Series 8! A new Doctor takes the reigns of the show, which means that the whole dynamic of the show tends to get thrown on its head. This goes doubly so this time as Capaldi gives us a departure from the young men of Tennant and Smith. Gone are the days of bouncing around like a goofball, instead giving us a grumpy, cynical and sarcastic style of comedy.
Personally, this was the series I was most dreading because it’s the only one that I haven’t actually rewatched since it originally aired. My memories of a lot of these episodes have faded in the years since 2014. There’s even one episode in here I’m relatively sure I’d never actually seen before.
Still, there’s no time like the present, so let’s get reviewing.
11 – In the Forst of the Night
In the Forest of the Night is the worst episode of modern Doctor Who. It’s really that simple.
Children actors are bad and annoying at the best of times, so it doesn’t help that A) They’re one of the most critical factors of this episode, and B) They were explicitly written to be the most insufferable, stereotypical arses I’ve ever seen. On top of that, all of the adult characters seem to act like children too. There are attempts at comedy, but they are DIRE. Jokes that are so unfunny they’d even be too bad for an episode of The Big Bang Theory.
The ‘drama’ in Clara & Danny’s relationship about how much she’s been seeing The Doctor is laughable, and wholly forced into scenes where they have no place being. Speaking of Danny, I have no idea why the writer decided he should be completely inept in this episode, but it turns him into the most unlikable character in the whole thing. I can get behind his motivation of protecting the kids, but he isn’t even good at it, for one thing, he steps up to tiger, with a torch, after which, we NEVER see that tiger again. THAT’S NOT HOW TIGERS WORK. Not to mention that not nearly enough attention is paid to the fact that Danny manages to lose a child at a sleepover. It’s not like she just wandered off either, she’s fully dressed and out in the forest, which means she’s been missing all night, and neither he nor Clara, nor any of the kids noticed.
All of that, all of it pales in comparison to this episodes biggest sin. The one time while watching an episode of Doctor Who that has made me physically angry that it was ever allowed to be broadcast. That is the moment where Clara tells The Doctor not to bother saving all of the children, and The Doctor just agrees. Clara makes this decision, not just to let the human race become extinct, but to let all these innocent children die, without consulting anyone, she simply tells it to The Doctor as a statement as fact. The fact that The Doctor doesn’t spend the remaining 10 minutes of the episode verbally eviscerating her for even suggesting it is a disgrace and a complete failure to understand anything about any of these characters.
Oh, and what’s Clara’s reasoning for letting the children die? Because, if they lived…they’d miss their parents…which is the dumbest justification for anything I’ve ever heard. It spits in the face of anyone who’s ever lost a parent too because Clara’s essentially just said that there’s no point in living without your parents. She says this, by the way, in front of Danny Pink, who is an orphan. Even putting all that to one side, if I was the parent to one of those kids, and you told me that you could’ve saved their lives, but chose not to, I would never stop being furious about it.
And before you say it, I don’t care that it turns out to all be fine in the end, because Clara still made that decision, believing all of the kids were going to die, and THAT’S what matters. Even during their most unlikable periods, I could never possibly believe that Clara or The Doctor would even consider such unbelievable bullshit for a second. It quite simply goes against the entire ethos of the show.
Oh also, making a joke about how they just call the kids ‘gifted & talented’ so they feel special, and it’s actually meaningless? Congratulations on completely shattering the self-esteem of any school kid who gets put in a ‘gifted & talented’ class. I don’t care if it’s a stupid joke on a TV show, kids pick up on this stuff, they will remember it, and it will hurt them.
10 – The Caretaker
Whenever I’ve seen people criticise Moffat’s writing, I’ve never understood where the ‘misogyny’ point comes from, then I rewatched this episode, and I get it now.
This episode treats Clara like an object rather than a character as all the men have a big fight over her. Danny & Clara’s relationship is the focal point of this episode, and it’s absolutely terrible. I know they couldn’t dedicate tonnes of time to establishing their relationship before this, but skimming over it in a montage doesn’t help us feel the connection the show keeps telling us they have. When Clara proclaims that she loves Danny, all I could do was wonder why? We’ve shown them being vaguely flirty and the show keeps telling us that they’re in love, but I’ve never actually seen them make a real emotional connection.
