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.

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As a prelude to the show’s fiftieth anniversary special and the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration story, “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. While the Silence arc dominated Series 5 and 6, 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 (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 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.

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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.

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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 completely, 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 a few seasons’ time. 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 never 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.

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“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, 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).

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“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 Mill is pretty superb, 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.


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* “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:

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Doctor Who: Nightmare In Silver (2013) Review

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“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.

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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 opportunity to play a double role in this episode (after he had previously done so in “The Rebel Flesh” last season). 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.

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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 Webley’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.

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“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 expose to himself 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 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 turns him down gently, 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 of 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 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 Mill 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 talking to each other, though the long shots of the Cybermen walking together in unison aren’t always as solid. 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.


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 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 a major focus in this episode, but it continues 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 off here, when she sees 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 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 an 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 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 (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 that you should want to keep 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.


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 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 step up from his 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 and make peace with it. 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 and helping 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 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. 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 future 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 a pretty well-established part of his personality 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 in 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 at 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 a clueless about it as he is and she bears him no 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 Doctor’s ship is totally trashed and Clara is flung deep into the depths of it. 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 is 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 unfortunately the Doctor stops him.

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 and he manages to find a bit of redemption in the end. However, the pay-off for this arc is not nearly 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 remains a self-centered ass until his third-to-last scene (when he finally starts to show a little fraternal loyalty), which makes it very difficult to care about whether or not he ever patches things up with Tricky. And the way this subplot wraps up is really 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 almost no real resolution to it. I usually like stories about estranged family members reconciling, but “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” doesn’t manage to stick the landing with this one. It’s nowhere near as bad as the B-plot in “The Idiot’s Lantern“, but it’s still pretty weak.

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 Mill, 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 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. The only thing that holds this episode back from reaching its full potential is the really lackluster subplot devoted to the side characters, which never seems to have much of a pay-off.

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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Doctor Who: Hide (2013) Review

Doctor Who Hide Pocket Universe 3

During Doctor Who’s seventh season, several of the show’s guest writers (like Chris Chibnall, Mark Gatiss and Neil Cross) wound up doubling their workload and contributing two stories apiece that year, which is something that’s always stood out to me. “Hide” was actually the first story Neil Cross penned when he was brought onboard to write for the show, and Steven Moffat liked it so much he asked him to write another one that wound up becoming “The Rings Of Akhaten“. Indeed, in my opinion, “Hide” is a charming little episode where the Doctor and Clara are both characterized well, even if the stakes are pretty low by Doctor Who’s usual standards. Throughout Series 7, Doctor Who has leapt around between a bunch of different film genres every week – whether it was a gritty sci-fi western in “A Town Called Mercy“, a 1930’s noir mystery in “The Angels Take Manhattan“, a whimsical Victorian Christmas special in “The Snowmen“, a musical adventure in space in “The Rings Of Akhaten”, and a base-under-siege story on a sunken Soviet submarine in “Cold War“. With “Hide”, the show once again dives headfirst into a different classic genre: a spooky haunted house mystery. Neil Cross wanted to write an unsettling ghost story where he would also comment on the nature of time travel, and how traveling in the TARDIS can change people’s perspective overtime without them even noticing it. Like with “The Rings Of Akhaten”, a few suggestions from Steven Moffat wound up having a major impact on the final version of the episode: particularly the twist about the Crooked Man, the episode’s main antagonist. Coming off the heels of “Cold War”, “Hide” is another slow-paced episode with a limited cast. Most of the action takes place in one setting until the last act, when the Doctor takes an unexpected trip to a pocket universe, which was a late addition to the story.

Doctor Who Hide Searching 9

In “Hide”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his new friend Clara decide to crash a séance that’s being held in the 1970’s, where two researchers are secretly trying to make contact with a ghost haunting an old mansion. Right from the start, the Doctor is clearly very excited about this case: investigating a specter who’s gained notoriety over the years. He wants to see something spooky and supernatural, something that goes against the grain, even if he doesn’t normally believe in the paranormal. Since the Doctor is from the future, he knows all about Dr. Alec Palmer and his partner Emma Grayling, and he’s a big fan of their work, so he spends a good chunk of this episode geeking out about having the opportunity to team up with them. Of course, as soon as he realizes that Alec and Emma have feelings for each other, he decides to play matchmaker (just like he did with Craig and Sophie in “The Lodger“) and encourages them both to make a move forward, in spite of their respective issues. As the Doctor looks deeper into the haunted house mystery, taking advantage of the time machine he has on hand as a very helpful tool, he slowly realizes the ghost in question is actually a lost soul trapped in another dimension, in a good amount of danger. So he decides to venture into a different universe to save her, and once he’s there, he quickly bites off a bit more than he can chew. The Doctor spent most of this episode trying to console everyone’s fears and be the voice of reason within the group, but he winds up confronting his own fears when he’s faced with the seemingly hopeless predicament of being trapped inside a pocket universe with a monster for the rest of his life, before Clara and the TARDIS come to give him a helping hand. The events of “Hide” also develop the Doctor and Clara’s genial camaraderie further, as she starts to see different faucets of his personality.

There comes a time when every new companion starts to realize just how alien the Doctor’s mindset is compared to their own, even if he looks as human as they do. At one point, while they’re tracking the ghost, the Doctor takes Clara through the entire life cycle of Earth – birth to death – and he isn’t fazed by it in the slightest, which creeps her out a lot. It’s easy to forget sometimes, since he’s been played by three different actors since Series 1, but this is still the same character who took Rose to see her ancestral home die for her very first trip through time, and didn’t think about how much seeing that would mess Rose up until she had to spell it out for him. As Clara starts to grow disillusioned with time travel, the Doctor does at least say something to try to put her mind at ease, but he has his own problems that are weighing on his mind. When it comes to how he’s portrayed in this episode, “Hide” draws attention to the Eleventh Doctor’s rather duplicitous nature. He’s still keeping his ulterior motives about why he asked Clara to travel with him to himself, and he keeps making creepy faces of distrust at her behind her back. In the final few scenes, it’s revealed that the real, primary reason why he wanted to seek out Emma Grayling was so he could ask her about Clara. She only confirms once again that Clara is just an ordinary girl and that there’s nothing really remarkable about her – which the Doctor refuses to believe. He’s hit another dead end with his investigation, and he’s starting to get frustrated. Even though the Doctor is the main character of the show and he still doesn’t trust Clara fully, it’s ironically the Doctor himself who comes off as being very shady and untrustworthy in Series 7B, and this running thread about his growing obsession will come to a head in the next episode, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS“, which finally calls him out on his secrecy and deceit.

Doctor Who Hide Side Quest 2

“Hide” was the very first episode of Doctor Who that Jenna Louise-Coleman filmed as Clara Oswald – even before “Asylum Of The Daleks“, “The Snowmen” and “The Bells Of Saint John” – and you honestly can’t tell this is her first time stepping into the role. Throughout “Hide”, she certainly manages to make Clara a fun, plucky and likable presence in the TARDIS who can keep up with the Doctor. Eleven and Clara actually remind me a lot of Ten and Rose in this episode – they’re constantly goofing off, acting like tourists, and teasing each other about their respective flaws – but they have a much better sense of when their fun and games are appropriate and when it’s time to get serious. Building off her characterization in “Cold War”, Clara still gets startled easily in this episode – especially since the spooky haunted house she and the Doctor decided to visit seems like the real deal – but she’s determined to keep her fear in check, so she won’t miss out on the adventure of a lifetime. Over the last few episodes, Clara has started to suspect that the TARDIS doesn’t like her, and her suspicions are confirmed in this outing. Perhaps the TARDIS has a certain distaste for her because she can sense she’s a space-time anomaly (she didn’t like Captain Jack very much either, for similar reasons), or perhaps she just thinks her personality is annoying. In any case, there’s quite a bit of friction between Clara and the TARDIS, but the two of them decide to make peace during the climax when a mutual problem of theirs arises. When the Doctor gets trapped inside a pocket universe, Clara confronts her fears and teams up with the TARDIS so she can fly in there after him and get him out. All the attention that this episode gives to Clara’s strained relationship with the TARDIS sets the stage for the next story, where Clara gets lost inside the Doctor’s ship.

Over the last few episodes, Clara and the Doctor have gotten along pretty well, and she has a pretty positive view of him in her head, because as far as she knows she has no reason not to. However, “Hide” develops her new bond with the Doctor, by showing her a different and more unsettling side of her friend for the first time. About midway through this adventure, the Doctor takes her to the end of the Earth’s lifespan and Clara is deeply disturbed by the sight of her home-world being dead and abandoned, even if the Doctor is mostly unaffected by it. This morbid trip into the future causes her to start viewing time travel a bit differently than she did before, and she raises some very good points when she tries to describe aloud what she’s feeling. A time traveler is basically someone who lives outside of time: the natural progression of cause and effect. From their perspective, everyone they meet, all the time, is both alive and dead: they either haven’t been born yet in the past, or they’re long dead in the distant future. Growing accustomed to that sort of thing can easily change a person, whether they want it to or not. Afterwards, Clara starts thinking about her own mortality and the fleeting nature of her own existence, which makes the Doctor uncomfortable, since he’s already seen two doppelgängers of her die before. When Clara and Emma have a private talk in another scene, Emma warns Clara not to trust the Doctor fully, because she can sense he’s been holding out on her and he’s hiding a big part of his true self from her. All of these little moments of doubt and disillusionment for Clara are basically set-up for the next episode, where the Doctor and Clara have their first big falling out, precisely because the Doctor hasn’t been honest with her about his true intentions or her status as an Impossible Girl.

Doctor Who Hide Searching 13

The B-plot of “Hide” is centered around the two main guest characters: the two researchers studying a ghost in private. Dr. Alec Palmer is a retired World War II veteran, who actually owns the haunted house in question – living in seclusion in the country. Dr. Palmer is a proud, stubborn, stoic man who’s apparently been burned by life several times. He gave so much of himself to help his country with the war efforts, only for Britain’s government to screw him over in return afterwards, and as a result his experiences have made him quite jaded and distrusting. He has his share of past regrets about what he had to do during the fight against the Nazis, and plenty of survivor’s guilt, since he lived on past the war when so many others didn’t (Alec’s backstory, which he quietly bonds with the Doctor over, serves as another nice bit of foreshadowing for “The Day Of The Doctor”, as Series 7 continues to build up to that story). Alec very clearly has a crush on his partner, Emma, and while he had to courage to fight in a world war for years, when it comes to personal matters of the heart, he’s ironically too shy to fess up. Emma is an empathic psychic who can read people’s emotions, so she suspects he has feelings for her, but she’s not sure if that’s true or not or if it’s just wishful thinking on her part. So she’s afraid to make a move herself, and risk ruining their friendship. Emma has a special connection to the ghost, because she can sense her fear and suffering. Emma decides to help the Doctor with his dangerous mission to save a time traveler in distress, which finally prompts Alec to let her in, be vulnerable and confess his feelings for her – so he can show concern for her and show his support for her. The ‘ghost’ that was the haunting the grounds ultimately turns out to be a future descendant of theirs, which gives the new couple some unexpected reassurance that their new relationship will endure the test of time.

“Hide” is a unique sort of Doctor Who episode where there are really no villains for a change. For the first half of the episode, we’re led to believe the infamous Caliburn ghast might be dangerous, but it slowly becomes apparent that that’s really not the case. The closest thing this story has to an antagonist is the Crooked Man, and even he has more layers to him than you might guess. The Witch of the Well who haunts Dr. Palmer’s home spends her days wandering the grounds, reaching out to people across dimensions: living in a constant state of fear, because of the alien nightmare bearing down on her. During the latter half of the episode, the Doctor discovers that the ‘ghost’ is actually a time traveler named Hilla Tacorian who’s gotten stuck in a pocket universe, so he goes in there to get her out. And after that, he discovers that the Crooked Man isn’t actually evil, but was trapped in the pocket universe like Hilla and has spent who knows how long trying to get back to his mate. The Crooked Man and his mate are meant to intentionally mirror Alec and Emma, as well as the Doctor and Clara, to tie the two main themes of this episode together. A major recurring motif throughout “Hide” is fear: Clara is afraid of the ‘ghost’ for most of this episode, and she also starts to fear the future later. Hilla is afraid of a monster she can’t escape from, no matter where she runs. Alec and Emma are afraid to be honest with each other about how they feel, because they might be rejected. Even the Doctor starts to succumb to his own fear briefly, when it looks like he might be trapped in a pocket universe with a monster forever. But “Hide” is also an episode about love conquering fear. Clara’s fears don’t matter to her anymore once the Doctor is in danger, while Alec and Emma push through their fears so they can support each other and save a few people in need.

