Into The Dalek
Robot Of Sherwood
Kill The Moon
Mummy On The Orient Express
Into The Forest Of The Night
The Magician's Apprentice
The Doctor - Peter Capaldi
Clara Oswin - Jenna Louise Coleman
The Sarah Jane Adventures
TIME TRAVEL SHOWS
Life on Mars
Ashes to Ashes
The Flipside of Dominick Hyde
DEEP BREATH transmitted August 23rd 2014
The TARDIS is coughed up by a T-Rex in Victorian London. The Doctor, still unstable from his regeneration, gets upset when the beast later bursts into flame, but there is a bigger threat at work in the city.
The first episode of a new Doctor's tenure is always a big moment for the show, but the BBC has escalated that importance by extending the episode to feature length and showing it in cinemas as well as on the television. This places more pressure on the episode in terms of scale and spectacle. With its Victorian setting and lifelike T-Rex (were they really taller than Big Ben's clock tower?) it certainly has scale and spectacle, but what about the rest?
The most important question has to be Peter Capaldi's performance as the Doctor. It's unfair to pick the first story out since in recent times the Doctor has been all over the place following a regeneration. That proves to be the case here. We are sure, on this showing, that Capaldi will be as good as we expect him to be, but the story here requires him to be too many things, too mercurial, for a true character to emerge. That will come later.
Jenna Coleman is excellent, as ever, in the role of Clara, and the episode rests on her shoulders for a good part of the running time. She is as dependable as we have come to expect, but why is she so shaken up by the Doctor's change? Surely, as the impossible girl, she has been with him through all his regenerations. Or did we miss something in Steven Moffat's previous plottings?
That wouldn't be a surprise, but what is a surprise is how much this opening episode's plot is reliant on Moffat stitching together borrowed ideas. The Victorian setting has been done to death in recent times, not least because of Mr Moffat's determination to make Madame Vastra and the Paternoster Road gang beloved companions. Sorry, Mr Moffat; it hasn't happened up to now and it's not getting any more likely each time they are shoved in our faces. Strax, the comedy Sontaran, is still one-note and that note is still not funny. Vastra, the mysterious Silurian, has lost her mystery and is only mildly interesting whilst her lesbian (cross-species) lover isn't even that.
The T-Rex is impressive, but you can't help wondering if the money wouldn't have been better spent upgrading the dinosaurs in the INVASION OF THE DINOSAURS, putting the visual skills to the service of a more original plot. That plot, and the villains, are taken directly from THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE, and there is not enough done with them to make their reappearance anything other than lazy.
Even the title, DEEP BREATH, refers to Moffat going over old ground. In BLINK, survival depended on not blinking. In this episode survival depends on another bodily function that can barely be controlled. Don't blink or the weeping angels will get you - don't breath or the villains here will get you. There's more than a sense of reheating cold ideas here that gives us fears for the future.
For a big-scale season opener, DEEP BREATH is a scrappy affair that suggests Steven Moffat does his best work when someone else is editing him.
INTO THE DALEK transmitted August 30th 2014
In a spaceship hiding from a dalek battle fleet in an asteroid belt, someone has found a dalek with a conscience. The Doctor and Clara must go inside to find out what makes this dalek so different.
DOCTOR WHO does FANTASTIC VOYAGE with an echo of [K9 introductory episode]. Is there anything more that can be done with the daleks? The Asylum of the Daleks idea worked well, but you have to go all the way back to DALEK to find a truly successful dalek episode. This though is miles removed from the nonsense of Victory of the Daleks.
Building on the idea that this Doctor is perhaps less trustworthy than some of his predecessors, Peter Capaldi is settling into the role, though the role is that of a man less settled with himself. That gives him an edge that is topped up with the manic energy that every actor inhabiting the role is now expected to display.
The plot is fairly bonkers, as could be expected, and hinges on the fact that a bubbling pool of hate could be turned to the good side by the sight of a stellar nursery and that fixing a malfunction could take that fundamental shift away. This reduces the daleks, taking away their free will and making them simply preprogrammed killing machines.