I think the problem comes from perspective. The entire episode is written from Clara’s perspective. On paper, this seems like the smart decision as she’s the bridge between these two worlds. However, the episode never actually focuses on her thoughts and feelings on the conflict between The Doctor & Danny. We get the sense that she wants them to get along, because of course she does, but we never get a real sense of the stress of her worlds colliding. Personally, I think the episode could’ve been a lot better if written entirely from Danny’s perspective, then you could’ve had a proper look at the emotional trauma he goes through when discovering all of this. Not only would it make Clara seem more like a real person, but it would’ve helped up connect to Danny because as it is, I have no reason to like him.
The conflict between The Doctor & Danny shows hints of being good, but more or less just devolves into them being petty little school children to each other. Maybe that idea was the point, but it just comes across as annoying. Danny flips out in the TARDIS for no reason and seems like an arsehole because of it, and The Doctor just seems bitter that Clara didn’t like the guy who looked like him. The Doctor comes across as unbelievably childish for discarding Danny because of his past as a soldier. I know they’ve never liked military organisations or those in them, but The Doctor is always the kind of person to reach out and try to show them the better way, not just bat them away like they’re the scum of the Earth. Neither Danny nor The Doctor comes out of it looking sympathetic or likeable, and Clara is just treated like a little damsel who needs the men to protect her. I know I’ve criticised Clara for never struggling before, but this is too far in the other direction.
At its core, this is an episode that fails to understand its characters,.fails to understand interpersonal relationships, and fails to have any kind of exciting plot. It just wanted to be a drama-based episode, but still had to throw in a monster of the week because it’s Doctor Who. As a result, both suffered.
9 – Listen
Listen is two different types of episode pressed together into one. One half of it is a slow and tense mystery surrounding a very interesting concept. It knows what it’s doing had carries a solid plot. The other half is a character study between The Doctor and Clara, focusing on how it’s shifting with the inclusion of Danny Pink. This fails to understand the established dynamic between these characters, has no idea how romance actually works and tries to wrap it all up with a completely meaningless speech about fear.
I’ll start with the good stuff. First of all, the hook is great. The concept of something under your bed is immediately understandable by absolutely everyone, and I’m surprised it took this long for the show to use it. I loved the idea of how you talk to yourself sometimes to reason that there might be something there. I, for one talk to myself ALL. THE. TIME. And I’d be thrilled to know that all of my genius thoughts didn’t go to waste when I verbalised them.
The scenes where we get teased as if we’re going to see the creature are great. They build so perfectly to their climax. The bedroom scene is the best example of this. It starts with Clara calming Rupert, seeming to diffuse the situation. It’s a sweet scene, but the atmosphere remains tense because we know that something’s really there. The tension then takes a huge spike when something sits on top of the bed. There’s then the whole build with The Doctor, talking things out to Rupert, but simultaneously trying to work things out for himself. The Doctor’s slightly panicky tone as he hopes the creature will go away makes the thing feel genuinely quite scary. The same goes for the scene in the space base later on.
Where things fall apart, though, is the character stuff between Clara & Danny. The dating scene is fine, although I didn’t really buy into their connection. I’m not saying I wanted to see the whole scene where they found common ground and started getting along – I’m totally cool with the episode yada-yadaing over that stuff – but it felt like we so quickly went from them awkwardly trying to find common ground, to them falling out that I didn’t have any time to digest their connection. In fact, it didn’t feel like they had any at all. I understand what they were trying to say about Danny’s mental state by having him flip out with the idea of killing, but the argument makes him seem so unreasonable. A perspective that isn’t helped by the fact that we only follow Clara.