Doctor Who Hide Side Quest 3

“Hide” is directed by newcomer Jamie Payne, who does a commendable job of handling this story. The scenes set inside and around Dr. Palmer’s home (the Caliburn manor) were filmed in Tyntestfield House – an old estate from the Victorian era that’s located in North Somerset, England – while the scenes that unfold inside the pocket universe were filmed inside a misty Gethin forest in Wales. The climatic scenes in the pocket universe are probably the most visually striking sequences in this episode: where the blinding white light of an open wormhole bathing Dr. Palmer’s living room is constantly contrasted with the spooky forest scenes that are filled to the brim with grey, desaturated lighting. These scenes seem to take a lot of inspiration from the aesthetic “Poltergeist” had, and I completely approve of that decision. The show’s costume department is given the chance to get creative again with the design for an original, abnormal alien creature: the Crooked Man – a beast with thick, gangly limbs and an impossibly long, twisted neck. When it comes to menacing, prosthetic monsters, they’re always at their best when they’re left to the viewer’s imaginations (like the time-eating beetle from “Turn Left“), so the Crooked Man is easily at his most effective when he’s obscured for most of the episode with some clever camera work, lurking in the backgrounds of several shots as he stalks people from a distance. Murray Gold’s score is pretty subdued and atmospheric this week. Like the last episode, “Hide” didn’t receive its own scoring session and very little original content was written for it, aside from “I Am A Ghost“, a quiet, contemplative variation of “Whose Enigma” from “The Snowmen”. So there’s a lot of reused music from Series 6 and 7 in this episode: like “All For One“, “Locked On“, “Time Is Moving“, “Towards The Asylum“, “The Terrible Truth“, “My Husband’s Home“, “Cumbria 1207“, and “Spoonheads“.

All in all, “Hide” is a rather cute episode of Doctor Who that doesn’t rise to the heights of “The Rings Of Akhaten”, but is still one of the more memorable adventures of Series 7B. It does a great job of strengthening the bond between the Eleventh Doctor and Clara, while also showing the cracks in their friendship that need to be addressed sometime soon.

Rating: 8/10.

Side Notes:

Doctor Who Hide Happy Ending 10

* “Boo! Hello, I’m looking for a ghost” “And you are?” “Ghostbusters!”

* “Sorry. You went to the bank and said, you know that gigantic old haunted house on the moors? The one the dossers are too scared to doss in? The one the birds are too scared to fly over? And then you said, I’d like to buy it, please, with my money?”

* “Are you coming?” “Where?” “To find the ghost” “Why would I want to do that?” “Because you want to. Come on” “No, I dispute that assertion!”

* “The music room is the heart of the house” The awkward silence that follows that line is hilarious. The Doctor and Clara are like “Thanks for the information, lady. No one really asked for it, but thanks anyway”.

* “Experience makes liars of us all. We lie about who we are, about what we’ve done” “And how we feel?” “Yes. Always. Always that”.

* “Okay, what is that?” “It’s a very loud noise. It’s a very loud, very angry noise” “What’s making it?” “I don’t know. Are you making it?”

* “Doctor, I may be a teeny, tiny bit terrified. But I’m still a grown-up. There’s no need to actually hold my hand” “Clara… I’m not holding your hand!”

* “I think I’d rather have tea” “Me too. Whiskey is the eleventh most disgusting thing ever invented” I’m not gonna lie, I’m kind of curious about what the other ten things on Clara’s list are.

* “What about you and the Doctor?” “Oh, I don’t think so” “Good. Don’t trust him. There’s a sliver of ice in his heart”.

* “No, not in here! How do you expect her to like you if she’s soaking wet?! It’s a health and safety nightmare!”

* “What do you think?” “Eh, the color’s a bit boisterous” “I think it brings out my eyes” “It makes my eyes hurt” Damn, girl. Just damn.

* ” So I’m a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing” “No. No. You’re not that” “Then what are we? What can we possibly be?” “…You are the only mystery worth solving”.

* “Tell me what I’m thinking” “I can’t. I don’t have your gift” “You don’t need it. Just look at me and tell me… There, you see, you read my mind”.

* I feel so bad for Emma. This woman has to practically split her skull open twice, trying to keep the wormhole open, because the Doctor dragged his feet so much in the pocket universe.

* “I know that you feel you can’t do this, Emma, but look at that woman over there. You saved her. She’s only here because of your strength, and so am I. I was as lost as her, but being with you, you gave me a reason to be, Emma. You brought me back from the dead”.

* “I’m the TARDIS voice visual interface. I’m programmed to select the image of a person you esteem. Of several billion such images in my databanks, this one best meets the criterion” “Ugh, you are a cow. I knew it!”

* Clara’s lucky she wasn’t around in “The Doctor’s Wife“, the episode where the TARDIS had a voice for once. Imagine all the bickering that would have ensued.

* “What do you want? To frighten me, I suppose, eh? Because that’s what you do. You hide. You’re the bogeyman under the bed, seeking whom you may devour. You want me to be afraid. Then well done. I am the Doctor, and I am afraid”.

* “Every lonely monster needs a companion!” “There’s two of them!” What a twist!

* “Now, here she comes! Get ready to jump!”

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Hide Slideshow 6

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Doctor Who: Cold War (2013) Review

Doctor Who Cold War Moment Of Truth 9

“Cold War”, penned by series veteran Mark Gatiss, continues a tradition Doctor Who has adhered to ever since the show was revived in 2005: bringing back a different iconic monster from the classic series with each passing season and doing something different with them by humanizing them, giving them some additional depth. Mark Gatiss wanted to bring the back the Ice Warriors, because he always had a soft spot for the race of Reptilian soldiers from the planet Mars. By Series 7, it’s pretty clear that Mark Gatiss loves a good period piece: he loves to immerse himself in whatever genre of fiction he’s writing for, whether it’s a good old-fashioned ghost story like “The Unquiet Dead“, a forty-five minute wartime movie with a sci-fi twist like “Victory Of The Daleks“, or a larger than life parody of the classic Robin Hood myths like “Robots Of Sherwood”. With “Cold War”, he once again sits down to write a wartime adventure, except this one is set during the 1980’s instead of World War II. As the title would suggest, this episode is centered around the constant high tensions of the Cold War, the politics and power plays involved on every side of it, and just how close the world came to nuclear annihilation during that period of history. Mark Gatiss decides to explore this topic by dropping some aliens right in the middle of it (including our favorite nomadic time lord). Compared to the last episode, which was a sentimental, heartwarming tale, there’s a very large tonal shift with “Cold War”, a claustrophobic, horror-themed episode. It’s designed to be your classic base-under-siege story, a formula that long-time Doctor Who fans should be very familiar with, except all of the action in this story takes place inside a sunken submarine at the bottom of the sea instead of a military base. “Cold War” is also a very slow-paced episode compared to the last couple of adventures, and it really takes its time building up a sizable amount of suspense, particularly during the latter half of the hour.

Doctor Who Cold War Debriefing

In “Cold War”, the TARDIS drops the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his new friend Clara off on a sinking Soviet submarine in the 1980’s (when they intended to go to Vegas) and then it just flies off without them, leaving them stranded there. The crew of Russian soldiers quickly grow suspicious of them and accuse them of being spies, which is actually a pretty reasonable assumption when two people appear out of nowhere on a military submarine at the bottom of the ocean. And of course, their predicament only grows more complicated and more dangerous when the Doctor discovers an Ice Warrior is trapped onboard the sub with them too, and he’s not feeling very peaceful. In fact, he’s feeling quite vengeful. “Cold War” brings up two key events in the Doctor’s life again, for the first time in a while, because they both relate to the main plot of this episode: he’s the last of his species, and he fought in a great war a long time ago, even if he’s not proud of it. The Doctor’s usual distaste for the military returns again in this story, when one of the Russians rather stupidly dooms his entire crew and possibly the entire world. The Doctor blames everything on Captain Zhukov, holding him personally accountable for the actions of his warmongering first mate, and is frequently hostile towards him as things escalate. Zhukov makes no bones about his status as a soldier, and in return pegs the Doctor quite well by calling him out on his hypocrisy: pointing out that they’re very much alike, which the Doctor rather tellingly doesn’t have a retort to, other than changing the subject. Like the Doctor’s scenes with Kahler-Jex in “A Town Called Mercy“, these little reminders of the time war are a nice way of foreshadowing “The Day Of The Doctor” at the end of this season, where the Doctor finally has to confront his past and revisit one of his greatest regrets.

Because of his own personal history with the nature of warfare, the Doctor understands how Skaldak thinks, the militaristic culture that he comes from, and he also understands how the humans on Earth think. He knows what’s at stake, how easily the Earth’s timeline could be changed for the worse, and he’s terrified that this little conflict between humans and Ice Warriors at the bottom of the sea could snowball into something much greater than that and bring about the end of the world (by humanity’s own hands), when Skaldak swears vengeance on the entire human race. The Doctor is also worried about Clara getting in over her head, because his new sidekick wants to prove herself as a capable, helpful member of the team. So the Doctor reluctantly works with Captain Zhukov to save the world, and he tries and fails to keep the peace. Trying to get Skaldak to see reason won’t work, because the vengeful Ice Warrior won’t listen to him, and eventually the Doctor has to resort to threatening him. He promises to blow up the sub and sacrifice everyone on it, to prevent Skadak from launching nuclear missiles and save the Earth. For once, the Doctor can’t see another way out, and despite his best efforts to defuse this conflict before it could get any worse, he ultimately winds up getting sucked into it and becomes one half of a mutually assured destruction scenario. However, Clara manages to buy them enough time for help to arrive, and the Doctor is deeply relieved when he doesn’t have to make good on his threat. Sometimes the Doctor has to make terrible choices for the greater good of many, choices where nobody really wins, and sometimes his friends manage to save him from that, just by being there to make their own decisions. “Cold War” is one of those times, and in hindsight, the climax serves as another nice bit of foreshadowing for the way “The Day Of The Doctor” pans out.

Doctor Who Cold War Clara's Mission 2

After being a key character for the last couple of episodes, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) takes on more of a supporting role in “Cold War”. As a brand new companion, she’s still learning the basics in this episode: how the TARDIS translates different languages for her inhabitants, and how time is constantly in a state of flux, which means the danger of Skaldak changing human history for the worse is very much real. Clara volunteers to help the Doctor appease Skaldak, by going to speak to him one-on-one. She puts herself in a considerable amount of danger to do so, and she gets pretty bummed when it all goes horribly wrong. After everything that happened in “The Rings Of Akhaten“, Clara has gained respect for the Doctor as an unlikely wandering hero, and she’s starting to follow his example. She wants to gain his approval, which is a significant development for her character, even if it doesn’t seem like one at first glance. A major part of Clara’s character arc over the course of two and a half seasons is that she gradually starts to become more like the Doctor as she tries to follow in his footsteps, which eventually lands in her some real hot water at the end of Series 9 when she’s met with her limitations. In “Cold War”, she and the Doctor are in quite a bit of trouble, so she tries to put on a brave face, she tries to have faith in his plan, but she’s more scared than she lets on – she’s still very green as a heroine, after all. “Cold War” is also the point where Clara starts to realize that traveling in the TARDIS won’t always be fun and games, when she stumbles upon two freshly mutilated corpses – two people Skaldak recently murdered – and she’s quite rightly mortified by the gory sight. However, she still manages to help save the day, by using what she’s learned to appeal to Skaldak’s better nature and buy them all some time for a third party to step in, before either Skaldak or the Doctor make a decision that they can never take back.

