Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (2014) Review

Doctor Who Kill The Moon Space Walk

It goes without saying that Doctor Who is a very weird show. It’s a sci-fi series where a two thousand year old, face-changing alien and his friends travel the universe in a time machine that looks like a phone box. Right from the start, the show’s basic premise asks the audience to accept a lot of trippy stuff at face value, and the more you get used to it, the more you grow accustomed to broadening your horizons and letting your imagination wander. But even Doctor Who has a few episodes that stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief too far, to the point where it eventually breaks: like “Love And Monsters” (largely because of how awful the costume design for the Abzorbaloff was) or “Sleep No More” (the much maligned sleep-dust zombies episode from Series 9).

“Kill The Moon” has also gained a rather infamous reputation since 2014, since it abandons the show’s usual realm of science fiction and wanders into the world of pure fantasy. This story reveals that the Earth’s moon is actually an egg where a giant dragon has been incubating for billions of years, with bacteria living on it that looks like giant spiders for some reason. From there, the story ends with the dragon laying another egg that’s the same size and shape as its old one as soon as it hatches, to ensure there will be no long-lasting consequences to the show’s status quo after this adventure. So “Kill The Moon” raises a very interesting question about how far you can push an audience’s suspension of disbelief before it breaks – how crazy is too crazy, even for Doctor Who? Personally, my biggest gripe with this episode isn’t that the science is completely and totally whack: it’s that a lot of this episode is rather dull and heavy-handed. Peter Harness penned this installment, and his writing style can often feel very dry and overly blunt to me, which is even more apparent in “The Zygon Invasion” next season.

Doctor Who Kill The Moon Exploring The Ruins

During the classic series, Doctor Who tried to give the Sixth Doctor a character arc where he would start out an aloof and abrasive figure who was hard to like at times, but he would gradually mellow out down the line. However, Colin Baker was fired from the show before that arc could reach its conclusion, due to some behind the scenes drama that was going on at the time. The revived series takes another stab at doing that kind of character arc with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor – an emotionally distant and pragmatic anti-hero who’s often shown in a very flawed light – and is generally much more successful with it in the long run, since it’s allowed to play out uninterrupted. “Kill The Moon” is a very important episode for the Twelfth Doctor’s character development, since this is the one where he finally crosses a major moral line with Clara and has to deal with the consequences.

When “Kill The Moon” starts, the Twelfth Doctor’s rude and insensitive attitude has once again earned himself a good scolding from Clara. His dismissive comments towards Courtney Woods earlier have hurt the teenage girl’s feelings (which he doesn’t seem to be too bothered about), so he decides to make it up to her by taking her on a quick trip to the moon in the near future. From there, the Doctor and his friends quickly get wrapped up in another dangerous mystery, when they discover the moon is falling apart. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to figure out what’s happening, and once he’s got all the answers, he’s tickled pink about stumbling upon the scientific discovery of a lifetime. The initial premise of this episode – the Doctor trying to give Clara and her young ward a spontaneous fun day out, only for it go horribly wrong and force Clara to have to step up in his absence – feels really quite similar to “Nightmare In Silver” last season, though the chain of events that follows certainly lays out a lot of key differences between the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor’s personalities.

Once he fully understands what’s at stake – having to kill a rare, innocent creature or let it live and risk it killing all of humanity – he decides to take a hands-off approach to the crisis for once. Instead of stepping in as humanity’s protector and making the choice on their behalf like he always does, he believes that they should be the ones to decide their own destiny this time: even if the only humans available are an astronaut, a school teacher and a teenage girl. He throws Clara into the deep end, whether she likes it or not, because he wants to see what she’ll do with all the training he’s given her as her mentor, and he has full faith that she’ll make the right choice when the time comes. It’s times like these where the audience is reminded that the Doctor thinks differently than humans do, and he can also be quite full of himself, because the audacity of this man is really quite impressive.

He brought Clara and her teenage student to this dangerous world and insisted that they stick around there, since fixing the moon was now their responsibility, only to peace out himself when he decided to push all of the pressure off on Clara. He abandons them on a crumbling moon where they could easily have been killed and forces them to decide the future of the entire human race by themselves within an hour. And then after he’s stabbed them in the back, he’s actually surprised that Clara isn’t more appreciative of the educational experience he gave her. During the epilogue, Clara blows up at him in anger and proceeds to verbally eviscerate him. The Doctor and Clara have had their fair share of fights before now but never anything as ugly as this, and it is well-deserved. After this, Twelve still believes that humanity will have to step up and take responsibility for their own planet from time to time, as seen in Series 10’s “Thin Ice”, but he’s thankfully far more tactful and considerate with that stance down the line, after the way he blew things with Clara.

Doctor Who Kill The Moon Ticking Clock 9

“Kill The Moon” builds off Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) well-established characterization as someone who loves working with kids and has a fondness for them, since looking after the safety and well-being of her student is her top priority for most of this episode. Clara gets dragged along on a spontaneous trip to the Earth’s moon when the Doctor decides to treat Courtney to a fun day out, and things very quickly take a turn for the worse when they discover that the Moon’s mass is shifting, putting all of humanity at risk in the future. Clara initially wants to walk away from the problem and let history play out, since she’s apparently forgotten what the Doctor taught her in “The Rings Of Akhaten” and she’s certain the moon will be fine. However, the Doctor reminds her that the future isn’t set in stone and they have a responsibility as time travelers to make sure that history doesn’t change for the worse.

Throughout Series 8, Clara has put more and more of her trust into the Doctor’s methods – even while other characters like Danny and Psi have voiced their concerns that her faith in him might be misplaced (and Clara herself has had her doubts along the way) – and in “Kill The Moon”, Clara is blindsided when the Doctor betrays that trust. She’s left alone to make a sadistic choice between the safety of the entire human race and the life of an innocent alien that will apparently have to be sacrificed. So basically, it’s the climax of “The Beast Below” all over again – except this time, the dilemma is even worse. In “The Beast Below”, there was literally nothing that insisted the Doctor had to make a decision about what he would do with the star whale right then and there, except for his own fury and righteous indignation about what humanity had done to the creature. In “Kill The Moon”, Clara has a time limit looming over her that will unfortunately only last for an hour, and the stakes she’s dealing with are massive.

Throughout Doctor Who, we’ve seen time and time again that humanity goes on to become a spacefaring species, and their influence reaches out throughout the stars for a 100 trillion years, affecting an untold amount of worlds. If the human race dies now, before they’ve even left their own solar system, it will change the future history of the entire universe, and all those worlds Clara has been to with the Doctor over the last two seasons will cease to exist. What makes things so much worse is that Courtney is trapped in this predicament with her and will probably die with her, decades away from her home and her family, so Clara feels like she’s failed her as her caretaker. Killing the creature goes against all of Clara’s values, along with everything the Doctor has taught her about the sanctity of life, so she decides to spare the creature and her gamble thankfully pays off.

By the episode’s end, the future is safe but Clara is still furious – since the Doctor’s little stunt was needlessly cruel – so once they’re alone, she lets him have a piece of her mind. All season, the Doctor has been trying her patience: whether it’s locking her in a room with a monster against her wishes or being needlessly petty, condescending and antagonistic towards her boyfriend and her students – ditching her on the moon was simply the last straw. In the heat of the moment, Clara tells him to get lost and decides that she never wants to see him again. One of the perks of letting Danny in on her time-traveling secret is that she has someone else to talk to now when she’s stressed, and he fulfils his supportive boyfriend duties here. When she vents about what happened to him, he suspects that she’ll feel differently once she’s had some time to cool down, since she and the Doctor have so much history together, and he offers her some gentle advice not to write her best friend off so quickly (even though he isn’t all that fond of Twelve himself).

Doctor Who Kill The Moon Space Walk 2

Up until now, Courtney Woods has played a very minor part in Series 8, only appearing here and there for a quick gag. “Kill The Moon” expands quite a lot on her character, since she’s given a supporting role in this outing, and we get to see that she does have layers beyond being an unruly and rebellious teen. She’s the initial catalyst for everything that transpires in this episode: when the Doctor makes a dismissively rude comment about her offscreen she takes it very personally, since her self-esteem is rather fragile, but she’s hoping to change all that by doing something noteworthy. Right from the start, she gets more than what she bargained for on this trip to outer space. She watches a man get eaten by a giant spider and is nearly acquainted with the Grim Reaper herself when said spider comes after her next. She’s only fifteen years old, so her near-death experience naturally traumatizes her.

She beats a hasty retreat back to the TARDIS to get away from all the madness, but she’s quickly drawn back into the Doctor and Clara’s mission by her compassion for the creature they’re studying, and her need to play a part in what’s happening. Courtney is very naïve and short-sighted but she also has a noble side, and she does seem to gain some more respect for Clara during this experience, since she constantly turns to her for guidance and emotional support when things start to get scary or overwhelming. By the journey’s end, Courtney has stuck stubbornly to her principles, and as a result, she’s helped Clara to save the future of the entire human race, so she’s definitely got something to feel proud of now. Assuming the Doctor’s claim about her later is true (and it isn’t just another one of his tall tales), Courtney was inspired by this adventure to try to make a difference in the world when she became an adult and eventually decided to go into politics. So she’s had a pretty nice character arc over these last two episodes.

Over the years, Doctor Who has told a number of different stories about the human race’s steady progression as space explorers, who are driven to seek out knowledge as they try to find their place amongst the cosmos, and “Kill The Moon” is another chapter in that saga, taking place roughly around the same time period as “The Waters Of Mars“. By the 2040’s, mankind has lost interest in exploring the stars and have grown complacent in the treasure trove of knowledge their forefathers already uncovered, so they’re completely caught off guard when their world starts to change along with the moon. A small team of astronauts are sent to find answers about the moon’s transformation, with Captain Lundvik leading them. Lundvik is a very grizzled and pessimistic woman, and she only grows more jaded after all her crewmates are killed on the mission.

Her world has been going to hell for years now, and she’s just about lost hope in it ever getting better on its own, so she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to save her planet. She’s deadset on killing the creature living inside the moon before it can hatch, which puts her directly at odds with the Doctor, Clara and Courtney, who all think that’s appalling. Lundvik firmly believes that the ends justify the means when the stakes are this high, and she dismisses all the others as being foolishly sentimental. Ultimately, Clara overrules her and follows her own gut instinct to trust mother nature, which turns out to be right call after all. Humanity as a whole is inspired by the dragon’s miraculous birth to restart their space programs, because there’s so still much to see and learn out there beyond their home. And Lundvik has been humbled by this experience – Clara didn’t just save the dragon, she also saved her from making the wrong choice, much like Amy did with the Doctor in “The Beast Below” – so hopefully, it’ll have a positive effect on her as well down the line.

Doctor Who Kill The Moon A New Moon 3

“Kill The Moon” was originally conceived as an Eleventh Doctor story for the latter half of Series 7, when Clara was still a brand new companion. However, it was eventually pushed back to Series 8 and the whole story had to be radically overhauled to accommodate the Twelfth Doctor and his radically different dynamic with Clara, which honestly leaves me wondering what the original draft of this episode was like. “Kill The Moon” is helmed by Paul Wilmshurt, whose direction is very serviceable (if a bit unremarkable) throughout the hour: it probably shines the most during the attack of the spider germs early on, where he does a really good job of building up tension while our heroes are being preyed upon in the dark. “Kill The Moon” was primarily filmed in Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote, Spain – the same place “Planet Of Fire” was filmed in the classic series, thirty years earlier – with the gravelly mountain terrain standing in for the rocky surface of the Moon.

Since “The Caretaker” saved up a lot of money for the show’s special effects budget, “Kill The Moon” can afford to be a very flashy episode, with freaky CGI spider creatures running around the desert terrain, and the starry black vista of deep space being digitally composited into the sky at all times. For the most part, the illusions at play all hold up well, except for the establishing shots of Lundvik’s space shuttle, which never quite manage to be convincing. Longtime viewers will notice that the Twelfth Doctor is wearing the same orange spacesuit that the Tenth Doctor picked up for himself in Series 2 – the same one the Doc has worn in “The Satan Pit“, “42“, “The Waters Of Mars” and “Hide” – which means the show has gotten a lot of mileage out of that prop over the years. Murray Gold’s electronic score is very moody and restrained this week, with some heroic new variations of the Twelfth Doctor’s theme simmering below the surface in tracks like “Are You Going To Shoot Me?“, “When I Say Run” and “That Is The Moon“.

All in all, “Kill The Moon” is a very average episode of Doctor Who that would probably be more forgettable, were it not for Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman bringing their A-game to the table as usual, as well as the character drama that forms between the two leads as a result of this adventure.

Rating: 7/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “So, an innocent life versus the future of all mankind. We have forty-five minutes to decide” I see you leaning on the fourth wall again with the time limit, Doctor Who.

* The big twist about the moon’s true nature in this episode is actually quite similar to something the Doctor discovered in “The Runaway Bride“: that the Earth’s core was formed by a nest of giant alien spiders billions of years ago. In this show, anything is fair game for having an alien-related backstory.

* “Why didn’t you just tell her you didn’t mean it?!

* “Oh? Well, you’re just going to have to shoot us, then. Shoot the little girl first. She doesn’t want to stand there watching us getting shot, does she? She’ll be terrified. Girl first, then her teacher, and then me”.

* “Do you know what’s wrong with the moon?” “It’s put on weight” Relatable.

* “One small thing for a thing. One enormous thing for a thingy thing!r/Cringe.

* “What you doing?” “Putting some pictures on Tumblr” “No! Courtney, don’t put any photos on Tumblr!

* “Is it a chicken?” “No!” “Cause for a chicken to have laid an egg that big-” “Courtney, don’t spoil the moment“.

* The latter half of this episode feels a lot like an abortion allegory. The climax is three women arguing amongst themselves about whether or not they have the right to kill an unborn creature in a womb, when letting it be born would be incredibly harmful, while the only male member of the cast dips out because he feels like it isn’t his place to intervene. According to Peter Harness, that was completely unintentional on his part, but the parallels are definitely there and once you notice them, they get very distracting.

* “Who’s better qualified?” “I don’t know! The President of America!” “Oh, take something off his plate. He makes far too many decisions anyway”.

* “Listen, we went to dinner in Berlin in 1937, right? We didn’t nip out after pudding and kill Hitler. I’ve never killed Hitler. And you wouldn’t expect me to kill Hitler” River Song would do it.

* “Oh, what a prat” That’s putting it lightly, Lundvik.

* “Loads of things lay eggs” “…It’s not a chicken”.

* “Hey, why don’t you call me Clara?” “I prefer ‘miss’, miss” That got a good laugh out of me. Just because they’re both going to die, does not mean Courtney wants to get all chummy with her teacher. That would just be weird.

* During the climax, Clara decides to broadcast to everyone on Earth and put the fate of the creature up to a vote. When the vote doesn’t go the way she wanted it to however, she decides ‘fuck democracy’ and goes against everyone else’s wishes anyway. When the moon started breaking apart and no one had any idea what was about to happen for a few minutes, I imagine all the people back on Earth were thinking lots of colorful thoughts about Clara once they realized she betrayed them.

* “Tell me what you knew, Doctor, or else I’ll smack you so hard you regenerate” Oh snap.

* “Oh, don’t you ever tell me to mind my language! Don’t you ever tell me to take the stabilizers off my bike! And don’t you dare lump me in with the rest of all the little humans that you think are so tiny and silly and predictable! You walk our Earth, Doctor, you breathe our air. You make us your friend, and that is your moon too, and you can damn well help us when we need it!” Hell, yes.

* “When did you get to become so wise?” “The same way as anyone else. I had a really bad day”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Kill The Moon Ticking Clock 11

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Doctor Who: The Caretaker (2014) Review

Doctor Who The Caretaker Confrontation

“The Caretaker” is Gareth Roberts’ final contribution to Doctor Who, which he co-wrote alongside the series’ showrunner Steven Moffat. His first story, “The Shakespeare Code“, was a surprisingly fun romp and one of the better historical episodes of the revived series. After that, he never really managed to match that level of quality again. “The Unicorn And The Wasp“, “The Lodger” and “Closing Time” are all the weakest episodes of their respective seasons in my opinion, while “Planet Of The Dead” was the most forgettable one of the 2009 specials. Gareth Roberts’ episodes are usually so focused on being comedic that they don’t have much substance to them outside of the humor, and as a result, they’re not very memorable. “The Caretaker” manages to avoid falling into that trap, because one, it’s a very character driven episode, and two, it’s very important to the overall story arc of Series 8.

The love triangle between the Doctor, Clara Oswald and Danny Pink runs throughout the entirety of Series 8 (even if it’s just acknowledged in the background of several stories like “Time Heist” and “Flatline”), but “The Caretaker” is easily the episode that’s the most devoted to it. Because of that, this is one of those stories (like “Rose“, “The Lazarus Experiment” or “The Bells Of Saint John“) where the B-plot concerning the villain is rather forgettable, because the character drama between the three leads is the primary focus of the A-plot. Now that we’re officially halfway through Series 8, “The Caretaker” is a pretty significant turning point in the season, which the last five episodes have all been quietly building up to. It’s time for Clara’s two biggest secrets to be revealed to her boys, in the most disastrous way possible, which will expose all three of our leads’ biggest personality flaws, force them to work together, and give them plenty of room to grow in the latter half of season.

Doctor Who The Caretaker Sneaking In 16

The Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) role in this episode takes a lot of inspiration from one of Gareth Roberts’ earlier episodes, “The Lodger”: the Doctor gets wind of a dangerous alien threat roaming around London, so he decides to go undercover and set a trap for it. He shows up at Clara’s school, pretending to be a janitor, and from there comedic hijinks quickly ensue: partly because he sticks out like a sore thumb compared to his co-workers, and partly because he’s a massive troll who keeps showing up wherever Clara is just to annoy her (including one hilariously snippy scene where he interrupts Clara’s class while it’s still in session just to correct her knowledge, and she can just barely conceal her vexation). He also shares a few quirky scenes with Courtney Woods, the school troublemaker, that are mainly here to set up the plot of the next episode, “Kill The Moon“.

Still, it’s not long before things start to get serious. “The Caretaker” pays off a lot of the material “Into The Dalek” set-up earlier this season, by taking the Doctor to task for his holier than thou and hypocritical prejudice towards soldiers. As soon as he discovers Danny used to serve in the military, he immediately starts to talk down to him, assumes he knows everything there is to know about him, and insists he must be a P.E. teacher, because he’s too stupid and weak-minded to be anything else. On top of being very petty, this is also very immature behavior for someone who’s two thousand years older than the rest of the cast. The Doctor’s snobbish attitude is really nothing new for him – David Tennant’s Doctor had several episodes where he got into a mood like this in Series 4 (“The Sontaran Stratagem“, “The Doctor’s Daughter“) – but it definitely seems to be cranked up a few notches in this episode, and the love triangle drama that he’s currently a part of certainly helps to exacerbate it.

The Doctor still has feelings for Clara, even though he was one who encouraged her to move on and start seeing other people in the season premiere. In “The Caretaker”, he’s initially pleased when he thinks she’s dating a Matt Smith look-alike (no doubt getting an ego boost from that), only to become mortified when he realizes she’s going out with his least-favorite type of person instead. He immediately starts to question her taste in men and insists that Danny will be a terrible influence on her, which shows a stunning lack of self-awareness on his part. Not only is the Doctor himself just as guilty of everything he’s judging Danny for in his head, but he’s also spent the last six episodes training Clara to follow his orders to the word and encouraging her to brush off other people’s horrible deaths for the greater good. For someone who claims to hate soldiers, Twelve slips into the role of a commanding officer extraordinarily well. Danny doesn’t waste any time calling the time lord out on his hypocrisy, which clearly strikes a nerve.

Due to a mix-up, Danny blunders into the trap the Doctor set for this week’s alien antagonist and makes the whole plan a bust. Everyone else in the area is put in even further danger as a result, which only validates the Doctor’s belief that all soldiers are just useless, trigger-happy jarheads. However, Danny subsequently redeems himself a bit in the Doctor’s eyes, when he saves Twelve and Clara’s lives in the climax, so the Doctor is forced to begrudgingly admit that he perhaps he judged him too quickly. After this short-lived team-up, the Doctor and Danny keep a healthy and respectful amount of distance from each other. They still don’t like each other, and they never reach the point where they can actually be called friends, but they do find one thing they can agree on: they both care a lot about Clara.

Doctor Who The Caretaker Clara And Danny

Similar to how she was the main protagonist of “Listen” a few episodes ago, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) takes center stage again in this outing. “The Caretaker” is set almost entirely inside Coal Hill School, Clara’s workplace, which means we get to explore what she does for a living and what her relationships with her co-workers are like. Ever since she came onboard the TARDIS in “The Bells Of Saint John”, Clara has tried to balance two halves of her life – her personal ties back home and her travels with the Doctor – so that one big priority doesn’t overshadow the other. But ever since the Doctor’s last regeneration, it’s gotten harder and harder for her to compartmentalize things, since he keeps intruding on her personal life, whisking her away on more adventures when she least expects it.

Clara once described herself as a bubbly control freak who’s way too obsessed with keeping things neat and orderly for her own good, and that side of her personality certainly rears its ugly head in this episode. Despite how much she’s clearly overexerting herself, she does her best to convince herself that she’s got everything under control, just the way she likes it. Even though she has to tell Danny and the Doctor more and more lies to keep them ignorant of each other’s existence, and she’s concealing two big parts of herself from the people closest to her, which is not exactly a healthy thing to do. Eventually, Clara’s web of lies starts to untangle when the Doctor shows up at her school, pretending to be a janitor, and from there, she knows it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes to light. But she isn’t just concerned with maintaining the masquerade, she’s also worried about her students’ safety. She knows her friend well enough to know that he only appears in places where trouble is brewing, which means all her kids are in danger.