The dalek antibodies are good fun, but the scenes in which a minimised Doctor faces the dalek inside the machine are poorly realised.
Uncertain at best, the episode is held together by Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.
ROBOT OF SHERWOOD transmitted September 6th 2014
When The Doctor offers Clara the chance to meet anyone she wants, she chooses Robin Hood. The Doctor takes her to the old Sherwood Forest to prove that the man wasn't real, only to find a living, breathing Robin of Loxley and his men who are so merry.
The more juvenile side of Mark Gatiss' writing comes out in this 'comedy' episode in which all of the derring do of the legend is re-enacted to little effect, other than Peter Capaldi thoroughly enjoying himself by being curmudgeonly about the whole thing. The more like a cartoon Errol Flynn impersonator Robin becomes, the more irritated the Time Lord is and that's fun to watch. A lot more fun than the rest of the plot, that is.
There is a plot in there, somewhere, but it's pretty hard to follow in all the nonsense and makes so little sense that it's best to try and ignore it and enjoy anything that you can get out of the silliness taking place in front of your eyes. By the end, when the Golden Arrow plays a critical part in the quite absurd finale, things have gone so far over the top that they're having a holiday in Marbella.
This is Peter Capaldi's episode and he is fitting into the part very nicely indeed, thank you very much. Tom Riley is the utterly unbelievable Robin and it's easy to empathise with the Doctor's annoyance at the man's never-ending sunniness. Ben Miller is criminally wasted as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Ah well, every season has to have a poorest effort and at least we've got this one out of the way early.
LISTEN transmitted September 13th 2014
Have you ever had a dream that something was under your bed and when you looked nothing was there? What if something was there. What if something has always been there.
This story is about Clara juggling her 'normal' life with her time in the TARDIS. By introducing her to her boyfriend as a child, to a man in the far future who might be her descendent and a small boy in a barn who might be very, very special, the story threatens to go up the orifice of its own mythology so far that it will never descend. The final act, especially, diminishes the Doctor somewhat in a way that Clara's role as the impossible girl has done before. He's not the universe-saving titan, he's just a frightened little boy.
There are some genuinely creepy moments and keeping the thing under the bed unseen is a good move, but it does make the creature's place in the story a bit pointless and again hints at the 'don't blink' scenario of the weeping angels. In this case, don't look over your shoulder.
TIME HEIST transmitted September 20th 2014
The Doctor and Clara have had their memories wiped to allow them to take part in a robbery of the most secure bank in the universe, masterminded by the mysterious architect.
The theory must go that if the plot moves quickly enough then you don’t have to worry about it making any sense at all. The Doctor has the ability to take his TARDIS right to when and where he wants to be to save the day and yet spends the day running around what looks more like the inside of an industrial power plant than a bank, with a couple of metahumans whose talents prove to be useful only once. Never mind, if everyone talks fast enough maybe nobody will notice.
OCEAN'S ELEVEN it isn't, but it is possible that the googly-eyed monster will be weird enough to keep the younger members of the audience happy.
THE CARETAKER transmitted September 27th 2014
The school where Clara teaches is being threatened by an alien robot soldier, so the Doctor goes undercover as the new caretaker. Can Clara keep her new boyfriend from finding out about her double life?
The ongoing story arc of this season has been that of Clara trying to live a normal life alongside that she has with the Doctor and finally the two men in her life meet. As an ex-soldier, Mr Pink hasn't got a head start on the Doctor's respect and the presence of the alien threat is only going to make things worse.
There are some amusing moments in this episode, but it is a scrappy affair that never quite comes to terms with its own identity. The main storyline is about Clara bringing together the two men in her life, which sidelines the alien killer robot story to the point that it is barely developed at all. Why is there a killer robot hiding nearby? Doesn't matter, don't worry about it. The side story of a young pupil learning about the TARDIS is not developed at all, though this might be left for future episodes.