Basically all of the action in this episode takes place onboard a Soviet submarine that’s currently embarking on a scientific expedition in the Arctic circle, led by Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham). Captain Zhukov is shown to have a fair amount of layers: he’s a grizzled, patriotic man who’s not afraid to get violent to defend his country or his crew. He loses his temper with the Doctor several times, when he suspects the time lord is holding out on him or putting them all in danger. But despite his faults, he does try to be a sensible and level-headed leader. While he does his duty for his country, he understands full well that there’s no such thing as a good war. He doesn’t want a ton of unnecessary bloodshed to happen, and he certainly doesn’t want to be the one responsible for kick-starting the end of the world. When it becomes increasingly obvious that the humans are in way over their heads, and the Doctor is telling the truth about everything, Zhukov does take his advice into account so he can try to protect his crew and do what’s best for everyone onboard the ship. It’s easy to see why he’s the one in charge, instead of his lunatic of a first mate. Throughout the hour, Zhukov’s prejudices are challenged, and he comes to see the importance of recognizing Skaldak as an equal, an enemy soldier with a keen amount of intellect, instead of a mindless beast. He also starts to realize that he and his crew might not survive this skirmish – in which case, they need to focus on saving their world. The Doctor and Zhukov do manage to find some common once they team up and work together to stop Skaldak’s plans. It’s not uncommon for military leaders to be portrayed as belligerent, gun-toting idiots in Doctor Who, so they can act as foils to the Doctor’s own personal ideology: so easily the most interesting type of soldier you can pair the Doctor up with is someone who’s fighting to stop a war.

Doctor Who Cold War Regrouping 3

By comparison, Zhukov’s second-in-command Stephashin is exactly the sort of stubborn, short-sighted fool you would expect to see in a position of power in this show. Stephashin is a distrusting, nationalistic warmonger who makes it no secret that he hates America. He would like nothing more than to light the fires of war and end the stalemate that all the great western powers find themselves in at the moment, so Russia can show its strength and put the Americans in their place. A worldwide nuclear war would risk bringing about the end of the entire world (hence the phrase ‘mutually assured destruction’), but Stephashin is confident that could Russia could win the fight, and truthfully, he only cares about himself anyway. He’s also an insubordinate officer, who’s constantly trying to undermine Zhukov’s authority by pushing his captain’s will as far as it will go, and as such even his own crewmates find him insufferable to deal with – but he makes for an excellent antagonist. His shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality winds up causing everyone trouble when he attacks Skaldak by shooting him in the back. After he’s brought the Ice Warrior’s wrath down upon his crewmates, he refuses to learn anything from the experience by ignoring everything the Doctor has to say about it. And later he proposes an alliance to Skaldak, where he’s willing to sell out his entire species just to get his war, which really cements that he is a terrible person. But he finally gets his just desserts: Skaldak is really not interested in a partnership, so he decides to do everyone a favor and kill him off. The last notable human character in this episode would be Professor Grizenko, a mellow fellow and a man of science who provides most of this episode’s quirky pop culture jokes. He has a very small role compared to Zhukov and Stephashin, but he does act as a mentor figure Clara while the Doctor is busy, helping her manage her fears and anxiety.

In “Cold War”, Mark Gatiss decides to handle the return of the Ice Warriors to Doctor Who by focusing on one Ice Warrior in particular, and explaining the inner workings of his society through him. The main antagonist of this episode is a war hero named Skaldak, a decorated general who spent five thousand years sleeping under the ice in the Arctic, when an expedition to the planet Earth went wrong. He’s finally unthawed in the 1980’s by a few unwitting humans, and is quite rightly horrified to discover he’s now outlived all of his friends and loved ones. He spends most of this episode coping that revelation, and he fully believes that he’s the last of his kind: a crushing feeling that the Doctor knows all too well. The Ice Warriors are a very militant species with a different sort of morality than humankind, and they’re also very vengeful. Stephashin assaults an officer by shooting him in the back, which is considered to be an act of war on Mars. Skaldak is legally allowed to do whatever he wants to the humans, so he sets about taking his revenge on the crew members who are trapped onboard the sub with him – taking out his grief and anger on the Earth’s native life. As far as he’s concerned, it’s the only thing he has left that will make him feel better about his new isolation. Mark Gatiss decides to do a few new things with Ice Warriors in this episode by having Skaldak leave his armor and go a hunt with his own natural weapons, as well as finally showing us what an Ice Warrior looks like without a mask for the first time. Ultimately, the day is saved by an Ice Warrior Ex Machina. Skaldak’s race managed to survive after thousands of years, even if they’ve moved to a different world, and they eventually come to collect him. After a talk with Clara, Skaldak relents and decides to show humanity mercy – returning again to his own kind, after he’s gotten off scot free for committing multiple murders.

Doctor Who Cold War Killing Spree 2

“Cold War” is helmed by Douglas McKinnon, who returns to direct his second episode for Series 7 after “The Power Of Three“, and his direction for this episode is certainly a large step up from his work on “The Power Of Three”, even if the blocking is confusing at times. Thanks to some impressive work from the show’s lighting department, there are a couple of beautifully composed shots of the sub’s darkened corridors, with a deep blue and orange color scheme that constantly pervades this episode. While there are some very nice CGI shots of the Arctic circle in this episode, “Cold War” actually relies mostly on practical effects: most of the exterior shots of the submarine underwater are actually cutaways to a model sub in a tank, creating the sort of illusion that you would often see in old wartime movies. For “Cold War”, the show’s costume and wardrobe department were given the challenge of redesigning the Ice Warriors for Doctor Who’s modern incarnation. Compared to the radical redesigns the Cybermen and the Silurians underwent in previous seasons, the Ice Warriors look very similar to the appearance they had back in the classic series, because Mark Gatiss wanted them to retain most of their old features, though their armor has become more sleek and streamlined, to show that they’ve grown more efficient as a war machine overtime. Compared to the last couple of episodes, where Murray Gold’s score took center stage, his music for the series is very subdued in this episode. “Skaldak” and “Cold War” are both sinister, electronic track that simmer in the background throughout the hour, before lunging out at the viewer for sudden, unexpected jump scares. The rest of Murray’s music is recycled from previous episodes like “Asylum Of The Daleks“, “A Town Called Mercy” and “The Angels Take Manhattan“, because there were not a lot of scoring sessions done for the show during the latter half of Series 7.

“Cold War” is one of Mark Gatiss’s better episodes (crafted with the love and care of someone who’s been a Doctor Who fan for most of their life), that combines some of the best aspects of the classic series and the revived series to create a fun and suspenseful hour of television.

Rating: 8/10.

Side Notes:

Doctor Who Cold War Standoff 5

* The entire plot of this episode is set in motion by an idiot. One of the crew members decides to go against the professor’s wishes and unthaw Skaldak ahead of time, instead of leaving him perfectly preserved in the ice. Even if they had unearthed some kind of prehistoric creature, how in the hell was he going to stop it from being damaged or decomposing further before they got back to dry land?

* “Hair, shoulder pads, nukes! It’s the eighties, Clara. Everything’s bigger!”

* “Ah, it never rains but it pours!”

* “Just keeping it light, Clara. They’re scared” “They’re scared?! I’m scared!

* There’s a funny bit of misdirection, after Stephashin attacks Skaldak. The Doctor angrily glares in his direction and snarls ‘lock him up!’, and just when the audience starts to wonder if he even has the authority to make that judgment call, a quick cut to the next scene reveals he was actually talking about a very pissed off Skaldak.

* “By his own standards, Skaldak is a hero. It was said his enemies honored him so much, they’d carve his name into their own flesh before they died” “Oh, yeah. Very nice. He sounds lovely!”

* Clara’s expression when Zhukov tells Stephashin to get the fuck out of his quarters and the man angrily storms past her is priceless. “Bro, that was awkward” is written all over her face.

* “A soldier knows another soldier. He’ll smell it on you, smell it on you a mile off!” “And he wouldn’t smell it on you, Doctor?” The Doctor’s silence speaks a thousand words.

* “It is time I learned the measure of my enemies, and what this vessel is capable of! Harm one of us and you harm us all! By the Moons, this I swear!” It’s murder time, baby.

* “Skaldak got no answer from his Martian brothers. Now he’s given up hope of being rescued. He thinks he’s been abandoned. He’s got nothing left to lose”.

* “This sub’s stuffed with nuclear missiles, Zhukov. It’s fat with them. What do you think Skaldak’s going to do when he finds that out? How bad can it be?! How bad can it be?! It couldn’t be any worse! ….Okay, spoke too soon”.

* “Mutually assured destruction. But this has not occurred?” “No” “Not yet“.

* “Ah, Professor, I could kiss you!” “If you insist” “…Later” Why do I have a feeling the Doctor would have gone for that kiss if the professor had been young and pretty.

* “If we get out of here, we’ll be bloody heroes!” I’m afraid you just jinxed yourself, dude.

* There’s another unintentionally funny scene where Clara is freaking out because she can hear what is obviously Skaldak coming closer, getting ready to attack her and the professor. Professor Grizenko tries to distract her to calm her nerves, when she does not want to calm down, and you can tell that she is ‘this‘ close to snapping at him to be quiet.

* “My distress call has not been answered, it will never be answered! My people are dead. They are dust. There is nothing left for me except my revenge!”

* “My world is dead, but now there will be a second red planet! Red with the blood of humanity!” Edgy, Skaldak, edgy.

* “So, we saved the world then?” “Yeah” “That’s what we do!”

* Right at the very end, we discover the Doctor caused his own misfortune. The TARDIS ditched him because he had been messing with the emergency settings on her controls, and she wound up going to the south pole. The Doctor asks Zhukov for a lift, but considering how long it would take to travel from one end of the globe to another, the Doctor and Clara are clearly going to be stuck in the 1980’s for quite a while.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Cold War Scared Clara 2

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Doctor Who: The Rings Of Akhaten (2013) Review

Doctor Who The Rings Of Akhaten Rescue Mission 20

“The Rings Of Akhaten” is written by Neil Cross, the showrunner of “Luther”, who was brought onboard Doctor Who’s writing team by one of the show’s producers, Caroline Skinner, during its seventh season. He was originally commissioned to write “Hide” (one of the first episodes of the season to be written and filmed), and because Steven Moffat liked his work on that story so much, he was asked to write a second episode as well that wound up becoming “The Rings Of Akhaten”. With “The Rings Of Akhaten”, the show decided to go big for Clara’s first trip to an alien planet (after her introduction in “The Bells Of Saint John“), and deliver some more of the spectacle Doctor Who had promised its audience for the show’s 50th anniversary season. Neil Cross frequently consulted with Steven Moffat about his ideas, and Steven’s input as showrunner wound up heavily impacting the final version of this episode: particularly when it came to Clara’s role in this story, and Neil Cross giving her her time to shine in the climax. I honestly wish we saw more episodes from Neil after Series 7, because “The Rings Of Akhaten” and “Hide” are both pretty creative episodes, that give the Doctor and Clara a lot of rich, charismatic characterization in their forty-five minute runtimes. “The Rings Of Akhaten” was actually panned pretty heavily when it first aired, because a lot of people thought the tone of this episode was too saccharine, and the premise was too outlandish, even for Doctor Who. Now that several years has passed, the fandom has a much kinder view of it these days, and I’m glad to see this episode has gotten a lot more appreciation, because it’s actually my favorite episode of Series 7, alongside “The Name Of The Doctor“. The first thirty-minutes make for a sweet, adventurous, feel-good story, while the last fifteen minutes turn this episode into something truly special.

Doctor Who The Rings Of Akhaten The Long Song 13

“The Rings Of Akhaten” actually starts on a pretty creepy note, that confirms the Doctor (Matt Smith) is definitely starting to become obsessed with the mystery of an ‘Impossible Girl’, when we’re treated to a montage of the Doc stalking Clara down her timeline: spying on her and her parents during her formative years, to see if there’s anything unusual about her. He only winds up determining that she’s just a regular human with an average, unremarkable background, which makes him more stumped than ever, but he doesn’t let on that he has any ulterior motives about wanting her to travel with him, when he goes to pick her up in the present day for her first trip through time. The Doctor winds up taking her to a rings system in space comprised of seven worlds, who all worship a sleeping god in a temple and gather together once a millennia to appease him. As we established in “The Satan Pit“, the Doctor has been around for a long time and he’s an agnostic individual who believes in cold, hard facts over myths. He doesn’t believe in religious stories, like the kind the spacefarers subscribe to, but he doesn’t see any harm in them either. He won’t deny other people their faith unless it’s hurting someone, and in this episode, it’s definitely going to hurt someone, since the Doctor and Clara eventually discover that the Old God and his servants have been indoctrinating a little girl since birth to become a human sacrifice, whether she wants to or not. The Doctor is quite rightly disgusted when he learns of this, and he doesn’t waste any time trying to talk her out of it. He makes a pretty convincing, because as we all know, the Doctor has quite a way with words. The Doctor decides to stand up for Merry and her people, and while he’s doing so, he decides to pass along his own personal philosophy to Clara, to give her an idea of what traveling with him is all about.

