Did anyone else get heavy Cybermen vibes from the royal funeral parade? All the slow marching with a drumbeat on every step? Everyone in time, rocking from side to side…
The Origin of Angels?
I was surprised just over three weeks ago when I learned – from the Saturday Guardian, the physical newspaper, of all things – that Doctor Who was staring the next day. I was aware it was going to be happening this autumn, certainly, but somehow I’d missed any hype about it online.
I was perhaps more surprised to learn that it was going to be a single story. Surprised, and pleased: a six-parter, just like the old days, like the ones I grew up with. Of course, back then you’d get a few four-parters and maybe a six, all across what felt like many weeks. In this case, the six parts will make up the whole season. But still. There would be cliffhangers.
Now we’re three weeks in, halfway through.
There are cliffhangers. So many cliffhangers. Cliffs hung so thoroughly that the metaphor breaks down. The whole thing even started with The Doctor and Yaz hanging upside down. Not from a cliff, but still.
Hang those cliffs. The angels have the blue box.1 No, wait, that’s for later. Or earlier. This time haze is getting to me.
This season, series, story, whatever you want to call it, is incredible. I am loving it. If they can hold up this quality, and especially give it a good ending – stick the landing, as people say for some (I believe gymnastics-related) reason – then it could be the high-water mark of Doctor Who.
And even if they don’t manage a great ending, the ride will have been worthwhile.
But I want to get something out there before we get too much further into the series, and spoilers ahead, probably, so stop reading if you haven’t seen at least up to episode 3, ‘Once, Upon Time.’ Also if you think speculations can be spoilers. I, personally, don’t.
OK, so, we’ve seen glimpses of the Weeping Angels in these episodes. These creatures feed on time energy, and in this story, time energy is going wild, has been unleashed in dangerous ways. Whatever all that means (‘Time is evil,’ as one of the priest-triangles said).
I think we’re seeing the origin of the Weeping Angels. Or we’re going to see it. Something that happens in this story will bring the Angels into being. No idea what, mind you. I thought the Mouri in the Temple of Atropos might end up turning into them, but I think we’ve moved away from there now.
Anyway, all is well in Who-land.
I may never even write this, but I have been completely Berenstained by this phrase. I firmly remember it as blue box, and some places on the net do say that. But most say phone box, and I just played the relevant part of Blink and, indeed, that says phone. According to the transcript on Genius it goes ‘They have taken the blue box, haven’t they? The angels have the phone box.’ So both terms are used, but not the key one in the way I remember it. ↩︎
Our Last, Best, Hope for TV?
You wait years for a beloved three-letter-creator to return to a beloved SF show, and then two happen in one week. After the news of RTD returning to Doctor Who, we have… JMS returning to – and rebooting – Babylon 5?
I did not see that coming. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. Babylon 5was among my favourite programmes of the nineties. It was groundbreaking, in that it was probably the first such show to be planned from the start as a single long (five year) story. With many sub-stories and side plots along the way, as you might imagine.
It was, of course, flawed, especially in the rushed completion of season 4. They thought they were going to be cancelled, so JMS tried to tie up most of the loose ends in that season. Then season 5 was saved, and ended up being slow and underpowered by comparison.
For this proposed reboot – it’s TV, so nothing is definite till it’s in the can – he says he will ‘not be retelling the same story in the same way because of what Heraclitus said about the river’, but that ‘this is a reboot from the ground up rather than a continuation’.
If anyone else was running it, you could count me out. Straczynski could make it great again, but I sort of wonder why he wants to. Not unlike my wondering about why RTD wants to return to Who. I suppose we’re never entirely satisfied with our creations, so getting the opportunity to go back and rework them can be tempting. But I’m not sure it’s always healthy.
Still, we live in hope.
Well that answers the question I asked in July. At least the bit I described as ‘arguably more important’. Russell T Davies is going to be the new showrunner.
That’s an interesting decision, and one I have mixed feelings about. At his best he was great, and some of the things he’s done since have been stellar. And I’m astonished to find that I’ve never mentioned either Years and Years or It’s a Sin here. Not least because I can remember recommending at least one of them online. Maybe it was just on Twitter, but I don’t originate many tweets there. Nearly everything that isn’t a reply comes from here.
