Doctor Who: Listen (2014) Review

Doctor Who Listen Meditating 3

“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.

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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 of glimpse 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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Doctor Who Into The Dalek Mind Meld 6

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 / sidekick, 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 it wasn’t the primary focus of those episodes like it was in “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “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, as we’ve seen in a bunch of other episodes over the years. 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 in the pre-titles sequence. 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 shrug off the deaths of unlucky redshirt characters as unfortunate collateral damage – 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.

Doctor Who Into The Dalek Fantastic Voyage 3

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 joins the main plot of this episode when the Doctor stops by her school to recruit her for his tiny odyssey. Clara is completely onboard with this quest, even though it means she’ll have to put her plans 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 sizable amount of chemistry Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have together onscreen. The Eleventh Doctor and Clara were a fun, amiable duo, but Jenna has so much more chemistry with Peter than she did with Matt Smith, because their characters’ personalities are so different and yet they compliment each other so well. Whenever Peter and Jenna share a scene of the Doctor and Clara bantering (or simply sharing their honest thoughts), their dialogue 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 has a small imagination because she follows her orders to a tee. During the final few minutes of the episode, 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.

Doctor Who Into The Dalek Rampage 8

Out of the various human soldiers in the supporting cast of this episode, the one who’s given the most focus (and a small character arc) is Journey Blue. Early on, the Doctor saves her 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 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 copes with the grief of losing her brother about as well you could expect her to. She’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 focus 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, Journey 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 her scenes with Clara. By the end of the day, she wants to see more of the universe with the Doctor and Clara, 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. They never grow, they never evolve and they never change their minds about things, because they already believe they’re impeccable perfection just the way they are, so their society stagnates endlessly. However, the titular Dalek of this episode (nicknamed Rusty by the Doctor) 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 as you would imagine, 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 hatred towards the Daleks (which has remained consistent throughout his lives, and has only grown stronger over time) 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”. 

Doctor Who Into The Dalek A Good Man 6

“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:

Doctor Who Into The Dalek Rampage 17

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Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014) Review

Doctor Who Deep Breath Meeting 8

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.

Doctor Who Deep Breath Showdown 14

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). When we rejoin him again in this episode, the Doctor’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 his predecessor in his debut episode). It’s not until the second 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, the Doctor 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 the villain of the week, 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, one-on-one talk with the Half-Face Man. The Doctor sees a bit of himself in the Half-Face Man – 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 his life can never stop, 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. She dove into the Doctor’s timestream and saw all of his previous faces in “The Name Of The Doctor“, and she even met Ten and War and had an adventure with them in “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 Series 7, 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 (where she was only with the Doctor for half a season). 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. After she fails to hold her breath long enough to escape from some killer robots, she’s held captive by the droids and threatened with death. So Clara decides to use what she’s learned from the Doctor, and what she’s learned as a teacher from dealing with bratty, unruly kids, 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.

After the Half-Face Man and his clockwork droids have been defeated, Clara still has her reservations about Twelve, and she’s not sure if she really wants to keep traveling with him for the foreseeable future. Until she receives a phone call from the Eleventh Doctor on Trenzalore, who urges her to accept his next incarnation and 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. The Doctor and Clara 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 make their final appearance to date in “Deep Breath”: Madam Vastra, the veiled detective, Jenny Flint, her human partner, and Commander Strax, their Sontaran footman / weapons expert. 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 she tells him to send her the morning newspaper and he throws it right in her face. During the climax, when Clara and the trio are fighting off the Half-Face Man’s minions, we also see that Strax’s loyalty towards his friends runs 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.

At the beginning of this episode, the Doctor and Clara accidentally bring a dinosaur from the Jurassic era with them to Victorian London, where it’s then killed by the Half-Face Man, the main villain of this episode. 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, as his musical style for the show is given another soft reset in “Deep Breath”. He composes a brand new arrangement of the Doctor Who theme song for Series 8 (this one is a lot more funky and techno than the other versions he’s written before), 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.

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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:

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* “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

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“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.

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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.

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor Evil Plan 10

“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:

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor Entrance 3

* 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:

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor Final Farewells 22

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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 characterize 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 the Doctor and Clara’s 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

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Doctor Who: Series 7, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Doctor Who: Nightmare In Silver (2013) Review

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Mr. Clever 8

“Nightmare In Silver” is the second episode Neil Gaiman wrote for Doctor Who, after “The Doctor’s Wife” in Series 6. Series 7 rather infamously had a troubled, chaotic production, where the crew of the show had to deal with another split season, major cast changes, preparation for the 50th anniversary special that was right around the corner, and numerous last-minute rewrites that had to be done for the scripts in Series 7B, due to executive meddling. “Nightmare In Silver” was one of the episodes that was hurt the most by the production woes, and a lot of the ideas that you see in this episode had to be trimmed down and condensed from their original form to fit a 45-minute runtime (since there were no two-parters in Series 7). Neil Gaiman had previously had a lot of trouble with “The Doctor’s Wife” as well, before he asked Steven Moffat to help him with that script, so he’s no stranger to these sort of complications: working with a different and more demanding medium of fiction than usual.

Still, even if the transition from script to screen was a difficult one, “Nightmare In Silver” is a very unique episode of Doctor Who with a lot of creative concepts in it: like the punishment platoon, a gang of rejects that wind up becoming world-saving heroes; an emperor hiding among commoners, running away from the responsibilities of his throne; Cybermen haunting a theme park in the future, looking to exploit young minds; and two of the greatest minds in the galaxy fighting for control over the single body they’re sharing. “Nightmare In Silver” brings back the dark fairy tale aesthetic of the Eleventh Doctor’s era that’s been a lot less prominent in Series 7, and I’m quite happy to see it make a return. “Nightmare In Silver” is also the Eleventh Doctor’s last normal adventure in his tenure. The next three episodes are all going to be very lore-heavy, with a lot of status quo changes, as we prepare to say goodbye to our current leading man.

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Little Spy 4

The Doctor has been friends with Clara Oswald for a while now, and “Nightmare In Silver” has a pretty noteworthy development when it comes to how their friendship is progressing. This episode is the first time the Doctor agrees to use time travel to do Clara a favor, and it won’t be the last time either, since it becomes a pretty common occurrence for the pair by Series 8. In “Nightmare In Silver”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) decides to take Clara’s two young wards, Artie and Angie Maitland, to Hedgewick’s World – an abandoned theme park in the future – for a nice day of fun. In theory, it should be a nice, safe destination for a one-off trip in the TARDIS, that still has plenty of wonder to it.