If there’s a grave injustice happening, if people are in danger, you have a moral imperative to help, to do what’s right when nobody else will, even if it’s dangerous, which takes true courage. In the Doctor’s eyes, every life has value, every life is precious, because every life is fleeting and finite. Any system that sacrifices one innocent life for the sake of a thousand, like the kind Akhaten is built upon, is sick, cowardly and unacceptable. It cannot be allowed to stand. The Doctor is personally appalled by the way the Old God has exploited and oppressed these people for thousands of years, so he’s willing to fight a god to save a planet, despite the terrible odds stacked against him. Eventually, he decides to sacrifice his memories by letting the creature feast upon them, in the hopes that doing so will kill it. In a rare moment of vulnerability for the Doctor, we see him bare his soul as he looks back over his entire life – including the parts he usually chooses not to remember, because they hurt so much. Old wounds that have long since scarred, and fresh wounds that still haven’t healed fully, like what happened in “The Angels Take Manhattan” a few episodes ago. Matt Smith combines passion, anger, pride and grief into a single performance, and as a result, the climax becomes one of his finest hours as the Doctor. The Doctor’s plan fails, because as glorious as that scene was, this episode was not about him. Instead, Clara steps up to save the day with her own ingenious sacrifice, that fully cements her newfound friendship with the Doctor. However, the final scene makes it clear that the Doctor still missed the whole point of this episode. In his desire to solve a paradox, he’s so fixated on what Clara might be that he’s currently overlooking who she is as a person (which turns out to be the true reason why she became an ‘Impossible Girl’), and he won’t learn from his error in judgment until the season finale.

Doctor Who The Rings Of Akhaten Infinite Potential 8

In “The Rings Of Akhaten”, we learn a lot more about Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), the things she values and the experiences that shaped her life. A long time ago, a stray leaf in the wind brought Clara’s parents together when it led Ellie Oswald to save Dave Oswald’s life – so in a way, it also brought Clara into the world, as the end result of their love for each other, and it became a cherished family heirloom. Clara loved her mom (who really helped to shape the person she grew up to be) dearly, so she was devastated when her mom died young and she lost her as a teen. To this day, Clara still keeps the leaf around to remember Ellie and honor her memory, and since she’s now living out her childhood dreams of seeing the world with the Doctor, Clara is feeling especially nostalgic. The Doctor takes her to a world where sentimental objects are used as currency, where memories hold weight, and a person’s soul is considered to be the total sum of all the experiences they’ve had throughout their lives. Clara has a blast, trying to soak in as much alien culture as she can, when she bumps into a Merry Gejelh, a little girl on the run. Clara’s compassion for children is one of her most defining traits as a character: she doesn’t know anything about this kid or her world in general, but she cannot in good conscience ignore a terrified child in need. So she reaches out to her as a friend to comfort her and shares a story with her about her mom teaching her to face her fears as a girl, passing along Ellie’s wisdom. Clara’s bond with Merry is pretty cute, since she basically acts as her self-appointed big sis. Clara unknowingly talks Merry into putting herself in danger, and once she realizes that, she immediately takes responsibility for her mistake and rushes to save her. She tries to take the Doctor’s words of wisdom to heart and be the very best version of herself that she can be: for Merry and her planet.

When the Doctor’s plan to destroy the Old God fails, Clara manages to figure out a better solution. Overwhelming the beast with the past didn’t work, so she decides to kill it with the infinite potential of a future that went unlived – symbolized by a single, unlikely leaf. Over the years, Ellie Oswald’s memory has given Clara strength and helped her stay brave in trying times. Here, it actually manages to save an entire world. Because the life Ellie had, the impact she had on the world around her and the people she loved, it all mattered just as much as the Doctor’s thousand years of adventures: it’s an incredibly stirring, heartwarming sentiment from a show that has always championed the value of a simple human life. There are plenty of episodes of Doctor Who where the power of love saves the day somehow, but “The Rings Of Akhaten” is one of the rare times it feels completely earned by everything that built up to it. Afterwards, Clara gets the Doctor to admit he sought her out as a companion because she reminds him of someone, so she makes it clear that she’ll only keep traveling with him if he treats her as her own person, and not as a stand-in for someone else. In other words, she has no intention of being what Martha was for the Tenth Doctor. And the people of Akhaten make sure to give her their thanks, for saving their world. “The Rings Of Akhaten” was quite a character-building episode for Clara, that allowed her to earn her stripes as a companion for what she did instead of her echoes. In this episode, Clara was kind enough to reach out to Merry about her problems, brave enough to get involved in alien business that she barely understood, and selfless enough to give up one of her family’s most precious heirlooms to save a world that was not her own thousands of years into the future. She definitely proved that she’s companion material, and I gained a lot of respect for after this adventure.

Doctor Who The Rings Of Akhaten Marketplace 6

“The Rings Of Akhaten” devotes a lot more time to world-building than Doctor Who usually does: going out of its way to establish the unique setting of this story. Most of this episode takes place within a rings system in the far future, where the citizens of seven worlds both fear and worship a sleeping god who lies at the heart of their home. Every time a new millennium comes, they gather together to praise him and provide him with offerings to appease him. The Doctor naturally thinks it’s all a myth, but since this is “Doctor Who”, it turns out there’s some truth to the tall tales. A giant alien parasite did set up shop in their neighborhood, thousands of years ago, so it could be worshipped, and since it’s a sentient creature, it’s also quite the hypocrite that demands love and respect from the people who depend upon it, but gives none in return. So, as the Doctor swiftly surmises, it’s basically your run of the mill tyrant who rules through fear and intimidation. It demands that the people of the ring system give it something of immense value every time it wakes up from its slumber, which is why the Queen of Years exists. The Queen of Years is the vessel of Akhaten’s culture, who knows every fact, every detail and every song about their culture: the perfect type of food for a creature that feeds on memories. While the people of Akhaten trying their absolute best to keep the sleeping titan resting, a select few of them keep the Queen of Years around as a contingency plan if worst comes to worst. The Queen of Years by the way is a little girl who they’ve been indoctrinating since birth to accept her fate as a human sacrifice as a necessary evil for the greater good, so that everyone else can live – and this has been traditional in their culture for quite some time.

The current Queen of Years, Merry Gejelh, rebels and runs away, because she’s afraid of the terrible responsibility that’s been foisted upon her, just like any child would be in her position. Clara gives her hope and convinces her that she won’t fail at her duties – and then everything gets shot to hell. Once the Old God kidnaps her and commands she become his dinner, Merry accepts that she needs to die, but thankfully, the Doctor and Clara intervene and stand up for her. During one of several beautiful speeches in this episode, the Doctor breaks down his view of the world to Merry to make her aware of her own value, her own uniqueness, and her own right to live – to really drive home just how cruel and depraved it was that the adults around her would demand that kind of sacrifice from her, especially her so-called god. After receiving plenty of emotional support from Clara, and plenty of inspiration from the Doctor, Merry wants to fight back so her world can be free of the Old God’s tyranny. During the climax, she gathers together with the other members of her chorus, so they can all show their support to the Doctor – which is why “The Long Song” packs so much power. It’s not just the Doctor standing up the Old God and delivering a passionate speech, condemning everything he stands for. It’s also Merry Gejhel and her people finally finding their courage, refusing to be passive victims of a false god anymore, taking back control of their lives – and it is a beautiful sight to behold (thanks in no small part to Emillia Jones being a very talented singer). Clara finishes the job and kills off the lumbering tyrant for good, and afterwards, Merry and the others give her back her mother’s ring (which she had to trade away earlier, to save Merry’s life), to thank her for all she and the Doctor did for them, which puts a sweet little bow on this episode.

Doctor Who The Rings Of Akhaten New Planet 4

“The Rings Of Akhaten” is directed by Farren Blackburn, who returns to direct his second episode for Doctor Who after “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” earlier this season. “The Rings Of Akhaten” is one of those episodes where the costume department has a massive workload to contend with. Since this episode is filled to the brim with alien extras, dozens and dozens of prosthetic alien costumes had to be created for this episode, to fill out several packed crowd shots. The set design throughout Series 7 has been pretty spectacular so far, from the Dalek Asylum, to the Silurian ship, to the town of Mercy, to Victorian London, and the show’s spiffy production values do not let up in this episode either. “The Rings Of Akhaten” has an Egyptian aesthetic in space going on for it – with golden temples floating out amongst asteroids and other space debris – that’s pretty gorgeous to lay your eyes on. Neil Cross’s vision of a bustling alien world is only held back by some wonky greenscreen effects at times, during the space moped chase scenes. “The Rings Of Akhaten” is quite easily one of the best scores Murray Gold has written for the show, and the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Doctor Who musical. This story is one of the very rare times where Murray’s music gets to become diegetic, and he takes a very similar approach to it as he did with “Abigail’s Song” in “A Christmas Carol“. He writes an original, one-off melody to serve as the main theme of the episode; he seeds it in a few instrumental tracks like “The Leaf” and “Merry Gejelh” to set up the building blocks of it early on; then he gives it lyrics for the first time in “God Of Akhaten“; and finally he lets it flourish to its full potential in the two climatic tracks, “The Long Song” and “Infinite Potential“, where the Doctor and Clara bare their souls to Old God to bring him down. Other great pieces he wrote for this episode include “Something Awesome“, “Market Day“, “The Speeder“, “Never Wake” and “Always You, Never A Replacement“.

“The Rings Of Akhaten” is an episode that honestly makes you appreciate just how good Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman are as the Doctor and Clara, because this story was a pretty fantastic outing for both of them. And after I was a bit on the fence about her before, it’s the episode that fully sold me on Clara as a companion in 2013.

Rating: 10/10.

Side Notes:

Doctor Who The Rings Of Akhaten The Long Song 20

* “I’d like to see… I would like to see… what I would like to see is… something awesome!” Girl, you’re in luck, cause the Doc can certainly show you plenty of that.

* “What is it?” “The Pyramid of the Rings of Akhaten. It’s a holy site for the Sun Singers of Akhat” “The who of what?

* “Do you know, I forget how much I like it here. We should come here more often” “You’ve been here before?” “Yes, I came here a long time ago with my granddaughter!” Heh, another Susan reference. That’s two in one season.

* “So, why is everyone here?” “For the Festival of Offerings. It takes place every thousand years or so, when the rings align. It’s quite a big thing, locally, like Pancake Tuesday”.

* “I’m the vessel of our history. I know every chronicle, every poem, every legend, every song” “Every single one? Blimey. I hated history”.

* “Listen. There’s one thing you need to know about travelling with me. Well, one thing apart from the blue box and the two hearts. We don’t walk away!”

* “Oh, that’s interesting. A frequency modulated acoustic lock. The key changes ten million zillion squillion times a second” “Can you open it?” “Technically, no. In reality, also no, but still, let’s give it a stab!”

* “Are you coming, then? Did I mention that the door is immensely heavy? Really quite extraordinarily heavy!”

* “Hey, do you mind if I tell you a story? One you might not have heard. All the elements in your body were forged many, many millions of years ago, in the heart of a far away star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. Until eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one Merry Gejelh. And there will never be another. Getting rid of that existence isn’t a sacrifice, it is a waste”.

* I just have to say, the planet Akhaten – the Old God – looks a lot like a Jack-O-Lantern when it’s all lit up.

* “It’s really big” “I’ve seen bigger” “Really?” “Are you joking?! It’s massive!

* “I walked away from the last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained. No time! No space! Just me! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman! I’ve watched universes freeze and creations burn! I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe! I have lost things you will never understand! And I know things: secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken! Knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on, then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all!

* “Still hungry? Well, I brought something for you. This. The most important leaf in human history. The most important leaf in human history! It’s full of stories, full of history, and full of a future that never got lived. Days that should have been that never were, passed on to me. This leaf isn’t just the past, it’s a whole future that never happened. There are billions and millions of unlived days for every day we live, an infinity. All the days that never came! And these are all my mum’s!”

