jamie Mathieson, the creative mind behind two of Series 8’s best episodes in the form of “Flatline” and “Mummy on the Orient Express”, served up the most thrilling story yet, placing our leading trio within the confines of a claustrophobic future space station where the crew have been replaced with a literal incarnation of the walking dead and the oxygen levels are determined by wealth rather than the importance of the human life. Cue a distress beacon and an eagerly excited Doctor, “Oxygen” proves that Mr. Mathieson is one of the leading writers of the moment when it comes to contemporary Who.
Directed by Who veteran Charles Palmer, “Oxygen” is arguably the most beautifully shot episode of the series so far, with the set design and outside shots of space a real positive of the episode, highlighting how far Doctor Who has come since the days of rubber Sea Devils and hokey dinosaur special effects. Whilst not directly the main villains of the episode, the scenes in which our heroes are being stalked by the deceased corpse’s of the station’s previous occupants is eerily effective, taking cues from previous Who episodes such as Series 9’s “Under the Lake” and “Sleep No More” whilst the narrative structure of the Doctor being trapped aboard a lonely vessel is a blueprint of which many of the classic Who tales are wholly indebted to, particularly “The Ark in Space” and one of my personal classic serials in the form of “The Caves of Androzani”. When the concluding twist does arrive, the notion of the Doctor’s blindness is an interesting development, particularly with the upcoming regeneration not exactly far off, and in a similar vein to Peter Davison’s regeneration within his final story, Capaldi’s incarnation could be set for a slow burning regeneration within a series which continues to impress.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I’m 2000 Years Old And I’ve Never Had The Time For The Luxury Of Outrage…”
As previously mentioned in last week’s review of “Smile”, the latest series of Doctor Who definitely has an air of Classic Who surrounding it, taking the blueprint set by early stories in the 1960’s and 70’s where mystery and intrigue are the leading force of a narrative in which although is rife and based in science fiction, is ultimately an A to B through-line of which audiences of all ages can understand and enjoy. In contemporary comparison, recent years have seen particular episodes of Doctor Who come undone by the vast array of knots certain scripts tie themselves due to silly plot points and the endless issues of dwelling with notions of time travel, yet with “Thin Ice”, the fun factor is very much back in place, with the eerie element of the unknown horror acting as a common thread between each of the episodes so far this series with water-based stalkers and emoji-crazed robots being traded this week for a murderous entity which stalks its’ prey underneath the frozen footpaths of the 19th century River Thames. Who’s up for Piranha, Doctor Who style?
Whilst the threat of a gigantic hidden alien life form, one hidden in the confines of the surrounding area in which our favourite Time Lord seeks to venture upon is nothing exactly new, the charm and nostalgia factor which arises from seeing such harks back to days gone by when the BBC’s prop department consisted of a rubber suit and fluorescent laser beams in their attempts to portray a wide range of life forms and whilst the overall narrative behind “Thin Ice” is standard to say the least, the relationship between The Doctor and Bill is once again at the forefront of an episode which seeks to identify what weaknesses are there when the two of them are faced with such a deadly menace. Witnessing death for the first time within the story, Bill’s reaction to such conveys a deeper sense of characterisation than previous companions couldn’t manage throughout their tenure and her questioning of The Doctor’s violent past was an interesting side note, particularly for die-hard fans such as myself. With issues of race, power and responsibility all arising within the course of one 40 minute episode, “Thin Ice” is an interesting episode which continues and solidifies the solid relationship between its’ two leading stars,
Overall Score: 7/10
“Hearts Though, Why Two? Does That Mean You’ve Got Really High Blood Pressure..?”
When esteemed writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce was first introduced into the land of all things Doctor Who back in 2014 with Series 8’s “In The Forest of the Night”, it is indeed safe to say that the reputation which preceded the author of literature such as both novel and screenplay for Danny Boyle’s Millions was not exactly lived up to, creating a story in which, let’s just say, won’t rank up there with the best the entire history of Doctor Who has had to offer up over the course of its’ fifty year run. Returning this year with “Smile” however, Cottrell-Boyce is the first sacrificial lamb to throw an attempt at writing a tale for the Doctor’s latest companion Bill, whilst reuniting with Capaldi for an episode in which although will never be regarded as a Who classic, is a solid enough second attempt for Cottrell-Boyce, with “Smile” having a successful double edged-sword which combines the classic formula of the original 1962 run amidst a narrative which is clearly designed to poke fun at contemporary technological vices in a manner which ultimately feels like a low-key and child friendly version of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.
In regards to the echoes of Classic Doctor Who stories, the idea of the Doctor visiting a future alien settlement and coming across not only an unsettling evil presence but a life-changing decision regarding the fate of the entire human race, perhaps the most obvious similarities are shared with both the Tom Baker led “Ark In Space” and “Robots of Death” with the former sharing the idea of human survival whilst the latter having a similar foe in the form of murderous artificial intelligence, albeit represented in completely different forms with the creepy green coated look being replaced with robots which communicate solely with the help of everyone’s favourite messaging pastime; emoji speak. Once again, Pearl Mackie is impressive as companion Bill, asking the right kind of questions which are seeped in human ignorance regarding the existence of alien space-races and the complexity of time-travel, whilst the practical design of the episode is impressive, with the leading robot foes being something in which could easily be heading in our direction come the near future. Whilst the story does indeed seem to jump the shark come the end, with the final resolution a complete and utter cop-out, “Smile” is a strong enough episode and continues to set the groundwork for an impressive central partnership between the Doctor and his newly found companion.