Series Nine - A RetrospectiveBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 9 December 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Magician's Apprentice (Credit: BBC / David Venni)This 2015 batch of new Adventures on TV had a somewhat difficult start to its campaign. Unlike the last two years of screened material there was no obvious hook to bring the masses back for more long-past-teatime, Saturday fare. Last year had the new Doctor, and indeed a gender-altered Master. The year before was the 50th anniversary, and by both luck and circumstance the coup of hiring legendary screen star Sir John Hurt. And yet I have been most satisfied, challenged and moved by these recent standalones, two parters and ambivalently-connected arc episodes. It is hard to imagine many other years being quite as good a vintage as this one. Ratings and audience appreciation are perhaps not what die hard fans would want, and yet the overall show has more lives than a cat and so many more avenues to pursue. Having writing talent from relative newcomers such as Sarah Dollard and Peter Harness is one of many positive omens.

What a relief it has been that showrunner Steven Moffat decided to go back to the continuous run of episodes both this year and last, as was the convention for most of 2005-2008. I prefer the opportunity to invest in characters over a reasonable period and to also appreciate story arcs and recurrent themes this way. The Christmas specials certainly are a mainstay of Yuletide TV schedules, and whilst not usually offering 24 caret gold stories, do their bit to reflect on the current series before viewers await the next one. River Song alongside just the Doctor seems like a good approach, and finally makes Alex Kingston the younger romantic interest of the Doctor (after being something of a 'cougar' figure for Tennant and especially Smith). How much the Doctor shares his various mental torments relating to Series 9's concluding three episodes should also be of real interest to the faithful viewer.

Whilst Series 8 was a pretty good batch of episodes, not everyone took to the new Doctor, despite the guaranteed excellence of an actor likePeter Capaldi. The deliberate choice of having him question whether he was a 'good man' meant his actions and attitude at times were pretty cold in away not so starkly seen since the Sixth Doctor (with some flashes here and there from the likes of Ecclestone and Tennant at times more recently).

This latest collective of escapades however gives us a more avuncular Tardis pilot. He may still be awkward with a given human being, such as Rigsy's baby but he tries to be agreeable and has also taken to being a bit of a senior rocker - with sonic glasses and electric guitar. Most friends and acquaintances of mine who follow the show have been much more convinced and happy with this more 'accesible' and warm persona. That is not to say though that he cannot be ruthless, (as seen in his defeat of Davros and the Daleks, his outwitting of the Fisher King, or his gunning down of the General on Gallifrey - regeneration or no regeneration),  or too stubborn and reckless (his imposed immortality on Ashildr which contrasts with the accidental state Captain Jack was left in, and his refusal to let Clara die which results in one of them having to forget their time together). But a flawed Doctor is for me the best way to get behind him, rather than running the risk of another generic white hat. The first four Doctors in particular were lovable, silly, authoratitive and moody to greater or lesser degrees. Capaldi being an actual fan of the Classic Series recognises that complexity is paramount to making the title role a success.

I have always been a Clara admirer, going right back to her plucky debut which ended in the most agonising of reveals that she was the maddest Dalek in the 'Asylum'. Although her on/off appearances abroad the TARDIS, and multiple exits may have whittled down others' good will, I still was happy to see her accompany the grey-haired Time Lord after various 'farewell' moments. But early on in Series 9 most faithful viewers knew that Clara's long running stint was finally reaching a conclusion. Although there were teased deaths in most episodes leading up to Face the Raven, the eventual method of departing the mortal coil was most appropriate for her personality and indeed her legacy. She chose to cheat a duplicitous Me of harming someone, even though it was just manipulation to make the Doctor bend to her collaborators' terms. But Clara's 'smart' intervention only served to highlight how some legally binding contracts are painfully narrow in scope. Her dignity in accepting she was done for, and the Doctor's desperate attempts to pull a rabbit out of the hat were some of the finest moments not just of Capaldi's run so far but of all of Doctor Who. And the cinematic, elegantly done way Clara let the Raven extract the life from her, with multiple camera shots and a deliberate decision to eschew sound effects, meant it almost took on a poetic elegance. Some however have not been happy with her continued use in the series finale, but surely turning an ordinary Earthling into a never-aging, somewhat stilted entity who will eventually have to go back for her fixed point of death, is a particularly memorable way to bid adieu to both a fine actress inJenna Coleman, and a uniquely crucial figure in the Doctor's many lives. That she pairs up with the morally dubious Ashildr/Me and gets to fly another stolen TARDIS invites viewers of all ages to imagine countless riveting avenues for a whole new duo.

The consistency of this season has been truly commendable. Only The Girl Who Died, featuring Vikings and a fake god with semi-cyborg warriors fell short of the mark for me. In many ways the ingredients were good but the end result was a cheesy romp more at home on the weekday afternoon slot of young children's TV. Although twists and directorial flourishes were evident, I never really cared for the fate of the supporting characters and would have been indifferent to Ashildr, were I not a big admirer of Maisie Williams' natural style from Game of Thrones. But my overall attitude to the episode is boosted by observing that the plot set up much of the remaining series quite well and gave the Doctor a chance to really see much negative influence he can wield, despite himself.

Most two-parters were very enjoyable and did enough to justify their length. The Davros/Missy/Daleks effort from Moffat was a great showcase of what makes Doctor Who fun, moving, chilling and unpredictable. Only the ending fell down somewhat in that it made Davros look a bit too foolish, whereas his defeat when supposedly in charge of the Hand of Omega is still a fine moment from the Seventh Doctor era. The twisted genius discounting the 'inferior Daleks' as not being linked just felt a little contrived. And yet by needing this conclusion to bring Capaldi and Julian Bleach together for amazing conversation after fascinating discussion, I can forgive Moffat in not plotting his story as tightly as Toby Whithouse did In his respective two parter.

I have always been partial to adventure stories involving the sea and underwater base intrigue.  Under the Lake /Before the Flood certainly was another strong addition to the many such examples available. By limiting the screen time of the main villain and showing the human players in depth, we were made to feel like real lives and emotions were at stake. Whithouse's script showed poise and confidence, and Capaldi gave us a taster of the outrage and dedication to winning at any cost; which was in evidence when threatening Me in the latter episodes of the series. The Fisher King had brute force and special powers with 'ghosts', but the Time Lord who cradles Earth had the guile and the masterplan. By linking a story already full of incident with a most ingenious subsidiary plot involving Beethoven gaining inspiration, this will be a personal favourite of mine even if other productions were arguably better overall.

The Woman Who Lived immediately answered questions as to what an immortal Ashildr could be capable of, and her collaboration with the leonine aliens with dark designs for Earth showed the folly of the Doctor believing a human could remained uncorrupted by having an endless lifespan. I was quite excited for this highwayman-themed story, but had to almost force myself to finish it in one sitting. Though it did many basic things right, it seemed to not have enough urgency or fully-fledged characters to connect with. And yet the decision to ultimately lose out on having a fellow immortal join the 'young' wonan was astute, perfectly setting up the rather pompous and indeed dangerous leader of a hidden society in Face the Raven. And as she faced endless centuries before at last sitting on Gallifrey's ruins, the audience were invited to reflect that the Doctor was more relatable on the surface and also more deplorable in essence.