However, before the day is done, the Doctor starts to suspect there’s something terribly wrong with the place and that the Cybermen are active in the area, so he decides to stick around longer than he planned to to investigate. Unfortunately, the Doctor’s hunch proves to be correct, and the kids are kidnapped right out from under his nose. The Doctor rushes off to save them and comes to the unfortunate discovery that the Cybermen have been upgrading themselves, and he’s now compatible with their technology, so they try to make him join their ranks. They only partially succeed in converting him, so two minds wind up sharing the same head. Something I’ve always found strange about this episode is that for a Cyberman, the Cyberplanner is awfully emotional and he gets worked up very easily, without any explanation given as to why this is the case (though presumably it’s because he’s trying to convert a time lord instead of a human and struggling with it). He honestly seems more like an evil version of Matt Smith’s Doctor than an emotionless cyborg.

Matt Smith is once again given the chance to play a double role in this episode (after he had previously done so in “The Rebel Flesh” last season). The Eleventh Doctor has always had a sinister (and at times rather untrustworthy) edge to him, so it feels right that Matt gets to play a truly villainous role for once before he leaves the show, and he clearly relishes the opportunity to go full ham. The Doctor develops a split personality where he constantly flips between his usual, talkative self and the hostile alien technology that’s trying to possess him. The two madmen fight for total control over his brain, pitting the razor sharp, world-changing intelligence of one of Gallifrey’s brightest time lords against a whole army of Cybermen. Once the two entities reach an impasse, they decide to settle things with a high stakes game of chess – which is really more for show than anything else.

The Doctor knows full well the Cyberplanner can’t be trusted, so he’s simply stalling for time until he and Clara can work out a way to stop the Cybermen. Basically, the Doctor and the Cyberplanner are two generals locked in a battle of wits and wills, while their makeshift soldiers partake in all the physical fighting. The Doctor is a skilled liar and he can usually bluff his way out of many tight spots, but he’s working at a disadvantage in this episode: the Cyberplanner can read his thoughts, which makes formulating a strategy rather difficult. And of course, the Cyberplanner can be quite deceptive himself. Using his control over the Doctor’s body, it’s not uncommon for the Cyberman to speak through him and pretend to be him, so he can sabotage Clara and the others from the inside. Thankfully, even when he’s stripped of his usual tricks, the Doctor is still sharp as a tack: he still manages to take advantage of a weak spot the Cyberplanner has by using his arrogance and his obsession with cold, hard logic to manipulate him into a trap. Once the Cybermen have been defeated, the Doctor makes good on his promise to bring the kids home safe, and all is well again for the Doctor and Clara – for now.

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Showdown 2

At the end of “The Crimson Horror“, Artie and Angie Maitland decided to blackmail their nanny over her secret pastime – going on time-traveling adventures with the Doctor – so now Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) has decided to keep them quiet by taking them with her on a trip into the future. It goes without saying that these pre-teens are in Clara’s care, and beyond that she’s known the Maitland siblings for years as friends of her family, so naturally, she’s very protective of them. When the Doctor decides they’ll all stay longer at Hedgewick’s World to investigate something bewildering, she’s very wary of the Doc potentially putting the kids in danger; and when that actually does happen, her claws come out as a super nanny very quickly. She makes it very clear that there will be hell to pay if the kids get injured or wind up dead because of his morbid curiosity.

There’s a platoon of soldiers stationed at Hedgewick’s World, who know quite a bit about the Cybermen, so in theory they would make for good allies, but they’re all inexperienced. They’re outnumbered and outgunned, and they’re fighting a losing battle against an army that never gets tired and never stops coming. They’re completely lost at the moment, and they need a leader. Porridge won’t step up to guide them, so Clara does. The Doctor needs some time to find the children and think of a way to stop the Cybermen, so he puts Clara in charge of everything in his absence, trusting her to think of a way to slow the metal invaders down. As you would imagine, Clara feels right at home calling the shots, since she always likes to feel like she’s in control during an emergency, but she’s still dealing with quite a bit of pressure as a civilian thrust right in the middle of a military operation.

It’s a pretty well-documented occurrence in Doctor Who that the Doctor’s friends gradually start to become more like soldiers the more they learn to adapt to his orders and start picking up his slack on missions: Martha’s character arc across Series 3 and 4 is an excellent example of that happening. In “Nightmare In Silver”, that process officially starts to kick in for Clara, when she has to pick up a weapon and fight for her life for the first time. Clara’s transformation into a more strategically-minded individual is highlighted a lot more in Series 8, once she starts dating Danny Pink and starts trying to emulate the Doctor’s behavior more often.

The challenge she’s faced with in “Nightmare In Silver” is a real test of her character, early on in her tenure. The last time one of the Doctor’s plans had a lot riding on her in “Cold War“, it didn’t go very well and she took her failure pretty hard, so this is a second chance for her to show what she’s made of. Throughout the hour, Clara has to keep everyone calm and keep everything under control, even if she wants to panic herself; she has to play to everyone’s strengths; she has to be adaptable and make hasty decisions (especially since the Cybermen can counter anything she throws at them); and she has to deal with insubordination in the ranks from the solders’ former captain constantly trying to undermine her authority. By now, Clara has learned a lot from the Doctor, including how to improvise – how to use any advantage she can find over a foe – and her growth during Series 7B is finally starting to pay off. Jenna Coleman landed her gig as Clara Oswald because she was a fast talker, because she could easily keep up with Matt Smith, and that skill is put on full display in this episode when Clara has to make a lot of snap decisions for the group, with or without the Doctor’s input.

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Porridge 9

“Nightmare In Silver” is populated with a lot of side characters, starting with Artie and Angie Maitland, the two mischievous kids that Clara often watches. Their personalities are basically pre-teen stereotypes. Artie is a bookish, nerdy kid who’s good at chess and is very knowledgeable about things that most people don’t really care about. His older sister, Angie, is a moody teenager who downplays everything she feels, because she thinks she’s too cool for emotions. Angie spends a lot of time sulking about her teen angst, but she does have her share of hidden depths: after all, she catches on to Porridge’s big secret long before anyone else does. After them, there’s Mr. Webbley, the unfortunate owner of Hedgewick’s World who isn’t long for the world once this story is properly underway. He’s an eccentric, worldly man who decided to buy a theme park because he loves children. Unbeknownst to him, the Cybermen set up shop in his property, because they want to weaponize the minds of visiting children for their own gain.