Anyway, the great RTD is coming back, like the 456 in Torchwood. And I’m sure it’ll be great. I just think it’s kind of sad if the BBC couldn’t find someone new to take over. There must be plenty of people willing to take it on. Both willing and capable? That’s another question. But hell, JMS1 offered. He’s certainly capable, and it would have been amazing.
Also it’s a shame that RTD won’t get to work with Jodie Whittaker, because I think that could’ve been quite a combo.
Then there’s the reaction on much of Who-related Twitter, which seems to be, ‘Doctor Who is saved!’ When it doesn’t need saving due to having been really good for the last season and pretty good the season before that.
Anyway, I’m sure it’ll be fun.
Of Babylon 5 fame. ↩︎
Sorry, that’s, like, the most obvious title in known space. Jodie and Chris are leaving Doctor Who after the next series and specials. Late 2022, that is.
That BBC News report is almost comically self-flagellatory. After quoting Jodie Whittaker’s hugely positive statements about the show, they say this:
While many have praised Whittaker’s casting, some fans and critics have criticised the show’s recent narrative direction.
The Telegraph described recent episodes as “flat, worthy and woke” despite Whittaker’s talent as an actress, while The Sun reported viewers were left furious by the show’s “unbearable political correctness”.
– Uncredited BBC reporter, Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall to leave in 2022
If those publications are making those criticisms, I’d say that’s a big win. Stop beating yourself up, the BBC. The programme is and remains a success, the jewel in the BBC’s crown.
Significantly further down the report they say:
Episodes such as Rosa, Demons of the Punjab and Spyfall thrilled audiences, and netted the show two Bafta Must See Moment nominations, along with multiple National Television Award, Bafta Cymru, TV Choice and Critics Choice nominations.
In 2020, Whittaker was voted second most popular Doctor of all-time in a poll of 50,000 fans for the Radio Times, losing out to David Tennant.
– As before, Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall to leave in 2022
So there you go. Now: who’s going to the the next Doctor? And – arguably more importantly – who’s going to be the next head writer?
Or will they just put the show on ice for a few years? I read a piece recently that suggested that’s what it needs to revitalise itself, citing the gap from 1989 to 2005 as the model.
I hope they don’t do that. In fact, if it needs revitalisation at all, then last season’s big revelations about the Doctor’s origins are just what they need for that. You could, for example, have a season or two of Jo Martin’s Doctor. She’d be great, though such a move would confuse people, since it would be in the past of the Doctor we know.
We can only look forward to finding out.
Tate and Tennant Killing It
I see that, unlike Little Britain, Catherine Tate is still very funny when she brings back old characters for charity. Especially with David Tennant’s help.
“Being Scottish is not an underlying condition!”
After my highly negative assessment of episode 3 (“the worst episode of Doctor Who ever“), episode 4, “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror,” was fine, if forgettable.
And then last Sunday, we got — wait…
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Don’t read on if you haven’t yet seen episode 5, “Fugitive of the Judoon.”
OK. Last Sunday we got “Fugitive of the Judoon.” Which is without doubt the best episode of Chibnall’s time as showrunner, so far. And may well be the most important episode since the programme came back in 2005. Or at least, be the start of the farthest-reaching changes since Russell T Davies brought us the concept of the Time War.
Two genuinely surprising reveals! Jack’s back; and… so is The Doctor? Whaaaattt???!!?
Fandom is, of course, rife with speculation as to where Jo Martin’s Doctor falls in The Doctor’s timeline. Future? Past? Or an alternative universe? And what of this “Lone Cyberman”?
Halfway through this, season, and it’s shaping up to be something very special. I just hope they don’t let us down.
Who the What?
You probably want to know what I think of the new series of Doctor Who so far.
It got off to a really strong start with ‘Spyfall’ part 1. Not least with its genuinely surprising reveal at the end. And then part 2 followed up on it. Not everything made total sense, but what the hell, it’s Doctor Who. There were some complaints about the way the nazis and The Master were handled, and I get that. And it had the memory-wiping thing. But all in all, I found it a strong, promising start to the new season.
And then we got ‘Orphan 55.’
Oh dear. Oh dearie, dearie me. This was, for me — I’m not going to sugarcoat it — the worst episode of Doctor Who ever. At least in the modern era.
The story was confused and confusing, the direction was incoherent, the character motivations made no sense… Oh, and the message — admirable though it was, to say it was beating us over the head with a stick is to understate how heavy-handed it was.
