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…

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…

Thin Ice
Episode / April 30, 2017

Aired 29 April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Following a pair of solid episodes tasked with establishing the new dynamic between Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Pearl Mackie’s Bill, ‘Thin Ice’ takes to exploring the moral compasses of the two leads while further refining their relationship in the process. The two are clearly idealists and hope to do the best for everyone they come across, but writer Sarah Dollard is able to poignantly explore the differences in the foundations of those ideals as the story of a monstrous serpent beneath the Thames during the last Frost Fair unfolds. While that setup may make it seem like ‘Thin Ice’ is a cold and calculating dramatic piece, the story is actually quite adept at shifting tones and styles, adding an especially mercurial sense of unpredictability to the Doctor by doing so that pays immense dividends as the truth behind the serpent is revealed. Indeed, the prolonged tongue-in-cheek conversation about Pete, the companion who never was, underscores the camaraderie of the two leads and is certainly a comedic highlight in the fledgling series as normal companion questions about traveling in time are deftly handled. Yet the story quickly strikes at the heart of the Doctor’s…

Smile
Website / April 23, 2017

Aired 22 April 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW Every now and again a foe comes along that seems perfectly suited for a particular incarnation of the Doctor, and pairing robots that kill those around them for not smiling and being happy with the sternness and consternation that pervades the characterization of the Twelfth Doctor certainly seems like a natural choice. Unfortunately, after a solid and more deliberate opening half in which the Doctor and Bill get to know each other and the strange world before them, the intrigue of the Vardy threat simply doesn’t have quite enough weight to successfully carry ‘Smile’ to a balanced and engaging resolution. Writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce shows no hesitation is putting the focus of the story squarely on the shoulders of Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, and the chemistry the two innately share shines brilliantly throughout. After a strong introduction in ‘The Pilot,’ Bill is further fleshed out as a dynamic and multifaceted character who is keenly aware of the details in her surroundings while managing to process the strange world that being with the Doctor presents her. It is a bit of a shame that ‘Smile’ doesn’t take the time to explore Bill’s reactions to…

The Pilot
Episode / April 16, 2017

Aired 15 April 2017 After some sixteen months since the airing of the last full series of Doctor Who, ‘The Pilot’ is an apt title for an episode tasked with re-introducing the Doctor and the mystery surrounding the enigmatic Time Lord as well as with introducing new companion Bill Potts played by Pearl Mackie. With the focus squarely on the burgeoning relationship between the Doctor and Bill, one based on Bill’s intrinsically likable inquisitiveness and practical intelligence, ‘The Pilot’ is accordingly not a story that by itself fundamentally alters the long history and mythology of the programme. Indeed, using Bill’s sexuality and the fact that her mother died so long ago simply as character traits rather than prolonged plot points, the story is instead able to focus on quickly rounding out the character with traits rather than with intrigue, highlighted by her willingness to learn by attending the Doctor’s university lectures without even being a student and to ask questions about what others would take for granted. The storyline itself is fairly straightforward as with most companion debut stories, but ‘The Pilot’ does still manage to present a suitably intriguing- if misunderstood- foe. Even if the resolution feels somewhat anticlimactic…