* “Infinite Potential“, the instrumental reprise of “The Long Song” that underscores Clara’s speech, would later make another return in “The Time Of The Doctor”, during the Eleventh Doctor’s final bow before he regenerated, which was a nice callback to one of the highlights of his tenure in my opinion.

* “Well, whoever she was, I’m not her, okay? If you want me to travel with you, that’s fine. But as me. I’m not a bargain basement stand-in for someone else. I’m not going to compete with a ghost” Quite right, Clara, quite right.

* “They wanted you to have it” “Who did?” “Everyone. All the people you saved. You. No one else: Clara” Aww…

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Rings Of Akhaten Home Again 3

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Doctor Who: The Bells Of Saint John (2013) Review

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Doctor Who’s seventh season reaches another important milestone with “The Bells Of Saint John”, the opening episode for the latter half of the season, where Jenna Louise Coleman finally makes her proper debut as Clara Oswald. “The Snowmen” did most of the heavy lifting setting up the new status quo for Series 7B (much like how “The Christmas Invasion” really took a heavy load off of “New Earth” back in Series 2), so “The Bells Of Saint John” can afford to be a much more light-hearted episode than its predecessor with relatively lower stakes. And when it comes to companion introductions, this episode certainly provides a change of pace from what we’re accustomed to: we’re usually (re)introduced to the Doctor’s character through the eyes of a companion as they become acquainted with him, but after everything that transpired in “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Snowmen”, here we’re introduced to a companion through the eyes of the Doctor for a change, as he seeks her out and tries to make sense of her. “The Bells Of Saint John” has a pretty simple and straightforward plot, which at this point is what you would expect from a companion’s introductory episode. The monster of the week isn’t the focus here – establishing the Doctor’s co-star and showing off everything she has to offer to the series is – which is a shame, since the main villains of this episode are actually a pretty cool concept, and they feel slightly underused and underexplored. The pacing for this episode is a real slow-burn: the first act takes its time setting up the Doctor and Clara’s current living conditions and putting them in a position where they meet, but from there the second and third acts start to gain some serious momentum as the episode’s main spy theme starts to become prominent, and the Doctor and Clara start to get serious about confronting the omnipresent villains who are terrorizing London.

Doctor Who The Bells Of Saint John Conspiracy 8

After the events of “The Snowmen”, the Eleventh Doctor is still living in solitude by “The Bells Of Saint John”, hanging out with some monks at the moment, trying to make sense of Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl – who she is, where she came from, and how she can be reincarnated multiple times throughout history. He’s actually starting to become a bit obsessed with her, to tell you the truth. Eventually, their paths cross again by fate, and after all that searching the Doctor did for her between episodes, it’s ironically Clara who finds him when she phones the TARDIS for help with her computer, thinking it’s a tech support hotline. Racing to modern day London where she lives, the Doctor eagerly wants to pick up where they left off in the last episode and be her new best friend – but she has no idea what he’s talking about, and naturally, she thinks he’s completely insane. That problem sets up the main conflict between our two lead characters for Series 7B. The Doctor sees Clara as an extension of her echoes and wonders if she’s not being entirely truthful about who she says she is, while Clara really is her own person with her own experiences who’s completely ignorant of the fact that she’s had any other lives than her current one. From her perspective, the event that causes her to become reincarnated hasn’t happened yet, and it won’t happen until “The Name Of The Doctor“. In any case, Clara is subsequently targeted by the villains of the week, who want her dead because she knows too much about their evil scheme to trap human souls inside the internet, as food for an alien parasite. The Doctor makes it his personal mission to back her up and help her survive: he’s failed her twice now in two different lifetimes in “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Snowmen”, so he’s determined to keep her safe now.

The Doctor started the gradual process of moving past his grief for the Ponds and getting back on his feet in the last episode, and by this point, he’s officially gotten his groove back. He’s back on top of his hero game, if the confident and ruthlessly efficient way he handles Miss Kizlet and her goons is any indication. For the first time in a long time, he gets to show off everything time travel can do when he decides to show Clara the ropes as a potential companion (again), and he clearly enjoys taking her on a fun motorcycle ride across London. Eventually, Miss Kizlet and her team of hackers manage to snatch Clara away from him when he least expects it with a treacherous sneak attack, and they fully intend to subject her to a fate worse than death, just like they have done with hundreds of other innocent people. But the Doctor is most certainly not going to sit around and let that pass, so he decides to go raise some hell. Coming off the heels of the last episode, where the Doctor was surprisingly brutal to Dr. Simeon, the climax of this adventure provides another example of how my boy Eleven can be one stone cold papa when he wants to be. He sends Miss Kizlet a very special surprise in her office, to persuade her to release all the people she has trapped in her cloud, and thus finally give her victims some justice. The Doctor saves the world, and tears down a dangerous shadow organization, and there’s very much a sense that as impressive as all this is, it’s still just a regular day at the office for him. Once London is safe again, he has a personal chat with Clara where he convinces her to fly away with him and see him the universe. He finally has a chance to solve the mystery of her paradoxical nature, but unbeknownst to him, he won’t find the answers that he seeks as Series 7 stretches on, because he’s looking in all the wrong places.

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After two false starts, where Jenna Louise Coleman played two completely different characters in “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Snowmen”, we’re finally introduced to the real, original Clara Oswald who we’ll be spending the next two and a half seasons with in “The Bells Of Saint John”. Like Rose Tyler, Clara is a very divisive companion in the show’s fandom – you tend to either love her or hate her, especially considering how much a large and influential role she was given in the Moffat era – and thankfully, I quite like her. Clara is a 21st century nanny who’s currently doing a favor for some family friends of hers, helping them hold down the fort while they’re in need, because as everyone knows, she’s a reliable and dependable lass. But she’s currently hit a rut in her life and she’s feeling unfulfilled, because she always dreamed of traveling and having adventures when she was young, and she figured she would have done much more with herself by now than hang around her old neighborhood. She’s put all her dreams and ambitions on hold to deal with some important real life stuff (even if she would like to honor the memory of her mom, who shared those dreams with her), and she’s basically waiting for her life to truly begin by the time of this episode. The Doctor shows up at her door one day, babbling nonsense, acting like they’re old friends when they’re not, and generally being quite cryptic – so naturally, she thinks he’s nuts and decides to keep her distance from him. But after the Doctor saves her life from a malevolent group of hackers who tried to murder her, she revises her opinion of him. She decides he’s a weird guy, but he’s not half bad, and he’s a mystery that’s worth sticking around and solving. 

Over the course of this episode, Clara is introduced to a weird, wild and fantastical world where seemingly anything is possible, and to her credit, instead of shutting down and going into denial like a lot of people would probably do in her position, she tries to keep up and take it all in stride. Clara is drawn to the Doctor’s carefree, world-saving lifestyle, despite her reservations about it, because deep down, she loves a good adventure. A failed attempt at uploading her soul to the internet winds up giving Clara some super sweet hacking skills, which she later decides to weaponize against her attackers – using them to give the Doctor an advantage. Clara is a self-described control freak, and she always feels the most comfortable when she’s the one calling the shots of an operation. Even though this is her first episode, we start to see some early traces of that trait here. When the Doctor tries to hack the men and women who are hunting them, Clara quickly takes over, because she’s confident she can do the job better than he could, despite only having her in-depth knowledge of computers for a day. Later, when the Doctor offers to let her travel with him, and tempts her with everything the universe has to offer someone, she insists he wait another day and give her some time to think it over. This little decision really illustrates a big difference between her and her echoes, who would have leapt at the chance to run away with the Doctor. The real Clara, in general, likes to weigh her options and sit on a big decision before she does anything major – at least until Series 9, when she gets dangerously reckless. Clara sets the terms and conditions for how she’ll start traveling with him, which really does set the stage for what her relationship with the Doctor will be like in the future.

Doctor Who The Bells Of Saint John Up The Shard 7

The B-plot of this episode devoted to the villains is all about the wonders of modern technology, and how they can be used to cause a lot of damage by those with harmful intentions – which means the main premise of this episode will probably feel incredibly dated after a couple of decades pass. But as an unintentional period for the 2010’s, “The Bells Of Saint John” is a pretty accurate representation of how connected humans have become with each other all across the world since the invention of the internet, and it makes really good use of social media juggernauts like Twitter and Facebook. Malicious predators targeting people through the internet is something we’ve all been taught to prepare for at some point when it comes to basic internet safety – after all, broadcasting your personal life to billions of strangers always comes with a certain set of risks – but in “The Bells Of Saint John”, there’s an extra layer of danger that can only be found in a science fiction series like Doctor Who. Namely, killer wi-fi that attacks you through your computer. The main threat of this episode is a shadow organization, led by a woman named Miss Kizlet, that is uploading human souls to the internet with advanced technology, and then harvesting them as food for their boss – an unnamed employer / alien parasite that ranks above them all. As you would imagine, Miss Kizlet is an amoral woman who has no problem committing whatever atrocities that she has to to get what she wants – she even uses her tech on her own employees to manipulate them from time to time. She can hack human minds and use them as her puppets. She can hack technology all throughout London, and use it to spy on people or track down them down wherever they go.

There is a lot of paranoia fuel to be found with Miss Kizlet’s team, since they can be everywhere in the world, and their influence is far reaching. In theory, they should be a difficult foe to beat, but in actuality, they’re dealt with pretty easily in the last act. They never stood a chance against the Doctor once he decided to get serious and they lost their own protective layer of anonymity, which is a shame, since the ambitious conflict of this episode easily had the potential to be a two-parter. I do appreciate that the villains’ scheme has lasting consequences. They’ve been uploading people to their virtual cloud for a while now, and most of their victims don’t have fresh bodies to return to – they were buried or cremated years ago. The Doctor can save Clara and a few other recent targets, but for most of the poor souls they’ve trapped, a merciful death is the best he can do for them. As the episode wraps up, “The Bells Of Saint John” takes one last dark turn. The creature that the villains were all working for turns out to be the Great Intelligence, a plot twist that was foreshadowed quite well throughout the episode: the servers they use mirror thoughts and throw them back at people before they kill them, which was the same thing the alien snow did back in “The Snowmen”. The Great Intelligence indoctrinated Miss Kizlet to be his pawn when she was just a child, just like he did with Dr. Simeon, and then he throws her away without a second thought once her usefulness is over. She’s so loyal to him that she erases every trace of him from her mind to cover his tracks. Doing so wipes out her entire adult life and permanently leaves her a child in an adult woman’s body, who will now go to prison for crimes that she’ll never remember committing. Miss Kizlet was a terrible person, and this is certainly a karmic fate for her, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a bleak one to really think about.

Doctor Who The Bells Of Saint John Breakfast 7

“The Bells Of Saint John” is directed by Colm McCarthy, a newcomer to the series who shows a lot of skill and confidence behind the camera. The modern day setting of this episode proves to be a pretty stark contrast to the Victorian London we just saw in “The Snowmen”, and I have to say, from the way its filmed, London looks especially beautiful in this story. A lot of the city’s famous landmarks make an appearance, like Westminster Bridge, the River Thames, and of course, the Shard, which becomes the focus of the climax. Murray Gold’s score is very rich this week and blends electronic beats with a traditional orchestra to pleasant effect. The Eleventh Doctor’s theme, “I Am The Doctor“, is showcased several times throughout the hour (in “Spoonheads” and “Up the Shard“), and after all the losses and defeats that the Doctor has had to suffer over the last two episodes, those triumphant reprises of his main theme when he manages to gain the upper hand over the villains are very satisfying. Clara’s theme is given another showcase as well and expanded on fully, after it made its proper debut in the last episode, in the track “Clara?“: a whimsical, carefree and romantic piece that underscores the first scene of the Doctor and Clara really connecting, after he’s been tending to her in bed. “A Turbulent Flight” really stands out among Murray’s score, since it’s basically an adrenaline-filled variation of “River’s Path” from Series 5 (another rearrangement of River’s theme appears during the montage of Clara hacking the Shard in the climax). “Bah Bah Biker” is a short but sweet earworm that’s only used once for a scene of Clara and the Doctor bonding, and lastly, “I Might Change My Mind” wraps everything up with a warm, sentimental touch, giving us a few final reprises of Clara’s theme and Eleven’s theme to close out the episode.