I thought it must be a first-time writer and director. But no: it was written by Ed Hime, who wrote ‘It Takes You Away’ last season, which was very good. And it was directed by Lee Haven Jones, who directed ‘Spyfall’ part 2, just the week before.
So what went wrong? Hard say, but I’ve got to hope they pick things up again on Sunday.
Right, let’s get 2019 off to a start by talking about my favourite TV programme. I haven’t said anything about the recent season of Doctor Who here since my appreciative post at the end of the first episode. Not for any reason other than not getting round to it.
I absolutely love this iteration of the series. Jodie Whittaker is fantastic as The Doctor, and the supporting cast is brilliant as well. I like the crowded Tardis feel. It does have the limitation that some of the characters don’t get as much time or as many lines as others. That’s been notably true of Yaz — except in the “Demons of the Punjab” episode, of course.
But there’s plenty of time for her to be developed further, assuming they’re all sticking around. And the focus being more on Ryan and Graham was entirely correct, since if there was an overarching theme to the season, it was grief.
It’s not perfect. There have been several occasions when I’ve thought that the writing team don’t really understand what a galaxy is, or the scale of it. Lines like “half the people in the galaxy are unemployed,” or “they’ve crossed four galaxies to get here,” just don’t really make a lot of sense. And there have been several episodes where things maybe weren’t as tidily resolved as we’re used to.
Tonight’s New Year special episode, “Resolution,” was a classic example of the kind of story where the ideas are good, but the whole thing could have been improved if they’d taken the time to come up with slightly better ways to make things happen. Some way of defeating the enemy that didn’t involve the microwave oven, for example. And the whole vacuum/supernova bit at the end was kind of farcical.
But no matter. This season was all about the character dynamics, and those were great. It’s a strong start for Chris Chibnall as showrunner, and an incredibly strong start for Jodie Whittaker.
It was drawn to my attention a couple of weeks ago that I have not yet expressed (publicly) an opinion on either Star Wars: The Last Jedi or the Doctor Who Christmas special. That is both true, and very remiss of me. Trouble is it’s now been quite a while since I saw them both.
Still, I should be able to gather together a few memory cells.
The Last Jedi
I went on opening night, as I microblogged. It was great. There are some points that could have been done differently, or left out, or speeded up; and it had the weird effect towards the end of there being a series of times when I thought it was finished, and it still wasn’t. But all in all a fine work. Not as good as The Force Awakens, maybe. But that’s partly because that one raised our expectations so high.
‘Twice Upon A Time’
Peter Capaldi’s last episode. It was damn fine, loads of fun. Great to see Bill back, even if not exactly. Unnecessary Daleks, but quite a good use of them — or ‘it,’ I should say.
And the introduction of ‘Testimony,’ scooping up people’s memories and saving them, is great. Though how many computer-simulated afterlives can one series have?
And what a dramatic start Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is going to have.
There you go, only a month or so after the events.
I can remember when I first saw Star Trek.
That’s not so unusual, but if my memory is right — and I’ve just more or less confirmed that it is — then when I first saw it was the absolute first time anyone could see it, in this country, at least.
Here’s the memory (and it’s tied up, as many good things are, with Doctor Who).
It’s 1969. It’s the summer holidays, and we’re in a holiday home with a TV. That in itself makes me doubt the memory, because back then holiday houses just didn’t have TVs. A lot of houses in general didn’t. But this memory has always told me that we were on a family holiday. And it’s Saturday, late afternoon. I’m settling down at the TV, and somebody says — I think it’s my sister — ‘Martin, Doctor Who finished, remember?’ Because it was Doctor Who time.
And I said, ‘But this is like Doctor Who!’
And as the new programme started someone else — my Dad, I think — said, with a tone of surprise, ‘He knows all about it!’ And then the Enterprise swooshed towards me out of the screen.
I’ve long wondered how true this memory was. It was 1969; I’d have been five. But I just checked:
Initially, the BBC was the first-run broadcaster of Star Trek (12 July 1969-15 December 1971).
The series was shown in four seasons, the first on Saturday evenings at 5:15 pm (in the time slot usually taken by Doctor Who).
Which exactly matches my memory: summer, Saturday, Doctor Who slot. And the calendar confirms that the 12th of July 1969 was a Saturday.