I like that the situation flips a couple of times – they both get a chance to be wrong – but again, not nearly enough time was dedicated to it to be worthwhile. I know they tried to establish a connection between the adventure & the date, but it fell relatively flat for me. The Doctor’s investigation played into the date very little, and I’m sorry, but I just didn’t care about someone who we assume is Danny’s descendant connecting with Clara. Danny is such a focal point around Clara’s internal conflict here, and yet I don’t feel like I know who he is. I grasp the idea of being a soldier that hasn’t quite gotten over his days in the war, but that story has been told so many times that, unless you have something interesting to say about it, you just shouldn’t bother. What we get here from Danny is the most basic version of that archetype.
I didn’t enjoy the stuff between Clara & The Doctor either. I know that it was sowing the seeds for later in the series, but it escalates so quickly that I just don’t buy it. I understand that when The Doctor snaps at Clara, it’s because he’s desperate to solve a mystery from his childhood, but there was no build to it. The Doctor doesn’t seem any different than normal until he suddenly starts forcefully ordering Clara around. Sure, he disregards Clara’s date, but from what we’d seen from this Doctor so far, that’s nothing out of the ordinary for him. It meant that all of the character-based drama (both in this episode and the series at large) feel extremely unearned because no-one bothered to give it any proper build.
It’s such a shame that I’ve had to rank this so low because there’s some great stuff in here, but the character drama that is supposed to carry the episode utterly fails.
8 – Time Heist
If you were wondering which episode it was that I hadn’t seen before, it was this one. I feel it’s important to clarify that, because this is an episode with a lot of twists to it, so I need to impress upon you that I didn’t already know what was going to happen going into this episode. The reason this is so important for me to clarify is because all of the twists were really obvious.
Seriously, there was only one twist that I didn’t see coming, and it was the only one that wasn’t foreshadowed until about 30 seconds before it was revealed. Usually, I wouldn’t think much of a secondary character dying in one of these episodes, but it happened so quickly after they were introduced that I knew there was no way they were dead. Their deaths were given no fanfare and no time to breathe, with exposition about their character crammed into the 10 minutes each of them had before vanishing briefly.
Secondly, I cannot stress how painstakingly obvious it was that The Doctor was the architect the whole time. As soon as they had their memories wiped I knew there was going to be some kind of ‘gotcha’ moment when it came to the identity of the architect, and as soon as The Doctor realised it was a time travel heist, it more or less confirmed my theory. Sometimes, solving a mystery before it’s revealed is a fun experience that makes me feel smart, but in this instance, it felt so obvious to me that I couldn’t help but feel bored as The Doctor ran around trying to slowly figure it all out.
There was a nice variety of stuff to enjoy here, though. The first 30 minutes or so was very tense and enjoyable. The episode didn’t spend too much time introducing us to the world, but it didn’t really need to. Bank, heist, mysterious person behind it all; that’s all we need to know. This meant the heist action got to shine, which was where this episode was at it’s strongest. I still wouldn’t call it anything extraordinary, but I had fun watching the team break into the vault while evading the monster that could sense their guilt. Speaking of, what a brilliant concept for a monster, bravo to the Thompson & Moffat for putting that concept together.
The last 15 minutes leave all the excitement behind, though, which felt like a bit too much of a change of pace. They reach the private vault ridiculously easily when I was honestly hoping we’d get at least one more scene of tense heist shenanigans. It left me wanting more, but not in a good way, I just felt like it had short-changed me on the action and totally killed the pace. The sequence where The Doctor works everything out and confronts the monster is good, but the fact that I’d already worked out the solution took something away from it. The fact that the thing in the vault was another one of the monsters though was a brilliant way to end it and, as I said, I didn’t see that coming.
This is one of those episodes that I can’t really conjure up any strong feelings for. It didn’t do anything terribly, but it didn’t do anything spectacular either. I enjoyed it, but I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a few weeks.
7 – Into the Dalek
This is an episode that I keep going back and forth on. I think it succeeds in telling its self-contained story, but when it comes to the long-term, series-length plots, it leaves a lot to be desired.
This was the episode that kicked off the “Am I a good man?” storyline and, in theory, I can see that this would be a very good episode to help that story along. I’ll touch on it in a bit, but there are plenty of moments throughout the episode where the Doctor’s morality is questioned in a meaningful and effective way. The problem with it was that the scene where The Doctor posed the question, was at the start of the episode, not at the end. The Doctor hasn’t done anything in the previous episode(s) that caused this doubt in the mind of the audience, so it just feels like we’re being told what to think.
