World Enough and Time
Episode / June 25, 2017

Aired 24 June 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW As with all opening instalments of Doctor Who’s multi-part stories, ‘World Enough and Time’ is charged with providing the exposition and plot developments that will hopefully pay off in the upcoming series ten finale, ‘The Doctor Falls.’ However, as has been controversially heavily publicized, there is more than enough intrigue as the original Mondasian Cybermen return to the screen for the first time in over fifty years and John Simm’s Master reappears to cross paths with Michelle Gomez’s Missy. Fortunately, rather than reveling in pure spectacle, ‘World Enough and Time’ is an episode brimming with clever ideas and superb atmosphere and imagery as the dark story of a 400-mile-long colony ship experiencing differing rates of passing time because of a nearby black hole’s gravitational distortion unfolds. With generations passing at the bottom of the ship as only days pass at the top, the story does well with presenting a world so diseased and decrepit that the alternative of upgrading to a cybernetic being seems viable. Many Cybermen stories over the years have been rather explicit with the body horror that the conversion process entails, but the sight of isolated, cloth-wrapped individuals in a…

The Eaters of Light
Episode / June 18, 2017

Aired 17 June 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW With ‘The Eaters of Light,’ Rona Munro becomes the first writer to have penned for both the classic and revived Doctor Who series. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, there’s something of a more deliberate feel to this episode, focusing on world-building and its supporting cast while hinting at the mystery of the Doctor and relying on the companion to drive the narrative forward. While those latter two aspects can certainly be attributed to any number of modern episodes, few classic episodes indicated that seemingly-inevitable change in direction of the franchise as well as Munro’s original script, ‘Survival.’ Doctor Who has always been at its best when it juxtaposes the utterly bizarre with the commonplace, and perhaps no era of classic Doctor Who did this more successfully than the final two years of Sylvester McCoy’s run as more modern and recognizable settings took precedence. And although Scotland at the time of the Picts and Romans is hardly modern, it lends an incredibly distinctive atmosphere to the story that is further anchored by the juxtaposition of a dimensional gate within a cairn and the notion of crows speaking the name of a Pict warrior for all time…

Empress of Mars
Episode / June 11, 2017

Aired 11 June 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW The Ice Warriors are indisputably one of Doctor Who’s most iconic and enduring races, but their five televised appearances have only hinted at the rich and deep culture at the heart of individuals’ actions. Along with the fascinating visual of Victorian soldiers on the surface of Mars, Mark Gatiss for the first time takes the television series to the Ice Warriors’ native planet of Mars to help fill in their backstory by looking to their past while sending them into the future. Doctor Who so often sees humans threatened and under attack that it’s quite shocking to actually see humans on the offensive at the expense of other species and worlds. The means by which the Victorian soldiers end up on Mars is relatively straightforward and sets the scene well enough, but the inherent conflict of the Doctor having to decide between his favoured species and the native species is unfortunately one that ‘Empress of Mars’ simply chooses to sidestep, the moral conundrum it initially draws attention to ultimately forgotten and doing nothing to challenge the Doctor’s usual mode of operation. Indeed, because the humans are so anachronistic, they pose no true threat…

The Lie of the Land
Episode / June 5, 2017

Aired 03 June 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Toby Whithouse’s ‘The Lie of the Land’ is tasked with rounding out the loosely-linked Monks trilogy, one that has so far seen a virtual invasion dry run and the heartbreaking events leading up to humanity unknowingly accepting a world in which the Monks have always benevolently guided them. Six months into this changed dystopian version of events with the Doctor seemingly acting as the chief propagandist for the Monks and their cause, Bill finds herself guided by her belief in the Doctor and the mother she never knew as she continues to question the facts before her. As Bill and Nardole quite easily find and gain entry to the hub of the Doctor’s communications, it’s worth noting just how strong the argument is that he makes in the Monks’ favour given his usual abhorrence to any such stratagem or outcome. Sprinkling in plenty of not-so-subtle allusions to present-day affairs, Capaldi shines as he emotionally decrees that humans continue to make the same mistakes time and time again and that history is littered with warnings against fascism. Unfortunately, after an equally-brilliant counterargument from Bill that the Doctor’s foundation has always been built upon individual…

The Pyramid at the End of the World
Episode / May 28, 2017

Aired 27 May 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Building off the virtual events of ‘Extremis,’ ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ brings the threat of the Monks into the real world in a wonderfully tense episode predicated upon misdirection. As a 5,000-year-old pyramid appears in a war-torn region of the world and the doomsday clock continues to near midnight, Earth’s major powers must unite to decide if the Monks represent devastation or salvation. This is, of course, a story in which the ending will be the major talking point, but to ignore the preceding events would be a tremendous disservice to the work co-writers Peter Harness and Steven Moffat put into crafting an emotionally charged situation in a world on the brink of destruction. Given that so little of ‘Extremis’ actually happened to the Doctor and Bill in the real world, ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ cleverly interlaces the present with those previous events to explain just how much the characters know while bringing everyone into their necessary positions as the UN Secretary General humorously interrupts Bill’s date with Penny and the Doctor in his TARDIS is unknowingly taken aboard a plane through office windows that…