Like the Doctor, Clara shows an impressive lack of self-awareness in this episode. Early on, she calls the Doctor out for patronizing her and assuming she’s super gullible just because he’s really clever, but she’s ironically just as guilty of doing that herself. The lies she keeps feeding the Doctor and Danny are not even good lies at this point; in fact, they’re so blatant that she’s starting to insult their intelligence. Eventually, she crosses a line when she tries to straight-up gaslight Danny and convince him that his near-death experience (which happened only two minutes ago, mind you) was just part of a school play. Danny and the Doctor both tell her to cut the crap and demand the truth from her, so she’s forced to come clean at the worst time possible. And from there, both of her boys start arguing over what should be done about the alien threat, with Clara caught in the middle.

Clara has to deal with the Doctor’s judgmental attitude about her taste in men, Danny’s insecurity that she might have feelings for the Doctor as more than just as a friend (which he’s not entirely wrong about), and both men’s vitriolic pettiness towards each other. Eventually, she manages to patch things up with both of them. However, Danny has one condition for her if they’re going to move forward as a couple: that she be more honest with him in the future, which is a fair request. If they can’t be together without Clara feeling the need to constantly lie to him and hide huge parts of herself from him, then there’s really no point in them having a relationship at all. Clara agrees to this, but it’s a promise that she’ll soon go on to break. In theory, the events of this episode should have brought them closer together and given them a much greater understanding of each other. Instead, it feels like there’s still a pretty wide gulf between them: between who they are as people and what they both want out of life, which suggests that they might not be as compatible as they thought.

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After the events of “Listen”, Danny Pink’s (Samuel Anderson) relationship with Clara is blossoming: they vibe with each other well and they always seem to enjoy spending time together, but they still have some problems that are starting to become obvious. As time goes by, Danny can feel Clara growing emotionally distant from him: she always seems to be stressed out for some reason, she’s acting really secretive and insecure, and she’s constantly feeding him obvious lies about what she’s really been up to when he’s not around. By a certain point, most guys would probably start to suspect she’s been cheating on them with someone else. When the Doctor shows up at Coal Hill School, the two men immediately dislike each other, since the Doctor makes no attempt to hide his contempt for him and is incredibly classist towards him because of his past as a soldier.

When Danny starts to suspect he’s up to no good, he decides to tail him one night and unwittingly ruins the Doctor’s alien-catching trap, earning himself the time lord’s ire as a result. Once the full truth of his girlfriend’s double life comes to light, Danny naturally feels hurt that Clara felt the need to hide such a large part of herself from him, and since she’s been lying to him on a weekly basis for months, he’s not really sure he knows who she is anymore. A long-term relationship cannot survive unless both parties trust each other, and Danny’s trust in Clara has just been broken. On top of that, he starts to feel more than a bit insecure about Clara’s relationship with the Doctor, now that he sees how close they are and he knows how much history they have. The Doctor isn’t the only one who lets his jealousy start to get the better of him in this episode, and it’s implied that this causes Danny’s judgment of the time lord to be a bit harsher than it normally would be.

He’s also legitimately concerned for Clara as well, since he notices some red flags between her and the Doctor. Like Rory Williams before him, Danny isn’t starstruck when it comes to the Doctor, which means he’s a lot more critical of him than his girlfriend. He doesn’t like the way the Doctor bosses Clara around or the way Clara follows those orders without question, like a soldier obeying their general. It dredges up some bad memories of his time in the military, since he has some unresolved issues with authority figures. He correctly assumes that the Doctor is an aristocrat because of his title as a time lord and grows even more hostile towards him in return, fighting fire with fire during their spats. Really, all three of our main characters are at their most flawed in this episode: Danny and the Doctor are being stubborn and projecting their issues onto each other something fierce, while Clara can’t stop digging a deeper and deeper hole for herself with her lies.

After Danny saves our heroes from the Skovox Blitzer and everyone has had time to cool off, he decides that he doesn’t want to come between Clara and the Doctor, because he wants his girlfriend to be happy, so he’s fully prepared to keep her time traveling secret. But he still has his concerns. During his time in the military, he learned that a commanding officer always pushes their cadets to their limits to try to get them to reach their full potential, and sometimes they push them too far. That happened to Danny not too long ago, which led to one of the biggest regrets of his life, and he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to Clara. He’s also noticed that Clara has a habit of emulating the Doctor’s behavior out in the field, to the point where she’ll throw all caution to the wind and disregard her own safety to get a job done. He can’t help but worry that that will get her into trouble someday, and in light of Clara’s ultimate fate in “Face The Raven”, Danny’s concerns were completely validated in the end.

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“The Caretaker” is helmed by Paul Murphy, who previously handled “Robot Of Sherwood“, and he brings the same quality of work to this endeavor, pouring plenty of love and care into his vision for this episode. His direction is very lively, bouncy, and at times disorienting. The camera rarely ever sits still as it travels down corridors and hallways, giving us plenty of off-kilter shots and Dutch angles during Clara’s rapidfire date montage with Danny, Clara trying to run damage as she dashes around Coal Hill School, and the climax, where all three of our heroes manage to subdue the Skovox Blitzer. Principal photography for this episode was divided between a pretty wide variety of areas throughout the UK: like Bute Street, Cardiff, Lloyd George Avenue, Cardiff, Cardiff Bay, St. Llltyd’s Boys College in Splott, Holton Primary School in Barry, and Tony Refail Comprehensive School in South Wales.

Like “Listen”, “The Caretaker” is another low-budget episode that’s purposely designed to save up money for some of the more flashy adventures in the latter half of Series 8 (including “Kill The Moon”, the very next outing). Aside from a few quick shots of alien worlds, the Blitzer firing off its laser, and the time vortex in action, there is little to no CGI used in this episode. Instead, the Skovox Blitzer is primarily created through practical effects, with an actor named Jimmy Vee (who previously played the Moxx of Balhoon in “The End Of The World” and Bannakaffalatta in “Voyage Of The Damned“) piloting the robot suit. Murray Gold’s score is light and breezy this week but also gleefully chaotic in his suite for “The Caretaker“: embracing the sillier side of the show while still having a bite to it. I also appreciate the nice bit of musical continuity he slips in at one point: “The Mad Man With A Box“, the theme that represents the Doctor’s relationship with his TARDIS, is given a quiet reprise when the Doctor and Clara decide to introduce Danny to their mode of transport.

Considering how much of a mixed bag Gareth Roberts’ previous episodes have been, I’m glad to see his last contribution to the show was one of his better ones (which may or may not have something to do with Moffat co-writing it). “The Caretaker” certainly gives the viewers a lot to chew on when it comes to how the Doctor, Clara and Danny are portrayed, and it does a commendable job of setting them all on a new path for the latter half of the season.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Clara, you look lovely today. Have you had a wash?” “Why are you being nice?” “Because it works on you”.

* “It means that you are a very clever man making the mistake, common to very clever people, of assuming that everybody else is stupid”.

* “I lived among otters once for a month. Well, I sulked. River and I, we had this big fight-” “Human beings are not otters!” “Exactly. It’ll be even easier”.

* “I hate you!” “That’s fine. That’s a perfectly normal reaction”.

* “Oh, What? I suppose she was your bezzie mate, was she? And you went on holidays together and then you got kidnapped by Boggons from space and then you all formed a band and met Buddy Holly!” Man, the salt is real.

* “Miss, what about our homework?” “Who asks for homework? Amateur”.

* “Next class, jog on, I need to talk to Mister Pink” “Ozzie loves the Squaddie!

* “Don’t mind this old man. You two kids just pop off together” “Why are you talking like an idiot?” Ouch, Clara.

* “Well, cut along, you’re running out of time, for everything. Human beings have incredibly short life spans. Frankly, you should all be in a permanent state of panic. Tick tock, tick tock” Well, that got dark fast.

* “I’m a disruptive influence” “Good to meet you” “And you“.

* “Hello, miss. Love to the Squaddie”.

* “So you’re leading the thing here? To a school? My school?” “My school? Oh, that is telling”.

* “Sorry. Stupid. I underestimated you” “It’s easily done. There’s a lot to estimate” Modesty.

* “How stupid do you think I am?” “I’m willing to put a number on it”.

* “How can you think that I’m her dad when we both look exactly the same age?” “We do not look the same age” “I was being kind”.

* “But he’s a PE teacher, you wouldn’t go out with a PE teacher. It’s a mistake, you’ve made a boyfriend error”.

* “Why would you say that? Is this part of the surprise play?” “There is no surprise play” “Oh, it’s a roller coaster with you tonight, isn’t it?!

* I would have paid good money to see Clara explain the Impossible Girl arc to Danny, and how there’s currently a thousand different copies of her scattered across the universe.

* “I’m serious. I’m trying to save this planet” “It’s the end of the world for me tonight, whatever you do. It’s parents’ evening”.

* “I’m afraid Courtney is a disruptive influence” “Yeah, but last year you said she was a very disruptive influence. So, I suppose that counts as an improvement”.

* “I need to be good enough for you. That’s why he’s angry. Just in case I’m not” “He did just save the whole world” “Yeah, that’s a good start”.

* “I saw you tonight, Clara. You did exactly what he told you, you weren’t even scared… and you should have been” Oof. Again, once you know how Clara’s character arc pans out, that line is a bit chilling.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Caretaker Confession Time 3

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Doctor Who: Time Heist (2014) Review

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Series 8 of Doctor Who continues to progress at a leisurely rate with “Time Heist”, an episode that’s co-written by showrunner Steven Moffat and guest writer Stephen Thompson. Mr. Thompson previously penned “The Curse Of The Black Spot” in Series 6 and “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” in Series 7, and a few of his favorite writing tropes do turn up again in this episode when it comes to the supporting cast. Likewise, you can easily recognize Steven Moffat’s influence on this story, because it’s full of fun, snappy dialogue that’s become a signature of his work over the years.

Since Doctor Who is a show that can basically reinvent itself every week, it loves to emulate different genres of movies. In every season, there’s at least one episode that spoofs a different film genre: like a haunted house episode, a western episode, a pirate episode, a murder mystery episode, a base under siege episode, a monster hunting episode, etc. With “Time Heist”, the show decides to tackle heist movies, when the Doctor and Clara suddenly find themselves drafted into a mission to rob the biggest bank in the universe. Like “Robot Of Sherwood” before it, “Time Heist” is a fun, fast-paced romp that serves a nice palette cleanser in-between the character drama of both “Listen” and “The Caretaker”. The script is filled with several twists and turns that are all foreshadowed well in advance, so it’s a rewarding story to rewatch. And while it functions perfectly well as a standalone story, “Time Heist” also does a nice job of developing the Doctor and Clara’s character arcs this season, by addressing some of the more worrying and unhealthy behavioral patterns that they’re starting to fall into as of late – bad habits that will need to be addressed, sooner or later.

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In “Time Heist”, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his best friend Clara lose several hours of their memories and are subsequently drafted into a small group of people who’ve been assigned to rob the biggest bank in the universe, receiving orders from an anonymous ‘architect’. “Time Heist” paints a pretty complicated portrait of the Twelfth Doctor, by building on what “Into The Dalek” already established about his brusque, no-nonsense personality and his ruthless pragmatism. Once the heist is underway, the Doctor goes into full wartime general mode. He appoints himself leader of their little gang, assesses everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and then deploys them to handle certain jobs that fit their area of expertise when the time is right. He repeatedly encourages them to risk their lives for the mission, and he tends to get very snippy when they keep questioning his orders and his wisdom.

About halfway through this episode, “Time Heist” takes a rather dark turn when the Doctor hands his co-conspirators, Psi and Saibra, some ‘atomic shredders’ they’ve been given, which are basically the futuristic equivalent of cyanide pills. Both of them wind up using them, because it’s better for them to die on their own terms than to be killed by the enemy. The shredders turn out to be teleporters later on, a last-ditch escape plan for them if they’re cornered by the Teller, but the Doctor didn’t know that at the time. He accepted that the best thing he could do for these people was give them a more humane death and basically helped them to commit suicide, and that’s bleak. The Doctor moves right along afterwards, so he can try to focus on the big picture, displaying the same clinical detachment that he previously had in “Into The Dalek”. However, Peter Capaldi’s subtle, conflicted reactions make it clear that the Doctor is more saddened and rattled by their apparent deaths than he lets on, especially after Saibra’s ‘demise’.

Throughout the hour, the Doctor grows increasingly frustrated that they have to keep blindly trusting some shadowy puppetmaster who’s playing recklessly with all of their lives, and keep blindly following his orders to the word, especially after his scheming seems to get two people needlessly killed. He also grows increasingly frustrated with himself because he can’t figure out the masked man’s identity. During the climax, everything finally clicks for him, and we’re given a reveal not unlike the one in “Amy’s Choice“, where the Doctor is able to recognize his own handiwork precisely because of how much he really doesn’t like himself (which is still rather concerning).

After “Time Heist” meticulously picked apart the Twelfth Doctor’s moral code and called his character into question multiple times, the climax reassures us that the Doctor wouldn’t ask the others to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself, when he puts his own life at risk to get the answers that they need from the Teller. The reason they went on this grand bank heist turns out to be rather heartwarming in retrospect: the Doctor wanted to do a kindness to the last two members of an endangered species of aliens and give them back their freedom after they had been abused by humans for years. Everything goes back to normal afterwards (with some rather sweet scenes of the gang parting ways amicably) and the Doctor and Clara return to their usual lives, but not before the Doctor implies he’s quite happy that their bank heist wound up upstaging her date with Danny. Even though it was the Doctor’s decision to declare them just friends back in “Deep Breath“, it would seem that he still has feelings for Clara, and he’s starting to get a bit jealous that there’s someone new in her life, catching her eye.

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In “Time Heist”, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is forced to put her next big date with Danny on hold to help the Doctor with his mission. From there, she spends most of the hour following the Doctor around, feeling completely out of her depth, since unlike the other members of their little gang, she doesn’t have any special skills to contribute to their efforts. She quickly becomes friends with Psi and feels plenty of sympathy for him for what he’s recently lost, so she’s devastated when he seemingly dies saving her life. Previous episodes like “Cold War“, “Hide“, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “Listen” have all explored how frightened Clara can get when things slip well and truly out of her control. And now, lightyears away from her home, Clara’s fears could easily get her killed, since she’s being hunted by a mind-reading alien that seeks out fear.

As always, Clara puts her full trust in the Doctor and his methods, since she knows he’s easily the most qualified person to get them out of the bank alive. She encourages the others to do the same as well and insists that he knows what he’s doing, but there’s a sense that she’s trying to fully convince herself of that just as much as everyone else. Psi calls her out on it later and accuses her of making excuses for her friend’s bad behavior when he’s being needlessly callous, and he’s not exactly wrong. Clara is in danger of becoming a yes man or an enabler, and considering the companions are meant to be a second, external conscience for the Doctor in this show (who are willing to put their foot down when he steps out of line), that’s the one thing they can never be. Sooner or later, Twelve’s cold, aloof behavior and his belligerent attitude will become too big of a problem for even Clara to brush off, and she’ll have to confront it head on. Sooner than she thinks actually, in the following three episodes, “The Caretaker“, “Kill The Moon” and “Mummy On The Orient Express”.

In all three of the stories that Stephen Thompson has penned for Doctor Who, he seems to really like having the Doctor and his friends team up with some rather sketchy characters. In “The Curse Of Black Spot”, it was Captain Avery and his crew of pirates. In “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”, it was the Van Baalen brothers’ salvage team. And in “Time Heist”, it’s Psi and Saibra, two lovable rogues with hearts of gold. Psi is a professional bank robber, the type of character that we usually not asked to root for in this show, but since his targets are all shown to be greedy, amoral and corrupt people, he remains a sympathetic figure – especially since this heist in particular has a good cause behind it: putting a stop to animal cruelty.

Psi is half-human and half-machine, and at some point, he erased his memories of his past to protect his friends and family. They would be safe from paying the price for his crimes, so long as he remained anonymous, and now he wants to find a way to get those memories back. Saibra is a mutant who’s saddled with shape-shifting powers that she can’t control, and as a result, she’s shunned as a freak and made into an outcast. Both of them agreed to rob the most secure bank in the universe because there was something precious in it for them: whether it’s knowledge of their past or control over their own life. Psi is quite a rebel and hates having to reluctantly answer to the Doctor’s orders, so he keeps pushing back against the time lord’s self-appointed authority more often than anyone else in the group, while Saibra likes to keep to herself and fade into the background more often than not. Ultimately, after risking their lives for the cause, both of these characters get the sense of closure they sought after, and both of them part ways with our heroes on good terms.

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Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat clearly have a lot of fun with the world-building details of this episode, since “Time Heist” is filled with some suitably alien and disturbing concepts. The high-class setting of this episode is easily the most amoral and dystopian future that we’ve visited in Doctor Who since Sardicktown in “A Christmas Carol“. In that episode, it was apparently completely legal to cryogenically freeze human beings, store them away as personal property, and use them as collateral in business deals. In this episode, bank employees are fully authorized to act as judge, jury and executioner over anyone who steps foot inside of their place of business. If they deem someone guilty, not only will they instantly sentence them to death, but they’ll also hunt down their friends and families and exact vengeance on them too, so they can make an example out of them.

The Doctor, Clara, Psi and Saibra have to wipe their memories of their plan ahead of time, to protect themselves, since the bank employees rely heavily on the Teller, a telepathic security guard who also doubles as their own personal attack dog. The Teller can read people’s thoughts and sense any feelings of guilt they might be concealing, and once he’s done so, he doesn’t waste any time melting their brains inside their heads – which is shown through a legitimately horrific scene early on, where the Teller is ordered to kill some redshirt character who had been caught sticking his fingers inside the proverbial cookie jar. Throughout the hour, the Doctor and his friends have to try to keep their minds blank to stay one step out of the Teller’s grasp, which is something that’s almost impossible to do in practice. The threat that the Teller presents follows the usual formula for a Steven Moffat monster in this show: don’t blink, don’t look away, don’t breathe, and don’t think, unless you want to die.

Miss Delphox, the head of the bank’s security team, is an icy, merciless woman who’s completely unmoved by the public executions that she regularly carries out. She only cares about doing her job quickly and efficiently day after day, and she lives in fear of disappointing her boss, because she knows full well what would happen if she did. Miss Delphox makes for a good antagonist, if a bit familiar, since we just saw a similar character last season, with Miss Kizlet in “The Bells Of Saint John“. During the final act, it’s revealed that Miss Delphox is actually a clone of the bank’s secretive owner, Madame Karabraxos, giving her actress a chance to play a double role. While she was fairly restrained in her turn as Miss Delphox, Keely Hawes gets to have a lot more fun with Karabraxos, a saucy, confident, campy diva who you love to hate.

As it turns out, Karabraxos herself was the one who gave our heroes their mission. During the final few years of her life, she had many regrets about the way she wasted her youth, and her abuse of the Teller was one of them. She turned the Teller into her own personal lap dog by kidnapping his mate and using her against him, so she sent the Doctor back into her past to make things right. Thanks to our heroes’ efforts, the abused animal is given a happy ending when he and his mate are relocated to a different planet that’s safe and secluded. All things considered, it’s a pretty neat and tidy ending, though it is a bit unfortunate that this is the second episode in a row (after “Listen”) where the Doctor and Clara spend forty-five minutes trying to solve a mystery, only to discover that the answer is a bootstrap paradox, which makes the climax of “Time Heist” feel a bit too redundant. The same thing will later happen in Series 9 with “The Witch’s Familiar” and “Before The Flood”, two back-to-back stories where a bootstrap paradox plays a large role in wrapping everything up.

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“Time Heist” is helmed by Douglas MacKinnon, who once again shows a lot of improvement as a director with the confident and ambitious way he handles this episode. There are noticeably a lot of trippy, psychedelic choices when it comes to the scene transitions he uses: like shattering glass effects, split screen effects, dissolving effects, and some animation of the time vortex morphing into a shot of Twelve’s face reflected in a washing machine. “Time Heist” is one of those episodes like “42“, “Cold War”, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “Nightmare In Silver” that was clearly shot with a number of different filters to create a series of clashing color schemes throughout the hour (a filming technique that I always appreciate). There are deep blues, sickly greens, fiery reds, and ominous yellows clashing with each other from scene to scene, to highlight the danger and uneasy atmosphere that can be found in each area of the bank.

All the money that the show just saved up with “Listen” (one of the season’s low-budget episodes) clearly went towards this episode, which features a lot of flashy location shooting in Cardiff University, Bute Park, Ronald Dahl Plas (the same area “Boom Town” was filmed in, back in Series 1), the Uskmouth power station, and several other locations. The show’s costume and make-up department does an admirable job of bringing the Teller to life: a giant, humanoid slug that towers over the other characters in an alien and imposing fashion, but still has enough humanity in its features to be pitiable at times as well. Lastly, Murray Gold’s electronic score is pleasant to the ears this week with ambient tracks like “The Architect“, “Rob The Bank“, “Account Closed” and “Open Up“, as well as some new arrangements of the Twelfth Doctor’s theme, “A Good Man?“.

All in all, “Time Heist” is a fun romp episode that successfully puts a sci-fi spin on your usual bank heist movie, while also giving us some further insight into the Doctor and Clara’s personalities as they get down to work on a case (something Series 8 is remarkably good at across the board).

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* Even though she doesn’t make her proper debut until “Dark Water”, I do like how almost every episode of Series 8 reminds us that Missy’s still out there somewhere, plotting. Whether it’s her brief cameos, the frequent mentions of the ‘promised land’, or the Doctor and Clara musing that they still don’t know who that ‘woman in the shop’ was from “The Bells Of Saint John”.

* “It’s just a phone, Clara. Nothing happens when you answer the phone” Oh, Doctor, you sweet summer child.

* The memory worms from “The Snowmen” make their return as a plot device here, as a neat little callback to one of Clara’s earliest appearances last season.

* “The director will blame us. We’ll be fired. Fired with pain” The last part of that line sounds so goofy, it’s hilarious.

* “Oh, don’t be so pessimistic. It’ll affect team morale” “What, and getting us blown up won’t?” “Well, only very, very briefly”.

* “I still don’t understand why you’re in charge” “Basically, it’s the eyebrows”.

* “How could you delete your family?” “I don’t know. I guess I must have loved them”.

* “I am alone” “Why?” “Could you trust someone who looked back at you out of your own eyes?”

* “Now, this says place to hide!” And then in the very next scene, he leads them right to where the Teller is sleeping. Nice work, Doctor. Very well done.

