The Day of the Doctor
Episode / April 6, 2016

Aired 23 November 2013 It’s not often that a franchise gets to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary with such pomp and circumstance, especially one that is still actively churning out fresh and exciting stories in multiple media and is arguably more popular than it’s ever been before, and so understandably ‘The Day of the Doctor’ carries a heavy burden as it needs to deliver homage to its past while telling a strong story that can launch it into a new era. Right from the beginning, it’s clear that everyone involved managed to achieve that balance perfectly as the original title sequence and opening merges seamlessly into the present. Steven Moffat makes the wise decision to tell his lively tale more in the style of classic Doctor Who, sure to appease fans both old and new. At the core of the story is a rather straightforward invasion of Earth by the shape-shifting Zygons, making their first appearance since 1975’s ‘Terror of the Zygons,’ as they emerge from paintings in London’s National Gallery. The Zygons are triumphantly realised here with some superb costuming and practical effects, and their slow invasion through Time Lord art works wonders as an underlying air of uncertainty regarding…

The Name of the Doctor
Episode / April 5, 2016

Aired 18 May 2013 The name of the Doctor may not be one of the burning questions most fans have avidly asked over the years, but having an episode titled ‘The Name of the Doctor’ certainly sets the scene for a very big and important outing, indeed. Unsurprisingly, writer Steven Moffat plays with expectations and , rather than offering a straight answer, instead completely changes the entire fabric and history of the programme while bringing into question not only the Doctor’s name but his entire identity. ‘The Name of the Doctor’ features one of the most interesting settings in Doctor Who history, the planet Trenzalore being the final resting place of both the Doctor and his TARDIS. As the TARDIS continues to die, its dimensional control continues to falter and so the dilapidated TARDIS here is impressively large on the outside. But on the inside lies the crux of the episode since a tear in space and time that is connects the Doctor’s adventures and lives has formed. Before Trenzalore even appears on screen, though, ‘The Name of the Doctor’ gives fans a taste of what they were likely hoping for all along in this fiftieth anniversary series. The actual…

Nightmare in Silver
Episode / April 4, 2016

Aired 11 May 2013 After giving the TARDIS a voice in the critically-adored ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ Neil Gaiman returns to Doctor Who with a script attempting to do something even more daunting in making the Cybermen scary again. After a singular appendage proved so horrifically effective in ‘The Pandorica Opens,’ an entire Cybermen legion was casually defeated in ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ and another group turned into a weak shadow of their former potential in ‘ Closing Time;’ ‘Nightmare in Silver’ looks to rectify that situation and elevate the Cybermen back into their proper position among the best of the Doctor’s foes. Gaiman, as proven from his entire body of work, has no qualms about delving head-first into more fantastic science fiction concepts, and so having the Doctor and Clara take the two children in her charge- Eve de Leon Allen’s Angie and Kassius Carey Johnson’s Artie- to the futuristic amusement park Hedgewick’s World of Wonders works wonderfully. Malfunctioning amusement park attractions have certainly provided tension and scares before, and ‘Nightmare in Silver’ proves to be no different. Wisely discarding the alternate universe Cybermen of the Tennant years, Gaiman instead focuses on the original brand from the classic…

The Crimson Horror
Episode / April 4, 2016

Aired 4 May 2013 ‘The Crimson Horror’ is another bit of a surprise episode because it brings back the Doctor-lite aspect that hasn’t really been around since the Tennant years. There’s a decent mystery in play regarding Sweetville, but both the Doctor and Clara are more a part of that mystery rather than ones investigating and seeking a resolution until the end. It’s an interesting approach, especially considering that this is the programme’s fiftieth anniversary year, but maybe not the best one to take in this instance even if it suited the story. The setup is that the Doctor’s image appears in a victim’s eyes just before death, prompting the return of Jenny, Strax, and Madame Vastra as a trio of investigators. For the first time, though, it’s Catrin Stewart’s Jenny who really takes the lead in events, a welcome shift in the dynamic even as the other two remain useful in their own right and Strax in particular continues to deliver more comedic moments. People around the area are being discovered covered in red, dubbed the crimson horror by unaffected locals. While the locals focus on superstition and fear, though, the detectives soon shift their focus to Winifred Gillyflower,…

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Episode / April 4, 2016

Aired 27 April 2013 ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ unequivocally delivers on its title, offering easily the most thorough tour of the Doctor’s craft in nearly fifty years of adventures. Several stories have offered a briefer glimpse of what lies beyond the console room, most notably ‘The invasion of Time’ and Paul McGann’s solo television outing, but here the action takes characters to the library, the swimming pool, the fuel core, an expansive tree-like engineering room and other outdoors-like areas, and, of course, endless corridors. The episode itself opens with a three-man salvage crew targeting the TARDIS as space refuse. The eventual revelation that the android member of the crew is actually a member of the other two’s family is effective as well, though understandably it gets slotted to the background more than usual as the TARDIS and the continued exploration of Clara take centre stage. After the gravitational tractor beam of the scavengers’ wreaks havoc with the TARDIS, the Doctor must team up with the crew to get into the TARDIS and save his caught friend. Unfortunately for him, the chaos continues within, the corridors turned into a labyrinth, a clock ticking down to self-destruction, and lava-like…