I wouldn’t be five for another month plus. Not a bad bit of early-memory retention. I wouldn’t have remembered it at all, if it wasn’t for one thing: trauma caused by fear that my parents would turn the TV off just as this exciting new programme was starting burned it into my brain.
My Dad always liked Star Trek too, so I guess I was partly responsible for that.
Yesterday I watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, which are on Netflix (in the UK and Europe, at least; in the US they’re on CBS’s own new streaming service). And I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it felt like being that nearly-five-year-old again, but it did feel like they’re trying something new and potentially very exciting.
Today I was looking at its entry on IMDB. It turns out there are user-written reviews there, which I don’t think I’d been aware of before.
Sadly they are almost universally negative. ‘It’s not Star Trek,’ is a common theme. But there’s a strong whiff of racism and misogyny coming through. Two non-white women as leads means ‘social justice warriors’ are running the show, it seems. Well from what I’ve read of Gene Roddenbery, I think he’d have been happy to be called a social justice warrior. Star Trek was always about diversity and tolerance.
I don’t know how many episodes of this new series they have lined up, but I know I’m looking forward to watching them. So is my inner five-year-old. So would my Dad have been. And so would Gene.
Extreme Pyramid Scheme
I didn’t intend to discuss these two episodes of Doctor Who together, but watching the first was delayed because I was in Scotland when the first one was on. And I didn’t realise they were a two-parter.
Except (spoilers) — oh, they’re not. They’re the first two of an n-parter, where n equals… who knows? At least three, and I’m sort of guessing from the titles and directors that it might be four.
Anyway, in them we have one really good episode, one not so good.
Episode 6, “Extremis,” was really very good indeed. Right up there with the best of this series so far. And good to get the mystery of the vault revealed early on, rather than letting it drag on to the end of the season and be an anticlimax.
Episode 7, “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” despite the great title, was weaker, largely because of scientific irrationality and foolish plotting. To say nothing of incredibly lax biosecurity.
That said, I did enjoy it while watching it. It’s one of those ones where a little bit more care, a few easily-insertable words, and it would all have held together much better. The problem with bad science or plotting based on foolish mistakes is that they can dump you out of the story. Critical faculties should be engaged after you’ve watched a show, not unceremoniously force-invoked by something happening onscreen.
Never mind, though: the next one looks very interesting.
Space Suits You
Back to form, then, with Doctor Who season 10 episode 4, “Oxygen.” Jamie Mathieson has written some good episodes before, and he keeps up the standard here. A tale of capitalism red in tooth and claw, it reminds us at times of “Silence in the Library,” and also of Duncan Jones’s Moon.1
It’s a “monster of the week” episode, but the monster is capitalism. This season so far has been surprisingly political. Well, maybe not surprisingly. These are politically-charged times, and science fiction is nothing if not of its time.
There are no particularly egregious pieces of nonsense here, either. Why the suit’s force-field helmets are OK inside the station but not enough outside isn’t really explained, but the real reason is so the actors don’t have to wear helmets for the whole episode, so that’s all right.
Oh, one thing: they’re on a space station: what are they mining? I mean, for copper, but in what? We have to assume it’s asteroids, but they could just have said.
The really interesting stuff is what we might call the “arc” material (if we are harking back to our Babylon 5 days). The shades are back, but only because The Doctor is blind now. Can he fix it by regenerating, maybe? Or by doing a partial regeneration, like Ten? And more about the vault and The Doctor’s oath. Nardole fears what would happen “if that door opens.” But we saw it open last week, so things are not quite as Nardole thinks, at least.
And the very last scene in the “Next Time…” Yes!
Which is a great film that you should see at once if you haven’t already. ↩︎
Wood and Puzzles
Well, I suppose they couldn’t sustain the excellence forever. I mean, there’s bound to be the odd weaker episode, right? “Knock Knock”, Doctor Who season 10 episode 3 is certainly that. I have to say it’s the weakest episode we’ve seen so far this season.
This is largely because it doesn’t make much sense. Alien bugs turning people to wood? And back again? Well, I guess it’s no more preposterous than many things we’ve seen, but you need to have some semblance of a rationale, and this had none.
Plus it had less of what has really been making this season great: the Doctor/Bill interaction.
Still, it had an interesting season-arc-related ending, with the Doctor taking Mexican food into the Mysterious Vault to share with whoever is in there. And we now it is a “who:” they were playing the piano. And they eat, presumably.