Extremis
Episode / May 21, 2017

Aired 20 May 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Steven Moffat has taken the opportunity in each of Peter Capaldi’s three years as the Twelfth Doctor to bend expectations and show a Doctor in a much more raw and defenceless state than is usual. After ‘Listen’ explored a mental vulnerability and ‘Heaven Sent’ explored the lengths to which an isolated Doctor would go even when countless versions of himself could not directly benefit from his actions, ‘Extremis’ once more shows a more susceptible Time Lord at the brink of death to set the scene for the first 2017 multi-episode story of Doctor Who. Indeed, without swerving into the sometimes blisteringly chaotic pacing and shifts in location that have defined some of Moffat’s bigger episodes, ‘Extremis’ continues the slower and more deliberate stylings of this year’s offerings to tell what end up being two disparate plot points and bringing them to the point of dovetailing. In doing so, the mystery of the Vault’s occupant is apparently revealed (though the Vault has yet to be opened and someone or something could be there alongside Missy), and ‘Extremis’ confidently delves into a flashback that initially toys with the prospect the Doctor being executed on a…

Oxygen
Episode / May 14, 2017

Aired 13 May 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW ‘Space: the final frontier’ is, of course, the phrase that opens countless episodes of Star Trek, and Doctor Who confidently begins ‘Oxygen’ with that same line followed not by glimmering optimism but instead by an ominous sense of warning. As the Doctor, Bill, and Nardole answer a distress signal coming from a mining space station, the grave tone is instantly set as Peter Capaldi’s voice warns that the void is always waiting and ready to kill. Although the Doctor’s lecturing and the university setting have by necessity moved to the background since the series opener, it’s refreshing to see both come into prominence for the opening scenes, allowing the Doctor to lecture Bill and her class about dying in space rather than crop rotations and also for Nardole to join the adventure after again exclaiming about the importance of the Doctor’s oath to protect the mysterious vault and its contents. The action quickly shifts to the strangely-empty Chasm Forge mining station, though, and the unfettered progression of capitalism quickly rears its head as the TARDIS trio soon finds that even access to oxygen is monetized. With the TARDIS out of reach and the…

The Curse of Fenric
Episode / May 10, 2017

Aired 25 October – 15 November 1989 ‘The Curse of Fenric’ often finds itself in the discussion for best story of the classic era of Doctor Who, the perfect blend of script editor Andrew Cartmel’s plan to reinvigorate the mysterious nature of the Doctor while fully developing and exploring the companion by his side. Without even considering the actual plot, it’s clear that Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred have an immense camaraderie, and the relationship that draws parallels to a father and daughter comes alive wonderfully. Indeed, this is perhaps the most grounded relationship within the classic series, the Doctor encouraging Ace to observe and reach conclusions by herself while still being ever mindful of her propensity for jumping into situations head first and Ace trying to earn the respect of the Doctor while still trying to discover herself. Of course, ‘The Curse of Fenric’ is the definitive Ace tale, and never before has a companion developed so much and been so hurt in such a short period of time. ‘The Curse of Fenric’ deals with surprisingly mature themes for a family programme, with Ace’s intimations about being able to use her femininity to her advantage and the metaphorical swimming…

Ghost Light
Episode / May 9, 2017

Aired 4 – 18 October 1989 ‘Ghost Light’ has garnered something of reputation for being a more cerebral or abstract adventure than is the norm for Doctor Who, some viewers and fans being turned off because it does require a greater commitment to piece together the many diverse elements into a cohesive whole. However, it also fits in perfectly with the gradual shift of the programme to put more focus on the companion as an actual person as well as to instill a sense of mystery into the character of the Doctor once more. Appropriately, then, ‘Ghost Light’ is very much a story about the inevitability of and need for change in order to ensure survival. As with any great story, the proceedings on display act as a metaphor for even larger events, and that certainly is the case when looking at Doctor Who as a franchise at the time. Josiah, assured that the British Empire is in decline and heading for anarchy due to lack of direction from the throne, plans to murder Queen Victoria in order to place himself at the head of a society in which the establishment and status quo remain untouched. Intriguingly, there is a…

Battlefield
Episode / May 9, 2017

Aired 6 – 27 September 1989 ‘Battlefield’ opens up what would become Doctor Who’s final season, following in the footsteps of the previous season opener and incorporating a look to the past while further defining the more complex characterization and storylines of the Seventh Doctor. Indeed, the Doctor here is at his most manipulative, a version of him from the future managing to use the current version as a pawn in one of his many grandiose schemes. The Seventh Doctor traveling around the universe to settle old scores and tie up loose ends had been gradually introduced over the previous year, but this is the first time that the Doctor’s personal past, present, and future have crossed paths, lending an extreme depth to the character and adding a degree of certainty to his future when the continuation of the programme was anything but certain. ‘Battlefield’ is actually quite successful with its blending of elements and imagery from different eras of both real-life and the programme’s history even if the production never quite meets its full potential. The notion of Arthurian knights invading modern-day Britain is an enticing concept and certainly helps to anchor the story on a visual level. However,…