Some perhaps would cite the Mark Gatiss effort, Sleep No More , as the low point for Series 9. I never found it totally gripping, but I still admired the attempts to do something different. The Doctor was never going to come close to pulling off a win, or saving even half the lives of the military force he teamed up with. The final twist which had a strong meta element was nicely done though, and helped compensate for a sluggish pace, lack of memorable sets or monsters, and a bizarre decision to crop the opening credits and bolt them wih the closing ones.

Other than three comparative misfires, the series showed verve, heart and invention aplenty. Who can forget the haunting and disturbing showcase of Capaldi's range as the Doctor is trapped in the most punishing of groundhog days in Heaven Sent? Or the impassioned and perfectly scripted speech our hero gives to the representatives of the human and Zygon races in the bunker, which makes them realise there are no winners in war?

Having a good variety of time zones, planets and space stations - real, imagined or fake - also showed the care and attention that the producers, writers and other crew were willing to bring to the table. The modern show may now be a veteran, even if one were to somehow discount the Classic Series as another entity altogether, and yet that can be a big plus. For now, the happy medium has been found and bottled, and can be sprinkled over the airwaves and streams of various nations worldwide. 

So it's a long wait for more top notch Capaldi/Moffat fare, especially once the Doctor and River have had a reunion for the umpteenth instance in their amazingly tangled time-streams. But why not  press the reset button? Just go watch the opening pretitles on Skaro's warzone and the Doctor being forced to question his moral framework like rarely before..right up to the closing moments where he opts for a sonic screwdriver proper once again, and adventures in the past, present and future. 

'Series 9' (or 'new' Doctor Who's Eleventh Year) is one to treasure and cherish time and time again.

 

*****************

Episode rankings

The Outstanding: Face the Raven, Heaven Sent

 

The Excellent: The Magician's Apprentice/ The Witch's Familiar, Hell Bent, Under The Lake/Before The Flood

 

The Good: The Zygon Invasion/ Inversion

 

The Average: The Woman Who Lived, Sleep No More

 

The Disappointing: The Girl Who Died





Hell BentBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 December 2015 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Hell Bent: The Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Maisie Williams, Donald Sumpter, Clare Higgins, Ken Bones, T'Nia Miller, Malachi Kirby, Linda Broughton
Transmitted 5th December, BBC One

This review is based on a preview copy of the episode. It contains plot spoilers.

Clara Oswald was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

Opening this review with a misquotation from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is not arguing for a direct parallel between that book and Hell Bent. There are echoes, however, in the tripartite division of the story into past, present and future sections in which the Doctor is, if possible, both Marley’s Ghost and Scrooge. He confronts his past, attempts to reshape his present, and is surprised by the questions posed in and by his future in which his past, in the sense of his memory of events, is actively reshaped. Throughout Steven Moffat displays preoccupations familiar from his previous work from inside and outside Doctor Who, while also making inventive use of elements inherited more generally from Doctor Who’s past.

Several episodes in this series, particularly those where Moffat is a credited writer, have emphasised the centrality of Clara to the Doctor’s world. For Clara, things seem to have been slightly different. I’ve complained in reviews here and elsewhere that Clara seems to have been marginalised at some points in the season, with several episodes giving her little to do or writing her out almost completely. Hell Bent begins with a double-bluff concerning her which draws on long-term viewers’ memories of her introduction and first season arc while teasing about the Doctor’s intentions and backstory as well as the very existence of Clara in the narrative. Clara Oswald, it turns out, is as good a performer as Jenna Coleman can make her, and that is very good indeed; and the Doctor is not as in control of the situation as we might at first assume. All this is for a later revelation.

As it is, the sight of the Doctor travelling across (one of) the United States of America in a stationwagon carrying his guitar journeys some way towards rehabilitating one of the (for me at least) less successful set pieces of the opening episode, the introduction of the Doctor seemingly in a state of midlife crisis playing guitar on a tank. In contrast the Doctor with guitar here is a different kind of folk hero-musician, not anxiously playing to a crowd both appreciative and oblivious in the arena but one with a quieter and introspective ambivalence, who could have been one of the Bob Dylan figures in Todd Haynes's film I’m Not There.

The Dylanesque Doctor compliments the American styling of Gallifrey. This Americanism isn’t simplistic: it’s an American-ness filtered through non-American readings and reconstructions, appropriate for a Doctor Who made in Cardiff and in this case Lanzarote. Shedding his red velvet coat after his return home, the Doctor adopts a demeanour reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name but an outfit owing more to the classic western, including a character whose actions reflect upon genre morality and authority, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in High Noon. Spaghetti western (the location for Gallifrey is politically if not geographically southern European) receives a transfusion of Hollywood introspection. The art deco stylings of the Time Lord city (its name another American reference), if coloured green, could easily represent the Emerald City of a still-potent American myth, The Wizard of Oz. The parched landscape isn’t just that of the spaghetti western but of another British institution’s idea of America, 2000AD’s Judge Dredd and the America between the megacities of its early epic The Cursed Earth.

Gallifrey as America is by no means new. The barn introduced in The Day of the Doctor and revisited in Listen has always had something of the American Gothic about it. The Outsiders of The Invasion of Time were styled after native Americans (a costume intended more appropriately for the feline natives of Gallifrey in the story which The Invasion of Time replaced). In The Deadly Assassin it’s explained that the Doctor’s exile to Earth was the result of the Celestial Intervention Agency’s actions, Gallifrey’s CIA undertaking dirty tricks in an era of post-Watergate scepticism. It’s where we first hear the city of the Time Lords referred to as the Capitol, the American term for legislative buildings. So Hell Bent is built on decades of layering.

This is a 2000AD-influenced British Marvel depiction of Gallifrey, too. Gone are the voids of The End of Time and (at first) the wrecked landscape of The Day of the Doctor. Instead the Gallifrey whose Capitol is contained within a sphere, introduced in The Sound of Drums but recalling artwork from early 1980s Doctor Who Monthly, is extended and explored, the outfits of the military recollecting the uniforms seen in the Steve Parkhouse/Mick Austin era of the Doctor Who Monthly comic strip. Later in the episode, the conversation the Doctor has in the Matrix Cloister with Clara about the young Time Lord who broke in there and who turns out to have been the Doctor himself is a reminder of something this reader at least felt invited to infer at the end of the Steve Moore/Steve Dillon Doctor Who Weekly comic strip The Stolen TARDIS.

Like his High Noon precursor Will Kane, the Doctor doesn’t cower in the face of a gun, though Kane didn’t have to face one as large as one on the Time Lord military vessel. The insectoid appearance of the Time Lord craft have something vaguely of Starship Troopers about them, a reminder of how militarised a society Gallifrey had become during the Time War. The Doctor’s renunciation of his title at the end of Face the Raven gains more force here; Moffat is revisiting and perhaps also revising the War Doctor. The episode vividly depicts the authority the Doctor has as the man who won the Time War. The traveller is changed into a man of the people and the planet, seen eating a soup the colour of soil and sky. An interlude in the chamber of the high council is accompanied by music inspired by the Carmina Burana familiar from the Omen films. Negotiation strategies fail bringing the Time Lord Messiah, Rassilon, up against the Doctor as a morally certain Antichrist.

