Face the Raven
Episode / March 7, 2016

Aired 21 November 2015 This has been a strange series for the Doctor since he’s spent so much of it without a true companion. Sure, Clara has been there for the adventures proper, but it’s not been uncommon to see him travelling alone at the beginnings of episodes and picking her up at a later point. Even when Clara is around, there’s been a sense that the writers haven’t quite known what to do with her this year following Danny’s heartbreaking farewell(s). She certainly has had her standout moments, and it’s clear that she’s been assuming more of the Doctor’s traits and personality as time has progressed, but now the confidence that she’s never lacked has apparently backfired on her as she finally reached too far, resulting in what seems to be her death. Only time will tell if this death is final, as recent Doctor Who has made a habit of bringing characters back from seeming death, but as of now that is the case. Doctor Who has proven increasingly adept at toying with the typical structure of episodes and, instead of offering a cacophony of explosions at the climax, isn’t afraid to instead slow things down and allow…

Sleep No More
Episode / March 7, 2016

Aired 14 November 2015 Following the superb Zygon two-parter before it, ‘Sleep No More’ was always going to be in a tenuous position in terms of reception simply due to its placement. In a series that, as a whole, has been exceedingly good and definitely benefited from the expanded time for storytelling, ‘Sleep No More’ comes as something of an oddity since it is the first standalone story of this run as well. What follows is one of the boldest episodes of Doctor Who yet, though the end result is certainly far from perfect. It’s immediately clear that this episode is going to be something unique as guest star Reece Shearsmith addresses the camera directly and the usual theme song is replaced simply by computer text. Writer Mark Gatiss then spins what can be classified as a found-footage episode, events shown only through living characters’ experiences or through Shearsmith’s video diary recordings. And so the Doctor and Clara arrive on the thirty-eighth century space station Le Verrier, meeting up with a rescue mission trying to figure out why the station went silent twenty-four hours previously. What ‘Sleep No More’ does well, though, as any science fiction programme does, is offer…

The Zygon Inversion
Episode / March 7, 2016

Aired 7 November 2015 Writer Peter Harness certainly set himself up a difficult task with all of the differing plot points he set up that needing resolving at the end of ‘The Zygon Invasion,’ but he masterfully proves to be up to the task and offers one of the strongest instalments of Doctor Who in recent memory. That’s saying a lot considering how strong the entire Capaldi era has been so far. Gone is any lingering stereotype of what a family programme should and should not do, for on full display is a lesson on politics, war, and tolerance. Undoubtedly many viewers will disagree with this approach, but it’s a bold path for the programme to take, and one that it can’t shy away from forever considering how often the Doctor comes up against evil in some form. Following a clever resolution to a rather tight cliffhanger, the episode quickly picks up momentum never looks back. Last episode, for the first time this series, Capaldi’s Doctor was not front and centre, but that is certainly not the cases this time. In fact, Capaldi unequivocally gives his best performance in the role yet, highlighted by one enrapturing monologue that grows more…

The Zygon Invasion
Episode / March 6, 2016

Aired 31 October 2015 Right from the start it’s apparent that this is going to be a big story, both in terms of scope and continuity. Picking up some of the lingering plot threads from the fiftieth anniversary adventure ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ there’s quite a long exposition sequence to catch viewers up before the story then goes on to- still before the credits even begin- explain that Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood is back as the latest in an increasing line of hybrids this series has featured. Also returning, though, are the Zygons, and the focus is solely on the shape-shifting creatures for the first time since their debut in ‘Terror of the Zygons.’ As it turns out, quite a lot has happened on Earth in the past couple of years and, with a leap of faith, the Zygons have brokered a peace treaty with humanity that allows 20 million or so of them to live amongst humans in secret. Both sides seem to know just how inherently tenuous and fragile the treaty is, and perhaps it’s fitting that there is a ‘Nightmare Scenario’ codename prepared. The action picks up immediately, offering little time for any character or viewer to…

The Woman Who Lived
Episode / March 4, 2016

Aired 24 October 2015 ‘The Woman Who Lived’ comes as something as a surprise; even though it is presented as a second part to ‘The Girl Who Died,’ the tone and story it offers is radically different in almost every sense. Maisie Williams returns but has long forsaken her name Ashildr, here playing a highwayman who has little memory of her earlier life. What follows is a relatively sombre affair, a study on just what immortality means to the girl living forever. No moment is more touching than when Maisie explains that, although her body may be immortal, her mind is not, and the vast number of books that she has written in order to keep some semblance of recollection of herself is a haunting visual of just how much- both good and bad- she has been through and lost. Interestingly, Clara is largely absent from the episode until the end, and in the process Ashildr becomes a sort of mirror for the Doctor himself. The Ashildr here is often cruel and harsh with her humanity only showing up at the last possible moment to save her tortured soul, a reflection of this incarnation of the Time Lord, and it’s…