I think there are two possibilities:
- Since The Doctor mentioned regeneration, and we know he’s going to regenerate this season, it’s something to with that. Like a future version of himself, for reasons to be explained.
- As I said before, it’s The Master, or Missy, since we saw both the latter and the John Simm version of the former in the season trailer. That would be plausible but weird.
- Or, and this occurred to me just tonight: what if it’s Susan? His granddaughter from right back at the beginning? Her photograph was on his desk in the first episode… but that’s just fanciful, and why would he have her in a vault?
The Luxury of Outrage
The Doctor is a burning sun of outrage, but claims never to have had time for it. Season 10, episode 3, “Thin Ice,” sends him and Bill into London’s past, to 1814, and the last great frost fair on the frozen Thames.
There is a beast below the ice1 There is a racist lord. There are cute dirty-faced urchins, and acrobats, and a fleeting glimpse of an elephant.
I loved almost everything about this episode. In fact the only negative point to me was the use of the old diving suits. You need someone onshore, operating an air pump, to use those, and there was no evidence of such a thing. It’s one of those things that Doctor Who is prone to. Not a big deal in this case, but it wouldn’t have hard to have included a few words about The Doctor modifying them with a compact air supply, or something.
No matter, as I say, it was an almost perfect episode. And we got back to The Doctor’s office at the end, where Nardole was making the tea (with added coffee for flavour).
And who or what is in the mysterious vault? The knocking of course echo’s “He will knock four times,” at the end of Tennant’s run, and that was The Master. And we know that The Master — or at least John Simm — as well as Missy, is gong to be in this season.
But it would be very strange if it were him in the vault.
I’m sure you saw what I did there. ↩︎
Smile, You’re on Emoji Camera
Episode 2 of Doctor Who Season 10, “Smile,” featured emoji-faced robots (or not strictly robots), as well as Bill’s first real trip in the Tardis and into (as is proper) the future.
It wasn’t a great story, but it was a good one, and I think it was a great opportunity for character interactions.
Complaints would be that The Doctor was too quick to leap to the “blow it up” solution (shades of Lethbridge-Stewart, maybe); and that the pacing dropped off badly in the last third, with The Doc taking ages to explain things long after it was obvious that he just needed to reprogram the robots.
Still, it was, as I say, great character work — Bill is shaping up to be an excellent companion — and an amazing location. I heard that the main building is in Valencia, and parts of it looked an awful lot like the Eden Project.
I also like that the episodes are continuing one into the next. Will they carry that on through the whole season? Could they? Should they?
Doctor Who is back! And at Easter, which still feels like the right time of the year.
Now, as you’ll know, I thought last season was the best season of New Who. I may have been being a tad hyperbolic there… but not entirely.
And now we’ve got “The Pilot,” the first episode of the new season. Introducing Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts. Among other things, I’ve got to say that this would be a great jumping-on point; a fine episode for someone new to the series to start.
The story was good, not great; there were unnecessary Daleks, but if that means they’re going to otherwise be given a rest for this season, I won’t complain; and we’ve got the mysterious vault that The Doctor and Nardole are investigating. I suspect it might be most of the season before we find out what’s going on with that.
Nice references to the past with the pictures of River and Susan; and the people who were fighting the Daleks were Movellans, apparently. I learned this on Jason Snell’s Doctor Who Flashcast podcast. I knew I recognised them, so I thought they must be Thals, and that we were right back at the start of it all. It’s a very long time since I saw either.
So, The Doctor has been lecturing at Bristol University for maybe fifty years? Intriguing. And the mini-trailer that we got as well as the usual “Next time…” is even more so. Both Missy and John Simm (presumably as The Master). The start of The Doctor’s regeneration sequence. We know he’s going to regenerate, but not, presumably till the last episode.
Though on that point, Capaldi said on The Graham Norton Show that he had already filmed his part of the regeneration scene, and the only thing they still had to film was the Christmas special. Not surprisingly he wouldn’t give an explanation of that paradox.
I have a theory, or suggestion for how things might develop. They won’t do this, and they shouldn’t; but bear with me.
In a reversal of the now-common trope of The Doctor’s companion falling for him, The Doctor falls for Bill. She, of course, is not interested. So The Doctor regenerates into a female form.
That would be to put Bill’s sexuality too much to the fore, and of course be wildly unlike The Doctor. But it amused me to consider for a few minutes.
Looking Back and Forward
My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.