It’s appropriate that the Doctor proclaimed in publicity as a rebel Time Lord, who imports part of Peter Capaldi’s own life story as a post-punk musician into his identity, this should so completely undermine the rule of ‘Rassilon the Redeemer… Rassilon the Resurrected’. Anarchy in the Time Lords indeed. Donald Sumpter plays Rassilon as a reedier figure than Timothy Dalton, a more pensive and nervous incarnation, a war leader more bureaucratic than imperious. The Moffat/Sumpter Rassilon is capable of indulging and enjoying petty hatreds where the Russell T Davies-written Dalton Rassilon was coldly dismissive. Sumpter’s Rassilon is authoritative but fragile, as he has to be to be both followed and removed so early in the story.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is coldly tricksterish. On the basis of the first segment, viewers might have expected Hell Bent to be about the Doctor leading a rebellion of the socially excluded country dwellers on Gallifrey. The Capitol isn’t stormed; instead the Doctor becomes the de facto leader of a military coup, a coup where his allies don’t know where he is leading them. Capaldi is on superb form here as a Doctor who manages to be both testy academic dashing down a pupil and master of misdirection who sets up another red herring.

Part one of the story segues into the second part. The Doctor has dealt sufficiently with his past: he now needs to revise his present. The re-presentation of Clara’s death is played and delivered extremely well; Jenna Coleman’s reaction to the suspension of the raven and the sudden appearance of a duplicate Doctor flagged up the absurdity of the situation without diluting the horror of Clara’s death. The suspension of time is represented by the impression of analogue colour television ghosting, appropriate because from now on Clara is a Doctor Who-science version of a ghost. From the point of view of any observer trapped in the usual processes of time, she’s a duplicate of the Clara who we saw die in Face the Raven; but from the point of view of the Time Lord someone artificially extracted from time temporarily and always dependent on her return and death. The backlighting of the Doctor is reminiscent of the rescue of Caecilius and his family in The Fires of Pompeii, revisited in The Girl Who Died, a reminder that this Doctor regards himself as someone who saves people and of his real intentions in retrieving Clara. Of course he was going to try to save Clara; of course this was always his plan. Unfortunately sometimes people are ungrateful, particularly when they are being denied agency.

Triangulating the single-minded Doctor between a violated and understandably uncomfortable Clara and the decent and honourable General challenges the audience’s perception of the Doctor as hero and builds on the re-establishment of Clara as moral centre which occurred when she accepted her fate towards the end of Face the Raven. The Doctor’s destructive insistence on his own needs is well contrasted with the politeness and sympathy shown by the General: ‘You too, Sir,’ in the face of death is generous. The Doctor’s dismissal of death on Gallifrey as ‘man flu’ is nonsensical and flies in the face of the Doctor’s own desperation at what seems to be the end of his life in The Time of the Doctor. The regeneration of the General as a woman is a rebuke to this comment, made more pointed by her relief at shaking off a masculine excess of ego, something from which the Doctor suffers. The whole sequence from Clara’s anger at the nature of her rescue to the General’s post-regenerative remarks gives much for students of Doctor Who’s attitude to gender to consider. More broadly, it’s with moments like these that the picture of the Doctor as off the rails and forgetting his principles is coloured in. Although I’d seen ‘Female General’ in the cast list I’d not expected that she would be the same character; farewell to Ken Bones who was a touchstone of solidity in the best Lethbridge-Stewart tradition in The Day of the Doctor and whose placing as e voice of Gallifrey in The Time of the Doctor gave him a centrality in the ongoing myth which suggested we would see him again, if (as turns out) only once. Hello too to T'Nia Miller whose casting is another this year to maintain Doctor Who's links with the works of Russell T Davies, and who carries forward the General with laconic efficiency.

In Doctor Who, emotional and moral anguish needs to be offset by adventure, so the Doctor takes Clara into the Matrix Cloisters to dodge monsters or prove his affinity with them. The trapped Dalek begging for euthanasia, the Weeping Angels and the Cyberman are all reminders of Clara’s timelooped, undead condition. The revelations about the Confession Dial and the way it operates cast some light on the confessional purpose of the interspersed diner scenes. In the Cloister, Clara returns to her old role as the Doctor’s manager-therapist, acting for both of them when asking Ohila and the Time Lords to tell her how long the Doctor was in the Confession Dial, and successfully developing a strategy to allow the Doctor to steal a TARDIS and restart his future. She also, crucially, deploys a phrase the Doctor previously used to include himself and Ashildr: ‘people like you and me’. The Doctor is treating Clara as someone to whom he has a ‘duty of care’, but his actions, none greater than extracting her from her timestream, both neglect this duty and ignore the metamorphoses Clara has undergone.

There’s a continual and cumulative sense that the Doctor’s achievements in this story are anything but, and not only because they are presented as flashbacks linking the Doctor’s uncertain reminiscences in the diner. The Doctor’s refashioning of his present ends with Ohila treating his flight from Gallifrey with contempt. The Doctor seems to want incompatible things from his future, promising Clara renewed adventures in time and space while saying he needs to make an adjustment beforehand – wiping her memory – and desperately heading further and further forward in time in the hope that her heartbeat will start.

The third section of the story suggests that the only future on offer in following this route is the last dying ember of the universe sustained by Ashildr. Maisie Williams is found reigning over the ruins of Gallifrey in the manner of a supremely confident queen of a school sixth form, more socially confident than the Doctor but academically the pupil who has outshone her teacher, who was after all more absent than not. The Doctor finally addresses her as Me; a concession to her own sense of identity at last and accepting that after billions of years his memories of her can’t define her. Peter Capaldi plays the Doctor as fond of her and angry with her too. Their discussion sees the Doctor’s days like crazy paving meet Me’s slow road: summer can’t last for ever, Me has learned, but for the Doctor it can and must. Her questioning about his secrets – the half-human question is pointedly raised and tantalisingly remains open – reveals that the Doctor and Clara together are the Hybrid, if it exists at all.

The painful relationship break-up which ensues is most agonising because Clara successfully asserts her agency in a way which has to harm the Doctor’s sense of who he is. The Doctor, at the end of the universe and ‘answerable to no-one’, has to be threatened into accepting that he is answerable to himself and to his friends. With Clara, he can’t be the Doctor as she and he want him to be. Nevertheless, this final decision on who will lose their memory is agreed together using a Time Lord device which it turns out Clara has successfully reprogrammed, despite the Doctor’s doubts. There are immediate regrets, but the conversation restates several of the essentials of modern Doctor Who. Important is the reminder that no-one is ever safe; the Doctor has taken on the role of Jackie to Clara’s Rose and needs to be relieved of that nisidentification, brutally. Also important is the idea that if you are cowardly, you must make amends: the Doctor has sacrificed his memory for Clara, perhaps, but the new authorities he left behind on Gallifrey now have a case for restitution too, amongst others.

The Doctor’s theft of a TARDIS, complete withPeter Brachacki-inspired décor, was a sign that his quest for his future was an attempt to recover a past he could no longer have. As Me said, Clara was dead and gone by her own choice; keeping her alive and not alive and without her memories of her time with the Doctor was no existence at all. However, it turns out that the new/old TARDIS can be a new start for two people and the departure of Clara and Me in their TARDIS makes the nods to Warriors’ Gate seen by some in Heaven Sent a pointer to the final circumstances of Clara’s departure, having some parallels to that of Romana in that she (and Me) become alternative Doctors, on the run with a TARDIS with a broken chameleon circuit. It’s also part of an uplifting conclusion after a grim fifty-odd minutes.