* “A good man. I left it late to meet one of those”.

* “Clara? For what it’s worth, and it might not be worth much, when your whole life flashes in front of you, you see people you love and people missing you. Well, I see no one“.

* “How can you force it to obey?” “Oh, everything has a price tag, I think you’ll find”.

* “If you don’t like your boss, why stay?” “…My face fits”.

* It is funny to see the Doctor be the one who’s rendered speechless for once when Psi and Saibra show up again, while Clara just immediately goes in for a hug.

* “Clever old Architect” “Very clever” “I still hate him” “Me too”.

* “My clone. And yet she doesn’t even protest. Pale imitation, really. Ha! I should sue”.

* “She hates her own clones. She burns her own clones. Frankly, you’re a career break for the right therapist”.

* “Shut up. Just shut up, shut up, shut up, shutitty-up-up-up!” Moffat has always liked having his characters tell each other to shut up, and that habit really reaches its peak in this episode.

* “What in the name of sanity is going on in this room right now?” “We’re getting sanity judgment from the self-burner!”

* “Big scarf, bow tie, bit embarrassing” Well, I guess we know the Doctor considers his bow tie wearing phase to be his cringe phase now. That hurts.

* “What exactly are we doing here? That thing killed people!” “Well so might you do, to protect everything you loved!”

* “Don’t worry. Calories consumed on the TARDIS have no lasting effect” “What? Are you kidding?” “Of course I’m kidding. It’s a time machine, not a miracle worker”.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Listen (2014) Review

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“Listen” is a very unique and experimental episode of Doctor Who. Series 7 had a lot on its plate, as the season that needed to wrap up the entire Matt Smith era. So “Listen” is the first time in a long time that the series’ showrunner, Steven Moffat, doesn’t have to deal with any big status quo changes – like wrapping up an ongoing story arc (“The Name Of The Doctor“), writing out old companions (“The Angels Take Manhattan“), introducing new companions (“The Snowmen“, “The Bells Of Saint John“), sending off the old Doctor (“The Time Of The Doctor“), introducing the new Doctor (“Deep Breath“), or rescuing Gallifrey from its fiery demise (“The Day Of The Doctor“). “Listen” can afford to just be a simple standalone story that’s centered around one main theme.

“Listen” is, for the most part, a character study: when you look at the overall plot, you’ll notice that not that much of anything actually happens in this episode and the pacing is fairly slow across its three acts. But it never feels like a boring story, because it does a phenomenal job of telling us more about our three main characters this season – letting them all play off of each other as Clara Oswald tries to navigate her complicated relationships with the two men she’s closest to at the moment. Not every episode needs to be big or full of action to be impactful: sometimes they just need to be thoughtful and heartfelt. I also appreciate that this episode is willing to take its time building up a good spooky atmosphere, encouraging the audience to imagine all sorts of creepy things about a creature that may or may not even exist in the end. Because as Doctor Who has proven several times before in the past, an idea in the viewers’ head can be very bit as scary as a great, big, snarling beast onscreen.

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When “Listen” begins, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has clearly been left to his own devices for quite some time, pondering the mysteries of the universe. The Doctor has a theory that there are creatures in the universe that have mastered the art of hiding, that have perfect camouflage. You can never see them, but they’re always with you, watching you, and they only come to a select few people at night in their dreams. Now he wants to find them and flush them out. It’s a very peculiar theory, but considering the Doctor’s past encounters with other monsters that Moffat has created like the Weeping Angels, the Vashta Nerada and the Silence, it’s certainly plausible in the weird world of Doctor Who. During the early scenes of this episode, Steven Moffat does what he does best by tapping into basic, primal fears that humanity has had for centuries – fears of the dark and the unknown. 

While the Doctor is on the hunt for his perfect hiders, he and Clara have an encounter with a young Danny Pink who’s supposedly being stalked by a monster, and we see for the first time that for all his gruffness and antisocial behavior, Twelve hasn’t quite lost that special touch with children that he had in his previous life as Eleven. The Doctor shares some wise words with Danny to comfort him, steady his nerves, and teach him how to properly handle his fear. It’s one of several scenes in this episode where Peter Capaldi has a phenomenal amount of charisma and screen presence as he meticulously lays out the Doctor’s view of the world, letting his character’s passionate, philosophical side shine. And since Twelve is still Twelve, once the danger has passed, he promptly (and rudely) puts Danny to sleep with time lord telepathy, so he won’t have to deal with him any longer.

“Listen” is still pretty early in the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, when we’re still learning more about what makes him tick, and this episode establishes two big character flaws for him. Twelve can be very stubborn and he has an obsessive personality. During his quest (that takes him all the way to the end of the universe), the Doctor gets increasingly reckless and foolhardy as he hits roadblock after roadblock. Eventually, he goes too far and nearly gets himself killed, when he’s almost sucked out into the vacuum of space, trying to catch a peek at his theoretical creatures. This borderline suicidal side of the Twelfth Doctor’s personality is going to be magnified a lot later in the Series 9 finale, when something tragic happens to Clara and he makes it his personal mission to save her at all costs.

The Doctor was so certain that these creatures must exist because he thought he had an encounter with one himself early in life, and ironically, he winds up causing that boyhood memory to happen himself. Yep, the answer to the mystery turns out to be your classic Steven Moffat bootstrap paradox, when the TARDIS takes Clara back to the distant past of Gallifrey. Madame De Pompadour previously hinted that the Doctor didn’t have a happy childhood, and that certainly turns out to be true, from the glimpse we get of it here. He was a lonely child who didn’t enjoy training to join the academy so he could become a time lord, but it was preferable to the alternative – being forced to join the Gallifreyan military. He was shunned by his peers as an oversensitive weirdo, and looked down upon by adults. “Listen” also quietly slips in a sweet little retcon, by establishing that the barn from “The Day Of The Doctor” has sentimental value to him: it’s always been own personal safe haven when he wants to be alone.

Clara can’t resist comforting the young Doctor and giving him some words of wisdom before she leaves, which means the Impossible Girl has once again made a small, positive impact on his life, centuries before he would meet her properly. For once, the Doctor is kept out of the loop as this story wraps up. Clara stops him from meeting his past self to prevent a potential paradox and chooses not to tell him about what he missed while he was unconscious (though he clearly has his suspicions). The Doctor never does get the answers that he seeks, and a lot of what happened in this episode are things that he’ll never fully understand (since they only make sense from Clara’s perspective), so he’ll just have to make peace with the fact that this is one mystery that will remain unsolved.

The existence of his ‘perfect hiders’ is left up in the air by the episode’s end. We catch a glimpse of one, out-of-focus, in young Danny’s room, and it doesn’t appear to be human. There also seemed to be something sentient and intelligent knocking on the door of Orson’s base, responding to the Doctor’s call. However, the possibility is raised that the former could have just been another kid in a blanket trying to frighten Danny, while the latter could have just been the base malfunctioning. Moffat always makes sure to give the audience a number of plausible explanations for the strange things going on, so that while it’s possible there may be something supernatural happening in this episode, it’s also entirely possible that the Doctor’s hypothetical monsters don’t even exist – that the Doctor and Clara are so accustomed to seeing horrific things happen every week that they let their imaginations run away with them and wound up scaring themselves silly over nothing (which is really amusing to think about).

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In “Listen”, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) goes on that date with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) that they both agreed upon in “Into The Dalek“, and the night turns out to be a total disaster. Fear is the main overarching theme of “Listen”: fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of the past, fear of the future, fear of commitment, fear of one’s own personality flaws, fear of making mistakes. Clara and Danny sabotage themselves repeatedly because of their own fears, and it’s pretty painful to watch. Clara’s gift of gab can get away from her sometimes and lead to her putting her foot right in her mouth with insensitive remarks, while Danny can overreact to little things because he’s still carrying that shameful secret of his around and he’s overcompensating for his past sins. 

Ever since she first joined the TARDIS in “The Bells Of Saint John”, Clara has always tried to keep her personal life and her travels with the Doctor separate and compartmentalized, so she can manage them both easily. But ever since Eleven regenerated into Twelve, those two different worlds have started to bleed into each other more and more often from the Doctor pushing her boundaries, which we’ll eventually explore the consequences of in “The Caretaker“. In “Listen”, the Doctor keeps intruding on Clara’s disastrous date night to recruit her on his monster-hunting quest, and as a result, Clara winds up being the true protagonist of this episode. Throughout the hour, we see her try to balance two different halves of her life, two big commitments she’s made to men she’s fond of. And more often than not, it’s Clara who drives the plot of this episode forward, as we journey up and down her timeline and find a number of surprising things in it along the way.

Since Clara keeps getting distracted by her regretful thoughts about Danny on the hunt, the Doctor and Clara travel back to Danny’s childhood by mistake, which gives Steven Moffat a chance to flesh out his background and humanize Clara’s new boyfriend. At this point in Series 8, we still don’t know a lot about Danny, beyond the fact that he’s a former soldier, he has PTSD and he’s clearly being set up as a romantic rival to the Doctor for Clara’s affections. But Danny is going to be become a very important figure down the line – both in regards to the main themes and ideas of Series 8, and the role he’ll play in the Doctor and Clara’s character development.

Danny was a lonely child who grew up in an orphanage. Like most kids, he was afraid of many things and he didn’t have a lot of adults to turn to for guidance, so he wanted to become a soldier someday when he was big and strong, so he could be a protector to those who needed help (he also hated his birth name and wanted to change it to one of his own choosing). Once he became an adult, he did pursue that career path, and it was a fulfilling profession for a while, until it all went horribly wrong one day. Young Danny has his memories wiped of his brief encounter with the Doctor and Clara, but it’s implied that they still managed to have a small impact on him, when it came to the name he would choose for himself later in life. Thanks to the magic of time travel, Clara is given a do-over to get her date with Danny right in the present day, but she still manages to blow it when she lets slip that she knows his original name (something he’s never told anyone, least of all her) and he starts to suspect she’s some kind of creeper who’s been digging around his past.

Doctor Who Listen Stakeout 6

During their next trip into time, the Doctor and Clara encounter Orson Pink, Danny’s descendant. He’s a pioneer of time travel who wound up being stranded in the year 100 trillion, the end of the universe (an eerily empty time period which we last saw in Series 3’s “Utopia“). It’s implied that Orson might be Clara’s descendant too, since he’s connected to her timeline and he claims his family has a long history with time travel. He might be Clara and Danny’s great-great grandson, which means that even though they’ve just started to consider the possibility of dating, and they only have a spark between them at the moment, Danny might be Clara’s soulmate and they might have a future together. That’s one hell of an intimidating thing to discover.

Normally, Clara would confide in the Doctor about her fears and her worries and ask him for advice, but this time she’s can’t do that – she’s still trying to keep her relationship with Danny a secret from him, because she knows he wouldn’t approve of her taste in men – so she’s subjecting herself to a whole lot of unnecessary stress. In light of Danny’s ultimate fate in the Series 8 finale, either Clara’s hunch was wrong, or it was correct and Orson Pink was erased from existence after “Death In Heaven” (because as the Doctor himself stated numerous times in the Matt Smith years, time can be rewritten). Clara assumed they were related, but it was never actually confirmed – it was left deliberately open-ended, like so many things in “Listen”. And I’m okay with that. If there’s anything I’ve learned from previous episodes like “The Satan Pit” and “Midnight“, it’s that I like a good bit of ambiguity in my Doctor Who from time to time.

Ever since “The Girl In The Fireplace“, one time travel trope that Steven Moffat has liked to deploy in several of his stories has been his main characters meeting their future loved ones as children, getting a glimpse of where they got their start – and that tradition holds true in “Listen”, as Clara briefly encounters both of her love interests during the early days of their lives. Danny and the Doctor came from similar, isolated backgrounds, but the soldier and the aristocrat went on to stand for very different things when they got older: they decided to help others and make a difference in the world the way they thought was best.

Once Clara realizes she’s part of a stable time loop, she takes pity on the younger Doctor’s sorrow (because she’s still just as compassionate towards children as she’s always been), and gives him a bit of comfort before she goes. She decides to pass along the Doctor’s own words of wisdom to his younger self, while also adding in her own bits of personal insight – about how the first step of facing one’s fears is accepting it’s okay to have them, instead of trying to avoid them. It’s a surprisingly touching ending that ties everything up nicely, since helping the young Doctor in the past causes Clara to realize she needs to confront her own problems in the present. Once she returns to her own time, she and Danny sit down to have a much-needed talk about what they both want out of this relationship and what kind of future they would like to have together. It’s one of the few times this season where we see them actually open up to communicate properly, though sadly they’re both still keeping some massive secrets from each other that will continue to put a strain on their relationship going forward.

Doctor Who Listen Final Stop 22

“Listen” is helmed by Douglas MacKinnon, who has really shown a lot of growth as a director over the years. He originally handled “The Sontaran Stratagem” in Series 4, and his work on that two-parter was serviceable, if a bit unremarkable. When he returned to handle “Cold War” and “The Power Of Three” in Series 7, he showed a lot more skill with capturing snappy, dynamic perspective shots and creating a good, tense atmosphere. With “Listen”, there are a lot of scenes scattered throughout this episode that are visually stunning: like the opening shot of the Doctor meditating on top of the TARDIS, or the creepy low-angle shots of that creature sitting on Danny’s bed in silence, or the entire climax of Clara wandering through the Doctor’s barn, which is complimented by some beautiful work from the show’s lighting department.

The framing device of Clara and Danny’s scenes is a direct callback to “Into The Dalek”, where we see the depressing aftermath of their date just before we watch the disaster unfold (this time from Clara’s perspective). Compared to the last few episodes, “Listen” is not a story that requires a lot of CGI or special effects – most of the scenes in this episode are either set inside the TARDIS, a restaurant, a barn, a space base, or Clara’s apartment – so it’s pretty clearly one of the low-budget episodes of Series 8. The limitations of writing a low-budget episode can be a good creative challenge for a showrunner sometimes: “Midnight”, for example, was meant to be a money-saving episode and it wound up being one of the best stories in Series 4. Murray Gold’s score is pretty muted and understated for a change, letting the actors’ performances speak for themselves more often not, though when his music does appear (in tracks like “Listen“, “Rupert Pink” and “Fear“) it does a nice job of setting the mood or pulling on the viewer’s heartstrings.

All in all, “Listen” is a surprisingly stirring and impactful episode about the nature of fear and the important place it has amongst all of our other human emotions. “Listen” easily sits alongside “Robot Of Sherwood” as one of the standout stories from the first half of Series 8.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Listen Recruitment 7

* “Did it all go wrong, or is this good by your standards?” “It was a disaster and I am extremely upset about it, since you didn’t ask”.

* “A call from the date guy? It’s too late, you’ve taken your make-up off” “No, I haven’t. I’m still wearing my make-up” “Oh, right. Well, you probably just missed a bit”.

* Clara tells the Doctor she doesn’t need to know any details about her future death, which is the same thing she told Strax in “Deep Breath”. It would seem the Trenzalore arc from her first season left quite an impression on her about how dangerous that kind of foreknowledge can be. Tragically, Clara still winds up having that kind of foreknowledge anyway in her last appearance.

* “I’ve never been to Gloucester in my life, and I’ve never lived in a children’s home” “You’ve probably just forgotten. Have you seen the size of human brains? They’re hilarious”.

* After he’s done talking to the night manager of the orphanage, the Doctor walks off and steals that dude’s coffee for himself. Talk about rude.

* “Wally’s not in every book” “Really? Well, that’s a few years of my life I’ll be needing back”.

* “Lovely view out this window” “Yeah, come and see all the dark”.

* “He took my bedspread” “Oh, the human race. You’re never happy, are you?”

* “People don’t need to be lied to” “People don’t need to be scared by a big gray-haired stick insect, but here you are” Oh snap.

* “Is that what I look like from the back?” “It’s fine” “I was thinking it was good”.

* “I don’t know what to say” “Don’t say anything. Or say something nice” Missy approves.

* “Er, well, do you have any old family photographs of her? You know, probably quite old and really fat-looking?”

* “Is she doing the all eyes thing? It’s because her face is so wide. She needs three mirrors” Oh wow, the Doctor is catty in this episode.

* “Afraid of the dark? But the dark is empty now” “No. No, it isn’t”.

* “If everybody in the universe is dead, then there’s nobody out there” “That’s one way of looking at it” “What’s the other?” “That’s a hell of a lot of ghosts”.

* “Orson, you don’t want to meet yourself. It’s really embarrassing”.

* “I don’t take orders, Clara” “Do as you’re told”.

* “This is just a dream. But very clever people can hear dreams. So, please, just listen. I know you’re afraid, but being afraid is all right. Because didn’t anybody ever tell you? Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster and cleverer and stronger. And one day, you’re going to come back to this barn. And on that day you’re going to be very afraid indeed. But that’s okay. Because if you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind“.

* “It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing under the bed or in the dark, so long as you know it’s okay to be afraid of it. I’ll show you. So, listen. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this. You’re always going to be afraid, even if you learn to hide it. Fear is like a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that’s okay, because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home. I’m going to leave you something, just so you’ll always remember, fear makes companions of us all“.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Listen The End Of The Line 7

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Doctor Who: Robot Of Sherwood (2014) Review

Doctor Who Robot Of Sherwood Archery Contest 15

“Robot Of Sherwood” is written by Mark Gatiss, who returns to pen Doctor Who’s usual celebrity historical episode, where the Doctor meets a famous figure in human history and teams up with them to defeat an alien invasion. Except this time, there’s a big twist to the show’s usual formula: the Doctor encounters a historical figure who’s supposed to be entirely fictional. Compared to some of Mark Gatiss’ previous horror-themed stories like “The Unquiet Dead“, “Night Terrors“, and “Cold War“, “Robot Of Sherwood” is a much more light-hearted adventure (that’s more along the lines of “The Crimson Horror“). Doctor Who always has a few romp episodes in each season, to give the viewers a reprieve from how dark and creepy the monster-of-the-week stories can be, and “Robot Of Sherwood” is probably the funniest romp episode the series has done since “The Shakespeare Code” in Series 3.

In particular, Peter Capaldi is really given his chance to shine in this story and show off more of his comedic chops, when his Doctor is pushed way outside of his usual comfort zone and dropped right in the middle of a conundrum that he considers to be insufferably absurd. While “Robot Of Sherwood” may be a considerably sillier story than “Deep Breath” or “Into The Dalek“, it is still another important stepping stone in establishing the Twelfth Doctor’s personality and exploring the way he sees the world, compared to his predecessors. Mind you, if there is a significant flaw with this story, it’s that there are times when it can create some unintentional mood whiplash. “Robot Of Sherwood” is filled with so many wacky hijinks throughout the hour that whenever we’re treated to a really bleak scene – like Maid Marian watching her friends get murdered right in front of her – it almost feels like we’ve wandered into a completely different episode, so the tonal shifts probably could have been handled better.

Doctor Who Robot Of Sherwood Impossible Meeting 24

In “Robot Of Sherwood”, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) decides to grant his friend Clara’s request and take them both back to the 12th century to see if they can meet Robin Hood, even though he thinks it’s a silly idea – and to his surprise, they actually do come face-to-face with the Emerald Archer. For the second episode in a row, someone tries to steal the Doctor’s ride when Robin Hood lays claim to the TARDIS. The Doctor immediately steps up and lets him know that’s not going to happen – because nobody’s going to swipe the big blue box he pilfered himself a long time ago – which leads to one of those scenes you see in Doctor Who from time to time that’s so silly and so over-the-top that you can’t help but love it (like the highway chase in “The Runaway Bride“). In this case, we’re treated to the sight of the Doctor competing against Robin Hood in a sword-fight, using a spoon – and the Doc was winning most of it.

On average, the Twelfth Doctor can be a pretty stern and grumpy man, so compared to Clara’s boundless enthusiasm about spending time with Robin Hood and his merry men, he’s a real stick-in-the-mud over the course of this adventure. From where he’s standing, he’s surrounded by a bunch of overconfident, laughing fools, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him suffer. Naturally, he’s convinced that Robin Hood can’t be real – he’s just a story, a folklore character. His two immediate predecessors, Ten and Eleven, would be just as skeptical of Robin’s existence, but they would also probably have some fun on this trip. Twelve, on the other hand, is single-mindedly focused on proving that Robin is a fraud. Clara decides to compare the two men a few times – Robin was her old storybook hero, while the Doctor is her current one, and they have more in common than he thinks – though the time lord denies her assertion. He doesn’t see himself as a hero: in fact, he doesn’t know what to make of himself anymore after the end of Series 7.

Since “Robot Of Sherwood” is a much more light-hearted adventure than “Deep Breath” and “Into The Dalek”, we get to see a more immature side of the Twelfth Doctor’s personality for the first time, during a clash of egos between him and Robin Hood. The two men constantly try to one-up each other, competing to see which of them is more competent, and competing for Clara’s undivided attention. Because as we’ve seen before in stories like “Aliens Of London” and “The Empty Child“, the Doctor certainly isn’t above participating in a verbal catfight over a woman he likes. As a result, both men are at their most ineffectual as heroes because they can’t get priorities straight – and the scene where they’re imprisoned together in the Sheriff of Nottingham’s dungeon is pure comedy gold. Robin keeps going out of his way to annoy the Doctor with the laugh he knows he hates, and when Robin drags the time lord into his makeshift escape plan, the Doc does not pass up a chance to attack his ego.

To the Doctor’s shock, he’s proven wrong for a change. Robin is indeed a real man instead of an alien impostor, whose story became exaggerated into a legend by future generations, so the Doctor begrudgingly gains respect for him. He wouldn’t have been able to save England without Robin’s help, and by the end, he can see that they do indeed have more similarities than differences. They’re both aristocrats who rebelled against their societies, and decided to devote their lives to helping the less fortunate (at one point, Twelve even pulls off a very effective peasants’ revolt against the sheriff that would make Robin proud). After squabbling with him for most of this episode, the Doctor learns something from Robin in the end, when the outlaw decides to share some personal wisdom with him, and in return, the Doc decides to do Robin a kindness by reuniting him with his love. Even though Twelve spent most of this episode grousing and complaining, he did loosen up and let his hair down a lot more in this story compared to the last two, and because of that he feels a lot more well-rounded now: Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is growing on me rapidly.