But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.
Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to
Ride the punk nostalgia wave
For all it’s worth
Recycle the name of my old band
For a big reunion tour
Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were
Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.
The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.
“I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”
Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.
In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).
I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m taking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.
OK, But What is it Really?
The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.
Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.
according to Cambridge.
Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past
But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.
And a live performance always happens in the present.
This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.
And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.
Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.
Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3
But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.
Or a mixture of old and new, as with The Rezillos. ↩︎
This is why you should always save links, folks. ↩︎
God, I really come from another time, don’t I? ↩︎
I hope everyone’s following the new series of Broadchurch. If you thought the second season didn’t live up to the first, then I think you’ll find that the third brings it back to greatness. Trilogies always sag in the middle, don’t they?
People are being very positive about it on Twitter. Many of the comments are around how every guy you see is a possible suspect. Which is very true. I’m just glad to discover that there are eight episodes, not six as I had thought. Which means we’re still not quite halfway through.
David Tennant and Olivia Coleman are fantastic together as ever. and Jodie Whittaker as Beth is amazing.
Most of all, I think it bodes well for Chris Chibnall’s future role as head writer on Doctor Who.
I just watched the last episode of Class, BBC 3′s web-only1Doctor Who spinoff.
It is really, really good. If you haven’t seen it you should stop reading this now and go and watch. Really. I’ll still be here when you get back.
Eight episodes with special guest appearances at the start and (spoilers) the end, about five young people in the famous Coal Hill School. Famous from the very first episode of Who, of course, right up to the 50th and beyond. It’s now an academy, not surprisingly. And it seems that it is — or always has been — something of a nexus in space and time.
I’ll not say much more, as it would be hard not to get spoilery. But I will tell a little anecdote of how I watched it.
I saw episode 6 first. Why? Because I was careless, and iPlayer has stupid defaults. I went to the site and searched and found the programme, and started watching the first episode it presented me with. Because that would be the first episode, obviously, right?
Wrong. The rationale is sound: iPlayer is a catch-up service; and the episode you’re most likely to want to catch up on is the current one. So the episode I saw first was 6, “Detained”, which must have been current at the time.
Thing is, I don’t think there can have been a “Previously…” at the start — though there was later — or I think I’d have noticed. I was just impressed with how it started straight in, giving touches of backstory in moments of dialogue, so that by the time the five teenagers were locked in the detention classroom and the plot began to unfold, I was really impressed with this in medias res beginning and compact storytelling.
Well, of course, after that I realised my mistake and went back to the beginning. And when I got to 6 again it did have a “Previously…” But if you didn’t start at the beginning, it was probably the best one to start at.
Is it great? Maybe. It’s certainly got the potential to be so. It’s better than early Torchwood, maybe not quite as good as the best of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Well worth watching, and I hope there will be more serieseseseses.
Well, that’s a tautology now, of course. ↩︎
Moffat Leaving Who
Doctor Who head writer Steven Moffat is leaving, but his final series won’t run till next year. Nothing but a Christmas Special in 2016.
Hell and Heaven
We come to the end of what I can now confidently say was my favourite series of new Doctor Who so far. No matter how good it was when it all came back with Chris Ecc (as we still like to call him in my family); how much we liked David Tennant; how manically brilliant Matt Smith was from day one: Peter Capaldi was on fire this season, and Stephen Moffat is at the top of his game as showrunner.
Were this last pair as good as “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” or “Blink”? It’s hard to say definitively, because those were so shockingly good when they hit us. But I think in time we’ll say so. I don’t doubt that Capaldi and the production team will win BAFTAs this year, and I’m sure that one of the last two will get the Hugo.
Awards may not mean that much (though let’s face it, they do) but when you see an award-worthy performance, or read something that you know is likely to win, that deserves to win – you know you’ve experienced something special.
And we experienced something very special in this season of Doctor Who And particularly in the last three episodes.
I just read a foolish comment on a Tor.com post about how great Capaldi is. It said, in effect, “That episode was only about the gender & skin-colour switching regeneration.” Yes, that was it: it was about that one thing and nothing else.
Seriously, though, that was a nice touch.
One thing I haven’t seen or heard mentioned is how terrified the Time Lords were of him – well, Rassilon, at least: one guy, and they send a vast floating gun platform to bring him in. Of course, it turns out that Rassilon was right to be afraid.