There’s also a punishment platoon of soldiers stationed in the area, in the middle of nowhere, to get them out of everyone else’s way because they were so incompetent at their jobs – making them the plucky, young underdogs of this episode who are pitted against the far mightier Cybermen. They’re initially led Alice Ferrin, who has no respect for Clara because she knows even less about leading an army than she does, and she doesn’t think very highly of an emperor who abandoned his post either. She’s fanatically prepared to kamikaze herself and everyone else for the glorious cause of eliminating the Cybermen, because a massive loss of life is considered to be acceptable collateral damage in the future. Thankfully, one of the Cybermen kills her before she has a chance to betray everyone else.

The last notable human character would be Porridge (Warwick Davis), who’s steadily revealed to be a member of the galaxy’s imperial family. Porridge is an emperor in hiding, who’s running away from the responsibilities of the throne. Being the ruler of an entire galaxy is incredibly restricting: ever since he was a boy, he’s never had real freedom, and he’s had to make hard choices, sacrificing lives for the greater good of the galaxy. It’s implied that he might have even had to blow up an entire galaxy in the past to stop the Cybermen, and had to live with that on his conscience afterwards. So naturally, he’s in no hurry to go back to his old post. Porridge is a warm, personable, courageous person, but he also has a selfish steak: he could have ended the crisis with the Cybermen a lot sooner than he did, but he didn’t want to blow his cover until he absolutely had to.

A few people manage to catch on to him before anyone else, including Alice. As someone who served under his family in the past, she both respects him and resents him, viewing him as a weak leader who refuses to do what needs to be done (i.e. condemning them all to death on a suicide mission). Over the course of the hour, Porridge develops a crush on Clara, because she is quite a remarkable woman, and he eventually proposes to her. But she has to return to her own time, and she doesn’t want to marry someone she just met, so she gently turns him down, and while he’s disappointed by her answer, he takes it well. I always like to see side-characters in this show become smitten with the companions, like William Shakespeare’s infatuation with Martha or Vincent Van Gogh’s crush on Amy, because why should the Doctor have all the fun turning the heads of strangers they encounter? These sorts of things are always cute to see. Besides, the true ship that’s being teased in this episode is the Doctor and Clara, which is given a few more nudges on both ends.

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Cyber Soldier 17

“Nightmare In Silver” is set pretty far in humanity’s future, after the great Cyber wars that raged across the galaxy. Entire worlds were destroyed during that period to stop the Cybermen from spreading, and now they’re supposedly extinct. The Doctor doesn’t buy that for a minute, and for good reason. Really, they’re just lying in wait, building their strength back up with fresh meat again. “Nightmare In Silver” revamps the Cybermen for the Moffat era and gives them a fresh new look, for the first time since “The Age Of Steel” in Series 2. The Cybermen in that two-parter had very bulky, industrial designs that made them quite intimidating, while the Cybermen in this episode are a lot more sleek and streamlined: they’ve clearly been built for speed.

When he sat down to write this episode, Neil Gaiman gave himself the challenge of making the Cybermen scarier than they were before, and he certainly succeeded in doing that. They have super speed and super strength, they’re computer geniuses, they can upgrade themselves in the middle of a battle to remove their old weaknesses, and they’re practically an unstoppable army that will never stop coming – since their numbers always grow with every human causality, like a plague of metallic zombies. “Nightmare In Silver” is probably the Cybermen’s most impressive showing since “The Next Doctor“, compared to the small cameos they had in “The Pandorica Opens” and “A Good Man Goes To War“, and their portrayal in “Closing Time“, where they were so weak that they were easily defeated by the power of love (and the power of James Corden). At the end of the day, the Cybermen are supposedly destroyed en masse with a planet-shattering bomb, but Neil Gaiman includes a last minute tease that they’re still out there, and it’s only a matter of time before they make their comeback again like they always do.

“Nightmare In Silver” is directed by Stephen Woolfenden, who does a fantastic job of giving this story a lively amount of energy by choosing his shots carefully. I’m particularly impressed by how well the show’s editors handle the two main storylines unfolding. Each passing scene advances the Doctor and Clara’s dilemmas, little by little, and as we get closer and closer to the climax, with the stakes rising on both sides, the cuts start to grow tighter and tighter and much more frenetic. When you combine the rising action with Murray Gold’s strident score, the climax is a lot of fun to watch. Like “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS“, “Nightmare In Silver” has a very bold and striking color scheme where blue and purple lighting seem to be constantly contrasted with each other, especially inside Hedgewick’s World and the Cyberman’s ship.

A lot of location shooting for this episode was done inside Castell Coch in South Wales, which ironically gives us an futuristic story set inside an old school historical landmark. “Nightmare In Silver” sports some really beautiful CGI shots from the BBC Wales VFX team that give Hedgewick’s World a convincing amount of depth and scale as a location, along with the cutaways to the Cybermen’s ship and the scenes inside the Doctor’s head of him and Mr. Clever trading jabs at each other – though the long shots of the Cybermen walking together in unison aren’t always as convincing. Murray Gold’s score combines plenty of harsh brass and funky electronic beats with the soft, gentle touch of woodwind instruments like the oboe, creating new variations of his iconic Cybermen theme like “Upgrade In Progress“, “The Dream Of Cyberia” and “Cyber Army” (he also brings back “March Of The Cybermen” from Series 4). “The Emperor’s Wife” is one of the most beautiful variations on “The Mad Man With A Box” that he’s written so far, and it helps to make the emotional climax of this episode quite sweet.

As the last ‘normal’ episode of Series 7, “Nightmare In Silver” is certainly a fun outing from Neil Gaiman that gives Matt Smith a lot of interesting things to do as the Doctor, gives Clara Oswald a sizable chunk of character development before the season finale arrives, and gives the Cybermen their best showing as villains in several seasons.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Home Sweet Home

* “Careful now. An empty shell, and yet it moves. How?” “Magic” Bless, Angie. She gave a dull answer to a dull question.

* “Don’t wander off! Now, I’m not just saying don’t wander off, I mean it. Otherwise you’ll wander off and the next thing you know, somebody’s going to have to start rescuing somebody”.

* ” I feel like a monster sometimes” “Why?” “Because instead of mourning a billion trillion dead people, I just feel sorry for the poor blighter who had to press the button and blow it all up”.