The absence of dialogue as the Doctor reconciles his immediate experiences emphasises the visual. The Doctor has been poised between superhuman and everyman since the beginning of the series. His discomfort at the dematerialisation of the diner around him and the revelation of the landscape of dust and sand and rock is crushing, as if the Doctor is a desert traveller who finds the oasis they have discovered is a mirage. However, the reunion of Time Lord and TARDIS is beautifully choreographed, the ship emerging from left as if it’s the only tangible thing in a dream world. The Doctor’s awakening of his ship is a recovery of his own sense of self after four and a half billion years of his own time, using the same visual language of lights switching on as used in Heaven Sent to mark return to consciousness. The new sonic screwdriver (not quite sure what the merchandisers will make of this one, but we will see) is given to the Doctor as if by the Lady of the Lake to King Arthur, rippling out from the surface of the console. Rigsy’s painting and Clara’s final chalked message assure the audience that there will be some relic of Clara in the Doctor’s future even as her image is blown away on a Nevada wind.

Is Hell Bent successful? This partly depends on how well one responds to the episodic structure. It is jarring to find characters being established and then disappearing quickly from the plot, such as Donald Sumpter’s Rassilon; Ohila, the General and Gastron disappear from the story without the audience being certain that their role in it is over. (As an aside, Steven Moffat’s development of the ties of obligation between the Doctor and the Sisterhood of Karn is intriguing – Ohila’s line about loving fireworks appears to say she has come to Gallifrey as a spectator, but might also be a fannish reference to the ‘Mighty Atom and a Thunder Flash’ the Doctor leaves behind to help sustain the sacred flame at the end of The Brain of Morbius.) The audience is deliberately led up a few garden paths before establishing that the story is both a revenge and a rescue narrative, and also a continuation in a series of new landscapes of the quest begun, over and over again, in Heaven Sent. After supervising a closed, repetitive world in Heaven Sent, Rachel Talalay and her team make the best use of a series of contrasting wide landscapes and closed worlds, all in their ways representing different stages of contemplation.  

There are obvious criticisms. The story is fuel for those who remonstrate with Steven Moffat for not letting the dead stay dead. The extension of Clara’s life through Time Lord intervention isn’t a denial of the decision she made to take responsibility and die, though. The story works to make the Doctor understand why Clara died, and when he realises he can’t accept it, realising his is the wound that must be cauterised. If the flexibility of Doctor Who can’t be used to explore death, then it is being restrained from dramatic purpose, and this does. Clara and Me have both stopped the Doctor’s denial of their deaths making them into victims of his all-powerful but uncontrolled compassion and it’s right that they collaborate in his rehabilitation at the end. If the Doctor, as we have been told repeatedly since 2005, changes lives, the people he meets have to be shown to change his to validate Doctor Who as drama.

Doctor Who is more than a drama series; it’s a pan-media, pop culture event. There were several points in this episode where it seemed to be in open conversation with its own media coverage and reception. If so, there’s some acceptance of criticism: Clara’s declaration that she can’t trust the Doctor when he shouts feels like an acknowledgement of audience resistance to the Malcolm Tucker-like ‘Shuttity-up’ Doctor of Peter Capaldi’s first season, and an admission that this element was overdone. Like Peter Capaldi the actor, the Doctor can’t be the Doctor all the time, but unlike Peter Capaldi the actor he has (at least to our knowledge) no episodes of Veep to go and direct. There’s perhaps something too about Capaldi’s comment on his 1970s fanhood, that if you grow up with Doctor Who you have to leave it. Capaldi was an active fan before the era of Longleat and Doctor Who fandom’s discovery that it could be its own rock and roll; but it’s tempting (though not necessarily in the text) to read Clara here as the fan who recognises the addiction, makes the break, but finds after a dialogue there were things in her existence with the Doctor worth pursuing on their own terms. Memories become stories become songs.

As often in recent Doctor Who, the conclusion of the season could have been better served by the episodes which led up to it. The coalition between Missy and the Daleks hinted at in The Witch’s Familiar fails to materialise here, but may well in the future. Indeed, there is a point where the viewer might expect Missy to wander in from the shadows and gloat at what appears to be her triumph, though perhaps the Doctor does not quite go far enough to dramatically justify it. I think I’d have liked another Ashildr episode between The Woman Who Lived and Face the Raven, probably involving Clara to give the two women more of a rapport. The legend of the Hybrid could have been better-exposed throughout the series too, even if its development had to be left to the end.

One more problem is illustrated by Clara's reference to the Chronolock and the viewer being shown those '000' digits showing that her time was up. There's no explanation for new viewers or those who weren't concentrating as to what this is. It's fine for Doctor Who to be uncompromising, but at the same time it needs to be accessible. The absence of information for viewers who didn't see Face the Raven adds to the disquiet felt in some circles that a more welcoming, happier Doctor Who might be more successful as Saturday night television. Currently it's a bit of an outlier, though still more successful at winning and keeping viewers than some critics will have us think.

Otherwise, Hell Bent rattles through a lot of story at great pace and with a more single-minded determination than most other Steven Moffat finales. Its title is appropriate in so many ways, alluding not only to the Doctor’s determination but how his purpose corrupts him, as well as to the warped society of the Time Lords and Rassilon, the destination of the end of the universe, and the rescue of Clara into a half-life which doesn’t restore her to her former state. It occurs to me late in the review that this guitar-playing Doctor is an Orpheus in Hades, but it’s his mistake to keep looking back; Clara is no Eurydice, and neither is Me. For all the sleight of hand with plotting (I’m not sure at this point whether the Matrix Cloister labyrinth scene really justified itself in terms of whether the Doctor and Clara really needed to be there, but it played the part of a world of the dead more than adequately and gave the monsters some exposure) Hell Bent satisfactorily ended the Doctor’s relationship with Clara as we have known it (despite what we’ve been told, there is potential for a reunion) and seems to have completed the Doctor’s two-season long quest to rediscover himself. A less introverted and better-signposted arc in the future would be welcome, but Hell Bent succeeded on more than its own terms both a series and serial drama and as retelling and extension of folk tale.





Heaven SentBookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 November 2015 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Heaven Sent: The Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Starring Peter Capaldi
Transmitted 28th November, BBC One

This review contains plot spoilers.

 

Confession: Although I enjoy traditional Who as much as the next fan, there’s something even more satisfying about the show taking risks, trying radical things, and breaking new creative ground. So I was looking forward to this week’s episode, and it delivered… in spades.   

 

Back in 1976, so the story goes, The Deadly Assassin was designed to prove to Tom Baker that he needed a companion, and that Doctor Who’s typical story structure couldn’t work without one. This week, Steven Moffat sets out in a fit of experimental zeal to prove the opposite; that the show’s infamously flexible format really is flexible enough to house a highly unusual solo adventure. Yes, there are a small number of other actors involved in Heaven Sent, but they have barely any dialogue. This truly belongs to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, and let's be clear: he is magnificent throughout.

