“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
“It’s Upsetting, I Understand, But Father Says We Have To Survive…”
Listen closely. A spooky house. An abundance of creaky floorboards. A creepy landlord. Cheap rent. If ever there was a recipe for a good old fashioned Doctor Who episode, “Knock Knock”, written by British playwright and lead writer and creator of BBC’s Doctor Foster, Mike Bartlett, plays between the lines of horror and fantasy in a way in which the show knows how to do best and whilst once again this week’s episode isn’t exactly one of the more memorable contemporary Who episodes, it does manage to continue the solid start to a season which is determined to play it reasonably straight and offer light-hearted escapism rather than the mind-bending narratives previous stories have suffered from. Adding to the episode’s lucid, creepy charm, Hercule Poirot himself, David Suchet, is arguably one of the most appealing elements of the story, portraying the eerie landlord of the overwhelmingly sinister building in which Bill and her fellow student acquaintances are more than happy enough to move into after numerous attempts of finding their own “dream” home, and whilst Suchet’s character isn’t prone to fits of murderous rampages, he does manage to portray the spookiest use of a tuning fork in recent memory.
Whilst the narrative does become rather too PG rated come the conclusion of the episode, with it having more of an effective pay-off to see the unfortunate victims of the house being well and truly dead and buried, as cold as that ultimately sounds, and the appearance of the main alien species being slightly underwhelming considering the gothic-based nature the episode attempts to convey, “Knock Knock” is an entertaining episode which unfortunately for the forty minutes which precedes it has a five minute conclusion which is slightly more interesting and compelling, with the vault in which the Doctor has been tasked with protecting, a plot strand which has been the through-line for the early episodes of the season, offering bite-sized clues for who indeed is the lucky guest with a penchant for classical piano and a hunger for food with a Mexican infusion. Keep up the good work Doctor Who, you are doing a good grand job so far.
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.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Clara Said “Don’t Take Revenge.” You Should Know I Don’t Always Listen…”
Every now and then, certain programmes attempt to remind you why you, as the viewer, readily choose to invest so much time and effort, both mentally and/or physically, in such a programme in order to fuel such the heavy, and sometimes rather unhealthy, addiction that has been created from such dedication. In the case of Doctor Who therefore, a programme in which I began watching as a young child, with bundles upon bundles of Classic Who VHS’s keeping me company throughout my younger years, it is a feat unparalleled when a show almost 53 years old can keep on pulling out surprise after surprise, hit after hit, without every feeling the need to slow down and say, “hey, we’re running out of ideas here.” Although Series 9 has been a consistently strong and inventive addition to the Who canon thus far, this week’s episode truly hit new sumptuous levels, with “Heaven Sent”, showing how our most beloved of Sci-Fi shows has once again hit that high watermark, peaking in similar brilliance to some of the best ever stories that have been told over the past five decades with it ticking all the right boxes in what makes Doctor Who well, Doctor Who.
Acting as a straight-forward continuation from “Face the Raven”, with our beloved Twelfth not having any time at all to grieve at the loss of his loving companion, “Heaven Sent” immediately sets out its’ genre-bending tones in the first few scenes. Alone, lost, and completely out of his depth, we witness The Doctor being menacingly stalked by a creature simply known as The Veil, a manifestation of one of the Doctor’s memories in which he witnessed a dead woman, still cloaked in her veil, being surrounded by a hoard of death-mongering flies, with its’ full form slowly following our Doctor in every step he takes throughout a clock-work maze, utilised and set up by some form of unknown entity in order to gain the Doctor’s deepest confessions. Not only does “Heaven Sent” fully ramp the horror element of Doctor Who up to eleven, with the presence of the Veil making me jump on at least two occasions, it also manages to add an even deeper level to the character of the Doctor, with the fear of death highlighting a more human side to our favourite Time Lord whilst expanding on the very nature of the Doctor’s escape from Gallifrey all those years ago, something of which has been leaned upon ever since “The Magician’s Apprentice”.
Although in the past, Steven Moffat has been criticised by many for introducing plot lines and stories that although look fun and mean well, actually end up making no logical sense whatsoever, “Heaven Sent” shows the brilliant side of Moffat, with its’ timey-wimey plot all coming clear in a final act that ranks high amongst some of his best work for the show. Within the midst of the Inception-esque mind-bending science fiction and fabulous inventive writing, is the performance from Peter Capaldi, a performance that not only can be regarded as the best so far within his tenure as the Twelfth Doctor, but one of the greatest in the series to this date, with the Pertwee/Tom Baker hallmarks being fully embraced in an episode that attempts to put our Doctor well and truly through the wringer in a similar vein to the Fourth Doctor’s venture into the Matrix within “The Deadly Assassin,” an episode in which our beloved Time-Lord is also companion-less and also returns to his homeland of Gallifrey. The only negative thing to say about “Heaven Sent” is that because of its’ sheer brilliance, next week’s “Hell Bent” has so much to live up to, but for now, let us sway in the remarkable abilities of both Capaldi and Moffat with “Heaven Sent” certainly earning the right to earn a place in the hall of fame of great Who stories. Roll on next week!