* “She always has to turn up and spoil everything! I wasn’t doing anything. Why can’t you just leave me alone?!” Angie, honey, have you forgotten that you literally blackmailed Clara into taking you on this trip? If you’ve already gotten sick of her already, you pretty much have yourself to thank for that.

* “Put me down! I hate you!” I don’t think the Cyberman really cares, Angie.

* “Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle” “A real castle? With a drawbridge and a moat?” “Yes, but comical”.

* “We needed children, but the children had stopped coming. You brought us children. Hail to you, the Doctor, savior of the Cybermen!”

* “I trust the Doctor” “You think he knows what he’s doing?” “I’m not sure I’d go that far”.

* “So much raw data. Time Lords. There’s information on the Time Lords in here. Oh, this is just dreamy!”

* “If he wins, I give up my mind and he gets access to all my memories, along with knowledge of time travel. But, if I win, he’ll break his promises to get out of my head and then kill us all anyway” “That’s not reassuring!” “No, it isn’t”.

* “Which one of you said that?” “Me. Cyberplanner. Mr. Clever. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a chess game to finish, and you have to die, pointlessly and very far from home. Toodle-loo“.

* “Brilliant. Pass it here” “No” “Why not?” “In case you’re not you right now. Or even if you are, just in case”.

* “He got what he wanted. He destroyed the trigger. My move” “What do you mean, he got what he wanted?” “He means: good news, boys and girls. THEY’RE HERE!!!

* “One gun, five hand-pulsers and a planet smashing bomb that doesn’t work any more” “Why not?” “Broken trigger unit” “But you signed for that!” Such is the way of war.

* “I’ve learned so much from you, Doctor. It’s been an education. But now, it’s time for the endgame!”

* “Emotions, Doctor, all for two human children you barely know. And it was a pointless sacrifice anyway. So, Doctor, do you think the children’s death will affect your relationship with Ms. Clara?”

* “THAT’S CHEATING!!!” “Nah, just taking advantage of the local resources”.

* “Do you think I’m pretty?” “No. You’re too short and bossy, and your nose is all funny” Savage, Doctor.

* “But that’s stupid! You could be queen of the universe. How can you say no to that? When someone asks you if you want to be queen of the universe, you say yes. You watch. One day, I’ll be queen of the universe” Angie’s a girl with a big ambitions. Good for her.

* “Impossible girl. A mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight…” Thanks for the cringe, Doctor Who. I can buy that the Doctor has a crush on Clara, but that does not sound like Doctor dialogue, Neil Gaiman.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Cyber Soldier 19

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Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (2013) Review

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Prisoner 5

“The Crimson Horror” is Mark Gatiss’s second contribution to Series 7 of Doctor Who, after handling the return of the Ice Warriors in “Cold War“. Unlike his last episode, which was a pretty grim and darkly lit base-under-siege story, “The Crimson Horror” is a comedy-focused romp episode that shows off the sillier side of the series – and it feels perfectly timed, after how dark “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” got. “The Crimson Horror” is set in Victorian era England and serves as a follow-up to “The Snowmen“, bringing the Doctor’s friends up to speed on everything they missed (related to Clara) since the last time they saw him.

It was originally meant to be written by the showrunner Steven Moffat, since Vastra, Jenny and Strax are his creations, but he was unable to do so at the time because his hands were tied with other matters (dealing with the incredibly difficult production process of Series 7), so he called upon his friend Mark Gatiss and asked him to pen it instead. “The Crimson Horror” is the annual Doctor-lite episode of the season (a tradition the show has adhered to since “Love And Monsters” in Series 2), where Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman are given a helpful break in their filming schedule because this episode’s plot deliberately gives them a reduced role. The Doctor doesn’t even appear in this episode until around the fifteen minute mark: “The Crimson Horror” tosses the viewers right in the middle of a mystery in progress and challenges them to try to make sense of it, before giving them a rapid-fire explanation from the Doctor’s point-of-view later. This episode’s B-plot was also tailor-made for the late Diana Rigg and her daughter Rachael Stirling, the latter of whom Mark Gatiss had worked with before and decided he wanted to include them both in one of his Doctor Who episodes.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Confrontation 14

In “The Crimson Horror”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara are captured while they’re investigating a 19th century cult, and subjected to a horrific experiment where a madwoman tries to petrify them like they’re her dolls. The Doctor survives the process, courtesy of his Gallifreyan biology, and the cult leader’s daughter decides to keep him in secret as her pet – because she’s very lonely and she feels an affinity towards him, since they’re both lost souls by her mother’s standards – which is both creepy and sad. Eleven spends the first act of this episode as a prisoner in a hell of a lot of pain apparently, but his compassionate side is put on display during the latter half of this story, and his subplot with Ada becomes rather touching in the end. The Doctor is disgusted by Mrs. Gillyflower’s treatment of Ada, so he does his best to undo some of the harm her indoctrination has done to her and convince her she deserves better. He convinces her to stop living for her horrible mother, start living for herself and rejoin society. So the Doctor managed to do some good here, beyond stopping the villain of the week.

After the events of the last episode, the Doctor continues to warm up to Clara, and protecting her from harm is still his top priority. Vastra, Jenny and Strax are the only characters in Series 7B besides the Doctor who have encountered any of Clara’s echoes, so naturally they have some questions about how he can be traveling with the doppelganger of someone they all saw die: questions the Doctor still can’t answer. But, in a small sign of growth, he’s started to make peace with the mystery of the Impossible Girl. He’s no closer to solving it than he was several episodes ago, but he seems to have accepted that he’ll figure it out eventually, so for now he’ll just go wherever the road takes him and enjoy the ride.

Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) isn’t given a lot to do in “The Crimson Horror”, since she’s sidelined for the first half of this episode just like the Doctor, but she’s still having fun, touring time and space in her free time. She’s still shown to be an observant, level-headed and resourceful person: catching onto clues that the Doctor might have overlooked and weaponizing chairs in a tight spot. Clara meets some of the Doctor’s friends in this episode and she takes their existence rather well (having grown accustomed to aliens by this point), giving her her first look at the Doctor’s life before her that will steadily be expanded upon in “The Name Of The Doctor“, “The Day Of The Doctor“, “The Time Of The Doctor” and “Deep Breath“. Clara really seems to like the idea of being in charge of everything when the Doctor has a little slip of the tongue, which means her role in the next episode will be right up her alley, and the ship-tease moments between her and the Doctor are growing more and more blatant, as they have some very flirty exchanges in this story.