If instead, The Doctor had asked Clara that question at the end of the episode, it would’ve felt like a natural culmination of the story that was being told. It’s a minor change, but I think it makes a huge difference. One way tells the audience what they should be thinking, while the other allows the audience to come to these doubtful thoughts themselves before the show starts to press on the issue.
Next up, we had the introduction of Danny Pink. Now, I’ve already touched on what I think of him and his story, but, for an introduction, I thought this was quite effective. It felt totally out of place with the episode, but in a bubble, this was an excellent way to give us a bit of a taste of Danny and his budding relationship with Clara. I did find it a bit weird that they seemed to be hot for each other the moment they made eye contact, but whatever.
Looking at the plot, it definitely landed for me. The whole dilemma of a ‘good Dalek’ was an interesting plot thread that I don’t think has been done before. It didn’t feel like a gimmick either, it actually felt like there was a point to this story, that was trying to evolve the Daleks as villains. I think the fact that there was actually a reasonable explanation as to why the Dalek had shifted its perspective went a long way to bringing me into the story too. If the Dalek had just randomly changed its mind, then I wouldn’t have bought it, but the explanation of the damage it had sustained, allowing it to open up its mind was a great touch.
The progression of the characters in this story works well. I genuinely got the sense that Clara was someone who knew and understood The Doctor’s mind when she called him out on his bullshit this time, rather than just her usual ‘generic strong woman sass’. Why we couldn’t have seen this side of Clara in Series 7, I will never know, but I’m thrilled that we’ve got it now.
The finale was near-perfect in its execution. The tension of Clara restoring the memories was a nice segment to have running through everything, but the best moment was when The Doctor went inside the Dalek’s mind. The fact that the main thing the Dalek took on board from The Doctor’s mind was his hatred for the Daleks was a brilliant twist; because we’d seen it bubbling throughout the episode. It adds so much to the “Am I a good man?” discussion too, because we’ve been shown how hate-filled The Doctor’s mind can be, but also, Daleks are born and raised to embrace hatred, so maybe it’s not The Doctor’s fault. That’s why I think the question should’ve come up after the fact, not before.
Fortunately for this episode, the stuff I didn’t like takes up minimal time at the beginning and end, while the stuff that’s in between it is an exciting adventure. It knows exactly the story it wants to tell and tells it in a compelling manner, which is all I ask for from this show.
6 – Robot of Sherwood
I was very pleasantly surprised by this one. I’d managed to convince myself it was a terrible episode. I think all I really remembered is the general goofiness of the thing, which isn’t entirely representative of the episode. Not to mention, it was written by Mark Gatiss, who doesn’t have an exceptionally high hit-rate when it comes to writing good Doctor Who.
The tone of this one is played relatively light, but I don’t mind that. The whole concept of meeting Robin Hood and having him fight robots is an inherently ridiculous one, so there’s no way trying to play it off as serious would’ve worked. The first half of the episode is filled with a lot of genuinely funny stuff. The scene where The Doctor and Robin first meet is hilarious. Capaldi wouldn’t get nearly enough opportunities to show off his comedic side in this series, but here is a gleaming bastion of funny. I’ll admit, the bickering between The Doctor and Robin does become tiresome pretty quick – the scene in the prison cell should’ve been way shorter – but there were still a fair few lines that got a laugh out of me.
Looking to the plot, I think it was about as good as it could’ve been given the concept. A light-hearted romp with Robin Hood and his merry men was never going to be a revolutionary story, but I struggled to find any major complaints with it. We spend enough time with The Doctor questioning how this could all be real that it builds suspense, but it doesn’t go on and on too much. Then, a large chunk of the episode is spent unravelling the mystery, arguably more so than usual.