Doctor Who Robot Of Sherwood Farewell

In “Robot Of Sherwood”, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) gets to pick where she and the Doctor will go on their latest adventure, so she asks him to take her back to 12th century England, to see if they can find Robin Hood, her childhood hero. She knows it’s a completely ridiculous idea, but after all the fantastical things she’s seen with the Doc in the TARDIS, she’s just about ready to believe in anything these days. And once her improbable wish comes true, she loves every minute of it. Clara usually tries to take every weird thing that she sees in stride, so watching her embrace her inner child and live out her old dream of rubbing elbows with the prince of thieves gives her an extra layer of humanity that makes her more endearing (it reminds me a lot of “The Rings Of Akhaten“, the episode that led me to warm up to her in the first place).

During her one-on-one talks with Robin Hood, Clara once again demonstrates that she’s quite good at reading other people’s faces and seeing past the walls they’ve built up over the years to protect themselves. It doesn’t take her long to realize that Robin is not quite as cheery and carefree as he acts, and that he’s actually hiding a good deal of regrets (it makes sense that she would recognize the signs of depression, since Eleven was her first Doctor and he was a textbook Stepford Smiler). She sees Robin Hood’s true humanity as a troubled soul long before the Doctor does. Clara pretends to be a noblewoman passing through Sherwood forest with her eccentric friend, but she gets a bit too ahead of herself, a bit too excited. She gives herself away several times, and repeatedly lets on that she knows more about Robin and his gang of rogues than she should. At times, she almost seems to treat this man’s tragic life like the fun fairy tale that it is in her time, which naturally rubs him the wrong way.

Throughout the hour, Clara acts as a grounding force between the Doctor and Robin Hood, a peacekeeper, and she tries to see the best in both of them. The comedic highlight of this episode is when Clara is locked up in a dungeon with them, listening to them bicker and argue the whole time, and she looks like she’d rather be executed than have to sit through another minute of it. Clara works with kids for a living, so I imagine it must be a truly cringe-worthy experience watching two grown men behave more immaturely than her pre-teen students. Desperate times call for desperate measures: since the Doctor and Robin Hood have both decided to abandon their usual common sense in favor of pointless competition, Clara decides to step up and take charge herself to straighten them out. And that decision unfortunately backfires on her, when the Sheriff of Nottingham and his men decide she must be the leader of their merry band and call her in to be interrogated.

The scene that follows is an excellent example of Clara’s gradual character growth throughout Series 8: just compare how she handles her dinner with the Sheriff to how she handled a similar face-off with the Half-Face Man in “Deep Breath”, where she was scared out of her mind the whole time. This time around, she’s more confident and she feels more in control of the situation, even though she’s still just as powerless. The Sheriff is already predisposed to underestimate her, since she’s an attractive woman, so she decides to use his ego to her advantage to get the information that she wants out of him. She puts up a good bluff, and she’s officially getting better at lying to people with a straight face – which, depending on the circumstances, is both a good thing and a bad thing. Clara also shows her usual willingness to go against the Doctor’s wishes and make big decisions without him when the situation calls for it, when she decides to let Robin Hood in on their time-traveling secret to gain his full trust. To her delight, the Doctor and Robin Hood eventually make peace with each other, and she has a blast helping them save the day, having been proven right that there’s plenty of room in England for both of her heroes.

Doctor Who Robot Of Sherwood The Golden Arrow 4

Naturally, the biggest supporting character in this episode would be Robin Hood himself (Tom Riley), the 12th century outlaw who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Right from the start, Robin is shown to be a cocky, charismatic, and almost overly-confident guy: he’s the best at what he does and he knows it. He likes to portray himself as quite the Casanova, with a devil-may-care attitude. But despite playing up his lovable rogue persona, he’s really not as jovial and carefree as he acts. He’s been separated from his love, Maid Marian, for quite some time now by the start of this episode and he misses her terribly, and he harbors his share of regrets for not doing more to stand up to the Sheriff’s tyranny sooner than he did. He tries to be a hero to his fellow Brits, do everything in his power to help them and set a good example for them, so he can live up to the myth they’ve built around him.

When he crosses paths with the Doctor, we get to see two British icons pitted against each other in a truly bizarre crossover: first when Robin tries to steal the TARDIS, and again when the two men start competing over Clara’s attention. The Doctor makes it no secret that he finds Robin Hood to be incredibly annoying, and Robin certainly does his part to piss off the Doc in return, once he gets sick of his constant complaining. “Robot Of Sherwood” is meant to be a parody of your usual Robin Hood story, and it has a lot of fun with that angle: from the Doctor’s opening spoon fight (that puts a silly spin on Robin Hood and Little John’s first riverside meeting), to the Doctor rudely crashing the Sheriff of Nottingham’s trap to capture Robin Hood. Eventually, we do get to see a more stern and serious side of Robin as a gang leader, when it becomes very apparent that the Doctor and Clara are not what they seem and they have knowledge of the future. He officially puts an end to their little charade and demands the truth from Clara, if he and his men are going to help her any further.

Doctor Who is a show that’s full of strange phenomena that are way too weird to be true, especially in celebrity historical episodes: there’s always a rational explanation for things that are seemingly supernatural, even if it involves a lot of technobabble and pseudo-science. Usually the answer is that aliens are behind it somehow, and “Robot Of Sherwood” certainly sets the audience up to believe that that’s the case for Robin Hood’s implausible existence. But for once, the show subverts our expectations. In this series, where seemingly anything can happen and anything goes a lot of the time, Robin Hood is an actual person who lived in 12th century, who’s heroic deeds were exaggerated into a legend throughout British history. I really love this outlandish twist, because it fits right in with the fairy tale aesthetic of the Moffat era.

The lasting power of stories that are passed down from generation to generation is one of the biggest and most defining themes of the Moffat era. In “The Big Bang“, the Doctor shared his opinion that stories are our legacies and the only thing that remains of us long after we’re gone. In “The Rings Of Akhaten”, we saw how whole worlds can pivot around stories and the traditions they create. By “The Angels Take Manhattan“, Amy saw the fantastical life she shared with the Doctor as one great story for both of them to remember for the rest of their days. “A Good Man Goes To War” explored how the Doctor has become a living legend around the universe, for better or for worse. In Robin Hood’s case, the memory of him will linger for centuries, to the point where it eclipses the person he actually was in life, and while he feels a bit intimidated by that, he also feels pleased that he managed to make a positive impact like he was aiming for. After all, the best any leader can hope for, when they’re trying to set a good example, is that other people will be inspired by them and go on to do greater things than they did – be better people than they were. It’s a surprisingly insightful and heartfelt note for such a campy and silly episode to end on all, and it definitely helps “Robot Of Sherwood” to have more of a lasting impact than you would expect it to.

Doctor Who Robot Of Sherwood Imprisoned 3

As you would expect in a Robin Hood themed story, the Sheriff of Nottingham serves as the main villain of this episode, alongside an army of metal menaces. He’s a cruel tyrant who taxes the local citizens heavily, executes anyone who steps out of line, and frequently kidnaps people for some free slave labor. Right now, he’s in league with a bunch of robots from space, helping them repair their ship with melted down gold, because he’s always been a social climber. They promised him a certain level of high status and unimaginable power that he feels he deserves, in exchange for his service. The robots are heading towards the mythical ‘promised land’, the same place the Half-Face Man was searching for in “Deep Breath”. The return of that vague concept in this adventure confirms that it will be our new story arc for Series 8, in the same vein as ‘Bad Wolf’, ‘Vote Saxon’, the missing planets and the cracks in time.

Foolish, greedy humans working with a bunch of amoral, untrustworthy aliens towards a common goal is a very common trope in Doctor Who, and it feels like an especially fitting set-up for the Sheriff of Nottingham, who’s always been portrayed as a lustful, power-hungry sort of man, with or without Prince John’s influence. The sheriff has a bitter rivalry with Robin Hood, who has humiliated him many, many times, and the two men have basically been having a contest of wills for years before the start of this episode. Originally, the sheriff would have been decapitated by Robin Hood in their final duel, where it would be revealed that he had become a cyborg. However, this scene was cut fairly late in the game, because the crew felt it would have been in poor taste in light of recent terrorist attacks where people were beheaded. You can feel the absence of this scene in the final cut, even if it’s subtle: there’s an odd line in the climax where the Sheriff claims he’s now half-man and half-machine, that never seems to receive any pay-off.

“Robots Of Sherwood” is directed by Paul Murphy, who does a phenomenal job of handling the tone and style of this episode, giving the comedic scenes a charming sort of breeziness to them, and the action scenes plenty of energy, liveliness and vigor, especially during the forest scenes in the first act and last act. Location shooting for the woodland setting of Sherwood forest was done inside of Fforest Fawrn in Powys, Wales, giving us some lush and beautiful scenery throughout the hour. To capture the authentic look of 12th century architecture for the Sheriff of Nottingham’s castle stronghold, the cast and crew of Doctor Who once again set up shop inside of Caerphilly Castle in South Wales (the same location where “The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People” was previously filmed in Series 6), as well as Bodiam Castle in East Sussex, for any exterior shots that they needed.

CGI is used sparingly in “Robot Of Sherwood”, because this really isn’t an episode that requires a lot of special effects, but there are some very nice shots of the robot disintegrating people and the robots’s ship taking flight scattered throughout the episode, that are up to the CGI artists’ usual quality of work in the Moffat era. Murray Gold’s score for “Robot Of Sherwood” is very lovely this week, as it manages to be both romantic and raucous when the situation calls for it in a swashbuckling medieval adventure. In addition to granting Robin Hood his own one-off leitmotif (that wouldn’t feel out of place in a “Pirates Of The Caribbean” movie), Murray also gives Clara’s theme and the Twelfth Doctor’s theme plenty of reprises in tracks like “Old Fashioned Hero“, “This Is My Spoon“, “Robin, Earl Of Loxley“, “The Legend Of Robin Hood“, “Robin Of Sherwood” and “The Golden Arrow“. The “Mad Man With A Box” theme that’s been carried over from the Eleventh Doctor’s era turns up again as well in “The Last Thing We Need“, the final track of the episode that underscores the Doctor and Robin Hood’s farewell.

Out of the various stories Mark Gatiss wrote for Doctor Who over the years, “Robot Of Sherwood” is certainly one of the better ones, since it finds just the right balance of comedy and heart, and it sits alongside “Listen” as one of the standout stories from the first half of Series 8. 

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Robot Of Sherwood Farewell 9

* “Robin Hood laughs in the face of all!” “And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?” “Not as of yet” “Lucky I’m here then”.

* It seems Clara has a real talent for always being able to pull off period clothing, because she once again looks stunning in the medieval red dress that she chose for herself.

* After Robin gets the last laugh in their duel, the Doc looks super salty as he drags himself out of the river, soaking wet.

* “Oof, all those diseases. If you were real, you’d be dead in six months” “But I am real” “…Bye” Savage.

* “Stop laughing! Why are you always doing that? Are you all simple or something?!”

* “Right, that isn’t even funny! That was bantering! I am totally against bantering!”

* “I had the situation well in hand” “Long haired ninny versus killer robot knights? I know where I’d put my money”.

* “GUARD, HE’S LAUGHING AGAIN! YOU CAN’T KEEP ME LOCKED UP WITH A LAUGHING PERSON!!!

* “The Doctor and Robin Hood locked up in a cellar. Is this seriously the best you can do? You’re determined to starve to death in here squabbling!”

* “Doctor, this is not a competition over who can die slower!” “It would definitely be me though, wouldn’t it?”

* “Can you explain your plan without the words ‘sonic screwdriver’? Because you may have forgotten the sheriff has already taken it. I’m just saying, it’s always the screwdriver!”

* “You have a sickly aspect to you” “I have a what?!” “You’re as pale as milk. It’s the way with Scots, they’re strangers to vegetables”.

* “Well, there is a bright side” “Which is?” “Clara didn’t see that”.

* “After this, Derby. Then Lincoln. And after Lincoln-” “Bishop?” “THE WORLD!!!” Oh wow.

* “This explains everything, including you!” “It does?” I kind of love Robin’s disturbed expression when the Doc starts to talk a bit too crazy for his liking.

* “Stop pretending, you and your fancy robots. I get it, I understand” “Oh, so you too know my plans?”

* “You have long been a thorn in my side!” “Well, everyone should have a hobby. Mine is annoying you”.

* “You kept it?” “Of course we did, we’re robbers!” “I love you boys!”

* “Still not keen on the laughing thing?” “No, no”.

* “Is is it true that in the future I’m forgotten as a real man? I am but a legend?” “I’m afraid it is” “Hmm… Good. History is a burden, stories can make us fly”.

* “I’m not a hero” “Well, neither am I. But if we keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be in our name. Perhaps, we will both be stories, and may those stories never end”.

* “Goodbye Doctor, time lord of Gallifrey” “Goodbye, Robin Hood, earl of Loxley” “And remember, Doctor, I’m just as real as you”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Robot Of Sherwood Peasants' Revolt 4

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Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (2014) Review

Doctor Who Into The Dalek Arrival 9

“Into The Dalek” is the first of several collaborations we’ll see from the writers of Doctor Who in Series 8 (followed by “Time Heist” and “The Caretaker”). It’s co-written by showrunner Steven Moffat and Phil Ford, who previously worked on “The Waters Of Mars” with Russell T. Davies during the Series 4 specials. You can definitely feel Phil Ford’s influence in the final version of this story, because “Into The Dalek” has a much higher kill count than your usual Moffat era Dalek story and some of the action scenes in this episode can get surprisingly brutal. The plot of this episode is heavily inspired by the 1966 film, “The Fantastic Voyage”, and it primarily revolves around the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald shrinking themselves down to miniature size, so they can venture inside a damaged Dalek drone and learn more about the inner-workings of the Daleks.

As the title plainly states, this is a Dalek-centric episode, which is surprising, since the Daleks just appeared a few episodes ago in “The Day Of The Doctor” and “The Time Of The Doctor“, where they had a fairly large role in both of those stories. They have another episode devoted to them so soon into this new season for the same reason that they did in Series 5 with “Victory Of The Daleks“. Steven Moffat has gone on record that he believes every new Doctor needs to face the Daleks at some point, as a rite of passage, and since the Daleks aren’t the endgame villains of this season (that would be Missy and the Cybermen), their spotlight episode is positioned early in Series 8. In a lot of ways, “Into The Dalek” feels more like the true, official start of the Twelfth Doctor’s era than “Deep Breath“. The season premiere spent a lot of time tying up loose ends, saying goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor’s era, while “Into The Dalek” lays down a lot more groundwork for the Doctor and Clara’s new character arcs across this season – including introducing a new love interest for Clara, Danny Pink.

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With his second outing, we quickly learn a lot more about the Twelfth Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) brusque and aloof personality, and what he chooses to prioritize every time he steps out into the field on a new case. This episode starts with the Doctor rescuing Journey Blue, a soldier who’s fighting a war against the Daleks in the far future, from certain death – but he’s unfortunately too late to save her brother from the same fate. Twelve doesn’t offer her much comfort about it, instead telling her to look on the bright side and be glad that she isn’t dead as well. When she tries to pull a gun on him to commandeer his vessel, he makes it very apparent that he responds to threats and intimidation attempts with nerves of steel, since he refuses to let some rando bully him around on his own ship.

After he drops Journey off at her base, he nips back to the 21st century for a few minutes to collect his best friend, Clara, for help on his newest mission – shrinking himself down and venturing inside a Dalek shell. Around this point, the two of them have a very interesting conversation: Twelve has started to wonder to himself if he’s a good man, and to his disappointment, Clara isn’t able to give him a definitive answer either. During his last three lives, he was completely certain that he wasn’t one (Eleven made that quite clear in “A Good Man Goes To War“). But now that he’s managed to save his home planet and find a bit of redemption for his role in the time war in “The Day Of The Doctor”, he’s really not sure what to make of himself anymore, and his self-image has been flipped on its head. Funnily enough, Clara actually gives him the proper answer right from the start – whether or not he is or he isn’t one is less important than him constantly trying to be one – but the Doctor won’t be ready to see that for himself until the end of the season in “Death In Heaven”.

The Doctor’s distaste for the military hasn’t been highlighted for a long time now: during the Eleventh Doctor’s era, it was only touched upon in “The Time Of Angels” and “Cold War” (and not to the same extent as “The Sontaran Stratagem” or “The Doctor’s Daughter“). In this episode, that character trait returns with a vengeance. The Doctor doesn’t like to work with soldiers because they’ll do whatever it takes to get a job done, however unethical it may be. They follow their orders to the word, and absolve themselves of any responsibility for their actions by deferring to a higher authority. Their shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality can cause a lot of damage, and they often try to use force and threats to get their way, like Journey does when she tries and fails to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS from him. Of course, the Doctor harboring this kind of resentment towards soldiers everywhere makes him a massive hypocrite. He fought in the time war for centuries, and he apparently did a lot more shady stuff for his people than most of the human soldiers he’s encountered can even imagine.

As we’ve seen before in Series 4, the Doctor is basically overcompensating – part of the reason why he turns his nose up at soldiers all the time is to distance himself from his own past. And ironically, he still thinks like one himself (particularly a commanding officer). “Into The Dalek” repeatedly emphasizes that the Twelfth Doctor has a coldly rational and pragmatic mindset. He can’t save a dead man walking from the inevitable demise he’s brought upon himself, so he moves right along and focuses on using what he learned from Ross’s death to save everyone else. As far as he’s concerned, he can’t afford to stop and mourn people’s deaths when every moment he wastes is vital. And throughout this season, he’ll go on to teach Clara to do the same, to focus on the greater good. The Doctor does show some level of respect to a soldier who gives her life to help him with his crazy plan, promising to honor her last wishes. At the end of the day, when Journey Blue asks to come with him in the TARDIS, he flatly rejects her because he doesn’t want the company of a soldier. This decision is motivated by pure prejudice that will go unchallenged until “The Caretaker“, when he finally gets called out on his hypocrisy.

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After having a front and center role in “Deep Breath”, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is more of a supporting character once more in “Into The Dalek”. In her second outing of the season, a new co-worker at Coal Hill School catches her eye – Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a former soldier turned maths teacher – and he’s very clearly interested in her well. During his introductory scenes, it’s made very apparent that Danny suffers from PTSD, as well as a guilty conscience. It’s strongly implied that something went horribly wrong in his past that he’s not proud of, something that made him give up his old job in the military and choose the considerably more safe and harmless career of a schoolteacher. When an incredibly rude student of his keeps asking him if he’s ever killed someone who wasn’t a soldier, Danny very pointedly avoids the question and quietly sheds a single tear, making the answer quite plain.

After some initial awkwardness, Clara and Danny hit it off well, and they have their share of cute moments. As you would expect from a retired military man, Danny is about as brave as they come (and he’ll certainly get a chance to prove that later in this season), but amusingly enough, he turns into a massive tongue-tied screw-up whenever he’s around a woman he likes. Clara’s gift of gab makes her a charismatic person, but it can also easily backfire on her when she puts her foot in her mouth – especially since Danny can be triggered easily by the skeletons in his closet she doesn’t know about – which is really going to start to become a problem later in “Listen”. For the time being though, Clara and Danny agree on a date in the near future, just to test the waters and see if they’re compatible – which means we have a potential workplace romance on our hands. Now that Clara and the Doctor have decided that they’re never going to be anything more than friends, Clara is officially free to pursue a relationship with other guys she’s fond of.

Clara is completely onboard with the Doctor’s quest when he recruits her for it (putting her date with Danny on hold for a while), because seeing a bunch of weird, trippy stuff like the inside of a Dalek is right up her alley. And along the way, she discovers a bunch of new things about her friend, now that he’s got a brand new face and a brand new personality to match. One of the biggest strengths of the Twelfth Doctor’s era is the fact that Jenna Coleman has much more chemistry with Peter Capaldi than she did with Matt Smith (when Eleven and Clara were already a very fun, amiable duo). Their characters’ personalities are so different and yet they compliment each other so well, and whenever we’re treated to a scene of the Doctor and Clara bantering (or simply sharing their honest thoughts about something), their dialogue simply crackles.

Clara spends a lot of time explaining the Doctor’s actions to other people when he doesn’t have the time to do it himself, though at times it almost seems like she’s making excuses for her friend’s bad behavior, which she’ll be made aware of later in “Time Heist“. When she finally gets fed up with the Doctor being foolish and bullheaded, she quite literally slaps some sense into him and convinces him not to throw in the towel prematurely because of his vendetta against the Daleks. As usual, Clara is shown to be a crafty and resourceful person, who’s more than willing to think outside the box to get out of a tight scrape – especially compared to Journey Blue, who lacks vision because she’s mostly been trained to follow orders. During the episode’s coda, Clara realizes she has a potential problem on her hands: the Doctor’s her best friend and he hates soldiers, so she decides to keep her new beau a secret from him, because she knows he wouldn’t approve of her thing with Danny. She also starts lying to Danny as well, to hide what she does in her spare time. And once she starts the habit of lying to the people she cares for, Clara will quickly find it’s very difficult to stop doing it.

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Early on, the Doctor saves a soldier named Journey Blue from being exterminated by the Daleks, but he’s unable to save her brother as well. She doesn’t make the best first impression when she lashes out in anger and grief, trying to steal his ship from him, but we quickly learn she does have more standards than her uncle she serves under (who’s a very dedicated and very ruthless man). “Into The Dalek” spends a lot of time exploring the general culture of the military that drives every soldier it creates. Journey’s used to death and devastation by now – she’s a child of war who’s known about the evil of the Daleks since she was a girl – so her heart has hardened slightly from the terrible times she lives in. She does her best to bury her personal feelings and cope with the grief of losing her brother by focusing on the mission at hand. Like every soldier, she’s willing to live and die for the cause she fights for, and she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to get her job done.