The Impossible Girl arc is not given a major amount of focus in this episode, but it does continue to inch forward with a tiny amount of progress. Even though she had her mind wiped of everything the Doctor told her in the last episode, Clara is finally starting to catch on that something’s not right here, when she finds a photo of herself in Victorian England that she never took. The Maitland kids, who we haven’t seen since “The Bells Of Saint John“, discover some historical photos of Clara and the Doctor having fun sight-seeing from “Cold War” and “Hide“, which is a nice bit of continuity that ties together the separate threads of this season as we start to approach the finale. The kids decide to blackmail her into letting them tag along with her on another adventure, which sets the stage for the next episode, “Nightmare In Silver“.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Going Home 4

Madam Vastra, the veiled detective, Jenny Flint, her lover and right-hand woman, and Commander Strax, their footman / medic / weapons’ expert are given their own spotlight episode showing off each one of their respective strengths in “The Crimson Horror”, where we get to see one of their cases unfold. The trio are recruited to investigate a bunch of mysterious disappearances happening in a gated community in 19th century Yorkshire, and to their surprise, they discover the Doctor has been looking into it as well. In comparison to her last couple of appearances, “The Crimson Horror” emphasizes Madam Vastra’s sharp mind and her excellent deductive reasoning skills much more often than her fighting abilities. She’s been around since ancient times, so she’s the first one to realize Mrs. Gillyflower is meddling with primordial forces for her own twisted purposes. It’s also apparent in this episode that Vastra is the matriarch of their clan, and the glue who holds their little gang together.

Her wife, Jenny, is the only human in the group, so she flies solo for a while when she goes undercover in Sweetville to investigate: allowing us to see everything she’s capable of for the first time. She’s a very clever and intuitive woman who knows a good lead when she sees one, she can pick any lock she comes across, and she’s apparently been learning martial arts, since she can beat up guys several times her size. And Strax, as always, is an excellent source of dark humor throughout this story (this dude wants to get his murder on so badly). In a surprise twist, it’s Strax who steps in to save everyone from Mrs. Gillyflower in the climax, and delivers the killing blow when the crazy bitch tries to start a gunfight she can’t win. We also get to see Strax’s softer side, when he gets along rather well with a local boy he recruits for navigational help (and I find it funny how this kid just accepts everything without questioning it).

The villainess of this episode, Mrs. Winnifred Gillyflower is a religious zealot. The sort of Christian fundamentalist who only cares about themselves and their own self-righteousness, who relishes the idea that they’re part of a special, chosen few who will be spared from an apocalypse by their lord while everyone else gets to burn and die. She’s a haughty and judgmental woman who’s decided to create her own cult, where she and a bunch of other people like her will close themselves off from the rest of the world and remain pure, while the rest of society decays. Except, she’s decided to bring about judgement day herself, with the help of her silent partner, Mr. Sweet – a parasitic leech from the Jurassic era. With Mr. Sweet’s venom, she can perfectly preserve people for years, so they can wait out the apocalypse. And with a different use of the venom, she can also use it to wipe out all the sinners and degenerates of the world, who weren’t worthy of her own personal Eden. Needless to say, she’s completely insane.

Mrs. Gillyflower makes for a fun, campy villainess who is gleefully wicked through the latter half of this episode, and Diana Rigg clearly has a lot of fun chewing some scenery in the role, so you love to hate her. The climax is one of the few times you’ll see a villain’s death scene be played for laughs in this show, and it is legitimately hilarious. Mrs. Gillyflower winds up toppling over the side of a staircase when her attempts to shoot everyone backfire on her, and she drops several stories. As she’s dying, she implores her daughter to forgive her, which Ada quite frankly tells her is never going to happen – and Winnifred approves. Right after she’s gone, Ada does not waste any time whacking Mr. Sweet into oblivion with her cane – and the Doctor, who’s been watching this whole time, is left speechless for once.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Escaping 13

The secondary antagonist of this episode would be Ada Gillyflower, who unlike her mother is cast in a more sympathetic role. Ada is a pretty demure and submissive person – the way a ‘proper’ high-class woman in the Victorian era would be raised to be – especially since she’s blind. She’s shown to be very lonely, with no one around to keep her company except for her ‘monster’, and her mother is very abusive towards her. Winnifred constantly talks down to her and treats her more like a servant than a daughter. She’s perfectly willing to use her to gain sympathy for her cause, and use her as a human shield later, but she considers her to be unworthy of ‘paradise’ because of her imperfections. Mrs. Gillyflower has indoctrinated her daughter well with her twisted ideology, so Ada has plenty of self-loathing about falling short in the eyes of her mother and her lord – and after everything she did to help her as her accomplice, Mrs. Gillyflower tosses her aside like she’s nothing, breaking her heart.

Because of the Doctor’s intervention, Ada discovers something very juicy: her mother was the one who robbed her of her sight and then lied to her about it, when she used her as a guinea pig for her experiments. The fallout of that revelation is immensely satisfying: not only is Ada allowed to be absolutely furious when she learns this, but she does not decide to forgive her mother before she dies. Doctor Who has implied a few times before that you should want to keep your attachments to people who have been nothing but awful to you for years, just because they’re family, and it’s refreshing to see that idea get subverted hard in this episode. Now that her toxic mother is no longer a part of her life, Ada has decided to take the Doctor’s advice – she’ll focus on healing herself and living her own life as well as a blind woman can – which gives her character arc a hopeful open-ending.

“The Crimson Horror” is helmed by Saul Metzstein, who previously worked on “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” and “A Town Called Mercy“, and while his direction for this story is not as impressive, it’s still surprisingly creative at times, especially during the climax. When it comes to his directorial choices, one of the more intriguing sequences in this episode is the prolonged flashback where the Doctor explains how he and Clara started to investigate Sweetville. This whole montage has a brown sepia tone overlaying it, along with tons of film grain, to evoke the nostalgic look of antique photographs and the earliest moving pictures in existence – which is quite an appropriate choice for a story set in the Victorian era.

