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…

The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Episode / December 26, 2016

Aired 25 December 2016 SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW It’s been full calendar year since Doctor Who has aired a new episode, but despite the inherent pressures of any episode and the immensely-popular Christmas slot, in particular, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ benefits from not having to pick up on a current companion’s plot arc or to set up or handle a regeneration as others have before it. Indeed, with only a fleeting scene where the Doctor is mistaken for Santa and only a couple of quick references to last year’s ‘The Husbands of River Song,’ this is perhaps the least Christmas-themed and the most standalone of the festive specials yet as Steven Moffat crafts a loving homage to American superheroes. The festive holiday period provides the perfect time to experiment with the fundamentally ridiculous nature of the superhero genre, the spirit of the season bringing out the inner child in viewers more than any other time of the year. Quite wisely, though, the focus of the tale is very much on Grant Gordon and his misguided attempts to get nearer to his lifelong crush, reporter Lucy Fletcer, while also making the world a safer place as his Superman-eque alter ego, The…

The Husbands of River Song
Episode / March 7, 2016

Aired 25 December 2015 Following a truly spectacular run of twelve episodes that often veered into quite dark and sombre territory, Doctor Who returns for its annual festive outing in a much more lighthearted- though nontheless incredibly enjoyable- outing. Clara is firmly in the past, and the Doctor has no memory of her other than her name, returning the focus more squarely to the Doctor as no new companion is on the horizon as of yet. As the title blatantly states, though, River Song is unabashedly back and Alex Kingston perfectly recaptures her iconic role here. The central premise that River does not recognize the Doctor goes on for an astoundingly long time thanks to some necessary deception and evasion on the part of the Doctor, but it never wears too thin or feels unwelcome. In fact, that resulting banter between Kingston and Capaldi instantly prove what a dynamic duo they are while giving Capaldi yet another chance to demonstrate how adept he is at comedy. The scene where the Doctor pretends to be taken aback by the larger interior of the TARDIS is fifty-plus years in the making, and that alone is worth watching the entire episode. It’s a…

Hell Bent
Episode / March 7, 2016

Aired 5 December 2015 Following the huge surge of momentum at the end of ‘Heaven Sent,’ Steven Moffat decides to slow proceedings down at the beginning of ‘Hell Bent.’ However, he still manages to accomplish a lot in those initial few minutes, first and most importantly revealing that Clara has returned. On top of that, a visit to a familiar locale from ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ as well as a very in-depth look at Gallifrey are attained, all of this before the credits roll. Given the lengthy buildup of the return of Gallifrey and last episode’s cliffhanger of the Doctor finally returning to cause some mayhem, Rassilon and the Time Lords actually end up being one of the more inconsequential parts of ‘Hell Bent,’ instead just setting further plot developments in motion. It’s not entirely surprising that the confession dial is Rassilon’s doing, and even though the Doctor’s reasons for leaving Gallifrey may have slightly changed given recent revelations, Rassilon still wants him dead. He thus duly orders the Doctor be shot outside of the Gallifreyan barn that has featured so prevalently as of late, though it should come as no surprise that these orders are not carried out. What follows…

Heaven Sent
Episode / March 7, 2016

Aired 28 November 2015 It’s the penultimate episode of the series, and Doctor Who is still taking risks and playing with expectations, as usual meeting with fantastic results. Following last week’s apparent demise of Clara, the stakes are astronomical and yet, for almost the entirety of the running time of ‘Heaven Sent,’ the Doctor is the only character on screen, allowing Peter Capaldi to deliver another masterfully redefining performance as the titular Time Lord. Steven Moffat’s script for ‘Heaven Sent’ picks up after the events of ‘Face the Raven,’ the Doctor still very emotional and very angry as he is transported to a sinister castle-like environment. One of the biggest achievements here is just how much business is taken care of in a short period of time, setting the Doctor against relentless tests and seemingly insurmountable odds. There’s no real time travel component to this story to keep track of, but Moffat doesn’t take time to make sure everyone is caught up. He has a confidently straightforward vision with a lot to say and trusts that everyone viewing is on board and has faith in him to see it through to its conclusion. This is one of the most helpless…

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…