The guest stars did a fantastic job here too. Tom Riley was able to capture the over-the-top atmosphere that Robin Hood gives off in his stories (much better than Jonas Armstrong’s portrayal of the role, I must say). The way he gave every line this kind of casual, yet slightly posh touch was very endearing. Ben Miller does a beautiful job as the Sherriff too. If you’ve ever watched Armstrong & Miller, you’ll know that he’s able to pull off ‘posh & manacing’ like few others, which made him great for a cartoonish villain like the Sherriff. He carries the serious stuff too though. The scene with him and Clara could easily have been a bore, but I’d argue that his performance makes it interesting to watch.
The climax wasn’t the greatest. A middle of the road sword fight over a pit of lava isn’t a very ‘Doctor Who’ way to solve things, but sod it, this episode was just an excuse to bring back memories of the old BBC Robin Hood series, which had sword fights way stupider than this.
I really didn’t expect to enjoy this episode, but I was proven so very wrong. It’s absolutely not to everyone’s tastes, but I think that as long as you don’t try to take it too seriously, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
5 – Deep Breath
Following The Eleventh Hour, Moffat was going to be hard-pressed to top himself when it came to writing another brilliant ‘first story’ for another new Doctor. Did he nail it? For the most part, I’d say it did.
The thing that stood out to me most in this episode was the humour, which was a bit of a mixed bag. At the start of the episode, most of the jokes landed, and the tone worked for the jokes. The line “Don’t look in that mirror, it’s furious!” got a huge laugh out of me. The problem I had with the humour was that it persisted throughout the episode even once the tone had drastically shifted. Scattering in jokes during serious moments can be good, but they still need to be consistent with the tone of the scene and most of the jokes here were much too goofy to fit in the more serious scenes.
For example, the scene following the interrogation where Clara calls in the Paternoster gang to help them. This was the point in the episode where the action burst into the forefront of the scene and having Strax comically crash into the floor with a thud only for Jenny to make a quip about it didn’t fit at all. Speaking of Jenny, the jokes between her & Vastra were clearly written by someone who has only ever seen lesbians in porn films. All of the jokes between the two of them were had some form of sexual connotation or innuendo behind them, and while that is funny in small doses, it really got tiresome by the end.
That said, I thought the dramatic and serious side of the episode was fantastic. The scenes underneath the restaurant where Clara is forced to hold her breath to escape is incredibly tense, and I loved it. The following scene where she confronts the villain was also a standout moment for the character. The performance was excellent, and I really bought into the feeling of Clara being absolutely terrified but using everything she’s learnt from The Doctor in her travels to keep herself safe.
The way the inner conflict of Clara adjusting to this new Doctor was well told and I liked how it shifted throughout. She starts off with a very clear denial of the situation, and I enjoyed the scene where Vastra confronted her about it. It was the first time since her introduction that I actually felt Clara’s integrity as a character was challenged by other characters in the show. After being a void of personality in Series 7, some attention is finally being paid to Clara’s flaws and facades to make her more of a person. This conflict remains, where she takes a leap of faith on the fact that The Doctor didn’t actually abandon her in her most dire moments. It culminates beautifully in the final scene where she receives a phone call from Matt Smith’s Doctor to guide her towards acceptance. It’s a bittersweet scene and all three actors involved did a fantastic job of performing it.
That’s the perfect segway to talk about the whole point of this episode: Introducing us to the new Doctor. On that front, it was really good – not Eleventh Hour good, but still good. The shifting in tone from comedic, to dramatic, to heartfelt at the end gave Capaldi the chance to show off his full range for the role in just one episode. All of his comedic lines were great, and he was even able to bring the subtlety to the performance in the form of how he slowly grew out of his post-regeneration daze throughout. It seemed like every scene he was just a little bit less crazy, culminating in the final scenes where he confronted the villain and spoke plainly with Clara.
This episode did an excellent job at what it was supposed to do, and regardless of how well the rest of the series capitalised on what it did, the things it set in motion were great. We saw a wide range of what the new Doctor can do, along with getting a good sense of his personality; Clara got challenged and developed as a character for the first time since she was introduced, and it told a compelling story with a satisfying conclusion.