Hide
Episode / April 3, 2016

Aired 20 April 2013 There’s a trend in modern Doctor Who to give an air of sympathy to its non-Dalek and non-Cybermen antagonists; generally, this works quite well and gives added and appreciated depth to the foes, but the tacked-on nature of the love story epilogue of ‘Hide’ feels completely superfluous to what is otherwise another strong and atmospheric entry in the current run of episodes. Doctor Who is no stranger to a good ghost story, and ‘Hide’ starts out in a very traditional fashion as the Doctor and Clara land at a large creepy house and promptly find themselves immersed in the paranormal investigatory events. They quickly come across Alec Palmer and his empathic assistant Emma Grayling, both looking into the local spirit, the Witch of the Well, who seems keen to wail and make strange noises around the house. Yet after the requisite time dealing with familiar horror tropes such as extinguished candles, sudden temperature drops, glances into empty corners, and other strange happenings, ‘Hide’ reinvents itself mid-story by adding a much grander science fiction element while still retaining its heart by focusing on its human characters. The TARDIS hasn’t been used too much recently within the episodes,…

Cold War
Episode / April 2, 2016

Aired 13 April 2013 After the apparently divisive ‘The Rings of Akhaten,’ Doctor Who returns to more traditional territory with a story that’s sure to appease a much greater proportion of classic and new fans alike. Taking a cue from ‘Dalek’ that showcased the menace of the entire race by focusing on one trapped individual, writer Mark Gatiss takes a similar approach with his reintroduction of the Ice Warriors. Doctor Who and Gatiss are both no stranger to the horror genre, and the classic setup of a foe versus another group of characters in a confined setting is used to superb effect here as the Ice Warrior confronts a crew of Russian sailors aboard a broken submarine. Although the decision to thaw out the Ice Warrior which sets events in motion is a bit dubious, the end result is great as the threat of the Ice Warrior is effectively brought across and the visual update of the classic foe is strong and fitting of the warrior race. Matt Smith’s reaction to first seeing another of his old nemeses is brutally brilliant. Rather than just treating Grand Marshall Skaldak as a generic menace, ‘Cold War’ does a very good job in…

The Rings of Akhaten
Episode / April 1, 2016

Aired 6 April 2013 Doctor Who is a programme unafraid to place hints and clues into one episode, only to have its relevance pay off further down the line. While the mystery of the leaf in Clara’s book mentioned during ‘The Bells of Saint John’ may not be the most intrinsically exciting, it gets a well-deserved payoff just one episode later in ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ as much more of the story of Clara is revealed during a rather unique and visually stunning tale. Whenever a new companion is introduced, he or she understandably gets quite a lot of screen time initially in order to flesh out the character. Clara proves no exception as a glimpse is attained of her childhood while, in the present, she is whisked away to a strange and fantastically-realised alien world where she befriends a young girl fearfully running away and hiding. In truth, this may be one of the few Doctor Who episodes where the sheer spectacle of the setting outshines the story it telling. Whether in the busy bazaar filled with multitudes of alien species or the more fantastic Rings of Akhaten themselves, the physical props and CGI are top-notch throughout and give…

The Bells of Saint John
Episode / April 1, 2016

Aired 30 March 2013 Doctor Who opens its seventh series with ‘The Bells of Saint John,’ a surprisingly standalone offering that still manages to continue some of the more intriguing plot developments from ‘The Snowmen.’ Unsurprisingly, the story and mystery of Clara is one of the major undercurrents of this episode, though it’s handled in such a way that it never becomes too intrusive or overt. After opening with a recorded video to set the scene in the present, it is revealed that there is a painting of Clara in 1207 where the Doctor happens to be acting as a monk. Back in the present, it’s a lengthy technical support call that bring the two back together, though Clara is clueless as to who the Doctor is and that he has witnessed her deaths on two separate occasions. Jenna-Louise Coleman easily slides into the role of Clara, and Matt Smith and she have an instantly undeniable chemistry together that should make for a fantastic pairing going forward. In fact, although there is a nod to Amy Pond through referencing her book Summer Falls, this is ultimately a throwaway and the focus remains rightly on Clara rather than the past. With…

The Snowmen
Episode / March 31, 2016

Aired 25 December 2012 Doctor Who returns to screens with its annual holiday special, but Steven Moffat also uses it as an opportunity to set plot threads in motion for the show’s upcoming fiftieth anniversary series, in the process focusing less on the Yuletide setting than any previous special. With a long-forgotten foe returning, a new title sequence hearkening back to the face-including sequences of the Second through Seventh Doctor eras, and an updated TARDIS interior that also evokes some memories of past iterations, there are several hints already in place that 2013 is going to be a tremendously nostalgic time for the programme. Having previously appeared in the Patrick Troughton episodes ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ and ‘The Web of Fear,’ the Great Intelligence makes a welcome return as he shows off his formidable psychic power while trying to find a physical form. Richard E Grant adds a sinister air of gravitas to the role during his limited appearances, and it seems inevitable that greater things are in store for the Great Intelligence- though perhaps not with Grant as its host- going forward. Yet as intriguing as the villain is, it’s ultimately Jenna-Louise Coleman who is again going to be the…