Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014) Review

Doctor Who Deep Breath Meeting 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the end of the last episode, the TARDIS crash-landed in the Jurassic era, and when it jumped ahead to Victorian London, it brought a dinosaur back with it by accident. Before the Doctor can do anything about that problem, the dinosaur is killed by the villain of this episode, the Half-Face Man, which quickly puts the Doctor on his trail. The Paternoster Gang aren’t the only returning figures in this episode: for “Deep Breath”, Moffat decides to bring back more of the clockwork droids from “The Girl In The Fireplace” – robots from the future who kill humans and incorporate their body parts into their technology, because they’re coldly logical creatures who lack any real sort of empathy to realize how obscene and contradictory their actions are. There’s a running gag throughout the episode that the Doctor almost but never quite manages to remember where he’s seen their modus operandi before – it’s been over a thousand years since “The Girl In The Fireplace” for him, and he’s starting to forget the details of things that happened during the RTD era (which is actually quite sad when you think about it).

The Half-Face Man, the leader of the droids, serves as a villainous foil to the Twelfth Doctor. He crash-landed on earth during the age of the dinosaurs, and he’s been laying low ever since – constantly repairing himself, constantly changing himself inside and out until there’s very little of his old self left. He’s millions of years old now and he’s tired of his existence, but he can’t bring himself to put an end to it all, because that would go against his programming. So he’s in search of the promised land: a mythical perfect place where he can finally find some rest. The Doctor, of course, doesn’t believe in such a thing, he thinks it’s just a fairy tale, a human superstition that he managed to pick up over the years. The question of whether there’s life after death is probably humanity’s oldest and greatest mystery, and it will play a vital role in Series 8’s story arc. After the Half-Face Man is killed, he meets a strange woman who claims to be in charge of running the afterlife. Back in “The Bells Of Saint John“, a mysterious woman gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number so they would meet. In this episode, that same woman puts them on the Half-Face Man’s trail, so they would stay together after the Doctor’s regeneration. That woman is Missy (Michelle Gomez), our main villainess for Series 8, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of her as the Capaldi era progresses.

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Deep Breath Showdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Deep Breath Disheveled Clara 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “Love from Gallifrey, boys!

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

* “Raggedy Man, goodnight”.

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

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor The Painting

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor Evil Plan 10

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

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

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

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor Entrance 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Day Of The Doctor Final Farewells 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Remember Me 8

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Farewell 10

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor I Am Information 4

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Showdown 2

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

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

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

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Name Of The Doctor Rescuing Clara 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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

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Doctor Who: Nightmare In Silver (2013) Review

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Mr. Clever 8

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

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

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Little Spy 4

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

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

Matt Smith is once again given the 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.

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Showdown 2

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Porridge 9

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Cyber Soldier 17

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

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

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

A lot of location shooting for this episode was done inside Castell Coch in South Wales, which ironically gives us an futuristic story set inside an old school historical landmark. “Nightmare In Silver” sports some really beautiful CGI shots from the 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.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Home Sweet Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Nightmare In Silver Cyber Soldier 19

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Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (2013) Review

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Prisoner 5

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

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

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Confrontation 14

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

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

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

The Impossible Girl arc is not 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 having fun sight-seeing from “Cold War” and “Hide“, which is a nice bit of continuity that ties together the separate threads of this season as we start to approach the finale. The kids decide to blackmail her into letting them tag along with her on another adventure, which sets the stage for the next episode, “Nightmare In Silver“.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Going Home 4

Madam Vastra, the veiled detective, Jenny Flint, her lover and right-hand woman, and Commander Strax, their footman / medic / weapons’ expert are given their own spotlight episode showing off each one of their respective strengths in “The Crimson Horror”, where we get to see one of their cases unfold. The trio are recruited to investigate a bunch of mysterious disappearances happening in a gated community in 19th century Yorkshire, and to their surprise, they discover the Doctor has been looking into it as well.

In comparison to her last couple of appearances, “The Crimson Horror” emphasizes Madam Vastra’s sharp mind and her excellent deductive reasoning skills much more often than her fighting abilities. She’s been around since ancient times, so she’s the first one to realize Mrs. Gillyflower is meddling with primordial forces for her own twisted purposes. It’s also apparent in this episode that Vastra is the matriarch of their clan, and the glue who holds their little gang together. Her wife, Jenny, is the only human in the group, so she flies solo for a while when she goes undercover in Sweetville to investigate: allowing us to see everything she’s capable of for the first time. She’s a very clever and intuitive woman who 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 before that you should want to keep your attachments to people who have been nothing but awful to you for years, just because they’re family, and it’s refreshing to see that idea get subverted hard in this episode. Now that her toxic mother is no longer a part of her life, Ada has decided to take the Doctor’s advice – she’ll focus on healing herself and living her own life as well as a blind woman can – which gives her character arc a hopeful open-ending.

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Confrontation 33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “You know, chairs are useful!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Montage 4

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Corridors 7

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

The TARDIS has a crack in time inside of it that’s leaking out the past and future, and as a result, there are charred, murderous zombies running through the ship, presenting our heroes with a deadly danger to face inside the maze. The zombies are constantly obscured and kept out of focus with some clever camera work, like the Crooked Man in “Hide“, which builds up suspense about what they might be. One thing you can say for certain is that they look like creatures who stepped right out of hell. They spend most of the episode chasing our heroes, trying to kill them – trying to kill their own 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 become very apparent that the Eleventh Doctor tends to lie quite often: to protect himself, to protect others, and to avoid things that are terrible. He always keeps his cards close to his chest, even from his friends, so he can have an advantage – like his knowledge about the cracks in time, Amy being a ganger, his fake death in Utah, and now the mystery surrounding the Impossible Girl. Not even River Song, his lover, can say she knows what’s going on inside his head all the time. Right now, the Doctor doesn’t know what to make of Clara, and even though he clearly cares for her, he refuses to trust her fully, which makes sense. The Doctor’s enemies have taken advantage of blind spots in his judgment to set traps for him before, like the Pandorica or the battle 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 ill-will. This episode devotes very little time to exploring the emotional fallout of that scene, once a reset button is pressed, which is somewhat frustrating to see, but thankfully the consequences of it are picked up again a few episodes later in “The Name Of The Doctor”. As for how it affects the Doctor’s relationship with Clara going forward, his views on her have shifted and softened. He’s finally starting to realize he’s been overly paranoid and overthinking things, approaching her more like a mystery than a person, though that discovery won’t sink in fully until “The Name Of The Doctor“.

Doctor Who Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS Detour 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 10/10.

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.

Ever since “The Rings Of Akhaten”, 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 a memorable small-scale adventure. It does a great job of strengthening the bond between the Eleventh Doctor and Clara, while also showing the cracks in their friendship that will need to be addressed sooner or later.

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 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 history with the nature of warfare, the Doctor understands how Skaldak thinks, the 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 try to keep the peace, and fails.

Trying to get Skaldak to see reason won’t work, because the vengeful Ice Warrior won’t listen to him, and eventually he 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”. She’s still learning the basics as a companion in this episode: how the TARDIS translation matrix works, 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 out 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 her tenure 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 and 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.

Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham), the leader of a scientific expedition to the Arctic circle by the Soviet military, is shown to have a fair amount of layers. He’s a tough, 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, because he obviously cares about all the men serving under him, and he has a good sense of humor, which makes him approachable. 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 thinking he’s 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. After some initial arguments, 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, but Stephashin is confident that 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 the 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 argument, 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 is something that 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, the leaf also brought Clara into the world, as the end result of her parents’ 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 something 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 (because she has no idea what’s truly at stake here) – 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 to 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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