Location shooting for this episode was done in Bute Town, Caerphilly, as well as Tony Refail in Wales, to get the historical look of 19th century Yorkshire right – and as always, the costume and wardrobe department got to go wild, recreating 19th century fashion trends for men and women, like the rather extravagant lacy dresses Mrs. Gillyflower and her daughter wear. Compared to the rest of Series 7, the visual effects work from the Mill is less convincing than usual in this story, with some really wonky close-up shots of people being lowered into a vat of Mr. Sweet’s venom, though they seem to fare better with establishing shots of Mrs. Gillyflower’s rocket in the climax. When it comes to Murray Gold’s score, he writes a few tracks of new material like “The Crimson Horror“, “Sweetville” and “Thomas Thomas“, the last of which is a variation of Strax’s theme from the last Christmas special, “Psychotic Potato Dwarf“. Mainly though, “The Crimson Horror” recycles a lot of music from “The Rebel Flesh“, “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe“, “The Snowmen” and “The Bells Of Saint John”.

“The Crimson Horror” is a very silly and goofy episode, but it makes for a fun piece of fluff in-between two episodes that are much more intense experiences, and it gives the Parternoster Gang their time to shine before Series 7 reaches its conclusion.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Confrontation 33

* “We have come about your husband, my dear. A tragedy. Your late husband” “There must be some mistake. My husband is quite well” “We’re so very sorry for your loss“.

* “To find him, she needs only ignore all keep-out signs, go through every locked door, and run towards any form of danger that presents itself” “Business as usual, then?” “Business as usual”.

* “If she hasn’t make contact by nightfall, I suggest a massive frontal assault on the factory, madam. Casualties can be kept to perhaps as little as 80%” “I think there may be subtler ways of proceeding, Strax” “Suit yourself”.

* “It hardly seems possible. I think I’ve seen these symptoms before, a long time ago” “How long ago?” “About sixty-five million years”.

* In Series 7, the Doctor has developed a bad habit of springing unwanted kisses upon his married friends (see also, his random liplock with Rory in “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”), and in this episode, it quite rightly gets him slapped.

* “I once spent a hell of a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport” “What for?” “Search me”.

* “Horse, you have failed in your mission! We are lost, with no sign of Sweetville! Do you have any final words before your summary execution? …The usual story. Fourth one this week, and I’m not even hungry!”

* The Doctor gets a bit distracted with his sonic screwdriver, when he notices Jenny’s leather jumpsuit. Stay classy, Doctor Who.

* “Strax! You’re overexcited. Have you been eating Ms. Jenny’s sherbet fancies again?” “….No”.

* “Yes. I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you”.

* “Mrs. Gillyflower, you have no idea what you are dealing with. In the wrong hands, that venom could wipe out all life on this planet” “Do you know what these are? The wrong hands!”

* “You hag! You perfidious hag! You virago! You harpy! All these years I have helped you, served you, looked after you! Do they count for nothing, nothing at all?!!!” Hell yes, Ada, you go off!

* “Hang on, I’ve got a sonic screwdriver!” “Yeah? I’ve got a chair!”

* “You know, chairs are useful!”

* “Has the venom been loaded?” “Yes, ma’am” “Then heaven awaits ya!” If heaven looks a lot like a jail cell, then yes, they probably do have that waiting for them.

* “Very well, then. If I can’t take the world with me, you will have to do! Die, you freaks! Die! Die!” Bless Diana Rigg, she really got all into this role.

* “Ada, forgive me, my child! Forgive me!” “Never” “That’s my girl!”

* “Yeah. I think I’ve had enough of Victorian values for a bit” “You’re the boss” “Am I?” “No. No. Get in”.

* It is cute to see that the Doctor and Clara apparently took pictures as souvenirs of their travels, especially since they probably spent weeks on Zhukov’s sub before they got back to the TARDIS in “Cold War”.

* “That’s not right” “You were in Victorian London?” “No, I was in Victorian Yorkshire” And just like that, Ms. Oswald knew she had said too much.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Montage 4

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Doctor Who: Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS (2013) Review

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Clara Wandering 15

“Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” (named after one of Jules Verne’s most famous novels) is penned by Stephen Thompson, who previously wrote “The Curse Of The Black Spot” in Series 6. For Doctor Who’s seventh season, Steven Moffat wanted to give the TARDIS her second spotlight episode, after Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor Wife“, that was devoted to exploring her inner depths. He was inspired to do so by “The Invasion Of Time”, a serial from the classic series that also set out to show off more of the Doctor’s ship, but was held back by budget limitations at the time. Considering how much further filmmaking technology had advanced by 2013, Mr. Moffat thought it would be an interesting challenge for the show to tackle during its fiftieth anniversary season, so he assigned the basic pitch to Stephen Thompson.

The main premise of this episode underwent several revisions before the final version of it was settled on: in one draft, the TARDIS wound up crashing a high school field trip, which led to several troublesome teenagers damaging the Doctor’s ship. Ultimately, the main plot Stephen Thompson went with was the TARDIS being damaged by an outer space salvage crew, which forces the Doctor and Clara to venture inside a labyrinth to try to fix it while they’re being hunted down by rabid monsters from their future. In a lot of ways, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” is a large step up from Mr. Thompson’s last story, “The Curse Of The Black Spot”, especially in terms of its sheer scale, ambition and fright factor. Everything the audience discovers about the TARDIS in this episode is a lot more memorable than your standard high-seas romp with pirates. But there is one area where “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” misses the mark and fares worse than “The Curse Of The Black Spot”: namely the supporting cast and the emotional thread of their storyline.

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Corridors 7

In “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) decides to teach Clara how to fly the TARDIS, so she can have a chance to bond with his ship. He lowers the ship’s defenses to make it easier for her, which backfires horribly when the TARDIS is spotted by a crew of greedy salvage men and assaulted with an illegal tractor beam. In the aftermath, the Doctor’s ship is left fatally damaged, and Clara is lost inside it, thrown into the depths of a maze. By this point, the Doctor has grown quite attached to Clara, so he’s determined to save her from any danger that might be lurking inside the ship, and he’s certainly intent on fixing up his oldest friend as well. The Eleventh Doctor’s ruthless streak is highlighted again this week, when he uses the Van Baalen brothers’ greed to get them onboard his ship, trap them there, and then blackmail them into cleaning up their mess. He forces them to help him find Clara by threatening to blow up his ship with all of them inside it (which turns out to be a bluff, of course).

The TARDIS has a crack in time inside of it that’s leaking out the past and future, and as a result, there are charred, murderous zombies running through the ship, presenting our heroes with a deadly danger to face inside the maze. The zombies are constantly obscured and kept out of focus with some clever camera work, like the Crooked Man in “Hide“, which builds up suspense about what they might be. One thing you can say for certain is that they look like creatures who stepped right out of hell. They spend most of the episode chasing our heroes, trying to kill them – trying to kill their own past selves. As it turns out, the zombies are future versions of the Doctor, Clara and the Van Baalen brothers, who burned alive inside the TARDIS’s engine room. Their horrific fate drove them insane and turned them into ruthless, deranged predators.