Peter Capaldi's Doctor is now fleshed out and completely bonkers, confrontational and unpredictable and Jenna Coleman is as dependable as ever. They make a formidable double act, but Samuel Anderson’s Mr Pink is disappointing. Considering that the theme here is whether or not the Doctor considers him a worthy match for Clara, the truth seems embarrassingly clear that he is not.
The realisation of the killer robot is also pretty poor.
KILL THE MOON transmitted October 4th 2014
The Doctor and Clara take a schoolgirl to become the first woman on the moon. There, they find a crashed space shuttle and a base of operations full of corpses. What killed everyone and what has changed the fundamental properties of the moon, risking the very future of Earth.
Scientific literacy has never been something to get worked up about in DOCTOR WHO, but there is just something so wrong about pinning a story on the matter of the moon consuming itself and yet becoming more dense in the process. How, exactly, does that work? Of course, it does get rid of the awkwardness of having to simulate moon gravity on a TV budget, but it's just wrong.
Then we move on to the giant germs that look a lot like space-age spiders. Why would giant germs look like spiders and, whilst we're on the subject, why would they spin webs like spiders? That said, they do look pretty scary.
The story starts off as one thing and then morphs into something else, but the linking between the two seems very flimsy. Then The Doctor decides to do a runner and leave everything up to Clara and her fellow humans. Patchy and episodic just about cover it.
MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS transmitted October 11th 2014
Clara has decided that she can no longer travel with the Doctor in his new regeneration. For one last trip, he takes her to the Orient Express in space, only to find it being haunted by a mummy that can only be seen by those who will die, in exactly 66 seconds.
A darker story for a darker mood. With Clara struggling to come to terms with the new Doctor's personality and having an alternative in the shape of boyfriend Danny, the story is a framework for her to work out her issues. That means that the Doctor has to make some decisions that she will not like and give her every reason to leave. It also makes her final decision all the harder to understand. Talk about your mood swings.
The backdrop then is a tale that melds the background of Agatha Christie with the horror of the mummy via some futuristic shenanigans. Actually, it all hangs together very well and is the best episode of the current season to date. The comedy works, the emotional roller coaster works and there is the Foretold, a scary monster in its own right and not made any less scary for the younger audience. It's coming to get you and there is no escape. You have only 66 seconds to live. Now that is the stuff of nightmares and is easily the scariest thing to come out of the show in a long time. Even the final explanation for its existence and the manner in which it is dealt with both work in their own right and don't leave the audience feeling cheated. The messing about in the meantime with the homicidal computer named HAL (um, sorry, GUS) is there to fill out the running time, but it is a particularly calculating homicidal computer.
Capaldi is commanding as the Doctor and has really made the part his own, as we knew that he would. He is not the cuddliest version of the Time Lord, but he is all the better for that. Also, any episode that finds an excuse to put Jenna Louise Coleman in a glamorous dress has our vote.
Let's hope that this marks an upswing in the quality of the Time Lord's current adventures.
FLATLINE transmitted October 18th 2014
The Doctor is trapped in a Tardis that is now tiny on the outside and rapidly running out of power for life support. Outside, Clara is faced with an enemy that exists in two dimensions and therefore essentially indestructible.
Things are looking up for this season of DOCTOR WHO. After last week's fun with chills, we get a full-on horror tale that is worth its scares and marries them with some brilliant visual and dialogue humour.
First, the funny stuff, all of which revolves around the size of the Tardis on the outside. From Peter Capaldi unfolding his long frame out through an undersized door to his fingers alone pulling the miniature police box off the railway line like some sort of demented hermit crab, the comedy here is played note perfect. Having decided that she is going to stay with the Doctor, Clara and the Time Lord are more at ease with each other and therefore free to indulge in some unhindered banter that both Capaldi and Jenna Louise Coleman handle with aplomb. The theme of the episode, Clara discovering what it is like to be the Doctor, might be a bit heavy-handed, but considering all of the compensatory delights we can forgive that.