However, as time goes on, she starts to show a bit of promise, and it becomes apparent that she hasn’t completely forsaken her individuality yet to become a cog in a very efficient war machine (a bit like Jenny in “The Doctor’s Daughter”). Early on, she’s willing to go against her uncle’s wishes and recruit the Doctor for help, when she thinks they might need it. Later on, when the Doctor has an insane plan to save them all from the Daleks that he can’t guarantee will actually work, she’s willing to defy a direct order from her commanding officer to help him with it. She also learns to think outside the box more from Clara. By the end of the day, she wants to see more of the universe, and she’s ready to leave her war-torn world behind her. But her request to come with them is swiftly shot down, and she’s denied an escape from the hell of her life. It’s a shame too, because from the small amount of growth she showed in this episode, Journey (like so many others before her) probably could have benefitted from the positive influence the Doctor and Clara would have had on her and her morals.

“Into The Dalek” rethreads a lot of old ground that the show previously explored in the RTD era – why the Daleks are the way they are, and what happens when they start to think as individuals – but it puts a slightly new spin on the material. By nature, the Daleks are very static characters who never grow or evolve because they’re utterly convinced of their own perfection, so their society stagnates endlessly. However, ‘Rusty’ is a malfunctioning drone, and he’s currently started to question his purpose in life. He’s something new, a brand new mystery for the Doctor to solve, and our rogue time lord cannot resist going inside him and looking into it. Along the way, we discover that while the Daleks are already hated-filled creatures, they also like to suppress certain emotions, so they can keep their soldiers loyal and pure. Rusty has been damaged by a radiation leak, giving him the potential for growth as he starts to imagine new thoughts.

As we’ve seen before in “Evolution Of The Daleks“, the Doctor has always held out hope that his oldest enemies can still be reformed someday, somehow, even if it’s a fool’s dream – and our heroes do come off as being rather foolish in this episode. Once they fix the problem with Rusty, he immediately turns on them and goes on a rampage with them trapped inside of him, and in my opinion, they really should have seen that coming. The Doctor forms a psychic link with him, so he can change his worldview and cement his new growth – but his own lifelong hatred towards the Daleks corrupts Rusty as a result and ruins this once-in-a-lifetime chance to rehabilitate the malevolent cyborg. Rusty does a roundabout turn from hating the rest of the universe to hating his own kind. He’s still a mad killer, but now he’s fanatically obsessed with hunting down other Daleks. He’s technically making the world a safer place, but in the most messed up way possible. So this wasn’t a total victory, but it’s still a better outcome than the way things panned out in “Dalek“, “Evolution Of The Daleks” and “Victory Of The Daleks”. 

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“Into The Dalek” is helmed by Ben Wheatley, the same guy who handled the last episode, and while his work on “Deep Breath” was certainly good, his direction in this episode is a pretty big step up from it when it comes to the confidence and charisma on display. The early comedic scenes, where we frequently cut back and forth between Clara and Danny failing to maintain a conversation and Danny’s regret about blowing his chances with Clara, are charming; steadycam is used to good effect throughout the hour, to give certain scenes the sense of momentum that they require without becoming obnoxious; and once we get inside Rusty’s body, there are some beautifully crafted low-angle shots tossed in from time to time that I always like to see in Doctor Who. Location shooting for “Into The Dalek” was primarily done in St. Athan, Wales, Newport, Wales, and a hangar outside of Cardiff.

The show’s special effects team (BBC Wales VFX) did a phenomenal job with “Into The Dalek”, because there are some gorgeous CGI shots woven throughout this episode: from battles in space through asteroid belts, to the inner machinations of Rusty’s tank, to all the brutal extermination scenes that take place when the Daleks lay siege to the humans’ secret base. Compared to the loud and super expressive music in the last episode, Murray Gold’s funky, synthesized score is toned down significantly in “Into The Dalek”: softer pieces like “We’re Still Going To Kill You” and “Tell Me, Am I A Good Man” are allowed to allowed to simmer softly in the background, building up a sizable amount of ambience, while other tracks build upon the foundation that was set in previous Dalek stories. “Aristotle, We Have Been Hit” samples “The Dark And Endless Dalek Night” from Series 4, “What Difference Is A Good Dalek?” reprises “The Doctor’s Theme” from Series 1, and “The Truth About The Daleks” produces another triumphant riff on the Twelfth Doctor’s leitmotif, “A Good Man?“.

All in all, “Into The Dalek” is a strong follow-up episode to “Deep Breath” (and a fairly riveting Dalek story) that cements what sort of character the Twelfth Doctor is going to be for the rest of this season, and gives us a taste of some of the character development that’s in store for him down the line.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “However, the security of this base is absolute. So we’re still going to kill you” “Oh, it’s a roller coaster with you, isn’t it?”

* “There’s a bit more to modern soldiering than just shooting people. I like to think there’s a moral dimension” “Ah, you shoot people then cry about it afterwards?” Damn, girl. Just damn.

* “Three weeks ago, that’s a long time” “In Glasgow. That is dead in a ditch” Well, at least it’s better than Aberdeen.

* At one point, the Doctor kicks the doors to the TARDIS open. Well, that’s rude.

* “Clara, be my pal-” Oof. After the way the last episode ended, the Doctor gives Clara another reminder that she’s just been friendzoned.

* “Do I pay you? I should give you a raise” “You’re not my boss, you’re one of my hobbies”.

* “I’m his carer” “Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to” Edgy, Doctor, edgy.

* “So, who makes you smile or is nobody up to the job?” “My brother. But he burned to death a couple of hours ago, so he’s really letting me down today”.

* “Imagine the worst possible thing in the universe, then don’t bother, because you’re looking at it right now. This is evil refined as engineering!”

* A part of me wonders if the nickname ‘Rusty’ is meant to be a subtle nod to Russell T. Davies.

* “So you saw a star being born, and you learned something. Oh, Dalek, do not be lying to me!”

* The Doctor has been slapped by angry women numerous times in Doctor Who, but Clara’s slap is probably the most savage one we’ve seen so far: she held nothing back.

* “Clara Oswald, do I really not pay you?” “You couldn’t afford me”.

* “Gretchen Alison Carlisle. Do something good and name it after me” “I will do something amazing, I promise” “You damn well better”.

* Missy is still greeting the souls of one-off characters who died in afterlife: not just in the past and in the present, but in the future as well. I’m sure that isn’t a sign of something troubling on the horizon.

* “I saved your life, Rusty. Now I’m going to go one better. I’m going to save your soul!”

* Nicholas Briggs, the guy who provides all the Dalek voices in Doctor Who, gets to show a lot more emotional range than usual in this episode, due to Rusty’s existential crisis, and I am completely onboard with that opportunity.

* “I see into your soul, Doctor. I see beauty! I see divinity! I see hatred! I see your hatred of the Daleks and it is good!

* “I am not a good Dalek, Doctor. You are a good Dalek” Oh snap.

* “How do I look?” “Sort of short and round-ish, but with a good personality, which is the main thing”.

* “You asked me if you’re a good man and the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be and I think that’s probably the point”.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014) Review

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With “Deep Breath”, the Series 8 premiere of Doctor Who, the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure officially begins. Peter Capaldi steps up as the show’s new leading man, who previously portrayed a one-off character named Cacelius in “The Fires Of Pompeii“. This isn’t the first time Doctor Who has decided to reuse an actor who was previously hired for a minor role, making them a series regular (this was also the case for Freema Agyeman and Karen Gillan). And notably, the show decides to acknowledge this casting decision in-universe, which sets up a Chekov’s gun that won’t be fired for a season and a half until “The Girl Who Died”. Unlike the Ninth Doctor’s introductory story, “Rose“, or the Eleventh Doctor’s debut, “The Eleventh Hour“, “Deep Breath” isn’t a fresh start for the show with a slate that’s been wiped clean. It’s more like the Moffat era equivalent of “The Christmas Invasion“: a direct continuation of the story that came before it.

“Deep Breath” sets up a bold new direction for Doctor Who to travel in for the rest of Series 8 (namely the Doctor’s significant change in personality, and his previous dynamic with his best friend Clara Oswald being flipped on its head), but this episode also serves as an epilogue to Series 7B – a fairly short but very important period in the show, where a lot of big status quo changes happened. “Deep Breath” is the last time the Paternoster gang makes an appearance, it’s the last time Clara is called the Impossible Girl (which is a shame really, because it’s such a cool nickname), and it’s the last time we’ll ever see Matt Smith’s Doctor. All in all, “Deep Breath” is a pretty solid introductory story for the Twelfth Doctor, but it does have one major flaw: the pacing. Like “Voyage Of The Damned” and “The Day Of The Doctor“, “Deep Breath” is nearly eighty minutes long, and unlike those other two stories, the plot of this episode is not quite meaty enough or complex enough to warrant having a runtime that long – so the first half can definitely drag in places from all the comedic scenes between Clara and the Paternoster gang.

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Fresh out of the siege of Trenzalore, where he spent the last nine-hundred years fighting a never-ending war against many of his enemies, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is a complete and total wreck in “Deep Breath” (and to be honest, Clara’s not doing so hot herself either). He’s high off his backside on regeneration energy, so he barely knows where he is and he has no idea what he’s doing half the time. At one point, he runs loose in London, terrorizing some homeless guy who’s forced to have a one-sided conversation with him about how familiar his face is. Some of his erratic behavior can be chalked up to the fact that we’re seeing leftover flashes of the Eleventh Doctor’s personality surfacing from time to time, as Twelve’s new brain cells slowly start to settle (this was also the case for Eleven occasionally mimicking Ten in his debut episode). It’s not until the latter half of this story that Twelve’s personality starts to settle into what he’ll normally be like.

To put it simply, the Twelfth Doctor is a mad Scotsman who doesn’t suffer fools lightly. He likes to cut right to the chase during a conversation with people, so he doesn’t waste valuable time, which means he can be brusque, rude, and impatient. While the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were both very extroverted and outgoing guys, the Twelfth Doctor is a more of an antisocial introvert, like Nine. He’s not really interested in making new friends, since he’s already content with Clara: he just wants to get in, solve a good mystery, beat the bad guys, and move right along week after week. He can be very cynical and world-weary a lot of the time, which becomes increasingly clear the longer we know him, but he does have a more thoughtful side. The Twelfth Doctor can be quite the philosopher, who can offer up some beautiful insight about all the things he’s seen in the world, and all the things he hasn’t seen, when he feels like sharing it with his friends (which is an aspect of his personality that will be highlighted a lot more in Series 9 and 10).

Twelve has a very pragmatic personality, and he will not pass up a good advantage over his enemies when it presents itself, even if he has to gain it through underhanded means. Like Eleven, Twelve can be very sneaky and ruthless, and he usually tends to be even more upfront about that part of himself than his immediate predecessor. During the climax, he decides to betray Clara’s trust by locking her inside a room with a monster, because he decided it would be a good way to get some information out of him, letting her think she had been abandoned for several minutes. He stays with her in secret the whole time of course, to back her up (in addition to the back-up she already brought with her), but the fact remains that he did not get her onboard with this little plan of his before he sprung it on her – which was a major dick move on his part. This won’t be the last time Twelve does something like this in Series 8: he’s a massive troll, and he has habit of pushing Clara past her personal boundaries, until she finally gets fed up with it in “Kill The Moon“.

And of course, the highlight of “Deep Breath” is the Doctor’s personal talk with the Half-Face Man. The Doctor sees a bit of himself in him – a creature who’s been renewing himself again and again for millions of years, until there’s very little of his original self left – and that seems to unsettle him, but he still uses the link between them to appeal to the villain’s pessimism. After the siege of Trenzalore, the Doctor is now almost twice as old as he was before, and he’s really starting to feel his advanced age (which is implied to be part of the reason why he regenerated into an older body this time around). Twelve has a lot of mixed feelings about his exceptionally long life: there are times when he wishes he could just stop and find peace, like every other living thing does eventually, but he can never stop traveling, because there will be always be more people who need him. Those feelings will gradually be explored over the next three seasons and eventually come to a head in his regeneration story, “Twice Upon A Time”. In the meantime, the way his showdown with the Half-Face Man ends is deliciously dark and left ambiguous to the audience. The Doctor either killed him to save his friends, or he convinced him to kill himself – and neither one of those outcomes are very pretty.

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Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) personal journey in “Deep Breath” primarily deals with the emotional fallout of “The Time Of The Doctor“. Unlike Rose Tyler when she was in her shoes in Series 2, Clara already knew a lot about regeneration ahead of time, and she’s been given a lot of preparation for something like this happening from her encounters with Eleven’s past lives in “The Name Of The Doctor” and “The Day Of The Doctor”. But despite that, she still has a difficult time dealing with the change, because she got very attached to the Doctor’s previous self. Clara serves as an audience surrogate in this episode (like the companions often do), and she’s basically traveling down the same path as the viewers at home: she has to see if she can accept that the new Doctor is still the same man she loved.

After the incredibly traumatic experience Clara had in the last episode, she’s basically shut down and gone into denial about what’s happening by the start of “Deep Breath”. She’s only just started to accept that she likes the Doctor as more than just a friend, and now his personality has been given a major overhaul, which would throw anyone off. But on a more unpleasant note, it’s also suggested that part of the reason why Clara’s feathers are so ruffled is because the Doctor no longer looks young and pretty on the outside, even though he was already a thousand years old when she met him. Clara was a pretty nice character in her debut year, and while she’s still very heroic in Series 8, this season emphasizes her personality flaws more often, because it has a lot more room to do so compared to Series 7B: which means we’ll see her make mistakes more often, and she won’t always be shown in the most flattering light. Clara feels very insulted when Vastra accuses her of being shallow, but even after this scene, she keeps harping on about how old and grey the Doctor looks now – so if you ask me, Vastra was a bit more on the money than Clara would like to admit.

Despite her attempts to keep an open mind and accept the new Doctor, Clara steadily loses faith in him, especially when he seems to betray her in the villain’s lair. When she’s held captive by androids and threatened with death, Clara decides to use what she’s learned from the Doctor, and what she’s learned as a teacher, to try to outwit her interrogator. For a few moments, she manages to turn the tables on the Half-Face Man, even though she’s scared out of her mind the whole time. This harrowing experience of thinking like the Doctor, while also digging deep into her own grit, sets the stage for Clara’s new storyline in Series 8. She was already a pretty competent and capable companion in Series 7, even if she was a bit green, and she usually came through when the Doctor needed her. In Series 8 however, Clara is given a character arc that’s a lot like Martha’s, where she’ll start to become more independent and learn to stand on her own two feet more without the Doctor’s help.

Even after the day has been saved, Clara still has her reservations about Twelve, and she’s not sure if she really wants to keep traveling with him or not. Until she receives a phone call from the Eleventh Doctor on Trenzalore, who gives her that extra bit of closure that she needs, since she’s been grieving the loss of her Doctor for this entire episode. Once she sees how much Twelve craves her acceptance, how much he cares about their bond, and how much he feels the sting of her rejection, she decides he is indeed her Doctor at his core and she accepts him wholeheartedly. They also acknowledge the ship-tease moments that had been building between them throughout the latter half of Series 7, and they mutually agree that they’re better off as friends. Things have changed irrevocably between them after the siege of Trenzalore, and whether or not that change is for the better of for the worse remains to be seen. For now though, they’re officially putting an end to all the flirting – though their ship isn’t quite dead yet, as we’ll see in later episodes, when a good old-fashioned love triangle starts to form between Clara, the Doctor and Mr. Pink.

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The Paternoster Gang (Madam Vastra, Jenny Flint and Commander Strax) make their final appearance to date in “Deep Breath”. Since this episode basically acts as a bridge between the Matt Smith era and the Peter Capaldi era of the show, it makes sense to bring back fan-favorite characters like these three (who are already familiar with the process of regeneration) to help ease the transition for the audience. And if “Deep Breath” really is the last time we’re ever going to see them, this story is a good showcase for their skills and personalities. Vastra’s knowledge of prehistoric times, her sharp deductive-reasoning skills, and her lethal efficiency as a warrior all come in handy throughout the hour. In particular, it’s very satisfying to see her call out Clara for being superficial, because Vastra knows better than anyone – as a lizard woman living in a world full of humans – how quick people are to judge and shun things they don’t understand.

Jenny’s loyalty towards her wife and her friends, her accepting, open-minded nature, and her fiery, outspoken personality are all allowed to shine as well, whenever she gets to offer her perspective on things. Since this is their last appearance, I’m glad Vastra and Jenny (our mixed species power couple) were given an onscreen kiss, like every other straight couple we’ve seen on Doctor Who over years. And as for the violent-minded third member of their party, Strax’s in-depth medical knowledge, his blunt honesty, and his innate bloodlust are all on display, as usual. Clara and Strax actually share some of the funniest scenes in this episode, including one where he accidentally throws a newspaper in her face. During the climax, when our heroes are fighting off the droids, we also see that Strax’s loyalty towards his friends runs very deep. When he realizes he can’t hold his breath for much longer, and his body is going to betray him, Strax is fully prepared to shoot himself, to stop himself from putting the others at risk.

The Paternoster Gang aren’t the only returning figures in this story: for “Deep Breath”, Moffat decides to bring back more of the clockwork droids from “The Girl In The Fireplace” – robots from the future who kill humans and incorporate their body parts into their technology, because they’re coldly logical creatures who lack any real sort of empathy to realize how obscene and contradictory their actions are. There’s a running gag throughout the episode that the Doctor almost but never quite manages to remember where he’s seen their modus operandi before – it’s been over a thousand years since “The Girl In The Fireplace” for him, and he’s starting to forget the details of things that happened during the RTD era (which is actually quite sad when you think about it).

The Half-Face Man, the leader of the droids, serves as a villainous foil to the Twelfth Doctor. He crash-landed on earth during the age of the dinosaurs, and he’s been laying low ever since – constantly repairing himself, constantly changing himself inside and out until there’s very little of his old self left. He’s millions of years old now and he’s tired of his existence, but he can’t bring himself to put an end to it all, because that would go against his programming. So he’s in search of the promised land: a mythical perfect place where he can finally find some rest. The Doctor, of course, doesn’t believe in such a thing, he thinks it’s just a fairy tale, a human superstition that he managed to pick up over the years. The question of whether there’s life after death is probably humanity’s oldest and greatest mystery, and it will play a vital role in Series 8’s story arc.

After the Half-Face Man is killed, he meets a strange woman who claims to be in charge of running the afterlife. Back in “The Bells Of Saint John“, some lady gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number so they would meet, and in this episode, that same person puts them on the Half-Face Man’s trail, so they would stay together after the Doctor’s regeneration. That woman is Missy (Michelle Gomez), our main villainess for Series 8, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of her as the Capaldi era progresses.

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Ben Wheatley steps up to helm “Deep Breath”, and he does a fine job of directing this story with style and flair. Standout scenes include Clara’s failed attempt to hold her breath for several minutes, where the camera work grows increasingly blurry and disoriented to match her level of strength, and the action-filled climax, which frequently cuts back and forth between a fast scene and a slow scene without either of them losing their sense of momentum. The dinosaur that the Doctor and Clara bring with them to Victorian London has to be one of the most impressively detailed CGI creations that the show’s special effects team has pulled off far, alongside the monstrous Half-Face Man. His actor, Peter Ferdinando, wore a silicone prosthetic across the right side of his face during this episode’s production, while a robotic, full-body cast was also crafted by the show’s prop department. CGI artists combined the two physical elements in post-production, creating the unsettling illusion of a man with a hollowed-out skull.

A brand new Doctor means a lot of brand new material in Murray Gold’s score: he composes a funky, techno arrangement of the Doctor Who theme song for Series 8, and threads a persistent ticking motif through tracks like “Concussed“, “Pudding Brains” and “Breath“. The Twelfth Doctor’s personal theme, “A Good Man?“, is a fusion between a traditional orchestra and an electronic synthesizer, like the kind you would often get in the RTD era. It’s initially slow, simmering and enigmatic, before it comes rumbling out of the gate with plenty of grit and determination, creating one of the most triumphant themes we’ve had for the Doctor so far in NuWho. “A Good Man?” makes it very apparent that even if the Doctor is played by an older actor now, he still has plenty of fire in his belly, and it’s expanded upon even further in tracks like “Hello Hello” and “A Drink First“. “Beginning Of The End” and “Snow Over Trenzalore” are brought back from the previous episode, for an extra bit of closure to the Trenzalore storyline in the quiet coda of this episode,

It takes “Deep Breath” a while to gain a lot of momentum, but as a whole, this episode was a pretty satisfying season opener that sets up a lot of good storylines that will pay off throughout Series 8, with our new lead duo of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Deep Breath Showdown

* “I remember you. You’re Handles. You used to be a little robot head, and now you’ve really let yourself go!”

* “So you’ve got a whole room for not being awake in. But what’s the point? You’re just missing the room!”

* “You sound the same. It’s spreading! You all sound all English! You’ve all developed a fault!”

* “The Doctor is still missing, but he will always come looking for his box. By bringing it here, he will be lured from the dangers of London to this place of safety, where we will melt him with acid“.

* “Ah, Ms. Clara. You look better now that you’re up” “Thank you, Strax” “Oh, sorry. Trick of the light. You still look terrible” Hot damn.

* “Deflected narcissism. Traces of passive aggressive. And a lot of muscular young men doing sport” “What are you looking at?” “Your subconscious. Is that sport? It could be sport”.

* “You must stop worrying about him, my boy. By now, he’s almost certainly had his throat cut by the violent poor”.

* “I don’t like it! Your face!” “Well, I don’t like it either. It’s alright until the eyebrows, then it just goes haywire! Look at the eyebrows. They’re attack eyebrows! You could take bottle tops off with these!”

* “Oh, that’s good! I’m Scottish! I can complain about things. I can really complain about things now!” Amy Pond approves.

* “What devilry is this, sir?” “I don’t know, but I probably blame the English”.

* “Clara, what is happening right now in this restaurant to you and me is more important than your egomania” “Nothing is more important than my egomania!

* “You’ve got to admire their efficiency” “Is it okay if I don’t?”

* “Hello?! Hello, are you the manager?! I demand to speak to the manager!” The Doctor channeling his inner Karen.

* “Oh, it’s at times like these I miss Amy” “Who?” “Nothing”.

* “You’re not a murderer” “He’s not a what?! This is a slaughterhouse!” “And how does that make it different from any other restaurant? You weren’t vegetarian the last time I checked”.