 

Back in 1976, however, The Deadly Assassin annoyed a few people with its revisionist Time Lords. The then-President of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society was so agitated that he forgot the name of the society he presided over:  “WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO?” demanded his subsequent review (in capitals). And I can well imagine a few puzzled reactions to this gloriously demented and profoundly dark puzzle-box of a story which offers more than a hint of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige mixed with subtle flavourings of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, and an extremely bleak view of the Time Lords, who seem to have developed a taste for extreme rendition and psychological torture.

 

If this was a movie script without the Doctor Who name attached to it, it would instantly become hot Hollywood property. Luckily for us, though, this is filtered through the Whoniverse’s more outré possibilities: the magic of Doctor Who is alive and well, and it’s coursing through this story. Heaven Sent feels designed to be watched again and again, appropriately enough. A brief moment right at the story’s beginning proves highly significant, and as might be expected, this is extremely Moffat-esque in all its twists, turns and misdirections. The Doctor’s “store room” even feels reminiscent of Sherlock’s “mind palace”, though if you’re predominantly writing for one character then you’re going to need some way of representing their interior monologues and mental states. And the matter of who or what might be “heaven sent” also resonates in a story only featuring one main character: who can save the Doctor?

 

Some of the events that we’re shown are near the knuckle: the Doctor’s sacrifice doesn’t quite feel like family viewing to me, and the atmosphere of fear and dread seeping though the episode could perhaps be unsettling for some younger viewers. This is probably as dark as Doctor Who can get; forget The Two Doctors or The Three Doctors, here we pretty much get 'The Eternity Doctors'. Because even the concept of a ‘single-hander’ is subverted by Steven Moffat’s elegant storylining, as we realize that one actor, and even one character, might not mean that we're watching one person. The Doctor’s seemingly impossible triumph – and you know he’s always going to win – is as potent a distillation of the series' mission statement as you’ll ever find. Despite insurmountable odds, despite vast forces arrayed against him, the Doctor has a brilliant plan. But it’s going to take a while, unlike his typical moments of inspiration or bodged together lash-ups. Sheer determination underpins the Doctor’s demonstration that he’s a Lord of Time, and his escape is a real ‘punch the air’ moment, although after the amount of punching we’ve been shown, perhaps this isn’t quite the right phrase.

 

Rachel Talalay’s return as director after last season’s finale doesn’t disappoint, and much of this looks beautiful on-screen. The Veil is shot effectively to preserve its mysterious nature, and effects shots are typically well handled. For some viewers, the episode’s big cliffhanger might constitute the real meat of the story, but after the journey the Doctor’s been on – and given that Gallifrey’s involvement had been revealed pre-broadcast – it fell just a little flat, in my view. And having the Doctor address his Big Reveal to implied listeners was also slightly clunky, but an unavoidable outcome of this episode’s unusual structure. I can’t help but wonder why exactly there was a ‘Home’ option inside the Doctor’s personalised chamber of horrors: if you want your prisoner to stay imprisoned then don’t advertise a way out. On the other hand, if you want them to escape then perhaps you could make it a bit easier. The presence of such a thing felt as if it was there simply because episode 11 needed a bridge into Hell Bent's big finish, rather than entirely making sense in terms of internal story logic. And I do wonder a little about the physics of the Doctor’s plan – would such a thickness of material harder than diamond ever, ever yield in that way? But, as is so often the case with this era of Doctor Who, it’s not really about the physics and more about the fantastical poetics. Because the story’s resolution undoubtedly feels earnt, and fitting, and a testament to the Doctor’s endless desire to win. As for whether the reveal of the Hybrid will stand next week... like Clara’s apparent fate, I suspect it’ll be rewritten and revised. Isn’t the Doctor simply taunting his captors, and trying to scare them, rather than confessing the truth? (Either that, or he knows it’s time for a big cliffhanger, because this feels slightly shoehorned in too).             

 

Steven Moffat might have rejected the label of “showrunner” at the UK Doctor Who Festival, so much so that Matthew Sweet apparently dropped the term from subsequent ‘Meet the Writers’ events, but this still feels like an episode of Doctor Who that couldn’t have arisen from anyone else’s vision; this still feels like  a showrunner toiling at the diamond-hard coalface of storytelling. It has the feel of a timey wimey plot, and yet its loop isn’t about time, at least not in that sense. It’s much more ‘blimey wimey’, as the years roll inexorably onward. Riffing on some familiar tropes, even while it stretches at the boundaries of traditional Doctor Who, this is just as memorable, and just as emotional, as last week's events. It's not so much about the monster; it’s about the Doctor’s terrifying experience. The second half of series nine has, for me, really ignited into greatness: I hope that Hell Bent lives up to that promise.     

 

Yes, there’ll probably be some naysayers responding unhappily to the aberrant nature of this adventure mixed with its same-but-different Moffat-isms. But for anyone who appreciates ‘rad’ as much as ‘trad’ Doctor Who, this is pretty much heavenly stuff. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want the programme to be like this every week – or even to be like this again any time soon, let’s face it – but as a one-off, and as a genuinely brave creative mission, this is one of Steven Moffat’s finest hours (OK, 55 minutes). Added to which, the showreel of Peter Capaldi’s acting excellence surely gained further additions heret. He carried this with seemingly effortless ease. Doctor Who is lucky to have the writer-fans and actor-fans that it does, making the programme with such heartfelt reverence that they can strive to be iconoclastic and innovative. 

 

Confession: I never imagined the Confession Dial would be quite as important as this. Although as a piece of Gallifreyan technology, perhaps I should have thought about its potential more carefully. Like all of Steven Moffat’s best magic tricks, it’s repeatedly been hidden in plain sight. And as a pay-off of sorts, Heaven Sent is a masterclass in TV scripting. Future screenwriting manuals will refer to this as a bravura example of how to break most of your own rules in a long-running series and yet remain recognisably on-brand and very recognisably part of a writer’s unique voice. In any sane world, this deserves to be award-winning TV.

 

“WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO?” Well, it’s there. And there. And right there





Face the RavenBookmark and Share

Saturday, 21 November 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Face the Raven
Written by Sarah Dollard
Directed by Justin Molotnikov
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Joivan Wade, and Maisie Williams
Transmitted 21st November 2015, BBC One 

“She enjoyed that…….way too much” - Rigsy, Face the Raven

 

This year, Doctor Who’s arc has been a collection of ominous themes, sketched in throughout the series, and gathering momentum week-on-week. The Doctor’s confession dial. His mistake in reviving Ashildr. Friends within enemies. The hybrid - whatever that may be -  and all manner of other hybrids, thrown in to keep the Doctor and the viewer guessing. And, most of all, an increasing sense of dread about the fate of the increasingly fearless, reckless, thrill-seeking Clara Oswald - forecast through portentous dialogue, and the Doctor’s worried eyebrows.

 

This week, it all came to a head (well, most of it), in one of Doctor Who’s finest three quarters of an hour, beginning with a mystery, snowballing throughout, and ending in lump-in-throat tragedy.

 

Kicking off with the returning Rigsy calling the TARDIS, having woken up with a regrettable tattoo and no memory of last night, new writer Sarah Dollard plays an absolute blinder - as the Doctor and Clara are drawn quite literally into a Trap Street. The tattoo is of a number, and it’s counting down. It’s a death sentence.