The Girl Who Died
Episode / March 3, 2016

Aired 17 October 2015 ‘The Girl Who Died’ finally brings Maisie Williams’s heavily publicized guest role to fruition, and although the story offered in the first thirty-five minutes featuring a Viking village battling against the robotic Mire is a solid one, it’s the last ten minutes or so that will surely be remembered in the long run. From the start, it’s clear that the Doctor knows something about Ashildr, and those suspicions are confirmed as she comes back to life just moments after dying from heart failure. Casting a big name in Williams means that this turn of events will certainly have bigger ramifications in the long run- or at the very least in the next episode to close out the two parts. But her return to life brings with it several questions as well. First, Capaldi mentions that his face is a reminder, undoubtedly hearkening back to ‘The Fires of Pompeii,’ but what is it reminding him of exactly? Maybe more importantly, though, is the question of what the Doctor means when he calls her a hybrid. There has been a lot of talk about hybrids since Doctor Who returned to screens in 2005, but just a couple of…

Before the Flood
Episode / March 2, 2016

Aired 10 October 2015 ‘Before the Flood’ has the momentous task of providing a satisfactory resolution to last week’s ‘Under the Lake;’ not satisfied to rest on his laurels and simply offer more of the same, though, writer Toby Whithouse splits up the Doctor and Clara and offers something wholly unique. The opening half ended with the Doctor seemingly turned into a ghost and floating towards the underwater base, and ‘Before the Flood’ begins with the Doctor breaking the fourth wall while talking about Beethoven and the Bootstrap Paradox. It’s a bit jarring, but that opening exposition ties in neatly to the resolution at the end of the episode, and just like that the proper adventure begins. Inevitably, the Doctor is a hologram projection rather than a ghost, but the story does maintain enough intrigue that the possibility of Doctor being dead remains viable. The Doctor’s exchange with his ‘ghost’ self is perfect, and special mention must be given to Peter Capaldi who continues to outshine himself with every single performance. At this point it just feels like the role of the Doctor had been waiting for him to come along, and he continues to dominate scenes with a hauntingly…

Under the Lake
Episode / March 2, 2016

Aired 3 October 2015 Toby Whithouse returns to the worlds of Doctor Who for the first time since ‘A Town Called Mercy,’ penning a very good opener in ‘Under the Lake’ that makes use of many of the most trusted stylings of many classic Doctor Who tales that have come before it. In 2119 Scotland, an underwater mining corporation has salvaged a mysterious ship; the commander is quickly torched by the ship’s engines but is soon revived- albeit still clearly dead and with menacing black holes for eyes- and joined by another ghostly figure in a top hat. Featuring a claustrophobic base under siege, a seemingly endless amount of corridors, and a diverse multinational crew, the setup is certainly nothing new, but the end result is something quite special, indeed, as the Troughton era meets Capaldi’s Doctor head on. Daniel O’Hara makes his Doctor Who directorial debut here, and it’s apparent from the start that he knows exactly how to maximise on the sense of claustrophobia and tension that the setting affords. Just as importantly, though, is that the ghostly threat is brought to life exceedingly well. The CGI effects are superb, embracing the human basis for the figures, and…

The Witch’s Familiar
Episode / February 23, 2016

Aired 26 September 2015 Straight away, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ proves just how beneficial the two-part nature to a Doctor Who story can be. It’s rare that the Doctor actually has a chance to sit and discuss motivations and aims with his foes, but the Master and Davros have occasionally been the exceptions, never more so than here. Davros is dying, the Doctor touchingly at his side because he asked him to come, and the poignant conversation between the two that is interspersed throughout the episode is unequivocally an all-time highlight of the series. The Doctor and Davros have always been written as equals, each standing firmly on one side of morality. And while the Doctor has occasionally had to venture into morally grey territory, it’s only during this conversation that the extent of a possible overlap between the two really becomes apparent. The Doctor has recently been one to search himself in hopes of finding if he is a good man or not and, ultimately, his continued kindness and loyalty to his deadliest foes must surely put him closer to good, even if Davros calls that compassion a cancer and is correct in saying it will kill him. Yet, while…

The Magician’s Apprentice
Episode / February 22, 2016

Aired 19 September 2015 With no new lead actor to introduce at the start of this series, Steven Moffat wastes no time in catering to the true fans of the series. Michelle Gomez’s Master/Missy, Julian Bleach’s Davros, and the Daleks all make their return, and the action picks up right from the start, beginning to set up plot points that will surely have ramifications later in the run. Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor is introduced dramatically as he attempts to rescue a young boy from a visually fantastic and harrowing field of handmines. The moment the boy reveals his name as Davros, though, the tone instantly changes and the Doctor suddenly shows a rare moment of uncertainty, superbly channeling Tom Baker in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ as he holds the early fate of one of his most dreaded foes in his hands. It also brings back the continual inner turmoil of the Twelfth Doctor in needing to decide if he is a good man or not. The dilemma of that opening scene is left unresolved, and Capaldi actually remains off-screen quite a while afterwards, wanting to remain hidden; the benefit of the added emphasis on two-part stories this series is that…