Those delights include one of the scariest monsters of recent times. They're never really seen. They're kind of snakelike distortions of flat surfaces that later morph into giant hands and the figures of dead people who are never quite in the control the creatures possessing/projecting/mimicking them (take your pick). In fact, it is the very fact that we never get to know what they are, what their motives are, whether they are good, bad or indifferent, evil or misunderstood that makes them all the more scary. You can't reason with them or get mercy from them because they don't think like we do. True, the Doctor's final victory is a bit Deus Ex Machina and is explained even less than the creatures' motives are, but again the compensatory pleasures make up for the flaws.
That's two episodes in a row that have showed real promise and we can only hope that this trend continues.
IN THE FOREST OF THE NIGHT transmitted October 25th 2014
The Earth is covered by a forest overnight. It can't be burned and there doesn't seem to be an evil intent, but they will fight back and their link to a small, disturbed girl suggests that the Earth is in very serious trouble.
This episode contains what is best and what is worst about DOCTOR WHO. There is a sense of mystery in the early parts as the strangest alien invasion yet takes place, although it does so in a London that is almost bereft of anyone else. Apart from the Doctor, Clara, Danny Pink and their class, the whole population of London seems to be completely uninterested in what has happened and have stayed at home to have a cup of tea. It's no doubt a budgetary thing, but there really ought to have been some thought put in to explaining the lack of perplexed people on the street. There is the whimsy that the show is capable of. An overnight invasion of trees? That's whimsical, and so are the 'fairies' that surround the little girl, but that's contrasted with the darkness of her lost sister and the emotional problems she is having as a result. The reason why the trees have invaded is darker and pretty good, but the manner in which they are dispensed with at the end of the episode is just silly and the coda involving a return home is as hokey as it is unnecessary and disappointingly hackneyed. There is also adventure as Danny Pink faces down a lion armed with only his own self-confidence.
The problem is that the Doctor has very little to do with any of this. He runs around trying to find out what is going on, but once he does, it becomes clear that he is surplus to requirements in his own show. This has happened before, when decisions were made in Kill The Moon. This is so that the writers can explore Clara's character some more as she opts to stay with an Earth destined to be destroyed rather than accept the TARDIS as her own lifeboat. When she says that she doesn't want to be the last of her kind, it's a telling moment, but the set up to that moment has been laboured and less than transfixing.
DARK WATER transmitted November 1st 2014
Danny Pink is killed in a car accident. Clara is distraught, so distraught that she takes drastic action, causing the Doctor to make even more drastic action. This leads to the uncovering of a plot that is full of surprises.
The season comes to an end with a two-part conclusion, this being the set-up. That usually means an episode that is not satisfying in its own right, but there is a lot here to enjoy on the way to next week's big finale. First up is the opening, which deals with huge issues in such low key fashion that it impresses immensely. This is the stuff of drama, not family entertainment shows. Then, there is the face off with Clara in a live volcano. Yes, it's utterly ridiculous considering that they wouldn't be able to breath and the flesh would be melting off their bones, but again this is character drama of a very high order. This is the kind of stuff that DOCTOR WHO can do so well now and which the grown ups in the audience will appreciate far more than the younger members. Then, finally, it's into the afterlife, or something that looks like it. Here, things become a little bit more muddled with impressive flashes of reality (the Iraq flashbacks) and some surprising developments in the identity of the big villain and the reason why there are skeletons sitting in tanks of water.
Good work from Peter Capaldi and especially Jenna Coleman ground all of this and keep it on track despite Michelle Gomez overplaying her role as far she can and then going a bit further.
And so the scene is set and set in such a fashion that we can hope for a finale far more worthy of Capaldi's Doctor than was his opening episode.
LAST CHRISTMAS transmitted December 25th 2014
Clara finds Santa Claus and his crashed sleigh outside her apartment. The Doctor shows up and explains that this is because she is dying. She has a dreamweevil (or something) on her head that is eating her brain and the only thing that is keeping the pair of them, plus a few other random folk, alive is their shared belief in Father Christmas.