 

The conceit of the street, literally hiding in plain sight, is a brilliantly Doctor Who idea. Everybody at some point has counted steps, then unaccountably lost their place and started again. Everyone has failed to see something right in front of them. The sense of clouds gathering is there from the start, and Dollard gives the Doctor (resplendent in purple velvet) and Clara one last moment of fun, as they search for the street from above and on foot, before finding it - in one of those rare occasions that London looks and feels like London.

 

This street, a haven for aliens living peacefully on Earth is a trap in more ways than one. It’s a honeypot for the Doctor, who can’t resist the mystery, and he’s only drawn in further when it turns out Rigsy is being accused of murder by the self-appointed Mayor, and every thread leads to more puzzles to solve. 

 

That Mayor is Ashildr, who must be nearly the Doctor’s age by now. She’s still calling herself ‘Me’, and hasn’t seen Clara in such a long time, she only knows her through conversations written down on ancient journal pages. She’s evolved from storyteller, to amoral highway(wo)man, to a glacial leader of a community, and the passive-aggressive, resentful relationship with the Doctor fizzes on screen. It’s just one layer of tension. The residents of the street are fearful and distrustful of outsiders. Ashildr allows the Doctor and Clara some time to clear Rigsy’s name, but not before showing what the quantum shade in raven form is capable of. Her rule, she claims is peaceful and just, but her ruthlessness is something to behold. Just how much of it is for show is debatable, as Maisie Williams’ quiet, still performance gives little away.

 

Nothing in this episode is what it seems - not the community of familiar and hostile aliens hiding behind the perception filter (also a neat way around the pretty, but stagey Trap Street sets), or the ominous caged raven that enforces Mayor Me’s law. The dead Janus woman isn’t dead, and her son is actually a psychic daughter. Rigsy is framed and lured in to entrap the Doctor. Clara secretly takes the chronolock curse from Rigsy, in a reckless, yet well-meaning double bluff. Most crucially, Ashildr’s promise of protection means nothing, and Clara pays the price.

 

It’s all a trap. Everything has been engineered by Ashildr in the name of handing the Doctor over to parties unknown. The only genuine things to come out of her ruse are her shocked reaction to Clara’s accidental sacrifice, and the revelation that she’s traded the Doctor for the safety of her people.

 

The climactic scenes between Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Maisie Williams are electric. The Doctor’s cold fury as he very convincingly threatens to rain hell on the street is balanced by Clara first refusing to believe she’s not indestructible, before stoically accepting her death sentence, and then ordering the Doctor not to be that guy - to be a Doctor, not a warrior, before walking outside and facing the raven. As she falls, lifeless to the ground, the pain of losing his best friend is written all over his face.

 

Shattered, the Doctor turns to Ashildr and, in a masterfully understated moment, issues a chilling warning about how small the universe can be when he’s angry at you. He’s terrifying, a barely tamed beast without his friend to tame him, and the woman responsible for his pain nods in cowed silence. In the face of this loss, he’s never more dangerous. And then he’s gone, teleported away to who knows what fate.

 

Face the Raven might be the best standalone episode of Doctor Who in a couple of years, or might be the first part of a three part finale. How it all ends remains to be seen, but it looks like the trouble is just beginning.

 

 

 





Sleep No MoreBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 November 2015 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Reece Shearsmith (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Producer: Nikki Wilson

This review contains plot spoilers.

In a break from series nine’s pattern of two-parters, this standalone tale is gothic Doctor Who at its most chilling, and it would have greatly benefitted from a Halloween transmission date. Somehow feeling as if it’s arrived a fortnight late, this is nonetheless a gift of a story. Atmospheric and disturbing in equal measure, there is little in the way of musical bombast or melody to lighten the load of this episode. Instead, the events we see unfolding are accompanied by electro ambience, by slowly creeping bass lines and by dark rumblings. It’s distinctly non-traditional in form – found-footage horror which sacrifices the programme’s title sequence in order to better convince as documentary Who – and yet also conventionally creepy in a host of ways: we get some brilliantly realized monsters, and characters are gradually separated from the rescue team, as is the time-honoured way of things.     

 

Writer Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith (Rassmussen) are both very much playing to their strengths here; Gatiss as a skilled creator of unsettling worlds, and Shearsmith as our initially sympathetic narrator whose view of life is ultimately revealed to be dangerously askew. It seems as if Gatiss may have been inspired by Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, picking up on its theme of society’s apparent need for constant productivity. The Morpheus machines are a science fiction version of Crary’s cautionary tract, and Gatiss perfectly parodies corporate-speak in the Morpheus sales patter, and through that irritatingly jaunty Sandman song: “terms and conditions apply”. Meanwhile, Rassmussen is the obligatory Dr. Frankenstein-esque figure – an over-reaching scientist who has created monstrous new life. He suggests that human beings waste a third of their lives asleep, where “time is money”, and consequently he’s set out to remove this fruitless downtime, creating an entity which has gone without sleep for some five years.

 

In a sense, it’s a shame that Doctor Who didn’t do the found-footage thing when it was a fresher part of the horror genre rather than an arguably over-exposed and over-exploited trope. But that doesn’t really matter, because Gatiss uses the concept of found footage so brilliantly and so expertly that when you hear Chief Nagata’s statement about the rescue team’s “head cams” for the first time, like the Doctor you can’t quite get it to make sense. There’s a good, old-fashioned distinction in criticism, between content and form, and Doctor Who is typically more focused on content – what are the monsters? How will the Doctor and Clara escape and save the day? But here there seems to be very little mystery surrounding what the sleepmen, dustmen or Sandmen are: the Doctor nails this with a good theory about a third of the way into the episode, even if by the end we’re not quite sure exactly what’s been staged and collated, and exactly what’s actually happened outside of Rassmussen’s manipulation: ”none of this makes any sense”, complains the Doctor.

 

Because this is very nearly Meta Who; an episode that’s centrally about the form of the show, all direct address and signposted storytelling. Sometimes journalists (and some fans, and probably even some journalist-fans) complain that the series is too self-referential these days, all about knowing in-jokes and moments of spot-the-continuity. But these 45 minutes are properly and gloriously self-referential, ending with a discussion of how Doctor Who stories need to be shaped and structured. Sleep No More also hosts not one, but two of the sharpest pieces of misdirection in the series for some time – we assume that cameras must be everywhere within the Verrier station, of course, but at the same time we also assume that the recurrent, blocky glitches are nothing more than meaningless visual markers of the episode’s found footage gimmick. Marc Olivier has recently discussed what he calls “glitch gothic” (in the book Cinematic Ghosts), where the disruption of images signals the irruption of ghostly forces or the loss of reassuring vision, and Sleep No More’s most creepy moment resides in its closing example of glitching. The Sandmen surely aren’t going to escape into the world via physical objects or physical media, not in a world of digital, electronic signals… and Shearsmith’s final ‘piece-to-camera’ on the subject is thrillingly demented.

 

There's also some humour scattered through the shadows and pseudo-CCTV of Sleep No More. “Cuts, pet”, is how Nagata explains that there are only four members of the rescue team, while the fact that Nagata, the Doctor and Clara find themselves shut in with “dead meat” is also a deliciously dark moment. The computer voice’s refusal to allow Deep-Ando access, insisting that he “sing the song”, also offers a suspenseful but wry distraction from the episode’s underlying mechanics. And Sleep No More’s Shakespearean title is handily quoted for viewers; Peter Capaldi relishes the chance to break the fourth wall and address the ‘camera’ to eloquently educational effect.   