The Doctor figured that out very early on but he kept it a secret from Clara, to spare her the horror of her potential future, and spare himself the unenviable task of having to explain it, especially since this isn’t the first time he’s seen a version of her die. By Series 7, it’s become very apparent that the Eleventh Doctor tends to lie quite often: to protect himself, to protect others, and to avoid things that are terrible. He always keeps his cards close to his chest, even from his friends, so he can have an advantage – like his knowledge about the cracks in time, Amy being a ganger, his fake death in Utah, and now the mystery surrounding the Impossible Girl. Not even River Song, his lover, can say she knows what’s going on inside his head all the time. Right now, the Doctor doesn’t know what to make of Clara, and even though he clearly cares for her, he refuses to trust her fully, which makes sense. The Doctor’s enemies have taken advantage of blind spots in his judgment to set traps for him before, like the Pandorica or the battle of Demons’ Run.

During the climax, the Doctor finally confronts Clara about all her past lives and accuses her of lying to him, and once he forces a bewildered answer out of her, he’s finally convinced that whatever is going on with her, she’s just as clueless about it as he is and she bears him no ill-will. This episode devotes very little time to exploring the emotional fallout of that scene, once a reset button is pressed, which is somewhat frustrating to see, but thankfully the consequences of it are picked up again a few episodes later in “The Name Of The Doctor”. As for how it affects the Doctor’s relationship with Clara going forward, his views on her have shifted and softened. He’s finally starting to realize he’s been overly paranoid and overthinking things, approaching her more like a mystery than a person, though that discovery won’t sink in fully until “The Name Of The Doctor“.

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Detour 5

In “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”, what was supposed to be a fun day out for Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) quickly goes horribly wrong, when the TARDIS is totally trashed and she’s flung deep into the depths of the Doctor’s ship. She manages to land herself in trouble quite a few times while she’s trying to find her way out of the maze, due to being insatiably curious. By this point, Clara is starting to realize she and the Doctor won’t always have a good plan – and even when they do, it’s very easy for their plans to go awry, as she’s seen over the last few episodes – so it’s important for her to learn how to improvise.

This is easily Clara’s scariest adventure so far: being hunted down by zombies in a labyrinth, completely on her own for the first half of this episode. However, as terrifying as the monsters are, it’s the things she learns about the Doctor that freak her out the most of all. Emma warned her there was a sliver of ice in the Doctor’s heart in the last episode, and here she finally starts to realize just how much of a chessmaster he is, and just how often he keeps things from her: like who he is, what he knows, and why he’s so interested in her. When it briefly looks like the Doctor’s deceit might cost them all their lives in the TARDIS’s engine room, Clara quite rightly lets him have it, and when he confronts her about her past lives in return, something she knows nothing about, Clara is deeply disturbed. The pair of them make up afterwards, but when Clara reveals she learned the Doctor’s true name while she was looking through his personal library, the time lord quickly grows cold towards her once more: he immediately wants to wipe it clean from her head.

This episode fully establishes another aspect of how Steven Moffat writes the Doctor’s character (which he’s hinted at before, in stories like “Silence In The Library“): how the time lord treats his title versus his real name. The Doctor always gives people the title he chose for himself instead of the name he was given at birth, which is apparently an age old tradition of the time lords. However, the Moffat era implies that the Doctor’s real name is forbidden knowledge, and it’s actually dangerous for people to know it. “The Name Of The Doctor” gives us at least one explanation about why this is serious business: the Series 7 finale reveals that if you learn a time lord’s true identity, you can use it to defile their grave and destroy their entire lives by corrupting their timeline. So if I knew that sort of thing could happen, I would probably take that knowledge to my grave too.

Of course, the main purpose of this episode is giving us some new lore about the TARDIS and the time lords for the show’s 50th anniversary season, and I would say it definitely succeeds in that area. We learn the TARDIS is made out living metal that creates everything the Doctor and his friends might need. The inner dimensions of the ship are infinite, just like the Doctor claimed, and can stretch on forever. The ship as a whole is powered by an exploding star that’s right in the middle of becoming a black hole (the time lords are terrible people, but there’s no denying their science is incredible). The ship’s alive with a mind of her own, so she tries to help our heroes whenever she can, but she also works against them at times, to protect herself from thieves while she’s wounded. The Doctor’s relationship with the TARDIS (which is always touching to see) shines through brightly in this episode: he’s very protective of his oldest friend, he’s deeply appalled that a bunch of humans would try to hurt her so callously, and for a short time, he’s devastated when it looks like he can’t save her from dying. In the last act, the Doctor realizes the TARDIS has been damaged past the point of no return, so the only way he can save her and everyone else is by resetting the timeline.

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Van Baalen Brothers 3

The B-plot of this episode is devoted to the Van Baalen brothers, a crew of outer space salvage men who are severely lacking in morals and principles. They have little to no concern for human life, and they certainly don’t care if the TARDIS is suffering, so long as they can make some money off of it. All except for Tricky, the youngest crew member, who has a real affinity towards machines and is shown to be fairly empathetic. He’s really the only one with a good amount of common sense, and the only one who keeps his crewmates – Gregor and Bram – from being completely morally bankrupt. The leader of the men, Gregor, is a bullying tough guy who talks down to his subordinates and pushes them around frequently. In almost every scene he’s in, he only seems to care about himself – and he’s hiding a dark secret about Tricky, because secrets and lies are a major recurring theme in this episode.

It’s pretty easy to see the big twist coming in advance, because if you weren’t repeatedly told Tricky is supposed to be an android, you would automatically assume he was the third Van Baalen brother from the dynamic he has with them in his earliest scenes. Tricky was their late father’s favorite son, and the one he trusted enough to make him captain of their ship before he died. One day, a terrible accident gave Tricky amnesia and wounded him so badly that several of his body parts had to be replaced with cybernetic organs. His older brothers took advantage of how vulnerable he was in his weakened state to convince him he was an android, so they could steal his position, cut him out of the family business and treat him like trash for years – which is extremely messed-up. When Tricky finds out, he is quite rightly furious and decides to beat Gregor’s ass, but the Doctor stops him from going through with it.