4 – Dark Water/Death in Heaven
So, this finale was a lot better than I remember it being, but I’m still not entirely sure I like it.
Starting with Dark Water, this is a really good episode. It’s not the most amazing depiction of grief (that happens next series), but I definitely think that the numbness that transitions into anger as Clara processes it is good. I definitely felt it hit a genuine place, it doesn’t feel the need to rush through it either, it gives over about a third of the episode to Clara processing her grief, and that’s good. I especially like how The Doctor responds to it, the line “Do you think I care about you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” is pure brilliance.
The tension builds ok, but it definitely reveals the Cybermen a little too early. I know that you won’t get the door & musical sting thing if you didn’t watch Series 2, but for those of us who did, it just spoiled the reveal that happened 5 minutes later. Speaking of Series 2, why does no-one remember the Cybermen? The whole ‘Army of Ghosts’ thing only happened 8 years prior to this, and don’t give that “everyone just forgot” bullshit, because that’s just not how the real world works. We don’t just forget cataclysmic events like that. As it stands though, there was really no reason for these to be Cybermen, especially when they’re just going to play second fiddle to The Master. The only thing the Cybermen actually add over some random monster (other than marketability) is the whole ’emotions’ thing at the very end. Still, surely it wouldn’t have taken much effort to find another way to do it. All it did was serve to continue the decline in threat or interest in the Cybermen.
Those gripes aside though, I still liked the episode. We don’t get a lot of Missy’s antics here, but I think that’s a good thing, just gives us a taste of what we want to see in part 2.
Then we move onto Death in Heaven, which…is ok. There’s definitely some stuff to like in there, but there’s a lot that I really didn’t enjoy.
Missy is a bit from both groups. Her being crazy was fun, and if you enjoyed that side of John Simm’s performance like I did, then you’ll definitely get a lot out of it. The problem is that the craziness is all she has. There’s no menace, no threat. Yes, she’s doing evil things, but she doesn’t actually feel evil or scary. I think what makes The Master so brilliant is how they mix the crazy & sinister sides to create someone who makes you uncomfortable because of how truly wrong they feel. Missy would eventually become a very different (but much better) character, and this feels like we’re just getting to grips with her.
The plot is definitely the weakest part of the episode, mostly because it never feels like it gets going. I’m glad that the character elements were the main focus of the episode, but the plot really suffers because of it. The scenes on the plane don’t feel anywhere as tense or exciting as they were probably meant to, and the rest of it just gets explained to us at various points.
The character stuff though, that’s where this episode (mostly) gets it right. Even though Clara has a minimal role in this episode, I’d say she’s the character that Moffat got the most right with here. She’s playing a much more reactionary role, but her reactions finally feel reasonable and realistic. I keep feeling her pain. Danny’s story has its problems, but on the whole, I still liked it. The revelation that he accidentally killed a kid was good in theory, but in reality, it plays basically no part in the story and doesn’t feel like it affects his story all that much. It gives him a chance to redeem himself, but honestly, sacrificing himself to save the day felt like it was enough. Maybe if it had been built up to a little more, then I’d have been more invested, but outside of a few hints, it wasn’t ever referenced. It was just backstory, not a character trait.
The Doctor is where the episode lives and dies though, and in classic Doctor Who fashion, it does a bit of both. The “am I a good man?” plot thread is not a good one, and while I see what they were going for, it didn’t end well. Missy giving The Doctor an army is all well and good, but she doesn’t actually give him any reason to use it. Sure, there’s the promise of being able to generally bring justice to the universe, but the man’s already got an infinitely powerful time machine and a basically infinite lifespan, what would he need an army of his weakest villains for? There should’ve been some immediate pressing threat that was forcing The Doctor to use the army.
What I thought was this episode’s strongest scene though, is when Clara & The Doctor are sitting in the cafe at the end. Lying to each other. Just 10 minutes (screentime) that Clara declared he was the one man she would never lie to. They’re so bare with each other, and yet we know how it’s dripping in lies and feelings they’re hiding from each other. Genuinely, if that had been the last time we saw Clara (which apparently, it was meant to be until Jenna Coleman signed on to do another series at the last minute), I think it might’ve been one of the best companion exits we’ve seen. This series showed us how the relationship between the two of them is fundamentally flawed. Some reasons are their fault, others are just the nature of their lives, and I think that would’ve been the perfect end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, and next series we’d get the real end and…oh boy…it’s….sure something.