 

Preceded by ‘Terror(ists) of the Zygons’, and even an eye-opener of a Genesis of the Daleks remix, Sleep No More is likely to be edged out in end-of-season polls. It shouldn’t be, however, because this is exquisitely constructed Doctor Who that doesn’t draw on monster nostalgia or on revisiting an all-time great. This is simply great-storytelling-about-storytelling meets great-camera-work-about-camera-work, all wrapped up in some clever twists and outstanding monster designs. It’s a sign of the production team’s confidence and ambition that an episode like this – surprisingly experimental for an incarnation of the show that’s in its tenth year – could and would be attempted, and there’s an energy and vitality to proceedings that really fires things up. Yes, it may be frustrating that we’re left wondering about the status of what we’ve see – somewhat like sequences of The Trial of a Time Lord, perhaps – but the ensuing debate on unreliable narrators is bound to be entertaining.

 

Found footage is usually deployed as a budget-saver, and so we’re brought back again to “cuts, pet”. If this was an experiment born, in part, out of cost-savings then it shows how austerity can sometimes – only sometimes – be the mother of invention. Gatiss delivers a finely tuned and seriously spooky script, and Shearsmith sells it perfectly from beginning to end. It’s also a relatively unusual episode insofar as neither the Doctor nor Clara ever seem to work out exactly what’s been going on: their understanding remains glitchy and partial. But the shock ending requires that, and so our leads are subordinated, for once, to the gothic form. Perhaps there’s a dangling thread here that calls for a sequel, but I’m tempted to say not – Sleep No More is wonderfully effective just as it is, and deserves to inspire plenty of “wide awakes” among the audience. I do wonder if it’ll spark discussion over just how scary the show ought to be (though being shown in a later time slot this year may protect it from that). Shearsmith’s final revelation could have been even more terrifying, however, had it been entrusted purely to the actor’s performance, or perhaps if it had involved just the first moment of dusty degeneration: the overall special effect that draws events to a close strikes me as excessively stylized and heightened, as if fantastically drawing attention away from the horrifying implications of Rassmussen’s speech.

 

But there are very few missteps here, and Sleep No More shows that there are still, even now, innovative and compelling new games that can be played with the format and the very form of Doctor Who. It may not quite be an instant classic like The Zygon Inversion, but mark my words, in years to come generations of viewers will remember ‘the terrifying one with all the cameras and the sleepy dust monsters’. Oh yes, this one will be a sleeper.





The Zygon InversionBookmark and Share

Saturday, 7 November 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Paul Hudecek

Starring: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman,
Ingrid Oliver and Jemma Redgrave,

WITH  Nicholas Asbury, Aidan Cook, Tom Wilton, and Jack Parker

Written by: Peter Harness and Steven Moffat,
Directed by Daniel Nettheim,

Executive Producers: Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Transmitted BBC 1 on 7th November 2015

This Review Contains Plot Spoilers

"You are not superior to people cruel to you... The only way anyone could live in peace is if they are prepared to forgive."

The Doctor confronting the 'wrong' Clara.

 

The Doctor and Osgood are once again in big trouble on the Presidential plane. Where before the threat came from a Missy/Cybermen takeover plot, this time round there is another race of alien beings that closely resemble one another - except when using their baffling duplication abilities.

Somewhat uncomfortably at the time of transmission we have had a recent airline tragedy with some alleged links to terror. This story does partly cover some of the same general issues and themes. It is more likely to resonate with parents and other relatives of the target children audience, and this should not distract the BBC from making any major changes to what is ultimately a thrilling and thought-provoking escapist form of TV entertainment.

Firstly I must firmly point out how brilliantly capable Peter Capaldi is in this new episode.  His performance has been rarely better - if ever - than here. His onscreen alter-ego did have the somewhat tired routine of letting UNIT prop him up as his own private fighting force, but still did well last week. Now the Doctor emerges from the metaphorical shadows and is decidedly more proactive, causing a potentially explosive situation to resolve itself in the best possible manner.

This time he still has to work with UNIT, but shows his anger at their methods. The daughter of his late friend Alistair is the prime recipient. He wants the pacifist route but Kate Stewart quite firmly wants to veto that, due to the 'peace failing already'. Because the Doctor must now finally resolve the mess that his previous selves were partly responsible for, and show some wit and resourcefulness, we really get behind the main man with real verve. His final solution to the crisis is as gripping as any. (even if I find the method a touch labored, as I will discuss further on). It also manages very well to show his haunted state concerning the Time War still looms large. This also works on a subtle level as another good tie-in to the Twelfth Doctor's first (fleeting) onscreen appearance, when he appeared from his then-future lifecycle to help the other Doctors save Gallifrey.

Yet I was always expecting the acting chops from our lead performer, and now that the higher-ups have ironed out the wrinkles that seemed to alienate some viewers, he is really firing on all cylinders. Hopefully Capaldi has at least two further full series within him. He really appears to stutter and has unstable body language when trying to convince the two clashing forces to stand down, making this an utterly authentic portrayal. We see an alien being who has taken on many 'normal human' mannerisms and idiosyncrasies such is his attachment to this world. The use of a game show host imitation, complete with a Southern American accent, is wonderful to witness.

Jenna Coleman's acting is barely inferior to her co-star. There is a good stretch where the real Clara is forced to try and stop her evil imposter from causing devastation, as she sees through the Zygon's eyes on a 'TV set in her flat'. Later on there is a pretty good translation of the script's attempt to find some eventual redemption for the Zygon imposter. We had an evil companion before on modern Doctor Who with a specially bred Martha clone courtesy of the marauding Sontarans, but the evil Bonnie is a cut above; with no disrespect to Freema Agyeman's efforts.

Coleman is really a strong and engaging actor, and will be much missed by me. The present series is doing very well to tease the manner of her exit, and it is best to leave fans wanting more, even if she really gels very well with Capaldi. But what about this story's other assistant for the Doctor?

With UNIT boffin Osgood rescued and helping the doctor throughout the concluding part, this is another instance of the pseudo-companion dynamic. They have a wonderful rapport, and the more annoying fan-girl side of Osgood is firmly placed to one side, allowing for a very sincere and well-characterized participant to the pacey storyline. It also is a welcome device despite dating back almost to the very beginning of the classic series, when used in (the mostly missing) Troughton story The Faceless Ones.

What helps make this latest use of a stand-in assistant quite strong is the 'dual Osgood effect', with them often chiming in at the same time when they speak. The recorded video message and how it is presented in a frame in present action is also commendable and gives Ingrid Oliver a great platform to expand on the rather more two-dimensional character she began with in 2013. The mystery over whether this sweet bespectacled lady is really a Zygon replacement or not is a nice touch in these episodes. First it seems there really is a hybrid process, so only half the original perished in Death in Heaven. But then more dialogue seems to suggest that Missy did indeed kill the original human after all. It is tempting to assume that a Zygon would somehow be more stoic knowing it was in a lethal situation. Regardless, this episode's co-writer Steven Moffat wants to spin this out in his usual fashion: open-ended character paths being a typical feature in his vision of the show.

