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…

Knock Knock
Episode / May 8, 2017

Aired 06 May 2017 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW The latest series of Doctor Who has certainly taken a more deliberate approach with its stories, hearkening back to the classic series as plenty of time has been afforded for the expositions to naturally and fluidly unfold. This has, almost by necessity, meant that the denouements have been somewhat rushed so far, but ‘Knock Knock’ manages to strike a good balance as it boldly delves into the horror genre before delivering a surprisingly emotional ending. Wisely, ‘Knock Knock’ does not knock the stereotypes and tropes that form the basis of traditional horror tales but instead willingly embraces them. A old-fashioned house with a mysterious landlord, a group of students bursting with naivety, and plenty of odd creeks and goings-on are all present, and even the Doctor finds himself a victim of the menacing setting as exits and students begin to vanish. However, the chance escape of the Doctor to the cellar slowly sheds light on the truth behind the house and its long-term occupants, the landlord and the strange wooden being locked in the tower. The shift in tone may be rather jarring as emotion and empathy suddenly overtake horror, but both elements…

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…