* “I’ve got the horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would”.

* “Don’t worry, my boy, we shall die in glory!” “Okay. Good-o”.

* “Why won’t you stay dead, you coward?!

* “It is beautiful” “No, it isn’t, it’s just far away. Everything looks too small. I prefer it down there. Everything is huge, everything is so important. Every detail, every moment, every life clung to”.

* “You realize, of course, one of us is lying about our basic programming” “…Yes” “And I think we both know who it is”.

* “I don’t think that I’m a hugging person now” “I’m not sure you get a vote”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Deep Breath Disheveled Clara 2

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Doctor Who: The Time Of The Doctor (2013) Review

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After three seasons of excitement, adventure, mystery and romance, the Eleventh Doctor’s journey in Doctor Who finally comes to a bittersweet end in “The Time Of The Doctor”, the grand finale of the Matt Smith era. For the Eleventh Doctor’s curtain call as this show’s leading man, Steven Moffat wraps up the ‘Silence will fall’ storyline that has defined his entire tenure by tying together unresolved plot strands from the cracks in time arc (“The Eleventh Hour“, “Flesh And Stone“, “Cold Blood” and “The Big Bang“), the Lake Silencio arc (“Day Of The Moon“, “The Almost People“, “A Good Man Goes To War“, and “The Wedding Of River Song“), and recent revelations from the Impossible Girl arc (“The Name Of The Doctor“, “The Day Of The Doctor“).

Like “The End Of Time” before it, “The Time Of The Doctor” serves as both a regeneration story and the show’s annual Christmas special, which means it has to balance a good amount of hearty Christmas cheer with meaty plot developments and a side of tragedy. As you would expect, that kind of balancing act can occasionally lead to some tonal whiplash, and a part of me does wish this story was a two-parter like “The End Of Time”, so all the cool concepts and ideas in it could have a little more room to breathe. Ironically, Eleven’s regeneration story has the opposite problem that Ten’s did. “The End Of Time” could sometimes feel too slow and overly padded (since it was a whopping 130 minutes long), while “The Time Of The Doctor” can feel too rushed in places and a bit overstuffed.

Notably, there are a lot of similarities between the plot of this episode and “The Parting Of The Ways“, the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration story: namely that the Doctor gets trapped in the future, fighting a battle he cannot possibly win, so he sends his best friend / love interest away from the fight against her will so he can face his greatest challenge alone. The following episode, “Deep Breath“, also emulates “The Christmas Invasion” in a lot of places (i.e. Clara having to deal with the immediate emotional fallout of this story, entirely unsure of whether or not the Doctor is still the same person she developed feelings for), so Steven Moffat clearly decided to take some inspiration from his immediate predecessor, Russell T. Davies, when it came to handling his first and only full transition between two Doctors.

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The first half of “The Time Of The Doctor” feels very reminiscent of the main set-up from “The Pandorica Opens”, which is appropriate, because chronologically speaking the events of this episode set up that two-parter. In the 51st century, a mysterious message is beamed out through time and space, drawing in the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and many of his enemies in large numbers to an unassuming planet (with a tiny human settlement located on it), to try to decipher what it could mean. Along the way, we see the origins of the religious cult called the Silence. The Silence have influenced the Eleventh Doctor’s entire era ever since he made his debut in “The Eleventh Hour”: trying to kill him in his past to avoid a major conflict with him in their present. In this episode, we’re finally given some context about what that clash is about.

On the planet Trenzalore, there’s one last crack in time leftover from the Series 5 finale: a tear in the fabric of the universe that can act as a wormhole. The time lords are trying to send the Doctor a message from the pocket universe they were banished to at the end of the last episode, so they can travel through to the other side of the void and re-establish their old place in the world. Obviously, the Doctor has a lot of enemies who would like to prevent that from happening – especially the Daleks. The Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, and a whole bunch of other races would raze the planet in a heartbeat and slaughter every living thing that’s situated on it, to stop another time war from breaking out. The Doctor feels very responsible for this predicament, and he refuses to let this village full of innocent people become another list of senseless causalities in the war between his people and the Daleks.

So the Doctor decides to stay on Trenzalore, to protect the time lords and protect the innocent civilians living in the settlement. If anyone can handle a crazy, suicidal decision like this, it’s the Doctor. He may hate warfare, but he’s always been shown to be an excellent strategist, to the point where he’s almost a one-man army. The Doctor’s decision to give up traveling and plant his roots on Trenzalore (even if it’s made in the heat of the moment) is a very significant bit of character development for Eleven, because there have been several episodes throughout his tenure that stress how much he hates being tied down in one place and time (most notably “The Power Of Three“, where he could only chill in Amy and Rory’s house for two days before he almost went mad with boredom). But he’s willing to stick around for centuries and metaphorically grow up out of his old childish ways, so he can do right by these people.

He appoints himself protector of their little village and, like Rory in “The Big Bang” or the Gunslinger in “A Town Called Mercy“, he becomes a living legend. As generation after generation passes by, the Doctor remains as a steadfast figure of safety and security. As the siege of Trenzalore stretches on, the Doctor tries to make life in a war zone more bearable, by doing his best to brighten up the villagers’ existence. Even when the opportunity to leave Trenzalore does present itself, when he gets his TARDIS back, the Doctor resists the incredible temptation to fly away again and sticks to his old decision. As we learned in “The Name Of The Doctor”, Eleven is destined to die on Trenzalore, fighting his last battle, and he’s well aware of that, so he’s willing to sacrifice his life so these people can live. The last two episodes have made it very clear how much the Doctor’s chosen title means to him, and he certainly lives up to it here, because the Eleventh Doctor is easily at his most selfless in this story.

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As soon as the siege started, the Doctor tricked his best friend Clara into going back to the TARDIS, so he could send her back to her own time against her will – the same thing Nine did for Rose at the end of Series 1. He’ll miss her terribly of course, since he still has feelings for her, but it’s the only thing he can do to stop her from dying of old age in the future, so very very far home, since her lifespan is nowhere near as long as his. From there, he spends nine hundred years trapped in the same village, fighting a never-ending war, out-living all his friends and neighbors over and over again, and as you would imagine, this miserable and lonely existence does eventually take a major toll on the Doctor’s mental health. For once, he doesn’t have a long-term plan or a way to win: the only thing he can do is stall and buy these people enough time to live out their lives. He gives and gives and gives until his strength finally starts to wear out, and watching the Doctor grow old and grey to the point where he can barely walk anymore and he starts to grow senile is deeply sad.

In “The Deadly Assassin”, the classic series established that time lords could only regenerate twelve times, and once they reached the end of their thirteenth life, they would permanently die. The Doctor is currently on his last life, so if the Daleks don’t kill him, old age will eventually, until Clara decides to put her foot down. She calls out the time lords for not showing the Doctor some more gratitude for everything he did for them during the war, and she urges them to use the their god-like powers over time and space to change the future and save him from the Daleks (plus, if they still plan on using him to get back to their old universe, it really is in their best interests to step in). So for once, the Doctor’s iron-will and his heroic actions are repaid in full by the universe, and he’s granted a brand new regeneration cycle from the high council of Gallifrey. Now that the Doctor’s regeneration limit is no longer a problem, the show can continue on unencumbered for the foreseeable future, and the Doctor now owes Clara another life debt (that will only continue to strengthen their bond in his next life).

After he’s been empowered by the time lords, the Eleventh Doctor goes out like a boss and destroys a whole spaceship full of Daleks with his regeneration energy, finally ending the siege of Trenzalore for good with a big bang. And from there, as he departs in his TARDIS, he says his final goodbyes to Clara. After how tragic and depressing the Tenth Doctor’s exit was in “The End Of Time” (dying afraid and alone in the TARDIS, with plenty of regrets about things he couldn’t change), I’m glad the Eleventh Doctor was given a more bittersweet ending like Nine as a direct contrast. The Doctor is sad that this period in his life is over (like he always is), but he’s grateful that his life will get to continue onwards after he had previously given up, and he’s ready for another good reset after he spent the last few centuries of his life aging to death.

All his affairs are in order, the Daleks are gone, and Clara is safe, so he’s ready to let go and be reborn again. While the Eleventh Doctor’s final speech (which seems to be directed more towards the audience than Clara) is poignant, what will really hit you in the feels is Karen Gillan making one last cameo as a vision of Amy Pond, saying goodbye to her Raggedy Man. And just like that, Matt Smith is gone: he’s replaced in a flash by a wild-eyed (and super Scottish) Peter Capaldi as the cycle of the Doctors begins anew. The horrible and traumatic experience that the Doctor went through in this episode (that lasted for nearly a millennia) does have a long-lasting effect on his personality, which becomes very apparent in the next season, when we’re properly introduced to the Twelfth Doctor: someone who’s a much more stern and pragmatic incarnation than Eleven was.

Doctor Who The Time Of The Doctor Ambush 2

“The Time Of The Doctor” is a very pivotal episode for Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) when it comes to her long-term character development, and after this adventure, the status quo of her time with the Doctor changes forever. In this episode, Clara is cooking Christmas dinner for her family, and she begs the Doctor to pretend to be her boyfriend so she can hide the fact that she’s still single (that will change pretty soon, in a few episodes’ time). Clara is a notorious perfectionist, so this task has got her very stressed out. She tries to keep everything under control as she plays host to her family (including her father’s finicky new girlfriend), trying to give them all a perfect Christmas, but really she has no idea what she’s doing and she’s floundering around, making plenty of rookie mistakes along the way. And unfortunately, things only get much worse for her from there, as things slip further and further out of her control over the course of this special.

The Doctor has her strip down so they can visit a church full of space nudists (which she finds to be very embarrassing). She’s terrorized by the Silence, the Daleks and the Weeping Angels, because she’s nowhere near as knowledgeable about these creatures as Amy, Rory and River were. The Doctor tricks her into being sent away from the action (twice), and when she tries to get back, she winds up riding on the outer shell of the TARDIS through the time vortex (when Jack did the same thing in “Utopia“, it looked like an absolutely terrifying experience). From her perspective, every time she returns to Trenzalore, the man she loves seems to be rapidly aging to death. The Doctor readily accepts his fate and for a long time, it seems like there’s nothing she can do to help him. Then when she finally thinks she can breathe again, the Doctor she knows changes forever. Then the TARDIS crashes into the Jurassic era. This was easily one of the worst days of Clara’s life, and it’s no wonder that when we rejoin her again in the next episode, she has completely shut down and gone into denial about what’s happening.

“The Time Of The Doctor” tells us quite a few things about Clara’s current situation with her family that we didn’t know about before. She’s not as close to her father as she used to be anymore, possibly because of his new relationship with a woman who Clara clearly doesn’t like very much. However, she does get along well with her saucy and eccentric grandmother, who comforts her when she uncontrollably breaks down into tears over the Doctor. Like Rose in “The Parting Of The Ways”, Clara has shared plenty of ship-tease moments with the Doctor in the past (which neither of them have really taken seriously), but it’s not until she’s forcibly separated from him, while he’s on death’s door, that she seems to fully accept that she likes him as more than just a friend. And just like with Rose, that lofty realization will have an effect on how she reacts to the next Doctor in the cycle and his change of personality in “Deep Breath”.

Clara has only known the Doctor for a relatively short amount of time, but she’s still been a big help to him in some of the most trying times of Eleven’s life. In “The Time Of The Doctor”, she can’t contribute much compared to him – since a galactic conflict on this scale is way beyond her – but she does manage to turn the tides when it counts. She does something very few people in this show do and stands up to the time lords: calling them out for doing nothing when their greatest champion is about to die. Clara has never given a single flying fuck about the Doctor’s status as a time lord when it comes to giving him a good telling off when he needs it (which we’ll see another excellent example of in “Kill The Moon” next season), and the same can be said for the rest of his people. I’ve mentioned before that it’s fitting that Clara should know so much about the Doctor’s past, since she was introduced during the franchise’s 50th anniversary, and likewise, she manages to leave her mark on the show’s future going forward. The Twelfth Doctor and all the Doctors after him directly exist because of Clara’s help and support, which will only continue to strengthen the bond between her and the Doctor in the Capaldi era.

Doctor Who The Time Of The Doctor Sunrise 7

A notable recurring character throughout “The Time Of The Doctor” is Tasha Lem, the head of the Church of the Papal Mainframe. As you’ll recall, the Church is a militant religious order that we’ve previously seen in action in stories like “The Time Of Angels” and “A Good Man Goes To War”: they give themselves the task of maintaining peace and balance throughout the cosmos in the 51st century. During the early days of the siege, they’re initially the Doctor’s tentative allies, because Tasha thinks it would be helpful to get him involved and let him investigate Trenzalore. But once they learn what’s truly at stake – another potential time war – they quickly turn against him, and some of them even decide to wage war on him along with the rest of his foes. They decide to change their name and rebrand themselves as the Silence, to reflect their current goal of ensuring the Doctor’s silence. The war drags on and on for centuries, until eventually, out of desperation, some members of the Silence decide to go back along his timeline and try to change history, creating the events of Series 5 and 6.

As for Tasha herself, she’s a very curious one-off character in this special. When it comes to conflicts in Doctor Who, I always like to see the leader of an army who’s working towards the same goal as the Doctor, but isn’t necessarily on his side when it comes to his way of doing it. She’s a very unpredictable figure, who’s both an ally and an antagonist to our hero at different points within this special. At the same time however, her personality is very bland. She’s basically a great big collection of tropes that you would expect to find in your generic Steven Moffat female character. She’s a feisty, flirty and domineering woman. She’s totally infatuated with the Doctor (because of course she is). She even dies at one point and gets converted into a Dalek puppet, but once she regains control of her body, she treats her new affliction like it’s a mild inconvenience for the rest of this story. Tasha has a fairly important role in this story, since she’s the one who drives the main plot forward several times, but her personality is so forgettable that she doesn’t leave much of an impact on the viewers’ minds.

Early on in this story, the Doctor seems to have acquired the disembodied head of a Cyberman, that’s filled with all the information that the Cyberiad possesses. He calls him ‘Handles’, and he basically uses him as technical support: local knowledge for a visiting time lord. Once the Doctor makes the decision to stay on Trenzalore for the foreseeable future, Handles stays by his side and is the only real remnant he has of his old life for centuries. As a result, the Doctor grows very fond of him and gets very attached to him, as his mental health steadily starts to decline. When Handles’ power source finally gives out, and the artificial intelligence inside of him dies out of old age and disrepair, it’s actually a surprisingly sad scene because of how badly it hits the Doctor. Not to mention, the unsettling purpose of this scene: it’s clear, sobering reminder that entropy claims us all eventually, and unless someone does something, the Doctor himself will go the same way eventually.

For the Eleventh Doctor’s final story, we’re given a greatest hits collection of returning monsters from the Matt Smith era: like the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, the Weeping Angels, and of course, the Silence. The Silence are revealed to have started out as genetically-engineered priests of the Church in this story (who were given the ability to mess with people’s memories), before they became ambitious enough to try to reshape history the way they desired. After their whole order was portrayed as being completely and totally evil in Series 6, Tasha Lem’s branch of the Silence is shown a slightly different light in this story and given a bit of redemption, when they team up with the Doctor once again, during the last few centuries of the siege, to hold off the Daleks. The fact that the Daleks outlast everyone else during the siege, and are still going strong by the end of it, is a rather impressive testament to how relentless and obsessive they can be, and how they were the time lords’ only true equal during the time war. Say what you will about the Daleks – they’re completely insane and they have delusions of grandeur – but they do not give up until they either get what they want or they’re all killed off.

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“The Time Of The Doctor” is helmed by newcomer Jamie Payne, who shoots his first and only episode of Doctor Who with this special. You can tell he’s a new guy, because his direction certainly stands out compared to previous episodes directed by Toby Haynes, Nick Hurran or Saul Metzstein. There’s a certain lithe touch to it that makes this story feel like a frothy British comedy in space sometimes, while at other times it can also have a grand and looming sense of scale that’s reminiscent of an old school “Star Wars” movie. Like always, the CGI from the Milk VFX team is pretty impeccable throughout the hour: we’re given some gorgeous establishing shots of thousands of alien armies circling Trenzalore, along with an equally beautiful climax, where the Doctor destroys a whole fleet of Daleks with his explosive regeneration.

The scenes outside of Clara’s apartment building were filmed in Lydstep Flats in Cardiff, the same location that stood in for the Powell Estate during the first season of the show, while the forest scenes outside of Trenzalore were filmed in Puzzlewood in Gloucestershire. A lot of old age make-up and a few prosthetics were applied to Matt Smith’s face throughout this episode, to progressively age him up with each time skip of a few centuries, and how effective the illusion tends to be can vary from scene to scene. Though Matt Smith’s body language (as the Doctor grows more and more physically and emotionally exhausted, and even starts to walk with a limp) certainly helps to compensate for any scenes where the old age make-up is less than convincing.

Like his work in “The Parting Of The Ways” and “The End Of Time”, Murray Gold’s score is the end of an era for many of the themes and leitmotifs he’s been working with throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s entire tenure, so his soundtrack is an equal mix of new material and recycled music from the last three seasons. “A Probe In The Snow“, “Final Days“, “Cyber Army“, “The Emperor’s Wife“, “Can I Come With You?“, “Clara?“, “The Time Of Angels“, “The Leaf“, “A Troubled Man“, “Trenzalore“, “My Silence“, “The Majestic Tale“, “Remember Me” and “Infinite Potential” all make a comeback at some point in this story (“Infinite Potential” in particular creates a rather touching bookend to the emotional climax of “The Rings Of Akhaten“, the scene that really helped to solidify the Doctor and Clara’s tentative new friendship during their first journey together).

Meanwhile, with his new material, “The Crack” serves as an ominous throwback to the enigmatic bridge of “Little Amy“, when Amelia’s infamous crack in time becomes relevant to the plot once more. “Back To Christmas” is about as joyous, wintry and wholesome as Doctor Who music gets, while “Handles” is silly, bouncy and prim. “Snow Over Trenzalore” is an almost beat-for-beat reprise of “Home (Song For Four)“, a downbeat, melancholy little melody that Murray introduced in the previous episode. Clara’s theme is given some bittersweet remixes in “Beginning Of The End” and “This Is How It Ends“, as Clara slowly realizes that nothing between her and the Doctor will ever be the same again. And for the climax, Murray composes a souped-up hybrid of “This Is Gallifrey” and “The Doctor’s Theme Series Four” with “Never Tell Me The Rules“, as the time lords give the Doctor a heroic second wind.  

All in all, even though it could probably have used another good draft to round out its rougher edges, “The Time Of The Doctor” is a pretty strong and satisfactory regeneration story that ties up a lot of loose ends and sends off Matt Smith’s Doctor with a bang when he’s at his most heroic. The Eleventh Doctor had a good run throughout his three seasons – with Series 5 and 6 in particular featuring a lot of hard-hitting, high-quality stories – and I’ll always remember him as one of my favorite NuWho Doctors.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Time Of The Doctor Snow Over Trenzalore 5

* “Emergency! You’re my boyfriend!” “Ding dong. Okay, brilliant. I may be a bit rusty in some areas, but I will glance at a manual”.

* “No, no, you’re not actually my boyfriend!” “Oh, that was quick. It’s a roller coaster this phone call”.

* Series 7 is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to quality Doctor Who cringe. Early on, Clara walks in on the Doctor being totally naked and insists that he puts some holographic clothes on for the sake of her eyes. But when she brings him in to meet her family, she quickly realizes she’s the only one who can see the hologram. Oof.

* “Boss of the psycho space nuns. That’s so you”.

* Apparently, Clara has never seen the Apollo 11 landing. Because when she encounters the Silence, her first instinct is to run away in fear, and not to try to find the nearest sharp object so she can shank them.

* “I’m not an idiot. Everyone in this church is trained to see straight through holograms” “Ah, great“.

* Around late 2013, Matt Smith shaved his head for a role and is wearing a wig throughout this episode. Steven Moffat actually decided to incorporate his current baldness into the plot for a quick gag. Karen Gillan also shaved her head for a role at the time, so both of them are wearing wigs during their last scene together.

* “You shaved your head. Is that what happened to your eyebrows” “No, they’re just delicate”.

* “This town, what’s it called?” “It’s Christmas” “It’s July” So it’s Christmas in July.

* “A tiny sliver of June 26, 2010: the day the universe blew up” “I must have missed that”.

* “How’s your father’s barn?” “You’ve fixed the leak all right, but he says it’s bigger on the inside now” “Shhh, they’ll all want one”.

* “Come back. Handles? Handles! Oh… Thank you, Handles, and well done. Well done, mate”.

* “Why didn’t you call me? I could have helped” “I tried. I died in this room, screaming your name!” Oof, the Daleks weaponizing the dead will always be creepy.

* “See how the time lord betrays!” That’s a bit rich: a bunch of Daleks, probably the most two-faced villains in this show, sneering about betrayal.

* “Thank you” “None of this was for you, you fatuous egotist. It was for the peace!”

* “These crackers are rubbish” “They’re classy” “They don’t have jokes, they have poems” “They’re more dramatic crackers!”

* “Tell us a joke, Gran. You know loads of jokes” “I think we’re probably talking about my list now!” “Probably not” Clara telling her father’s rude girlfriend to shut up is just so satisfying.

* As an aside, Clara’s family probably grew very concerned for her. From their point of view, her ‘boyfriend’ shows up and is apparently a shameless nudist. Then he leaves and she starts crying uncontrollably over him. Then she runs off and ditches everyone, and probably never came back – because when the Doctor returns her to her own time in the next episode, it does not look like it’s Christmas day anymore.

* “And now it’s time for one last bow, like all your other selves. Eleven’s hour is over now. The clock is striking twelve’s”.

* “No. You’re going to stay here. Promise me you will” “Why?” “I’ll be keeping you safe. One last victory. Allow me that, give me that, my impossible girl. Thank you, and goodbye”.

* “You’ve been asking a question, and it’s time someone told you you’ve been getting it wrong. His name is the Doctor. That’s all the name he needs, everything you need to know about him. And if you love him, and you should, help him. Help him“.

* “Love from Gallifrey, boys!

* “We all change, when you think about it: we’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this: not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me”.