“The Bells Of Saint John” is a pretty middle-of-the-road episode of Doctor Who with beautiful production values, that takes a while to truly find its footing, but it does a good of building upon the momentum from “The Snowmen” and setting the stage for the rest of Series 7B to follow.

Rating: 8/10.

Side Notes:

Doctor Who The Bells Of Saint John Conspiracy 7

* “Is that her?” “The woman twice dead, and her final message. He was drawn to this place of peace and solitude that he might divine her meaning. If he truly is mad, then this is his madness”.

* “What chapter are you on?” “Ten” “Eleven is the best. You’ll cry your eyes out” I saw what you did there, Moffat.

* Clara is written like your stereotypical boomer character in her first episode, who knows so little about computers that she can’t even connect to the internet, but considering she’s meant to be twenty-seven, that’s a pretty big stretch. Maybe Clara’s parents hated modern technology and warned her to stay away from those devil boxes while she was growing up.

* “I’m ever so fond of Alexei, but my conscience says we should probably kill him” “I’ll inform HR” “Actually, he’s about to go on holiday. Kill him when he gets back. Let’s not be unreasonable”.

* “Are you seriously going to sit down there all night?” “Yep! I promise I won’t budge from this spot” “Well then, I’ll have to come to you”.

* “Imagine that: human souls trapped like flies in the world-wide web. Stuck forever, crying out for help” “Isn’t that basically Twitter?” Man, Doctor Who really doesn’t like Twitter.

* My favorite scene in this episode has to be the Doctor and Clara saving a plane from crashing. I love Murray Gold’s score (“A Turbulent Flight“), the full 360 shot of the TARDIS’s console room, and the fact that Clara never drops her cup of tea through the whole ordeal, like a true Englishwoman.

* “I’m the Doctor. I’m an alien from outer space. I’m a thousand years old, I’ve got two hearts and I can’t fly a plane! Can you?!” “No!” “Oh, fine. Let’s do it together!”

* “Okay. When are you going to explain to me what the hell is going on?” “Breakfast” “What?! I ain’t waiting till breakfast!” “It’s a time machine. You never have to wait for breakfast”.

* “So, what happens if you do find them? What happens then?” “I don’t know, I can’t tell the future, I just work there”.

* “Well, you’re young. Shouldn’t you be doing, you know, young things, with young people?” “You mean like you, for instance? Down, boy”.

* “It’s obscene. It’s murder!” “It’s life. The farmer tends his flock like a loving parent. The abattoir is not a contradiction. No one loves cattle more than Burger King”.

* I understand why Clara couldn’t keep her new computer skills for very long, because they would make her way too OP, but I really enjoyed that montage of her hacking the Shard.

* The Doctor riding his motorcycle up the side of the Shard is a completely ridiculous visual, and I love it so much.

* “You ridiculous man. Why did you even come here? Whatever for?” “I didn’t, I’m still in the cafe. I’m finishing my coffee, lovely spot. You hack people, but me? I’m old-fashioned: I hack technology. Here’s your motivation” Hell yes, Doc.

* It’s worth noting that all three of Clara’s introductory episodes (“Asylum Of The Daleks”, “The Snowmen” and “The Bells Of Saint John”) contain scenes of someone getting mindwiped, which is pretty fitting in hindsight, considering the circumstances of how she leaves the show in “Hell Bent”.

* “Clara? In your book there was a leaf. Why?” “That wasn’t a leaf. That was page one”.

* “Right then, Clara Oswald. Time to find out who you are”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Bells Of Saint John Coda 9

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Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012) Review

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“The Snowmen” is a vitally important, tentpole episode in Doctor Who’s seventh season, where the show changes gears and sets a different course for the latter half of Series 7. Companion departures happening without warning halfway through a season was a pretty common occurrence back in the classic series (where series regulars would depart the show at any given time), but they’re highly unusual in Doctor Who’s modern incarnation, where such a large change in the status quo is usually reserved for the season finales (the question of how the Doctor’s friends will leave the show is usually a nice way to boost ratings: for instance, Russell T. Davies milked the question of whether or not Rose would die in “Doomsday” for all that it was worth). As a result of Amy and Rory checking out halfway through Series 7, Jenna Coleman had a much smaller number of episodes than usual to serve as her introduction in Series 7B, and I’m still not sure if that did her any favors when it came to winning people over to her character. A large factor in why she was cast as Clara Oswald in 2012 was because she was a fast talker – she could easily go toe to toe with Matt Smith and keep up him with during his rambling sessions – which is ironic, since Clara would actually spend most of her tenure as a companion with the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, which brought a completely different dynamic to Clara and the Doctor’s relationship. “The Snowmen” has a very important job on its hands as a transitional episode for the show: it needs to deal with the Doctor’s grief in the wake of “The Angels Take Manhattan” and put him on the path to healing, set up the main arc villain for the season by (re)introducing the Great Intelligence, and give the audience their first real taste of what Clara Oswald will bring to the show, with a little trickery from Steven Moffat.

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By “The Snowmen”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) has gone into seclusion and declared himself retired. It’s clearly been quite some time since “The Angels Take Manhattan”, and the Doctor is still slowly working his way through the seven stages of grief: at the moment, he’s still deeply depressed. He’s decided to settle down in the Victorian era with Vastra, Jenny and Strax – which is a significant choice, considering how much the Doctor usually hates to plant his roots in one time and one place. He’s really not in the spirit for saving the world anymore, and he’s grown disillusioned with the universe as a whole – wondering if anything he does really makes a difference. But he still sticks close by, in case anything major arises that his friends can’t handle on his own. Eleven has adopted a pessimistic and miserly outlook on the world, where he’s rejected his inner child that he’s known for, and he wants to be left to his own devices nearly all the time. While he still looks as young as ever on the outside, when it comes to his personality, he’s letting his true age as a thousand year old time lord show a lot more these days. It’s ironic: one can only imagine what Kazran Sardick would think of him now. As the episode progresses, due to Clara’s snooping in alien affairs, getting herself involved in the Doctor’s business, the Doctor is steadily pulled out of his depressed funk and gets engaged with a good mystery – whether he particularly likes it or not – which allows him to rediscover how much he enjoys saving the world, and how much he enjoys the company of friends once more. Throughout the hour, the Doctor steadily progresses to a place where, even though Amy and Rory will always hold a special spot in his hearts, he’s ready to move on. 

The script for “The Snowmen” is filled with Sherlock Holmes references, which is clearly Steven Moffat being coy, since he was the headwriter for “Sherlock” at the time and a lot of people wanted a crossover between those two shows to happen somehow: there’s even an entirely gratuitous scene where the Doctor dresses up as him to impersonate him. As they’re working together on their case, trying to stop killer snowmen, the Doctor decides to show Clara the ropes and see if she’s really companion material (like he has done with some of his other sidekicks), and while he’s doing so, he becomes just a bit smitten with her. The Doctor and River are married, but they’re not a monogamous couple – both of them tend to see other people on the side – and as such, the Doctor and Clara are given plenty of shiptease moments that will persist for the next two and a half seasons of the show. Eventually, tragedy strikes and Clara is left fatally wounded, due to our heroes being incredibly careless (why the hell would you leave the doors to the TARDIS open, when you know there’s a monster at your heels?), which becomes a final test of the Doctor’s resolve. He makes a bargain with the universe: he can find the strength and the will to carry on, like he’s always done, if Clara survives. If the universe has any kindness in it whatsoever, Clara’s story won’t end here and she’ll get the chance that she deserves to see the universe – and she does. The Doctor can’t explain it, and neither can the audience at the moment, but he’s seemingly given another chance, since Clara is a woman who reincarnates herself over and over again through time. At the story’s end, the Doctor races off to find her again, somewhere in time, because he’s got a brand new mystery to solve, a promise that he needs to keep to a friend.

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In “The Snowmen”, we’re introduced to Clara Oswald, a Victorian barmaid who moonlights as a governess during her day job in the posh side of London. Clara is a people person: her charm is one of her greatest weapons, and she can easily win people over with words if you let her. Clara is very nosy: she quickly takes an interest in the Doctor and the alien conspiracy he’s investigating, despite his repeated attempts to shoo her away. Unlike Amy, who always seemed really awkward around kids who weren’t her own, Clara is great with them: instead of talking down to them, like a lot of adults do, Clara tries to relate to them and make them feel comfortable enough to share the things that are troubling them (an approach that the Doctor often takes). Clara is plucky, determined, resourceful and stubborn. She likes to put on the appearance of being prim and proper and unflappable – someone who’s on top of everything, just the way she likes it – but she gets flustered very easily when things slip out of her control, and she’s quick to lose her temper. Clara gets the chance to prove she has a good head on her shoulders when she’s put through the ‘one word test’ by Madam Vastra – a test that’s designed to scrutinize her deductive reasoning skills under pressure – to gain our heroes’ trust. The scene where the Doctor finally accepts her as part of his inner circle is really poignant in hindsight, in light of the Impossible Girl arc that’s explained in “The Name Of The Doctor“. Like all of Clara’s echoes, Victorian Clara is instinctively drawn to the Doctor, and driven to help him out. Now that she’s finally done so, she’s the one who came the closest to joining him and seeing his world, like the original Clara who created her, before their timelines intersect for real. She even starts to tear up inside the TARDIS, as it seems like memories from a different life she lived start to awaken in her.

Everything that happens in this episode makes it seem like Clara is all set to board the TARDIS as the Doctor’s newest companion – she’s even given her own TARDIS key as a rite of passage – but it all turns out to be a elaborate fakeout. Clara’s life and her adventure with the Doctor is seemingly cut short when she dies saving the world from the Great Intelligence – though she still manages to help the Doctor one last time, as she’s on her deathbed, as well. Throughout “The Snowmen”, the audience gets to be one step ahead for the Doctor for a change, when it comes to noticing something strange is afoot. Clara looks an awful lot like Oswin from “Asylum Of The Daleks” a few episodes ago, something that no one ever comments on, since most of the characters in this episode weren’t present for that adventure, and the Doctor never actually saw Soufflé Girl’s face, he only heard her voice. It’s entirely possible that it could just be a coincidence – Doctor Who has reused actors before, who initially landed minor parts before they went on to be recast as the Doctor’s friends, like Freema Agyeeman and Karen Gillan. It’s not until the last few scenes of the episode that “The Snowmen” confirms this isn’t the case. As “The Snowmen” wraps up on a pretty bittersweet note, it finally clicks for the Doctor that Oswin and Clara are somehow the same person who lived and died in two different time periods. Something supernatural is at play here, something involving reincarnation: a concept that the Doctor normally wouldn’t believe in, but Eleven loves to discover brand new things, and in this instance, he couldn’t be more thrilled to be proven wrong about what is or isn’t possible. There’s a third incarnation of Clara living in the present day – who unbeknownst to the Doctor is the real, original Clara, the first in the line of her reincarnations – who will be receiving a visit from him soon, because she and the Doctor have some unfinished business.

Doctor Who The Snowmen The Trio 2

In “The Snowmen”, the supporting cast is primarily populated by Madam Vastra, a shrewd Silurian warrior who’s recently decided to put her intellect to good use as a detective, her human partner (in more ways than one) Jenny, who can walk freely among humans as an undercover agent, and their Sontaran medic / footman, Strax. Strax is a thick-witted, violent-minded individual, and very impulsive, but he’s still useful to have around, because like all Sontarans, he’s very good with battle strategy. Vastra, Jenna and Strax are certainly an odd group, and like with River Song, it’s implied that they get up some really weird stuff offscreen all the time, catching dangerous criminals that the local police can’t handle – but it is cool to see some Doctor Who species that are usually cast as villains receive some positive representation. Vastra, Jenny and Strax were previously introduced as one-off characters in “A Good Man Goes To War“: Steven Moffat decided to bring them back as recurring characters for Series 7B, the Doctor’s main support group now that the Ponds are gone, which proved to be a good decision. They’re all certainly charming in their own unique ways, and since they’re given a larger amount of time in the spotlight, Mr. Moffat has an ample opportunity to humanize them some more as well. The dilemma they’re faced with in this episode is surprisingly relatable, if you’ve ever had a friend who’s suffered a great loss, or is currently in a bad mental state. They’re torn between their desire to help the Doctor and their obligation to give him all the time and space that he needs. They’re concerned about him, but they’re also concerned about what the world will do without him in the meantime, so they decide to give the Doctor and Clara little nudges to step up and come out of their respective shells, without overstepping any boundaries.