Gregor’s character arc in this episode rethreads a lot of the same ground as Captain Avery’s journey in “The Curse Of The Black Spot”: he’s consumed by greed to the point where it threatens to destroy him and everyone around him, until he’s given a harsh reminder of what’s truly important in life and he manages to find a bit of redemption in the end. However, the pay-off for this arc is not as satisfying as what Stephen Thompson previously pulled off in “The Curse Of The Black Spot”. Captain Avery steadily grew to become a more likable character over the course of that episode, which made it easier to get invested in his redemption arc. By comparison, Gregor doesn’t start to soften up and show a little fraternal loyalty until around the last act, which makes it very difficult to care about whether or not he ever patches things up with Tricky.

Also, the way this subplot wraps up is pretty confusing. When our heroes get cornered in the TARDIS’s engine rooms, Gregor and Tricky suffer the unfortunate fate of getting turned into zombies, before this is thankfully undone when the timeline is reset. Afterwards, a new timeline is created where everyone has forgotten everything, except Gregor apparently, and it’s implied that this do-over somehow created a world where Gregor and Bram never convinced Tricky he was an android – even though that deception happened years before the events of this episode. So how does that work? Considering how much screen-time is devoted to this subplot of Tricky being betrayed by his brothers, it’s really strange how Tricky is denied any memory of it, and how there’s very little resolution to it – though it is nice to see that Gregor kept his word about changing his ways when he was given a second chance. “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” doesn’t quite manage to stick the landing with this story about estranged family members reconciling, but at least it’s not a complete and total failure like the B-plot in “The Idiot’s Lantern“.

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Engine Room 15

“Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” is directed by newcomer Mat King, who does an impressive job of handling this episode. Unlike most Doctor Who episodes, this story utilizes a steadycam quite a lot, which gives us plenty of crooked, slanted panning shots and plenty of off-kilter zoom-ins as the cameraman slides around the various sets that make up the TARDIS’s interior, exploring the other-worldly location of the Doctor’s ship. “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” is a very well-lit episode as well, and features a very striking color scheme that reminds me a lot of Chris Chibnall’s “42“: once we’re inside the TARDIS full-time, there are three primary colors for the backgrounds that are never far away – dark green, fiery red, and sea blue. Like “The Doctor’s Wife”, a bunch of new sets were created for the TARDIS’s interior rooms, and this episode was filmed in a variety of locations, like Roath Lock Studios in Wales, Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, and Argoed Isha Quarry in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Like most episodes in Series 7, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” has some truly gorgeous visual effects, courtesy of the BBC Wales VFX team, like the exterior shots of the Van Baalen’s brothers’ ship flying through space, or the establishing shots of the Eye of Harmony burning away in the TARDIS’s engine room: you can really tell a good chunk of the season’s budget was devoted to this episode. When it comes to Murray Gold’s score, he once again repurposes a lot of his old material, since this episode did not have it’s own designated scoring session (for the third week in a row), outside of the electronic piece “A Machine That Makes Machines“. “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” heavily reuses a lot of music from the Series 7 Christmas special “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe“, along with a few other pieces from “The Beast Below“, “The Bells Of Saint John” and “The Rings Of Akhaten“.

All in all, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” is a pretty wild episode of Doctor Who that succeeds at what it set out to do: showing off more of the TARDIS and making the big blue box (which is usually a pretty warm and welcoming environment) seem like a truly alien and frightening place for once. It’s easily one of the standout stories of Series 7B when it comes to the fright factor and the character progression for the Doctor and Clara.

Rating: 9/10.

Side Notes:

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Reset Button 3

* “Take the wheel. I’ll make it easy. Shut it down to basic mode for you” “Basic? Because I’m a girl?” “No” Your mouth says ‘no’, but your eyes say ‘yes’, Doctor.

* “You’re lying” “Yep!” “To stop me freaking out?” “Is it working?” “Not so much!”

* “Outlawed in most galaxies, this little beastie can disable whole vessels unless you have shield oscillators… which I turned off so that Clara could fly. Damnit!

* “You crazy lunatic!” “My ship, my rules!” “You’ll kill us all, and the girl!” “She’s going to die if you don’t help me. Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman. Didn’t anyone ever teach you that?”

* “It’s your own time you’re wasting. The salvage of a lifetime: You meant the ship. I meant Clara”.

* “What’s the matter, TARDIS? Scared to fight me?” Bitch, please.

* “Tricky, what are you doing?! You’re always on the side of the machines!” That line made me snicker. I’d love to know the context behind that claim.

* “It’s all right. Clara, I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me, Clara- OW! Okay, so we’re not doing hugging. I get that now!”

* “What do you keep in here?! Why have you got zombie creatures?! Good guys do not have zombie creatures! Rule one: basic storytelling!” Perhaps he was planning on recreating Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Did you ever think about that, Clara?

* “Where are we going?” “A detour to the center of the TARDIS!”

* “The TARDIS is leaking the past. You and me. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve said. Recent history. It’s not real. It’s a memory” “What about this?” “If you’re giving me the option, I’d say this one’s real”.

* “We can only survive for a minute or two in there” “What happens if we stay longer?” “Our cells with liquefy and our skin will start to burn” “I always feel so good after we’ve spoken” “Clara, keep this door shut” “That will not be a problem”.

* “You did this to me just to be captain of a heap of junk?!” Pretty much.

* “You’re going to tell me right now! If we’re going to die here, you’re going to tell me what they are!” “I can’t” “Tell me! What’s the use in secrets now?!” “Secrets protect us. Secrets make us safe!” “We’re not safe!

* “That’s me. I burn in here: “It isn’t just the past leaking out through the time rift. It’s the future. Listen, I brought you here to keep you safe, but it happened again. You died again” “…What do you mean, ‘again’?”

* “I met you in the Dalek Asylum. There was a girl in a shipwreck and she died saving my life, and she was you!” “She really wasn’t”.

* “Hey now, Clara, I have piloted this ship for over nine hundred years. Trust me this one time, please. Okay, okay, as well as all the other times. Ready? Geronimo“.

* “You call yourself ‘Doctor’. Why do you do that? You have a name. I’ve seen it, in one corner of that tiny-” “If I rewrite today, you won’t remember. You won’t go looking for my name” “We’ll still have secrets? “It’s better that way”.

* “I need to know if you feel safe. I need to know you’re not afraid” “Of?” “The future. Running away with a spaceman in a box, anything could happen to you” “That’s what I’m counting on.”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Rescue Mission 5

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