* “Raggedy Man, goodnight”.

* “Stay calm. Just one question: do you happen to know how to fly this thing?!” And it was at that point that Clara knew, she was totally screwed.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Time Of The Doctor Elderly Eleven 9

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Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor (2013) Review

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor Desktop 7

“The Day Of The Doctor”, penned by series showrunner Steven Moffat, is a rather special episode of Doctor Who (with higher production values than usual), that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the franchise. Before I dive into the nitty gritty of this review, I just want to say the fact that this episode exists at all is remarkable. There have been so many sci-fi series created over the years that never managed to get picked up beyond their pilot, or never really got off the ground beyond their first season, or they did have a nice, respectable run for a while but faded into obscurity once the series was wrapped up and they were slowly forgotten about. Doctor Who was created at just the right time – the middle of the 20th century, the golden age of science fiction – and the show blew up.

The core premise of the show – a time traveler and his friends wandering through the universe in a big blue box, solving problems in history every week – was an exciting one, because it meant the show could go anywhere at anytime the audience could imagine. The fact that the lead actor could easily step down and be replaced by someone else whenever it was necessary (due to the Doctor’s ability to ‘regenerate’) definitely played a large part in the series’ longevity, and I would say part of the fun of this series is seeing each subsequent actor bring something new and different to the role of the Doctor. Not only did Doctor Who stay on the air for decades, but when it was eventually cancelled in 1989, the show was revived from the dead a decade and a half later in 2005 and the modern incarnation of it blew up as well, appealing to people around the world as well as the UK. As far as television shows go, Doctor Who is truly something special, and the men and women who have worked on it over the years should feel proud of their legacy.

I’ve mentioned before that Doctor Who’s seventh season had a very troubled, chaotic production, as the series’ showrunner Steven Moffat nearly stretched himself too thin trying to handle a number of different challenges at once – and no episode epitomizes that chaos better than “The Day Of The Doctor”. In the months leading up to the 50th anniversary special, Christopher Eccleston decided not to return to the show for a guest appearance, for the same reason he left the series in the first place (the unhealthy work environment he had to deal with in Series 1, along with being blacklisted by the BBC after his departure, left a bad taste in his mouth). And Moffat’s next logical choice for a guest star was off-limits as well, since the BBC executives officially put the kibosh on making Paul McGann the Doctor who ended the time war, therefore John Hurt’s War Doctor had to be created fairly late in the game out of necessity.

Meanwhile, Matt Smith’s contract to appear in three seasons of Doctor Who officially ended with the previous episode, “The Name Of The Doctor“, and some negotiations had to be done with him to get him to appear in two more episodes to wrap up his tenure. There was also no guarantee that David Tennant would accept Moffat’s offer to return to the show as the Tenth Doctor, so for a long time the only person who was officially locked in to appear in this episode was Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald. Moffat has gone on record that he actually created a version of this episode’s script where Clara had to carry the entire show by herself, as a back-up plan for a worst-case scenario, and needless to say, that would have been a disaster. Just imagine a 50th anniversary special that’s meant to celebrate the legacy of this franchise, where the title character is almost entirely absent and the person who takes center stage is a companion who was only introduced nine episodes earlier. Thank goodness that didn’t happen, for Clara’s sake and Steven Moffat’s, because the internet would have blasted them both if it did. 

As it stands, “The Day Of The Doctor” was quite an event in November 2013 that sits alongside “The End Of Time” (the Tenth Doctor’s swansong), and “The Impossible Astronaut / Day Of The Moon” (the time the Doctor and his gang traveled to America). Not only was it broadcast on television like Doctor Who always is, but it was also released in some select theaters around the world. “The Day Of The Doctor” is stuffed to the brim with continuity nods to both Classic Who and New Who, to unite fans of the show from several different generations. David Tennant and Billie Piper, the two most recognizable actors from the RTD era, were brought back for the occasion, to help draw a crowd, and John Hurt, a veteran actor, made his first and only major appearance in the show as the War Doctor. Along with its status as a big birthday bash for Doctor Who as a whole, “The Day Of The Doctor” is also the penultimate episode of the Matt Smith era, and it serves as the middle act of a loose trilogy of episodes that brings the Eleventh Doctor’s character arc to a close.

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Notably, “The Day Of The Doctor” is the first multi-Doctor episode of NuWho: a story where several incarnations of the main character meet (unless you count the minisode, “Time Crash”, from the Tennant years as the first instance). The classic series had several of these back in the day: the main appeal of these episodes is watching the Doctor’s current actor team up with a former one and seeing how well they vibe together. Usually, there’s a lot of bickering and showing off (because twice the Doctor means twice the amount of ego). In “The Day Of The Doctor”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and and his new friend Clara are called in by Kate Stewart of UNIT to investigate some strange occurrences involving time lord technology in a museum, and a few Zygons running loose, impersonating people as part of a hostile takeover. This perplexing case (that initially doesn’t seem to be too different from his usual fare) ultimately leads to the Doctor doubling back on his own timeline, when he crosses paths with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor.

True to his character, Eleven is completely thrilled to be taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane, revisiting his previous life, and it quickly becomes apparent that he hasn’t changed much over the centuries since his time as Ten. Ten’s sarcastic personality clashes with Eleven’s indignant, stroppy nature in a very entertaining way, as the two of them seize every opportunity to wind the other up, and when you toss John Hurt’s War Doctor into the mix too as the long-suffering straight man of the group, things get even better. There are a bunch of different scenes in this episode where the three men are at odds with each other about something – especially whenever the more serious topic of the time war and their role in it is broached, since they all handle their grief and guilt in different ways. But at the end of the day, this episode validates the main lesson of Series 4’s “Forest Of The Dead” (that was also written by Moffat): no matter how young or old he is, or what face he has, the Doctor will always be the Doctor, and the Doctor will always strive to do his best.

“The Day Of The Doctor” does have some narrative weight to it, and some long-lasting consequences, beyond just being seventy-five minutes of gleeful nostalgia and fanservice. This episode is the climax of the time war arc that has followed the Doctor around ever since Russell T. Davies relaunched the show in 2005, and it fully acknowledges how much this storyline has come to define the Doctor’s character and his sense of morality in NuWho. Between the classic series and the new series, the Doctor committed double genocide to stop the Daleks and the time lords from destroying the universe, and had to live with that burden on his soul for lifetimes afterwards. He’s done a lot of reflection over his actions that he told himself were for the greater good over the last seven seasons, and a lot of agonizing over them as well, and in this episode both he and Steven Moffat finally rebukes them for good.

From the War Doctor’s perspective, the final outcome of the time war is still in flux, since all three Doctors are currently part of a stable time loop. The Doctor has been given a once in a lifetime to chance to re-write his own past and make the right choice this time, and he grabs it with both hands. He decides to take an enormous risk and save Gallifrey, by freezing it in a pocket universe. When he calls in for some back-up, we’re treated to the truly awesome sight of thirteen Doctors teaming up and combining their strength to pull off this mission, including one who hasn’t even been born yet (the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, shows up too for a cameo). Thanks to the Doctor’s ingenuity, the mission is a success and as far as anyone else knows, history went unchanged. The Doctor will have no memory of what he did until Eleven’s time, which ensures that Series 1 to 7 will still play out the same with the Doctor still making the same decisions. But Gallifrey is still out there somewhere, hidden away in a pocket universe, and now the Doctor has a brand new mission for the latter half of the Moffat era: finding his old home world again (which eventually pays off in the Series 9 finale, “Hell Bent”).

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Over the course of Series 7, Steven Moffat has been steadily re-introducing continuity from the RTD era that he had previously let rest (so his era in the show could have a fresh start), and that trend comes to a head in this episode, when the Tenth Doctor returns for a guest appearance. This story takes place near the end of Ten’s life (between “The Waters Of Mars” and “The End Of Time”), which was a very turbulent, depressing and directionless period for him. He’s still traveling alone, having sworn off companions entirely after what happened to poor Donna; he’s still running away from the vague and terrifying future that Carmen predicted for him with her ‘four knocks’ prophecy; and he’s still haunted by the horror of what happened with Adelaide Brooke and the Flood. David Tennant steps back into his old role again, after he had been away from the show for three years at the time, and it feels like he never left it, because he’s still just as fun and charismatic as ever. The Tenth Doctor was always designed to be a reckless daredevil and a romantic action hero who was far too clever to be contained, but he’s very much out of his depth for a change in this story and frequently pushed out of his comfort zone.

There are a lot of jokes made at Ten’s expense throughout this special, and most of them involve the Zygons and his new ‘paramour’: the totally lovesick, surprisingly resourceful and impressively ruthless Queen Elizabeth the first. Every time the Doctor tries to be clever and make a brilliant deduction about whether she’s the real deal or a Zygon impostor, he’s always several steps behind everyone else – to say nothing of the kisses Elizabeth and her Zygon duplicate keep springing on him. Back during the RTD era, a lot of people mocked the fact that the Tenth Doctor seemed to be given a gratuitous makeout scene with every major female character that came along (even Donna got one in “The Unicorn And The Wasp“), so this running gag honestly does feel like Doctor Who parodying itself. In “The Shakespeare Code“, we learned the Doctor did something to get on Queen Elizabeth’s bad side for years, and we never found out what it was – until now. As it turns out, the Doctor led her on to solve a case, agreed to marry her, and then ditched her right after the ceremony. Yep, that would do it. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Of course, the highlight of Ten’s role in this episode would be all the scenes he shares with Eleven, his future self. Compared to several other match-ups we’ve seen in previous multi-Doctor stories, Ten and Eleven have a lot in common: they’re both energetic, extroverted and fairly immature incarnations, who can be very boastful and self-assured about their skills. David and Matt have a good amount of onscreen chemistry, and it’s fun to watch their Doctors try to one-up each other when it comes to taking cheap shots at each other’s expense (Eleven in particular can be very savage). But there are some fundamental differences between them as well, which Steven Moffat draws attention to during a scene where all three Doctors are locked up in a cell together. After years of carrying around regrets over the time war, the Eleventh Doctor eventually decided to bury his past and do his best to forget it ever happened, in a failed attempt to move on with his life – because as we all know, Eleven is your classic Stepford Smiler.

As much as the Tenth Doctor likes to avoid the subject of Gallifrey with his friends, his past still means a lot to him. He spent a lot of time working through all that fresh grief, anger and guilt in his last life as Nine, and he tries to use it to hold himself to a mark: he’s come to let his status as the last of the time lords define him. As far as he’s concerned, his future self’s mindset is very shameful and cowardly, and for a few moments, Eleven is not someone he would want to become. Still, all three Doctors are given a much-needed reminder that they’re still the same man at their core, once they’re united under the same cause. The final year of the Tenth Doctor’s life (after “The Waters Of Mars”) was easily his biggest low point, where he basically hit rock bottom, which makes the events of this special, where he rises up again, all the more meaningful for him. The Doctor does what he does best and saves the world by staying true to himself and his principles – finding a third option when there only seems to be two terrible choices available – and as a result, he finally manages to find some measure of redemption for his part in the time war. He can feel some pride in his title again, and even if Ten (like War) will never remember what he did, he still did good in this story.

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The War Doctor is portrayed by the late, great John Hurt, and much like Derek Jacobi’s Master in “Utopia“, he manages to be a pretty memorable character, even if he only appeared in one story. During the gap between the classic series and the modern series, when the time war broke out across the universe and every time lord available was called to fight in it, the Doctor reached a crossroads in his life where he made a decision that would change him forever. He decided to go against his creed – the core principles that he’s held himself to for centuries, that make him who he is as a person – for the greater good of the universe. He spent centuries fighting the Daleks – using every weapon he could find, utilizing his razor sharp intellect against the enemy to deadly effect – until he was almost completely worn out, and it still wasn’t enough. The time lords still met their match, and were still losing ground to the Daleks. 

After centuries of combat, the War Doctor is really feeling his advanced age in the current day, and he’s ready to end the madness of the time war at any cost. The Daleks and the Time Lords are both fully prepared to destroy each other in a war that neither side can win, and they will most certainly take the whole of reality down with them – since Gallifrey’s ruler, Rassilon has completely lost his mind and been consumed by his own god complex. So the Doctor decides to use the Moment, a time lord weapon of mass destruction, to end the war. The Moment is an interesting concept for a plot device: a sentient bomb that has enough self-awareness to go against her basic programming and gain her own conscience. Instead of taking lives, she wants to save as many as possible, and she’s perfectly willing to bend reality to will to prevent anyone from using her devastating powers against their enemies. It’s exactly the sort of bizarre, and strangely touching, idea that you would expect to see from a show like Doctor Who.

The Moment is portrayed by Billie Piper, taking the form of Rose Tyler (the most notable companion from the RTD era who’s strongly tied to the Doctor’s time war arc), and she has a very scatter-brained, enigmatic personality that reminds me a lot of Idris (the TARDIS in human form) from “The Doctor’s Wife“. The Moment appears before the Doctor, on the eve of his terrible decision, and shows him his future, like a Christmas ghost, to try to persuade him to change his mind. As she takes him out of his time, into his personal future, the events of this episode become your classic stable loop (that would you expect from Steven Moffat at this point) like “Blink“.

All three of the Doctors that we see in this episode represent a different period in the franchise for this 50th anniversary birthday bash: Eleven obviously represents the dark whimsy of the Moffat era, Ten represents the campy superhero antics of the RTD era, and the War Doctor (like the Eight Doctor before him) basically serves as a bridge between the classic series and the modern series. Doctor Who pokes a lot of fun at itself throughout this episode, as Steven Moffat repeatedly points out how ridiculous and undignified Ten and Eleven can both be, compared to the way the classic Doctors were written. The War Doctor criticizes them both heavily, and at one point he wonders if he’s having a mid-life crisis in his future (he mostly definitely is). However, he also concedes that they both grew up to be better men than he was, partially because they learned and grew from his experiences, and resolved not to make the same mistakes he did. They lived up to their titles as best as they could, and became the sort of heroes people could look up to again – they even inspire the War Doctor himself in the end.

The B-plot of this episode revolves around the three Doctors and Clara thwarting an attempted invasion of Earth by the Zygons, and stopping a clash between them and UNIT that eventually becomes so serious that London is at risk of being nuked. This conflict is obviously meant to be a small-scale echo of the way the time war ended – with mutually assured destruction from both sides. Unlike in “Cold War“, where the Doctor was faced with this kind of doomsday scenario and ultimately got swept up into it because he couldn’t see another way out of it, Ten and Eleven handily side-swipe the humans’ and the Zygons’ respective bluffs and force them all to sort of their problems peacefully – whether they want to or not – by being the most fiendishly clever men in the room and outsmarting them. When he returns to his own time, the War Doctor initially resigns himself to doing what has to be done to save everyone, taking a small bit of comfort in the knowledge that he’ll become a better person again in the future, and his future selves decide to stand by him by helping him push the button, which is both sad and touching.

For so long, Ten and Eleven tried to memory-hole him and disassociate themselves from him out of shame, but here they finally make peace with their past by accepting him as a part them, an important part of their journey: they quite literally reconcile with themselves. However, instead of making the same choice all over again and letting history play out unchanged, the Doctor decides to do what he does best and takes a third option – with a little encouragement from Clara and the Moment. If there isn’t a third option currently on the table, he’ll just have to make one. The Doctor’s last-ditch plan to save Gallifrey and destroy the Daleks is a complete success, and afterwards, all three Doctors have a gained newfound peace with themselves, even if sadly, two of them won’t get to enjoy it for long. The universe is safe again for the time being, and the War Doctor’s business is officially done, which means he’s ready to renew himself and regenerate into his next life as Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, where he’ll go on to meet Rose Tyler, have many great adventures with her, and reinvent himself all over again as the man we know him as today.

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor The Painting

Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) has got a brand new job, working as a teacher at Coal Hill Secondary School (the same school Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton worked at in 1963, as another nostalgic nod towards the classic series). Unless Clara already had all the right credentials to land herself a teaching job when we first met her, there’s obviously been a significant time skip for her and Eleven since the last episode. Now that she’s gained the Doctor’s trust and learned about his previous lives, she’s become a close confidante of his, and he’s finally started to tell her more about his troubled past. Compared to many of her previous appearances in Series 7B, Clara isn’t given a lot to do in this story, since this episode’s focus is kept firmly on the Doctor. However, she does manage to make a few important contributions in this adventure: like snatching up a handy vortex manipulator, or figuring out the War Doctor’s secrets. Clara is a sharp person and she has that little bit of human intuition in her that allows her to spot things that the Doctor might have missed beforehand: suffice to say, that talent comes in handy more than once.

By this point, Clara has known the Doctor long enough that she can read his emotions like a book, and pick up on his subtle tells (the same way Amy and River could). Like all of the Doctor’s companions, Clara has become the heart of the TARDIS team and the time lord’s secondary, human conscience. She helps him stay steady and true to his self-determined path and remain the hero that she knows him to be, the hero she looks up to. She makes an impassioned plea to the War Doctor to try to change his destiny, and she later encourages Eleven to do the impossible, because thousands of people are counting on him to do the right thing – which is a nice reversal of the kind of impact the Doctor had on her, back in “The Rings Of Akhaten“. Even though Clara isn’t given a lot to do in this episode, “The Day Of The Doctor” is another good showcase of why the companions have their own important role to play in this show, and Clara is certainly works well as a kind, stabilizing force in the TARDIS. Though it won’t be long before her friendly, laidback dynamic with Eleven is given a major shake-up, since the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration story is right around the corner in “The Time Of The Doctor“.

After she was previously introduced in “The Power Of Three“, Kate Stewart, the head of UNIT, makes her return in this episode, and she also brings along her scientific advisor, Osgood: an in-universe Doctor Who fangirl, who’s currently living the dream of nerdy girls everywhere. UNIT is currently investigating the Zygons, a race of blobby, pink, shape-shifting aliens from the classic series who are currently trying to use time lord technology to invade the Earth and make it their new home. For the 50th anniversary of the show, Series 7 has brought back a lot of iconic, crowd-pleasing aliens – legacy villains – like the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels, the Ice Warriors, the Sontarans, the Silurians, and now the Zygons. Everyone except the Master really (and even Missy got a small mention in “The Bells Of Saint John“). Notably, the Zygons are hostile and dangerous, but they aren’t portrayed as being irredeemably evil, anymore than humanity usually is in this show.

As the conflict between UNIT and the Zygons reaches a fever pitch, the organization’s fatal flaw once again becomes apparent: they usually try to match force with force, and they’re always very quick to reach for the nuclear option when it comes to handling alien threats. The Doctor manages to force both the humans and the Zygons to stand down, and eventually work out a peace treaty where they both agree to share the Earth. That’s a pretty big divergence from the show’s usual status quo, and the long-term ramifications of that decision will eventually be explored later in “The Zygon Invasion”. Lastly, Tom Baker (who played the iconic Fourth Doctor in the classic series) has a small cameo in this episode as the Curator, another incarnation of the Doctor from his distant future. In a story that spent so much time looking back on the Doctor’s past, it feels right that we’re also given some tantalizing hints about a possible future for him. The Curator’s presence reassures us that even with the threat of Trenzalore looming overhead, the Doctor will still be around for a long, long time, and he’ll still have many more adventures to come – including a few we’ll probably never be privy to.

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“The Day Of The Doctor” is directed by Nick Hurran, who’s proven himself to be one of the standout directors of the Moffat era (alongside Toby Haynes and Saul Metzstein) by handling some real, visually stunning gems like “The Girl Who Waited“, “The God Complex“, “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Angels Take Manhattan“. You can always count on Nick to bring a story to life with plenty of style and flair, while also making a few unorthodox perspective choices along the way: he especially seems to have fun with the various flashbacks and flashforwards that are scattered across this episode. If I have one complaint (that taps into an old pet peeve of mine), it’s that there are almost too many slow-motion shots in this episode. When it comes to action scenes, an overabundance of slow-motion can start to feel a bit too try-hard and pretentious in my book. “The Day Of The Doctor” had a higher budget than most episodes, and the entire story was filmed in 3-D for the sake of the theatrical release, so even by Series 7’s already high standards, the cinematography in this episode looks great – particularly the desert scenes set on Gallifrey. Location shooting for this episode was done in Cardiff Bay, Ivy Tower in Tonna, Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire, and Trafalgar Square in London.

The costume and wardrobe department is once again given the task of redesigning an alien race from the classic series in this episode, and they largely stay true to the Zygons’ old look while also making them a bit bulkier, to make them seem even more intimidating. Like several other stories in Series 7, Murray Gold’s score reuses a lot of old music from previous episodes, which is actually quite odd, since he composed a whole album’s worth of new material that largely went unused. However, I don’t have a problem with this story bringing back a lot of important old themes and melodies (like “The Doctor’s Theme“, “The Doctor Forever“, “I Am The Doctor“, “Clara?“, “The Slitheen“, “Westminster Bridge“, “Trenzalore“, “The Dark And Endless Dalek Night“, “The Leaf“, “The Sad Man With A Box” and “The Wedding Of River Song“), because it feels appropriate for a nostalgia tour through the last seven seasons of NuWho. The climax features a seven minute suite of music called “This Time There’s Three Of Us“, that unites the Tenth Doctor’s era, the Eleventh Doctor’s era, and even the Twelfth Doctor’s era by tying together “Altering Lives“, “The Majestic Tale“, and a significant melody that will later become “The Shepherd’s Boy“, the Twelfth Doctor’s secondary theme in his own tenure.

All things considered, “The Day Of The Doctor” is a rousing success as a big birthday bash for Doctor Who. Watching Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt bounce off of each other in the same episode portraying three different versions of the same character, is a hell of a lot of fun, and this special gives the show exactly the sort of major status quo shake-up it should have for a once in a lifetime occasion. The latter half of the Moffat era will be quite a different beast from the first half, and it’s all thanks to this episode.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

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* John Hurt passed away in January 2017. May he rest in peace.

* “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be, be one – Marcus Aurelius” Heh, that’s a nice bit of foreshadowing for the Doctor’s character arc in Series 8.