In “The Snowmen”, a psychic alien parasite resembling snow falls to Earth, and it makes first contact with a lonely, bitter orphan boy that it proceeds to use as a pawn for the next fifty years, giving us a human antagonist and an alien antagonist working together for this special. Dr. Walter Simeon grew up shunning human contact, with only a disembodied voice in his head to keep him company, as he spent decades working towards their mutual goal of world conquest. As a result, he became an extremely maladjusted adult – an icy, spiteful man with a sociopathic lack of regard for human life. The alien snow mirrors thoughts and it wants to create an army of carnivorous snowmen – creatures that will never melt that can wipe out humanity. Doctor Who manages to pull in some surprisingly large star talent for the relatively minor roles of Dr. Simeon and the Great Intelligence – Richard E. Grant, who previously played the Doctor in the show’s expanded universe, and Ian McKellan from the “X-Men” series and the “Lord of the Rings” series. The way the Doctor eventually deals with the Great Intelligence is surprisingly dark, and another example of how the Eleventh Doctor can be ruthless as hell. The Doctor tricks Dr. Simeon into mindwiping himself to the point where he erases his entire life from his head, leaving him a hollowed-out empty shell of a human being, in an attempt to destroy the Intelligence he’s connected to – this is very much the ‘No Second Chances’ Doctor that we often saw with Nine and Ten in the RTD era. The Great Intelligence eventually decides to use Dr. Simeon as a host, to take on a life of its own, and when that fails, it escapes into the world again without a body, swearing vengeance on the Doctor. So the main threat for Series 7B will be the Great Intelligence working behind the scenes, setting up its revenge on the Doctor and Clara. 

Doctor Who The Snowmen Crash Course

Saul Metzstein, who previously helmed “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” and “A Town Called Mercy” steps up to direct “The Snowmen”, and he brings the same quality of work to this Christmas special. When it comes to the set design, and all the impressive work that was done by the show’s costume department, the main aesthetic of this episode is once again a Victorian Christmas, albeit one of a grimmer variety than “A Christmas Carol“. The Doctor has been given a new look and a new wardrobe, inspired by Victorian era fashions, that’s meant to signify how his personality has become a bit darker after losing Amy and Rory. Likewise, the set for the TARDIS’s console room changes as well: it’s a bit colder and more metallic compared to the previous one, that was always warm and golden and teeming with life. Murray Gold’s score features a few new milestones for the series as well. After it was previously hinted at in “Asylum Of The Daleks”, “The Snowmen” is the first episode to give Clara’s theme a full showcase. It’s performed by a choir in “Clara In The TARDIS“, a beautiful, wintery track that’s primarily led by a piano and backed by several fluttering woodwind instruments. “Clara in the TARDIS” is gentle, inquisitive and adventurous, and it really brings this episode’s score to life during the scene where Clara follows the Doctor into the clouds, back to his home in the TARDIS – one of the most visually striking scenes in Series 7. Clara’s leitmotif is then given a somber, understated reprise in the track, “Remember Me“, creating a link between this episode, “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Name Of The Doctor”. A few other notable pieces that Murray Gold creates are “A Voice In The Snow“, “Antifreeze” and “Whose Enigma“, a melancholy track rooted in grief, that eventually soars with rising hope for the future during the coda, when the Doctor discovers there’s more than meets the eye with Clara.

“The Snowmen” is another solid Christmas special for the Eleventh Doctor that is quite different in tone from both “A Christmas Carol” and “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe“. It sets up a lot of good things to come in Series 7B, and it gives Jenna Louise-Coleman an impressive show to win over the audience, before she makes her proper debut in the next episode, “The Bells Of Saint John“.

Rating: 10/10.

Side Notes:

Doctor Who The Snowmen Stony Simeon

* “Beg pardon, Dr. Simeon. It’s been a long day. I don’t see any food here” “I do. I said I’d feed you, I didn’t say who to”.

* “That’s silly” “What’s wrong with silly?” “Nothing. I’m still talking to you, aren’t I?”

* “She’ll never be able to find me again, she doesn’t even have the name ‘Doctor’!” “Doctor? Doctor who?

* “I resent your implication of impropriety. We are married” “More than can be said for you, eh, dear?” Damn, Jenny, that was savage. No wonder the GI decided to kill her first in “The Name Of The Doctor”.

* “I think winter is coming. Such a winter as this world has never known. The last winter of humankind. Do you know why I’m telling you all this?” “I am intrigued” “Because there’s not a single thing you can do to stop it“.

* “This snow is new. Possibly alien. When you find something brand new in the world, something you’ve never seen before, what’s the next thing you look for?” “A grenade!” “…A profit”.

* “Sontaran. Clone warrior race. Factory produced, whole legions at a time. Two genders is a bit further than he can count!” If Strax has trouble keeping two genders straight in his head, then he really wouldn’t fare well on Tumblr or Twitter.

* Clara drops her cloak outside of the TARDIS, and the Doctor immediately starts sniffing it. Doctor, what the hell?

* “Do you want to see where she died?” Well, that was unexpectedly morbid.

* “I hated her. She was cross all the time” Damn, kid, that’s cold. Clara is talking about how someone died horribly, and this kid does not hesitate to start talking about how much his old governess sucked as a person.

* “You are not of this world” “It takes one to snow one, eh?” r/Cringe.

* “Good evening. I’m a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife” “Wauuggghhhhh!!!

* “You’re going to have to take those clothes off!” Doctor, you perv.

* “After you, I’m wearing a dress. Eyes front, soldier!” “My eyes are always front!” “Mine aren’t” Clara, you perv.

* “That thing is after us, and you want a chat?” “Well, we can’t chat after we’ve been horribly killed, can we?”

* “It’s called the TARDIS. It can travel anywhere in time and space. And it’s mine”.

* “You took it for me. Why?” “I never know why. I only know who” “What’s this?” “Me. Giving in”.

* “It was my fault. I am responsible for what happened to Clara. She was in my care!” Ah, I see the Doctor’s ‘duty of care’ to Clara starts in this episode, half a season before the Twelfth Doctor shows up.

* “But you were just Dr. Simeon. You’re not real. He dreamed you. How can you still exist?” “Now the dream outlives the dreamer and can never die. Once I was the puppet. Now I pull the strings!

* “But Clara’s dead. What’s he talking about, finding her?” “I don’t know. But perhaps the universe makes bargains after all”.

* “Clara Oswin Oswald! Watch me run!

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Snowmen Crash Course 5

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Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan (2012) Review

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Around late 2011, Steven Moffat and Karen Gillan started to have some serious discussions about her character’s upcoming departure from Doctor Who in the show’s seventh season, and how she wanted it to be handled. Karen wanted Amy Pond to go out on a high, when she was in the prime of her life, and once she was gone, she wanted her departure to be final – something Steven Moffat agreed with. Steven Moffat has gone on record that he believes every good love story should have a tragic ending, to give the time that the two lovers shared together a fair amount of weight, which explains a lot about why his companion departures are always so depressing, why he chose to handle the Doctor’s relationship with River Song the way he did in “Silence In The Library“, and why even a brief fling that the Doctor had with someone he just met in “The Girl In The Fireplace” had a super bleak ending. After a lot of thought, Mr. Moffat decided that Amy Pond and Rory Williams would have one final confrontation with the Weeping Angels, some of his most famous monsters, where the Doctor’s two best friends would eventually fall. “The Angels Take Manhattan” is pretty comfortably one of the darkest episodes in this season (alongside “Asylum Of The Daleks“, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “The Name Of The Doctor“), and one of the Eleventh Doctor’s darkest episodes in general, with some truly nightmarish concepts lying at the heart of it. It’s set in beautiful, scenic New York City, because the Big Apple is the perfect place for a romantic, noir mystery and some good old-fashioned gothic horror: giving us a heartbreaking farewell to the Ponds, whose story we’ve been following for the last two and a half seasons.

Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan Picnic In Central Park 2

Steven Moffat’s script for “The Angels Take Manhattan” is pretty tightly-written and efficient: he doesn’t waste any time setting the stage for the story to come with some early comedic scenes of Eleven and the Ponds riffing, their last normal scenes together that inform the audience quite a bit about where they’re at now and where they’re heading. In particular, Moffat stresses the fact that the Doctor loves a good story as much as the next person, but he tends to skip the endings more often than not, because he doesn’t like endings very much. Steven Moffat has always given the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) an immature streak, and with “The Angels Take Manhattan” he introduces a major personality flaw to his interpretation of the Doctor’s character (that will also carry over to the Twelfth Doctor’s era, as well): he handles loss very poorly, which is why he always tries his best to avoid experiencing it. When the Weeping Angels kidnap Rory, the Doctor quickly helps Amy try to rescue him, with the aid of a book from the future that has their destinies written in it. But to the Doctor’s horror, he also discovers that he’ll be losing Amy and Rory soon – when they die – and he does not take it well. While the Ponds try everything to beat the Grim Reaper and explore their options as far as they can, the Doctor steadily emotionally shuts down over the course of this episode – partially because he knows in his gut from time lord instinct that the future can’t be changed, despite Amy and Rory insisting otherwise, and partially because he cannot deal with what’s happening. The horrible outcome that he always wanted to avoid for his beloved Ponds (since the end of Series 6) is happening now and he’s not ready for it, but it’s coming, full steam ahead, whether he likes it or not.

Steven Moffat gets especially cruel to the Doctor during the last act: his worst fears come to life when he watches Amy and Rory plunge to their deaths off the side of a building until they hit the street below. Then, the reset button is pressed and for a few precious moments, the Doctor thinks he’s been given a rare, second chance to correct that horrible failure. But the Ponds’ number is well and truly up. Before he knows it, the Angels strike again and it’s all over in a matter of minutes. Amy and Rory are sent back to the past, where they live out the rest of their lives and die – and the Doctor is locked out of their timeline, preventing him from ever seeing them alive again. The Doctor can’t meddle any further with this outcome – the Angels have already done so much damage to the space-time continuum around New York that it’s hanging by a thread, and any more disruptions to it would destroy the city. As much as he misses Amy and Rory, the Doctor isn’t selfish enough to put his own desires over thousands of peoples’ lives, or the safety of the universe, so he does what he was always going to have to do eventually and lets the Ponds go. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and in hindsight, it provides a pretty stark contrast to the next time tragedy strikes in the Series 9 finale, “Hell Bent” – where we see what happens when the Doctor doesn’t let go, when he is selfish enough to risk time and space because of his own heartbreak, and it’s not a pretty sight. As was the case for the Tenth Doctor when he lost Rose Tyler and Donna Noble, the Eleventh Doctor is never fully the same after “The Angels Take Manhattan”. He takes the loss of his two best friends extremely hard, and he experiences a personality shift for the rest of his tenure: while he’s still a quirky, funnyman after this, he also becomes a lot more outwardly frosty and jaded on average.

Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan A Trap 7

“The Angels Take Manhattan” serves as Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams’ (Arthur Darvill) swansong episode, pitting them against Steven Moffat’s breakout monsters, who Amy confronted before in “The Time Of Angels“, one of her most traumatic early adventures with the Doctor. In “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the Doctor and Amy try to save Rory from the Weeping Angels by using a book River Song will write in the near-future, depicting their fates. Events in the novel are happening concurrently with events in real life, so the Doctor is afraid to read too far ahead into it, and for good reason. He knows full well that having foreknowledge of your own personal future is the best way to set that future in stone, especially since the Weeping Angels have already been weakening space and time around Manhattan – something they take full advantage of to trap our heroes. For Amy and Rory’s final episode, Steven Moffat decides to revisit a significant theme that has gone on to define a large chunk of their tenure as companions – the question of whether or not they’re slaves to time. How much free will do they truly possess? How much control do they actually have over their own destinies in the face of insurmountable odds? In particular, one grim concept in this episode stealthily foreshadows the main premise for the season finale, “The Name Of The Doctor”: if there’s one place in the universe that a time traveler should never ever find themselves, unless they want to seal their doom, it’s their own grave. Amy and Rory don’t have a lot of agency in this episode as they’re led around by fate and the Weeping Angels, being shuffled from location to location, until the very end, when they decide to make a stand.