3 – Flatline
Flatline is an odd episode, and I’m surprised I ended up ranking it this high, and how much you like it will depend on what aspects you chose to focus on. When I look at the writing of the characters in this episode, I see clear examples of some of the biggest flaws there are in this series. However, when you look at it from a plot-based standpoint, it’s an absolutely thrilling episode.
I’m going to talk about the negatives first because I want to leave a positive lasting impression about this one. First up is Clara. After progressing very well as a character up until this point, here she regresses back into the ‘smoother’ version of her character. She becomes the flawless, more perfect version of the character we saw in Series 7, the character with no real substance. Despite having to handle basically the entire situation alone, she never feels like she’s being challenged. She goes in with a head of steam and fixes every problem almost immediately, with only a little assistance from The Doctor. She literally figures out how to bring the TARDIS back to life in about 20 seconds. I’ll accept that of a two-millennium old super-being, but not of a human who’s been consistently shown to not be on The Doctor’s level this series.
The side characters are pretty paper-thin. Rigsy gets a couple of glimmers of hope, but the episode doesn’t invest in him anywhere near as much as it should’ve. I get the impression he was supposed to be a make-shift companion to Clara, but outside of the beginning & end of the story, he just fades into the background. The old guy is just a lazy stereotype. He’s not even close to a real person and exists purely, so there’s a vague sense of conflict in the group.
Now, onto what I love. Most importantly, we get a proper breakdown of The Doctor’s mind. Through his explanations to Clara, we get to fully understand how The Doctor thinks, and how he’s able to solve mysteries like this so quickly. When you look back at older episodes, you can clearly see them going through the steps outlined in this one. It shows a strong understanding of what makes the show great, and exactly why The Doctor is a hero, an understanding that feels lost throughout many episodes in the series.
The whole thing is exceptionally well-paced. I wish they hadn’t shown us what the monsters were doing right in the cold-open, but the mystery still worked regardless. I liked how the episode gave its audience enough credit to connect some of the dots themselves. Things like the weird texture on the wall in the flat is what I’m talking about. Sure, it gets explained eventually, but for that whole scene, it’s just sitting there in shot, with very little attention being drawn to it. It gives us the breadcrumbs we need to make those kinds of connections and feel more like The Doctor.
The ending put a smile on my face too. Yes, The Doctor’s speech is a bit cheesy, and the way he points out the sonic to blast them all away is quite over-the-top, but it feels earned. This was such an incredibly dark and tense episode that to have a big heroic moment like that felt like a huge sigh of relief. It was a bit much, but it wrapped the episode up nicely and left me with positive feelings.
2 – Kill the Moon
Kill the Moon is the example of how brilliant this series could’ve been if it was done properly. Everything that all the other episodes get wrong, this episode hits the mark perfectly. The conflict between Clara & The Doctor, The Doctor’s faults, even Clara & Danny’s relationship is done exactly how I wanted it to be done in this episode.
The plot is very well-paced. There isn’t a lot of action in this episode, but the one or two scenes we do get are well-placed. The mystery unfolds satisfyingly, and every scene gives you just a little clue as to what’s going on. The scene where The Doctor explains it is a little long-winded, but that’s more or less the only problem I have with how the story was told. One thing I do have to have a go at though is how stupid ‘turn your lights on or off’ is as a way to get the Earth to vote. Apparently, Clara only cared what Europe & the east coast of America wanted to do, because they’re the only places she could actually see.
Courtney Woods was an element of this episode that I didn’t particularly care for. She wasn’t bad, or even that annoying, she just felt kind of unnecessary. Her input into the big debate at the end didn’t affect much, it would’ve been nice to get more of an opportunity to see the situations through her eyes. I wouldn’t say her presence made the episode worse though, so it’s not a huge issue.