* The Tenth Doctor looks slightly different than usual in this episode (besides the fact that David Tennant has aged a few more years since we last him), and it took me a while to figure out what it is. Ten’s hair is combed down in this story, when I’m used to it being spiky and unkempt all the time. 

* “Ding!” “What’s that?” “It’s a machine that goes ding!”

* “Oh, it was the horse! I’m going to be king!”

* “I’ll hold it off, you run. Your people need you” “And I need you alive for our wedding day!”

* “Compensating?” “For what?” “Regeneration. It’s a lottery”.

* “Listen, what you get up to in the privacy of your own regeneration is your business” “One of them is a Zygon” “Urgh. I’m not judging you” Well, at least we know the Doctor doesn’t kink-shame.

* “I’m looking for the Doctor. Are you his companions?” “His companions?!” “They get younger all the time”.

* “Am I talking to the wicked witch of the well?” “He means you” “Why am I the witch?”

* “Right. Prattling mortals, off you pop, or I’ll turn you all into frogs!” Clara, is that really the best you can do? Because that effort was pathetic.

* “That is not the queen of England, that’s an alien duplicate!” “And you can take it from him, cause he’s really checked” “Oh, shut up!”.

* The scene where Osgood figures out the Zygons have infiltrated the museum by disguising themselves as statues always gets a chuckle out of me. Her co-worker keeps droning on about something, while she just silently reaches for her inhaler and takes a deep breath, as she realizes that they’re both totally screwed.

* “So jealous of your pretty sister. I don’t blame you. I wish I’d copied her” Damn, that’s bitchy.

* “Er, Kate, should they be here? Why have they followed us?” “Oh, they’ve probably just finished disposing of the humans a bit early” And it was that point that Clara knew, she was in trouble.

* “These Zygon creatures never even considered that it was me who survived rather than their own commander. The arrogance that typifies their kind!” “Zygons?” “Men“.

* “Is there a lot of this in the future?” “It does start to happen, yeah”.

* “Hey, look. The round things!” “I love the round things” “What are the round things?” “No idea”.

* “We don’t need to land” “Yeah, we do. A tiny bit. Try and keep up” Sassy Ten.

* “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame, whatever the cost”.

* “We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero” “Then what do I do?” “What you’ve always done. Be a doctor”.

* “You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise?” “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in”.

* “Oh, Bad Wolf girl, I could kiss you!” “Yeah, that’s going to happen” And it was quite a kiss.

* “I didn’t know when I was well off. All twelve of them!” “No, sir. All thirteen!”

* “Well, gentlemen, it has been an honor and a privilege. And if I grow to be half the man that you are, Clara Oswald, I shall be happy indeed” The War Doc slips in one last savage jab before he departs.

* “Clara sometimes asks me if I dream. Of course I dream, I tell her. Everybody dreams. But what do you dream about, she’ll ask. The same thing everybody dreams about, I tell her. I dream about where I’m going. She always laughs at that. But you’re not going anywhere, you’re just wandering about. That’s not true. Not any more. I have a new destination. My journey is the same as yours, the same as anyone’s. It’s taken me so many years, so many lifetimes, but at last I know where I’m going. Where I’ve always been going. Home, the long way round“.

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: The Name Of The Doctor (2013) Review

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor To Save The Doctor 2

In the Series 7 finale of Doctor Who, the Great Intelligence finally returns to take his revenge on everyone’s favorite time lord, the Doctor is forced to reveal some of his greatest secrets to his friends, and Clara Oswald flies off to meet her destiny on Trenzalore. Like several of Steven Moffat’s previous stories, “The Name Of The Doctor” starts in media res: Clara Oswald is tumbling down a swirling, orange vortex, trying to spread her influence as far across the universe as she can with a singular, pressing goal in mind. As the cold open continues to unfold and the audience finally starts to receive some answers about the mystery of her existence, we’re treated to lots and lots of fanservice as Clara encounters all of the Doctor’s previous faces – from William Hartnell to Matt Smith. She keeps trying and failing to get his attention, because she’s on a mission to save his life. It’s one hell of a way to start an episode, and it certainly signifies that the Series 7 finale will be a game-changer: thankfully the rest of this episode delivers on that opening promise.

The latter half of Series 7 has had a pretty solid run of episodes from “The Snowmen” to “The Name Of The Doctor”, and now that another season of Doctor Who has come to an end, it’s time for Steven Moffat to start tying up the various plot threads of Series 7B. I generally like Series 6 more than Series 7 (it’s a lot more cohesive as a whole), but I will say that “The Name Of The Doctor” pulls off being a single-episode finale in a much more satisfying way than “The Wedding Of River Song” did. Much like “The Angels Take Manhattan” earlier this year, the script for this episode is very tightly written. Not a single moment is wasted, and the plot is always moving forward, so it never drags. However, Moffat still makes time for some nice character-building moments in-between the drama, so this finale still has a heart to it along with plenty of spectacle.

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor A Secret He Will Take To His Grave 6

As a prelude to the show’s fiftieth anniversary special and the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration story (“The Time Of The Doctor“), “The Name Of The Doctor” is a very Doctor-centric episode. However, much like in “The Crimson Horror“, the Doctor doesn’t actually appear until the second act, and the focus is initially kept upon his friends stumbling upon some horrible news before he does. Thanks to the Great Intelligence kidnapping his friends, the Doctor is forced to go to Trenzalore, a place of great importance in his own personal future that was previously teased in the last season finale. The ‘Silence will fall’ arc dominated Series 5 and 6 at every twist and turn, but it’s noticeably been put on the backburner for almost the entirety of Series 7. Here it starts advancing again, because Steven Moffat is ready to wrap it up.

Trenzalore is revealed to be the Doctor’s gravesite, a post-apocalyptic world where he’s finally killed as one more causality in a great, galactic war. It’s an impressive feat that this revelation doesn’t feel like a boring rethread of the Lake Silencio arc from last season, and a large part of that is due to Matt Smith, who does a great job of selling the material. The Doctor, being a genius, figured out Trenzalore’s true significance a while ago, and he grows very distraught when he realizes it’s finally time for him to face it – the place his life has always been heading to, ever since his time in this body began in “The Eleventh Hour“. The Eleventh Doctor notoriously hates endings, so it’s very fitting the last thing he should have to face in his final stretch of episodes is his own potential end once more, and this time, there isn’t a handy Teselecta around to save him. Eleven spends a lot of his final three episodes putting his affairs in order: whether it’s undoing the greatest regret of his life, saying goodbye to his deceased wife, or preventing another horrific war from breaking out across the universe.

As you’ll recall from “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the one place in the universe where a time traveler should never, ever go is their own grave, because doing that is the best way to set that potential future in stone. The TARDIS (who’s as loyal as ever) is still protecting the Doctor’s final resting place on Trenzalore, and the Great Intelligence tries to take advantage of that to rewrite the Doctor’s entire life, but Clara steps in and takes some extreme measures to stop him. After he had already suspected as much in “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS“, the Doctor is given full confirmation here that he completely misjudged Clara, and his personal estimation of her grows massively after this adventure. Thanks to Clara, the Great Intelligence is defeated, and the Doctor’s secrets stay within his small inner circle of friends.

At the last minute, Moffat pulls off his usual bait-and-switch style of plotting. The title of this episode teases that the show will reveal the Doctor’s original name, when of course it does no such thing. Moffat knows that nothing he could come up with could live up to fifty years of fan speculation, so he leaves it as an eternal mystery. Instead, he decides to focus on how insignificant the Doctor’s birth name is to him compared to his chosen title (a mindset that Moffat has been alluding to ever since “The Beast Below“) and tie that into a different secret he’s keeping. A long time ago, the Doctor did something so terrible, so fundamentally opposed to who he is as a person that he temporarily renounced his name and completely buried that part of his life. In the episode’s final minutes, we discover the Doctor used to be John Hurt in a past life, a reveal so angsty that it makes Clara pass out (she had had a very long day). We’re introduced to the Doctor who ended the time war in a fire, by destroying Daleks and Time Lords alike, which sets the stage for “The Day Of The Doctor“, the climax of the time war arc that’s been running for seven seasons.

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Remember Me 8

In “The Name Of The Doctor”, the Doctor’s friends receive a message that one of his greatest secrets has been uncovered, so they gather together to formulate a plan, and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is swept along for the ride. Clara meets Professor River Song in this episode, and after the initial awkwardness you would expect between two women who both love the same man, they work together quite well. It’s always a special treat to see a former companion meet a current companion and start swapping stories, and it happens a lot less often in the Moffat era than it did in the Davies era. After feeling curious about him a few times in Series 7B, Clara is given an opportunity to learn more about the Doctor and his life before her: his past, his future, his loves and some of his secrets.

Clara proves herself to be a true friend in the latter half of this episode. As the Great Intelligence forces the Doctor’s hand, Clara shows her full support and goes with him into the belly of the beast, to face monsters and certain death, so he won’t have to save his other friends alone. During their rescue mission, Clara finally regains her memories of everything she experienced in “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”, including their talk about her past lives. She confronts the Doctor about it once again, but they don’t have much time to dwell on it, because they have much more pressing matters to deal with. The Great Intelligence decides to scatter himself along the Doctor’s timeline and utterly destroy his life, by changing all the most significant events in his past for the worst. Since the Doctor has been sorting out the world’s problems for centuries, if his life was destroyed, there would be massive repercussions for the rest of the universe as well. We saw what happened when a few years of his life were undone in “Turn Left“: the consequences of his entire life unraveling, ever since he left Gallifrey, would be unfathomable.

So Clara decides to jump into the Doctor’s time-stream as well, to save her friend and the universe. She’s reincarnated throughout history, creating countless doppelgangers of herself on many of the worlds the Doctor has been to, to try to undo the damage the Great Intelligence did and put the timeline back the way it ought to be. Her echoes only become directly involved with the Doctor’s past a few times, like in “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Snowmen”. This revelation about who she is is incredibly heartwarming. Throughout Series 7B, a big mistake that the Doctor has kept making is that he’s been so focused on what Clara might be, that he’s frequently overlooked who she is as a person. In the end, Clara saved the world and became the Impossible Girl because she’s a very brave and selfless person, which is something we’ve known about her ever since she earned her stripes as a companion in “The Rings Of Akhaten“.

She did what many of the Doctor’s friends would have done in her place, because the companions are more than just audience surrogates in this show: they often represent some of the best traits humanity has to offer. The Doctor and River claim her decision will be fatal, but luckily Clara has something the Great Intelligence didn’t have: main character plot armor. The Doctor goes in after her to repay the favor she did him, by risking his existence to save her life. Afterwards, Clara becomes one of the more knowledgeable companions in the series who’s gotten a glimpse of all the Doctor’s past faces, which feels fitting for a character who was introduced during the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary. The Doctor and Clara have shared a very special experience, and their friendship only grows stronger after this. Clara goes from being a friend to a confidante, who the Doctor knows with full certainty he can trust, and his respect for her continues to grow as well.

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Farewell 10

Throughout the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, it’s become traditional for Steven Moffat to bring River Song (Alex Kingston) back a few times per season, to flesh out her character, advance her love story with the Doctor, and spice up the usual character dynamics in the Doctor’s team – and you know I always love to see more of her. However, “The Name Of The Doctor” officially brings that tradition to an end, since this episode is River’s second-to-last appearance in the series (to date). Over the last three seasons, we’ve been journeying further and further back into River’s timeline, learning more about her history and her core principles that shaped her personality. But in this adventure, we revisit her ultimate fate from “Forest Of The Dead“, to see how she’s faring.

From River’s perspective, “The Name Of The Doctor” is set after her final, fateful expedition to the Library, where she gave her life to save thousands of people. The Doctor saved her soul and uploaded it to the Library’s data-core, as a final gift of love from him, but “The Name Of The Doctor” draws attention to the fact that he never actually considered if she would want him to do that. He didn’t want to let her go entirely, and he felt he owed her a good eternal afterlife, so he tampered with her death, which is the sort of the thing the show will go on to scold the Twelfth Doctor for (several times) in Series 9. As we saw in “Forest Of The Dead”, River has made peace with the fact that her mortal life is over, but there’s still one last thing she needs to do before she can be ready to move on completely. Ever since she died, the Doctor hasn’t tried to visit her in the Library, even if such a thing were possible (with the Vashta Nerada still swarming around). Instead, he’s kept on having adventures with younger and younger versions of her, that are still flesh and blood and alive, because he doesn’t want to face the fact that his wife is currently gone.

This sad and sobering discovery is completely in line with how Steven Moffat characterized the Doctor in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, along with how he’ll later portray him in Series 9. The Doctor is a man who hates endings, so he’s been stubbornly avoiding loss in his past and his future. Throughout this episode, the Doctor is being haunted by his unfinished business that he can no longer avoid, so River’s appearance here among the mix is very fitting as well, if depressing. River is effectively a ghost now, and for once she can’t physically help our heroes: she can only aid them indirectly, by whispering advice into their ears from the sidelines, which has to be incredibly frustrating for her, but she still manages to make a big difference. She develops a short-lived bond with Clara, due to a psychic link they wind up sharing, and we get the traditional passing of the torch between a former companion and a current companion, when River returns to her final resting place in the Library while Clara continues to travel onwards with the man they both care for.

This whole experience with Trenzalore makes the Doctor realize it’s time for him to face the cold, hard truth of River’s demise and give her the closure she deserves. He does something he rarely ever does, say goodbye to one of the great loves of his life, and the two of them share one final kiss in a beautiful scene that tugs on your heartstrings (especially if you’re a Doctor / River shipper, like I am). Moffat has decided to put a bow on the Doctor’s relationship with River Song, since Matt Smith is on his way out from the series and the Eleventh Doctor’s era is about to come to an end. However, this isn’t the Doctor and River’s final farewell: Moffat will revisit their love story again one last time in another two seasons, and in the meantime, River’s departure is left just open-ended enough to allow for another potential return of her data ghost in the future.

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor I Am Information 4

“The Name Of The Doctor” is also the second-to-last appearance of the Paternoster Gang, who have been a charming group of supporting characters throughout Series 7B. We’re given a quick update of how they’re faring in Victorian era England, where we discover that Strax likes to get his kicks by fighting Scotsmen for fun in Glasgow (it seems Moffat can never resist a good dig at his homeland). The mystery-solving trio puts together an emergency meeting of the Doctor’s friends to discuss a looming threat, because even now they’re still watching his back. The conference call scene is very weird and trippy, but it’s also a bit heartwarming. Here you have a group of vastly different people, who all come from many different walks of life, but they all have one thing in common: they’ve all had their lives touched by the Doctor somehow, and now Clara is a part of that inner circle as well.

Compared to their last couple of appearances, Vastra, Jenny and Strax are rendered a lot more powerless than usual in this episode, when a madman decides to use them as live bait in his trap for the Doctor, and things rapidly go downhill for the trio from there. Madam Vastra in particular is really put through the wringer in this episode, when she loses her wife, Jenny, twice in two incredibly messed-up ways, and she’s forced to shoot Strax to stop Strax from shooting her because of the Great Intelligence. The trio’s friendship with the Doctor is a major component of this episode’s plot, and it’s shown to be completely reciprocated on his end. They helped him cope during a dark period of his life, when he lost the Ponds and he was deeply depressed. And even if it didn’t seem like it at the time in “The Snowmen”, he feels immense gratitude towards them and is very loyal to them: the idea of not going to save them from their horrible fate on Trenzalore is never even an option to him in his head, which is also heartwarming to see.

It’s been a while since the Great Intelligence made his big return to Doctor Who in “The Snowmen”. Ever since his initial defeat, he’s been building his strength back up in the shadows of Series 7B (particularly in “The Bells Of Saint John“), and now he’s ready to strike back again. He’s accompanied by a group of faceless ghouls called the Whispermen, who spend all their time reciting creepy nursery rhymes about death to unnerve people (your standard Moffat tropes). He doesn’t waste any time kidnapping Vastra, Jenny and Strax so he can use them as hostages and force the Doctor to bend to his will. He was already a vengeful and vindictive creature beforehand, but now he’s gone completely insane. He’s given up on conquering the world: the only thing he wants is to destroy the people who have repeatedly destroyed him, even if he has to commit suicide to do it.

The Doctor crossed paths with the Great Intelligence a few times in the classic series, and defeated him there too. However, if you’ve only seen NuWho, his obsessive vendetta against the Doctor seems weirdly underdeveloped, since he’s only encountered Eleven twice before now and he’s willing to kill himself in the most permanent way possible just to ruin the Doctor’s life. Imagine if every member of the Doctor’s rogues gallery was that petty and extreme. Compared to the Master, the Cult of Skaro, the Silence and the Alliance, the Great Intelligence is probably the least interesting endgame villain we’ve had so far in Doctor Who. There’s not that much to him, and he mainly acts as a plot device to set the rest of this episode in motion. In that regard, he serves his purpose well, and I do like the irony of why his scheme ultimately fails. He focused all of his wrath towards the Doctor and disregarded his friends as nothing more than useful tools, when he really should have been gunning for Clara just as much as the Doc (who has played a role in all three of his losses).

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Showdown 2

“The Name Of The Doctor” is directed by Saul Metzstein, and out of the five stories he’s helmed in Series 7, “The Name Of The Doctor” is definitely the most dazzling one. For the most part, Series 7 has been a very visually lively season when it comes to the lighting and color-grading. Stories like “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship“, “A Town Called Mercy“, “The Bells Of Saint John”, “Cold War“, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “Nightmare In Silver” have been filled with bold, striking colors everywhere, contrasting each other to a beautiful effect. So by comparison, the dull, muted color scheme and rusty grey atmosphere that’s constantly lurking around in this episode really sticks out, and it does a great job of setting the ominous, morbid tone of this finale: a lot like the two horror-themed episodes of Series 7A, “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Angels Take Manhattan”.

The special effects work from the BBC Wales VFX team is pretty superb, just like it has been all season: with some gorgeously crafted shots of Clara plummeting down the Doctor’s time-stream, some equally beautiful establishing shots of both Gallifrey and Trenzalore, and some clever green-screen trickery to create the illusion of Clara interacting with some of the classic Doctors. With Murray Gold’s score, the series’ composer brings back the bombastic “This Is Gallifrey” in his opening cue, “To Save The Doctor“, and gives it a more subdued presentation in “A Secret He Will Take To His Grave“. He writes a lot of gloomy and depressing pieces for this episode like “Trenzalore“, “I Am Information” and “Pain Everlasting“, to underscore just how bleak the war-torn world of Trenzalore is. Clara’s theme is reprised again in “A Letter For Clara” and “Remember Me“, the latter of which takes a triumphant turn during the climax when Clara steps up to save the day. Murray also brings back “The Wedding Of River Song“, one of the main themes of Series 6, for the Doctor and River’s farewell in the last act.

The Impossible Girl arc has honestly been a pretty average story arc for Doctor Who, but the way it wraps up in “The Name Of The Doctor” certainly sends out Series 7B with a bang. As its own standalone story, “The Name Of The Doctor” is quite a ride, and as the first act of a three-part saga, it builds up a lot of excitement for everything else that will follow it, as the Eleventh Doctor’s era draws to a close.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Rescuing Clara 7

* “I don’t know where I am. It’s like I’m breaking into a million pieces and there’s only one thing I remember: I have to save the Doctor. He always looks different, but I always know it’s him. Sometimes I think I’m everywhere at once, running every second just to find him, just to save him. But he never hears me… almost never. I blew into this world on a leaf. I’m still blowing. I don’t think I’ll ever land. I’m Clara Oswald, I’m the Impossible Girl, I was born to save the Doctor“.

* “One word from you could save me from the rope!” “Then you may rely on my silence”.

* “Where’s Strax got to?” “The usual. It’s his weekend off” “Ugh, I wish he’d never discovered that place”.

* “Was your mom deep on puddings?” “She was a great woman”.

* “Professor River Song. The Doctor might have mentioned me?” “Oh, yeah, of course he has. Sorry, it’s just I never realized you were a woman” “….” “Well, neither did I” Hot damn, Strax.

* “The Doctor does not discuss his secrets with anyone, my dear. If you’re still entertaining the idea that you are an exception to this rule, ask yourself one question. What is his name?”

* “You didn’t listen, did you? You lot never do. That’s the problem. ‘The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave: it is discovered‘, He wasn’t talking about my secret. No, no, no, that’s not what’s been found. He was talking about my grave. Trenzalore is where I’m buried“.

* “Doctor, you just said it’s the one place you must never go” “I have to save Vastra and Strax. Jenny too, if it’s still possible. They cared for me during the dark times. Never questioned me, never judged me, they were just kind. I owe them, I have a duty”.

* “So, how do we get down there? Do we jump?” “Don’t be silly. We fall. She’s turned off practically everything, except the anti-gravs. Guess what I’m turning off?”

* “Yes, makes sense! They’d never bury my wife out here!” “YOUR WHAT?!” You can imagine Clara’s shock, when she realized she’d been flirting with a married man for ages.

* “The man who lies will lie no more, when this man lies at Trenzalore!

* “The girl who died he tries to save, she’ll die again inside his grave!

* “Heh, the TARDIS can still hear me. Lucky thing, since him indoors is being so useless”.

* “If this works, get out of here as fast as you can, and spare me a thought now and then. In fact, you know what? Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember me” Clara is in no hurry to reach the end of her life, but if her time is up, she will try to be brave and face her death with dignity, which is something we’ll see from her again in “Face The Raven”, a few seasons down the line.

* “I don’t know where I am, I just know I’m running. Sometimes it’s like I’ve lived a thousand lives in a thousand places. I’m born, I live, I die. And always, there’s the Doctor. Always I’m running to save the Doctor again and again and again. And he hardly ever hears me. But I’ve always been there. Right from the very beginning. Right from the day he started running” Attagirl.

* “How are you even doing that? I’m not really here” “You are always here to me, and I always listen, and I can always see you”.

* “Then tell me, River, because I don’t know. How do I say it?” “There’s only one way I’d accept. If you ever loved me, say it like you’re going to come back”.

* ” I don’t understand” “Look, my name, my real name, that is not the point. The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise!

* “What I did, I did without choice” “I know” “In the name of peace and sanity” “But not in the name of the Doctor!

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor A Secret He Will Take To His Grave 12

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