The new direction for the plot with humans being threatened with being turned into Zygons and losing their sanity and sense of identity is promising. However I feel it could really have been explored a bit more and to greater effect. We do get a very moving scene where the Doctor tries his utmost to prevent the newly created Zygon from destroying himself, but has to live with his powers of persuasion not being enough this time round. But ultimately this new wrinkle to the plot does not really tie in well with the main objective of the splinter group to secure the Osgood box and so opt for an effective genocide of the humans that they so resent.

The climactic section where it is potentially left to humanity to cause genocidal disaster as much as the rebel Zygons is the ultimate lynchpin of this two-part story. Whilst some quarters will no doubt rave about this extended finale to the story, I am a little less sure. It certainly feels quite dramatic, but once we sense there may well be no actual weapon there, and the boxes were actually empty and so only stand for symbolic threat, it all just feels like a bit of a cheat. The Doctor did not have to worry unduly when leaving this pair of objects behind, whereas he did have to manage the potential threats of the Hand of Omega and the Nemesis statue when previously sporting a strong Scottish burr. It is also kind of predictable and seems to be revealed as a new twist in terms of how everyone reacts, whereas viewers may not be quite so dumbfounded,

Later on we have a pretty good coda to the story. Having Osgood forego a proper stint as companion on the TARDIS so that she can help UNIT protect the Earth, and keep the peace that seems to have been forged here is more than acceptable. Also the Torchwood spin-off series established the wealth of threats that the Doctor simply cannot (and in some circumstance  should not) deal with. Yet having the line about the boxes as safeguards continuing to need a guardian somehow feels like a ret-con justification for such a phony plot 'MacGuffin'. 

And as stated last week, the splinter group leader who so casually steals the form of our beloved Clara really did some terrible things. She may be forgiven by the Doctor, but is it his place to be so obliging on behalf of all the victims and their loved ones? The way he was prepared to give in to Clara last year over Danny's macabre fate at the hands of Missy established a seeming precedent, but maybe the Doctor is more of a hypocrite than we have come to expect. If it is not someone he directly knows who suffers, than it is not quite the same situation apparently.

The justification the writers give is that Clara gets inside her head. But Bonnie's core personality still was responsible for murder and causing terror, and that is just brushed aside in the final minutes by her conveniently taking on warmer empathic and sympathetic qualities. Even if I did find the smooth survival of this enemy acceptable, then her eventual assumption of the 'missing' Osgood twin is still pretty forced, and seems like an excuse to prolong a visual gimmick. No dispute can be made that the original concept of the twin Osgoods dearly loving one another was a fine way to hook different audiences into the early sections of Invasion, but did Inversion need to prolong this still further?

I do like the 'credit to both species' line, but it would have worked better if there was a different Zygon involved who was firmly on the side of Earth, or had become a turn cloak. Given all the promise with The Day of the Doctor setting up a suitably complex scenario - which this new story is taking its roots from - I do feel just a touch deflated at how things materialise ultimately.

More positively this story has given fan favourite Kate a better role. She is clearly having to make difficult decisions and realise that the Doctor is not always the one who can ultimately affect both the Earth's and humanity's future. The UNIT chief shows some good impersonation of what was assumed to be yet another Zygon clone, and we are wrong footed in an enjoyable fashion. (One nit-pick remains in that the rebel Zygons would know that someone is still just human rather than replicated). I also have sometimes felt there was not quite enough on paper to justify Kate's continued presence on the show, but this story has changed that stance in welcome fashion. We get a nice nostalgia quote in "Five Rounds Rapid", which echoes her father from the celebrated Pertwee story The Daemons. That line though is not played for any humour and shows her defiance against the softer approach her Time Lord ally prefers. And it is understandable given her learning of the brutal slaughter of the UNIT team, as so emotionally described to her by the fake Colonel Walsh.

Also, having less new characters involved in the action is perhaps not a bad thing as we get more focus on the regulars and pre-established recurring characters. As documented elsewhere, writer Peter Harness was at pains to provide good strong roles for female characters. Clara, Kate, Osgood and the apparently deceased Jac all have made this a story to inspire young girls to lofty heights in adult life. On the other hand, there may have been potential for some interesting scenes that could take place around the world, and which was one of the reasons I personally liked The End of Time. So it is a possible missed opportunity not to have some memorable cameo roles that show the far-reaching peril that can be unleashed. 

This episode bears a co-writer credit for showrunner Steven Moffat. As we know, he so often produces the most outstanding episodes, but he can also yield some more unremarkable efforts. Such is the change in quantity since his last script for the Tenth Doctor era, there is a corresponding change in consistency that reminds me of Russell T Davies' efforts. That brings me to another echo from the past. I am not quite sure how welcome is the whole conceit of Clara being trapped in 'her flat', as it clearly feels a bit like a recycling of the abstract concept seen in Forest of the Dead. Yes, it has some direct impact on the action but in a way which feels perhaps more interesting than believable: we witness the effect of a misfiring anti-aircraft weapon, and Bonnie sending a text explaining her human counterpart is still there to the Doctor/Osgood duo. In immediate dramatic terms though it remains watchable and well-presented, and it is better to have some balancing of the two Claras screen-time which was unavoidable given last week's important twist. Also it is necessary to provide strong material for Coleman this late on in the series, as virtually all reports are saying she will never return as an active companion after 2015.

Production values again are as good as fans and casual viewers have any right to expect, even if the actual plot is seemingly a lot smaller-scale this episode. The world's safety may be at stake, but the focus on events in England makes the overall story feel a touch less engrossing than in the set-up. But much of the direction by Daniel Nettheim is again strong. The scene where the Doctor talks to Bonnie having just survived her deadly attack on him could have been dull, but mixes in video phone call zooms, reverse zooms of people walking, and alternating perspectives. The gripping moments as Etoine suffers his 'infection' are also very well-helmed. However not much really could be done with the overly long confrontation scene with Kate Stewart and the fake Clara as they listen to the Doctor's grand speech. It is a darkly-lit chamber with few noticeable features, and even the design of the boxes fails to offer much scope for visual flair with the cameras.

Music is less remarkable in this one, with perhaps rather more subtle themes for the trapped 'real Clara' sections. The dearth of perilous action in comparison to Part One results in perhaps the blandest score from Gold so far this year, even if I found his The Girl Who Died effort to be weaker. But this latest story has many other hooks both in spirit and in visuals to make an impact, and be a competent component of a run that is more consistent than (the still very enjoyable) Series Eight. 

Overall this two parter is pretty solid. A lot was promised in Invasion, and this conclusion manages to work reasonably well. I would put the story in current third place after the excellent opening two stories, and clearly ahead of the (loosely linked) Maisie Williams multi-episode affair. It deserves to be remembered fondly, and to hook in new young fans via repeat showings, and commercial releases (possibly in the form of presents). And the Doctor may have had his goofy moments in the opening section that was Episode Seven but comes good and then some this time round.

But when push comes to shove, I think I will continue to re-watch and enjoy the Tom Baker tale that started the whole Zygon mythos in the first place; Terror of the Zygons was always going to be a tough act to follow. Notwithstanding my own tastes, Series Nine continues to showcase just how confident is the Peter Capaldi cycle of the enduring twin-hearted Doctor.