The DOCTOR WHO Christmas Special has become a centrepiece of the Christmas Day BBC schedule, which shows how far the show has come in turning into the Beeb's flagship drama. It also shows that at Christmas we have a higher tolerance for whimsy because most of the Christmas specials, especially since the departure of Russell T Davies have been a bit, well, pants. LAST CHRISTMAS, sadly, follows that trend. Yes, there is Peter Capaldi running around and being the Doctor in a fashion that says he was the right choice all along. He IS the Doctor and he rises above the nonsense being spouted here to prove it. Jenna Coleman also gives good value as Clara, making her character work when the scripts keep sending Clara in all sorts of inconsistent emotional directions. Nobody else makes an impact of any sort, including Nick Frost (whom we like usually, but who gets nothing to do here really) as the 'is he real/is he not?' Santa Claus. To be truthful, once you've worked through the layers of dreams (Christopher Nolan's lawyers - please note the direct stealing of the plot from INCEPTION), it's very hard to care.
Once again, Moffat shows that he is bereft of ideas, stealing the face huggers from ALIEN (even giving them a name check as part of a decent joke) and reworking the 'don't blink/don't breathe/don't look behind you' schtick that he's already overmined in previous storylines, this time with dancing to keep your mind of what you don't want to see.
And then, to top it off, there's the whimsy. Unable to come up with a plausible reason for all of these people to have been randomly chosen to be attacked by the face hugging dreamweevils (or whatever), he suggests that it was all planned in order to get the Doctor and Clara back together as a Christmas gift from Santa. Really!
As it's the season of goodwill, we'll leave it as being unsatisfying in the way of so many other Christmas specials and hope that the new season brings us better. Both Capaldi and Coleman deserve it.
THE MAGICIAN'S APPRENTICE transmitted September 20 2015
The Doctor has gone missing. There is someone very sinister looking for him, which has made everyone else aware that he is not to be found. Then the planes stop in the sky all over the world, Missy (the now-female Master) shows up with what she claims to be the Doctor's will, which is only delivered to his nearest and dearest on the day before his death.
It's the start of a new series of DOCTOR WHO and that means its time to be excited once again and after the first scene of this series opener, it's time to be very, very excited. This opening scene is big in scale, redolent of the show's mythology and has an astonishing emotional punch to it. Fast forward to another scene and the Doctor is finally found, riding on a tank in medieval times playing power chords on an electric guitar. It's an astonishingly cool entrance (albeit completely ripped off from MAD MAX:FURY ROAD), but it also makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. In those two scenes is encapsulated all that is great about Moffat's reign over DOCTOR WHO and what is terrible about Moffat's reign over DOCTOR WHO. As a writer, he is capable of some exciting and deep character stuff, as evidenced by the continued focus on the relationship between the Doctor and Missy. Unfortunately, as a show runner, there isn't a single gimmick that he will jettison just because it doesn't make any sense. The whole reason for the Doctor riding on a tank and playing an electric guitar in medieval times? - A really lame joke about axe battles.
Continuity also takes a battering in the arrival of the Doctor's will on the eve of a Time Lord's death. Considering how many times that Steven Moffat has taken the Doctor knowingly to the day before his death how has this not shown up before?
On the plus side, Capaldi can do everything that the show throws at him and his meeting with a specific child in a field of hands with eyes in the palm (for everyone who didn't see PAN'S LABYRINTH) is a tour de force real acting. The fact that he can then throw himself into the whole tank riding thing and make it work is to his credit. Jenna Coleman is given less to do in this opening story as Clara, but she is as chirpy and smart as ever she has been. The stand-out, though, is Michelle Gomez, whose turn as the female Master is less grating and a whole lot more fun now that the shock of the new is over. These performances all add to the experience, glossing over the immense yawning gaps in the storyline.
It's the first of a (presumably) two-parter and so we will have to reserve final judgement until we see the next, but there is much to enjoy and much to roll your eyes at. A typical episode of the current set up, in fact.