Amy and Rory decide to seize control of their fate and make a suicide pact, as one last desperate attempt to kill the Angels that are hunting them. Even if it doesn’t work, Rory figures that dying on his own terms would be a better way to go than what the Angels have in store for him, and Amy insists on coming with him. Ever since “Amy’s Choice“, it’s been very clear that neither one of the Ponds would want to live in a world where the other one didn’t exist, so as morbid as it is, it feels like a decision like this has always been coming for them – and when it finally happens, it feels very emotionally cathartic, watching them face the end together. If this had actually been their final scene in the series, I would have been satisfied with it. Instead, Steven Moffat includes a rather cruel rug pull moment, like the one in “The End Of Time“, where he briefly gives the audience hope that everything will be fine and that the Ponds have managed to cheat fate, before he immediately rips that hope away. Rory is zapped back to the past by a rogue Angel, where he lives out the rest of his life and dies – which means that everything that happened in this episode, all our heroes’ attempts to save him, it was all for nothing. There’s nothing else that can be done for him, so Amy decides to let the Angel take her too, so she can spend the rest of her days with Rory. The Doctor begs her not to, but she’s already made her choice – she’s simply sticking to it. Amy says her final goodbyes to her Raggedy Doctor, she lets him go, and then, in a flash, she’s gone. This chapter in Amy’s life and the Doctor’s life that started in “The Eleventh Hour” is now over for good, and Amy, for the most part, doesn’t have any regrets: she lived her life to the fullest, she owned the stage, and she achieved so much more than she ever thought was possible when she was a girl.

Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan A Trap 5

For the last couple of seasons, it’s been pretty apparent that River Song (Alex Kingston) gets up to some really weird stuff offscreen: she has her own adventures in her free time that can get pretty shady, and in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, we’re given a rare glimpse of one of her mishaps when her paths cross with the Doctor and the Ponds once again. For quite some time now, there have been a lot of weird disappearances happening in New York City during the 1930’s, due to the Weeping Angels’ activity – and eventually, they become so common that they catch the attention of some local gangsters, and Professor River Song. River decides to look into it because she’s running her own time-traveling detective agency now, solving temporal mysteries and digging up the past – a career choice that fits an archeologist from the future very well. Since this is her parents’ last episode in the series, it’s only fitting that Melody Pond should be present as well, to see them both off. In addition to her bond with Amy and Rory, “The Angels Take Manhattan” also touches upon River’s relationship with the Doctor in the wake of Series 6, where they officially became a couple, and how it can get pretty be dysfunctional. Whenever the Doctor and River meet up, both of them want to be at their best to try to impress each other. At one point, the Doctor (wanting to believe they can find a way to defy fate, so the Ponds can be saved), demands that River find a way to escape a Weeping Angel’s clutches without getting injured, so she lies to him to give him hope and improve his morale. She lets him believe she found a way to slip off unscathed because she’s River Song and she’s just that good of an escape artist, when she really got her wrist broken for her efforts.

The Doctor heals her wrist with regeneration energy, to make up for his earlier selfishness, and that only upsets her more, because River is a proud woman who hates showing weakness. River is painfully aware that her life is finite, just like all of the Doctor’s friends, while he seems to stretch on forever as an immortal being, and that can’t help but mess with her head a little. They’re equally matched in so many ways, but in that one area, they’re never going to stand on the same footing, and she hates it. That’s not even touching on her doubts about whether or not the Doctor is even capable of loving people the same way humans do and fully reciprocating her feelings for him. River likes to keep self-doubting thoughts like that to herself, bottled up inside her head, and it’s really not healthy for her, which we’ll see later in “The Husbands Of River Song”. The ending of this episode is devastating for her: the Doctor doesn’t just lose his two best friends, River loses her parents as well, who have always been a part of her life in some form or another. Now her life is that extra bit lonelier, and their little family is split up for good. The Doctor and River are both on their own now, and neither one of them are going to be okay any time soon. Despite her own heartbreak, River still encourages Amy to go through with her last minute decision and be with Rory. She fully understands her mother’s desire, in a way that the Doctor never could: partially because she’s a human as well as a time lady, and partially because River knows full well that if she was in Amy’s shoes, she would do exactly the same thing for the Doctor. Amy and Rory would move any mountain that they needed to for the people that they love, and after three seasons, it’s pretty safe to say that River inherited that personality trait from them.

Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan Rory In The Dark 2

For “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the Weeping Angels take center stage for their third and final spotlight story that Steven Moffat writes for them. Compared to how they were portrayed in “The Time Of Angels”, “The Angels Take Manhattan” has a lot more in common with their debut episode, “Blink” (except it features the show’s main cast instead of a bunch of one-off characters). Instead of giving them a bunch of new powers, “The Angels Take Manhattan” expands on their original skill set and their original modus operandi of sending innocent people in time, uprooting their lives forever, so they can feed on their time energy. Back in “Blink”, the Tenth Doctor described them as being the only psychopaths in the universe who kill you nicely, but make no mistake, they are not merciful creatures by nature. They could not care less what becomes of their prey after they’re done feasting on them, which is made very apparent in this episodes. The Weeping Angels have always been portrayed as ambitious, power-hungry sadist. Despite being apex predators in the Doctor Who universe, who can barely be challenged by any living creature standing against them, one thing that’s always remained consistent about the Angels in all three of their major appearances is that they’re never shown to be satisfied with what they have already, and they’re always working on a way to gain more power to fuel their greed. In this episode, the Angels have made New York City their territory, in the past and the present, because there are thousands upon thousands people to feast on living there, and they’ve grown particularly sadistic about catching and keeping their new prey. The Angels have set up shop in an abandoned hotel called Winter Quay, where they ensnare ignorant humans and then send them back in time.

Their victims are kept prisoner in the building and forced to live in total solitude as a food source for the Angels, completely deprived of human contact for decades, until they die in front of their past selves at their end of their timelines – creating a stable loop that they can never escape from. We see the Angels’ trap in action early on, when they spring it on an unsuspecting private eye, and Steven Moffat puts the viewers through a considerable amount of growing dread as Rory also falls victim to it. The Angels have created their very own abattoir, with an endless supply of cattle that will never run out. Only a small number of villains in Doctor Who would think to exploit and weaponize the unforgiving, inescapable nature of time like this, in such a malicious way, and because of the Angels’ disrespect for the laws of nature, the space-time continuum around New York City is an absolute mess by the time the Doctor and his friends discover what they’ve done. It’s incredibly volatile, incredibly unstable, and the incredibly disturbing product of the Angels’ greed and gluttony. Our heroes do manage to free the population of New York from the clutches of the Angels, but at a cost. After “Blink” and “The Time Of Angels” both ended with the Weeping Angels being thoroughly beaten, Steven Moffat manages to surprise the audience with the third act of their trilogy, where they get to have the last laugh – even if the last laugh in question is a tiny consolation prize compared to what they actually wanted. At the end of the day, one surviving Angel gets to take its revenge by zapping Amy and Rory back into the past and emotionally destroying the Doctor, in a way that so few of his enemies ever manage to. But considering that we never actually see what the Doctor and River did with that Angel afterwards onscreen, there’s a very good chance it didn’t get to enjoy its victory for long.

Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan Together Or Not At All 8

“The Angels Take Manhattan” is directed by Nick Hurran, who gives his vision for this episode the same level of attention and care that he devoted to “Asylum Of The Daleks” earlier this season: crafting a spooky, spine-tingling atmosphere for the Angels as they stalk their prey around New York. Like “The Impossible Astronaut” last season, a lot of location shooting was done across the pond for this episode to capture some authentic North American scenery, which drew in some pretty large crowds, since the show was at the height of its popularity in America during the time. Several scenes were filmed in Central Park, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge by East River, and the Tudor City apartment complex in Manhattan, while the final graveyard scene was filmed in a cemetery back in Llanelli, Wales. Steven Moffat wanted to take full advantage of all of New York’s unique, historical architecture to amplify the sinister, noir mood of this episode, and introduce several new forms that Weeping Angels hiding in plain sight would take – including baby cherub Angels, who menace poor Rory on more than one occasion for their own enjoyment. Murray Gold’s score is appropriately dark and seductive for a 1930’s period piece, giving off a smooth, jazzy swagger in pieces like “New York, New York“, “Melody Malone“, “My Husband’s Home“, while also being eerie and chilling at times in tracks like “I Am You“, “Little Angels“, “Almost The End“, and occasionally mournful in “Hide The Damage“. “Together Or Not At All: The Song Of Amy And Rory” and “Goodbye Pond” give us Murray Gold’s two final, somber variations on Amelia Pond’s main leitmotifs, “Little Amy” and “Amy’s Theme“, and both of them cut deep – while “A Lonely Decision” is brought back one last time as well, to bookend Amy’s tenure as a companion from where it began in Series 5.

Now that their character arcs are complete, I can safely say that Amy and Rory were a fantastic pair of companions, and I’m really glad they stuck around on the show for as long as they did. Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill had some great chemistry together, they shared some amazing story arcs, and it was very rewarding to see the Ponds mature as they grew older. I’m going to miss them both going forward, but I’m glad they got to go out on a high note.

Rating: 10/10.

Side Notes:

Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan Rory In The Dark 4

* “New York: the city of a million stories. Half of them are true, the other half just haven’t happened yet“.

* I just want to point out that there has been a lot of narration in Series 7 so far. Using narration as a framing device is a pretty common storytelling choice in general, but it really stands out here, because the only episode in Series 7A that hasn’t done so is “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship“.

* Storytelling is a pretty common motif in the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who, to the point where it sometimes feels like the main characters are leaning on the fourth wall. In “The Big Bang“, the Doctor came to the poetic conclusion that when we’re all done living out our lives, leaving our marks on the world, everyone becomes a legend after death. Whether they’re entirely true or not, stories are how memories endure.

* “Doctor, you’re doing it again” “I’m reading!” “Out loud. Please could you not?”

* “Time can be rewritten-” “Not once you’ve read it. Once we know what’s coming, it’s written in stone”.

* “Shock. He’ll be fine” “Not if I can get loose”.

* “You just changed the future” “It’s called marriage, honey”.

* “Okay, why did you lie?” “Never let him see the damage. And never, ever let him see you age. He doesn’t like endings”.

* I really appreciate the creepy, haunted hotel imagery inside Winter Quay. It immediately evokes memories of “The God Complex“, Amy and Rory’s last potential exit, except this time the status quo change that it brings is permanent.

* “Will someone please tell me what is going on?” “I’m sorry, Rory, but you just died”.

* “The Angels take Manhattan because they can, because they’ve never had a food source like this one. The city that never sleeps”.

* “But to create a paradox like that takes almost unimaginable power. What have we got, eh? Tell me. Come on, what?” “I won’t let them take him. That’s what we’ve got”.

* The Statue of Liberty being brought to life by the Weeping Angels is by far the strangest inclusion in this episode. It seems to be here because Steven Moffat thought it would make for a cool visual, but it looks way more goofy than frightening and it adds absolutely nothing to the plot. During the climax, Amy and Rory both take their eyes off it for about a minute, so they can gaze lovingly in each other’s eyes, and it does 100% nothing to stop them from creating a paradox that will kill it and it all of its Angel brethren.

* Whenever people talk about how surprisingly dark Doctor Who can get for a family series, no one ever brings up just how often characters decide to commit suicide in this show – whether they’re doing it to fix a broken timeline, save their friends, redeem themselves with a bit of self-sacrifice, or go out in a blaze of glory with the people they love.

* “Together or not at all!” “What the hell are you two doing?!” “Changing the future. It’s called marriage!”

* “Come along, Pond, please!” “Raggedy man, goodbye!

* “Oh, and do one more thing for me. There’s a little girl waiting in a garden. She’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she’s patient, the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to sea and fight pirates. She’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived and save a whale in outer space. Tell her this is the story of Amelia Pond. And this how it ends“.

* Unless I’m mistaken, the title of this episode is a very strangely-timed reference to “The Muppets Take Manhattan”, considering the tone of this episode is about as far away from the tone of a Muppets movie as you can get.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan Detective River

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