One thing about this episode and more importantly, the previous, seems to be causing people some confusion. The Doctor didn’t spend two billion years (or whatever) in the clockwork castle. Two billion years worth of copies of him – each with some awareness of its past iterations, triggered by the word “bird” – go through a near-identical experience.
Though Hell Bent proves that even The Doctor – or Stephen Moffat – is confused by this.
Mind you, the planet on which the castle is built does experience all that time, we must assume, as The Doctor observes how the stars have changed.
What the episode does do is address the old philosophical question of whether matter transmitters make copies. In the Whoniverse at least, they do.
Unless the whole thing is a simulation, including the changing stars.
Anyway, masterful, glorious work. I’m looking forward to the Christmas special.
Heaven and Lords
I wouldn't have minded if I had guessed it myself. But one little line in the Guardian Guide prompted me. All it did was make me think of something I hadn't thought of before, but it felt like a spoiler: "The Doctor comes closer than ever before to returning to Gallifrey," or some such.
And there it was: “They” from last week had to be the Time Lords.
But why? Why did they do it? Why put the Doctor through that, just to get him to Gallifrey? And also, how? of course: how can he get to Gallifrey when it’s supposed to be locked away in some pocket universe?
And titling: why was it called “Heaven Sent”?
Great episode, by the way. Best of the season. Indeed, I predict a Hugo.
And I expect we’ll find out some of the answers next week.
Raven and… What?
Well. Well, well well.
I have to say (and spoilers here for “Face the Raven”, if you haven’t seen it yet): that was companion-exit that guarantees they won’t be able to bring her back.
OK, yes, nothing is forever in Doctor Who, and there are already rumours or suggestions that Clara will be appearing in flashbacks or similar in the next two episodes. But that really felt properly final.
And I have to say, I hope it stays that way. Nothing against Clara, or Jenna Coleman – I think she was a good companion played by a very good actor – but it just feels that they’ve done too much of bringing companions back. Sure, we all love to see them again, but really? She’s gone out with a heroic and tragic last scene. It would cheapen it to bring her back.
Unless there was a very good reason, of course.
It occurs to me: if the planned new spinoff programme, Class, is to be set in and around Coal Hill School, where Clara was teaching: what does her death mean for that, for the characters in it? Presumably some of them will be her students, or teachers who knew her.
Anyway, back to Clara, and the Raven. And maybe her death wish?
I was pleased that she mentioned Danny Pink at the end, because I’ve been thinking that it was strange that neither she nor The Doctor had mentioned him in this season. It seemed that she really hadn’t had a chance go grieve properly – or hadn’t let herself do so.
Though we don’t know how long is supposed to have passed. It could be a year, two, since the events of “Death in Heaven”. Which doesn’t mean she’d have stopped grieving – certainly not that she’d have forgotten him. But she could have got to a place where she could carry on without always thinking of him.
But then there’s her mood this series, her mad drive for more adventures, her carelessness – best shown in this very episode with the way she hung out of the Tardis1
So if we want to psychoanlayse her, we can say that she has spent the last ten episodes (and maybe longer) running away from Danny’s death, from her own feelings about it; or running towards her own eventual death, her sacrifice.
This episode for me was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. I was considered quite contentious in my family when I said I thought that the current season was the best of New-Who. That led to much discussion of other past seasons, and my eventual acquiescence into the idea that it’s mainly the best because it’s the one that’s happening now. Like my friend Paul said a while back: “My favourite episode of Doctor Who? The next one.”
But I think the truth of it is that it has been a very even series: not great highs (except maybe this very episode) – no “Blink” or “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” or “Father’s Day”. But no real lows, either (arguably the previous episode, but I still think it was worthwhile.) An entire season (so far) of solid, strong episodes, leading to a climax like this – and who knows what will come next?
I note in passing that this reviewer thinks like me.
Anyway. There is much more I could say – like who are the “they” who have kidnapped The Doctor? The obvious answer would be Davros and the Daleks, possibly with help from Missy. That would bookend the season nicely, and make some sense of Ashildr asking for his “Confession Dial”. But that might be too obvious.
But that’s enough for now. Quoth the Raven, “Neverwhere’s all about hidden London, isn’t it?"
I can’t decide on whether to use the old-school all caps, since it’s an acronym, or the more modern approach of making it a standard word. I wonder: what would Nasa do? Oh. Yes. ↩︎