Ok, now onto the things that actually make this episode the brilliance that it is. Firstly, this is the best showcase of The Doctor’s arrogance and failures we get all series. He steps to one side and ‘allows the humans to make their choice’ in a way that felt incredibly condescending, especially when you know that he’s already got a plan to save the day. When it all finally comes out, and The Doctor explains it, I couldn’t help but feel like he manipulated Clara in a significant way. If that fact had just been allowed to skate by, I would’ve been furious about it, but instead, Clara calls him out on his shit.
This brings me to my other point, which is that this is the best version of Clara I’ve ever seen. She’s not a plot device, or a perfect caricature, or some damsel in distress, she’s a real person with real emotions. It’s incredible how rare it is for Clara to actually be written like this because it’s utterly brilliant. The performance from Coleman was top-notch, not just in her outburst, but the panic and confusion that she goes through the decision she’s making. The Doctor gets his arse kicked because he deserves it, and the fact that he can’t understand why she’s so upset about is the perfect way to make us doubt whether or not he really is a good man.
It ends on a great note too. Danny’s response to Clara’s outburst is perfect. He doesn’t say a word while she vents, he doesn’t go on about how ‘I knew this would happen’ or anything like that, he just listens and then tells Clara what she needs to hear. That 30-second scene gets me more invested in the connection the two of them have that ANYTHING else in the series. He’s not ‘protecting’ Clara, or trying to make a point, he’s doing the right thing for someone he cares about, and that’s all you needed to make him likeable.
If anything, I’d say the biggest problem with this episode is how well it highlights the failings of the rest of the series when it comes to these areas. It’s like someone read all of my complaints in the rest of this article and fixed them in one fell swoop.
1 – Mummy on the Orient Express
As one of the few episodes in this series that is largely unburdened by the overall series arc, Mummy on the Orient Express was allowed to flourish to become one of the purest and most exciting mysteries the show has ever produced.
What makes this episode so brilliant is that The Doctor is in his element from start to finish. The entire thing feels like one big stream of consciousness from The Doctor. He’s constantly thinking on the move, talking to himself at a million miles a minute and clevering his way out of the situation. This is a version of The Doctor we don’t get to see nearly as often as we should in this series, and it just proves how entertaining it can be to watch.
The mystery of the mummy is so well-paced. The use of the timer in the bottom corner of the screen right from the start is absolutely perfect for building suspense, as well as giving us some clues as to what’s really going on. We start seeing each encounter with the mummy the same as The Doctor, an opportunity to learn more, to get a little bit closer to solving the mystery.
This also continues to poke away at The Doctor’s identity as a good man in a meaningful way. As he says at the end of the episode, he would’ve just kept letting people die until the mystery was solved. Not out of arrogance or malice, but because it’s the only way to save everyone that’s left. It’s the kind of higher thinking that puts The Doctor above you or me, it may seem cold-hearted on the surface, but he’s just doing what has to be done. As The Doctor said: “Sometimes the only choices are bad ones, but you still have to choose”.
While the series arc stuff is there, it doesn’t dig its teeth too heavily into the episode like with The Caretaker. Instead, it serves more as bookends to tie everything together. Clara’s slow realisation that she would never be able to give up travelling with The Doctor isn’t addressed directly until the end, because it doesn’t need to be, we can see her processes as everything unfolds. You can feel the awkwardness between the two of them in the early scenes, as neither of them can say what they really want to. A friendship fading is different from a relationship ending, and I think this is a good representation of the fragile balance The Doctor has with some of his companions. While you could argue that Clara’s U-Turn at the end was a bit cheap, I think just enough was sown throughout the episode that we can understand her thought process.
Regardless, what makes this episode brilliant is the thrill and the mystery. It knows exactly when to accelerate and let off the gas, and knows the best ways to build up tension. Even when you already know the solution on a rewatch, its still an exciting prospect because of how well its told. It’s one of the purest Doctor vs Monster stories we would ever get in the Moffat era, and it’s all the better for it.
And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what you thought of this series, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be covering WWE Hell in a Cell!