Saturday 18 November 2023


Series Five is a great big giant success. The show goes through its first major behind-the-scenes shuffle but everyone seems pretty damned happy with the results. I'm probably happier than most. Everyone seemed madly in love with Tennant and RTD as they made their departure. Whereas I was starting to get a bit tired of both of them. So Moff coming along and changing things up as much as he did brought me greater delight than most. While he didn't stray too far from the roots his predecessor had planted, he made just the right amount of changes that I needed. 

With his first season now under his belt, where does he go from here? Well, if he was truly following in RTD's footsteps, this would be a lather, rinse, repeat situation. We would get another season that has a huge fairy tale vibe. Rory and Amy would have some more relationship problems. River Song would show up in a non-linear manner and still not really reveal any secrets about herself. Then the Universe would blow up again and the Doctor would fix it! 

Quite beautifully, though, Moff goes for something entirely different. Firstly, he messes with the whole structure of the season by sticking a break in the middle of it. On top of that, the nature of the season-long arc is changed radically. Since 2005, the Doctor has been facing threats to the Earth or the Universe, itself, as he reaches the season finale. This time, Moff turns the threat inward. The danger is to the Doctor, himself. Just to be even wilder with altering the format, we even start learning some of River Song's bigger secrets!  

And now, of course, I'm even happier. This is what Doctor Who is all about. It re-invents itself on a regular basis and finds new directions to explore. Sometimes, bad choices get made. The show goes in a way it shouldn't and we get something like Timelash! But this is still far better than tired, old, formula-driven fodder. 

Moff making a few significant changes to the formula of the show pleases me to no end. I will admit upfront: Series Five was a bit better than Six. But, if Moff had just tried to duplicate what he'd done in his first season (as RTD did for, basically, his entire reign), things would have been far worse. 


Is there anything that draws us in more intensely than those first few minutes of The Impossible Astronaut? Watching the Doctor get brutally murdered in front of us is bound to grab our attention. But what makes this sequence all-the-more memorable is that it is executed (no pun intended) very effectively. Especially when you factor in all the various timey-whimeyness that is going all around it. River Song is having a picnic with the Doctor, Rory and Amy while being fully aware that another version of herself is going to climb out of the water in a moment and kill the Doctor. Meanwhile, another version of herself is also currently gestating inside Amy's womb. The Doctor still attempting to regenerate after he's been shot is another interesting nuance. As are all the various reactions the characters have before, during and after the assassination. The Doctor does a great job of being brave as he sees the astronaut emerge from the lake. Rory loyally does what is needed of him to dispose of the Doctor's body after he's killed. River fires uselessly upon herself and says something cryptic. And Amy just openly mourns the loss of her friend. Even Canton Everett Delaware the Third has a fun little moment as he tells the trio that he will see them again. It's all just so ridiculously iconic. 

Of course, we know the Doctor isn't really going to die, here. Something will happen that will, somehow, alter the course of what we've just witnessed. Or there's something deceptive going on. All is not as it seems. We can't say for sure. But this is probably the best "hook" anyone has ever used to get us to watch the rest of the season. We're certain the Doctor will, somehow, find a way out of this. But we're dying to see what trick he's going to use.  

Series Six is off to an amazing start. 


Certainly, those first few minutes of Impossible Astronaut grab your attention. But this is a two-parter. How does the other hour and fifteen minutes of the story fare? 

Basically, Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is good. Really damned good. So damned good, it almost makes it into my Top Ten. 

Like Pandorica Opens/Big Bang, all the resources the Doctor needs to defeat his foe are subtly planted into the plot. We just don't see them till the Doctor actually takes advantage of them. Moffat is even more obnoxious with how well he can hide things than he was during the Series Five finale. Right at the beginning of the second part, he drops a big clue like: "I'm going to use Neil Armstrong's foot!" And, of course, we still don't get what's going on. Not until we reach that final confrontation with the Silence 

And what a confrontation that was! This just might be the best villain tell-off/victorious moment for the Doctor we've ever had. Everyone is on fire, here. The Doctor knows his plan is about to succeed and is actually being playful with his enemy. River Song is extra saucy, too. And I absolutely adore it when Amy asks if their flirting is important! I also love how we still cheer a bit during all the intense action when Amy calls Rory a stupid face. It's a gorgeously-written scene that everyone grabs by the horns and really makes shine. Including the director. The pacing is so crucial at this point and he makes sure to capture it perfectly. 

We should probably address one important issue: the Silence are vaguely similar to the Weeping Angels. They both can get up to some nasty things when you're not looking. But I will say that there are still enough differences between them that I'm not going to turn into one of those nasal-voiced pedants that has to proclaim things like: "Moffat is a hack! He can't come up with any original ideas!

Or, at least, I'm not going to say it here. Perhaps in the next few paragraphs! 


Like Vampires of Venice, Curse of the Black Spot is our weakest link. Again, not an actually terrible adventure. It has its moments. But it's definitely the poorest story of the season. 

Just like Vampires, the ending gets pretty messy. The Doctor, Amy and Captain Avery let the Siren take them to the other dimension where the spaceship is. Why are they not confined to beds like everyone else? Essentially, they're left to wander around and discover things because the plot needs them to. It does look as though all the beds are finally full. But that is just a bit too much of a lucky coincidence! 

And then there's Rory. Turning him into Kenny from South Park never actually bothered me. They always found clever ways to write him back into the show after he appears to have died. So I actually quite enjoyed it when he's killed but, somehow, resurrects (also really loved the "Oh my God! They killed Rory! You bastards!" memes!). When he briefly kicks the bucket at the end of this story, however, it doesn't really work. The whole scene would have been better if Amy had just been good at CPR. Or the Doctor saves him, somehow. Or something like that. Just not what we got. Killing Rory, officially, is starting to happen too much. And is happening in a way that feels far too contrived. 

My other major beef is that stories about alien technology not functioning properly and causing huge problems is also getting tiresome. We've been getting it a lot when Moff's in charge of the writing. Some of it has been brilliant, of course. Empty Child/Doctor Dances and Girl in the Fireplace were excellent tales that used this idea as their core premise. Black Spot doesn't use the device so well. And, really, we just need a break from this sort of plot. Fortunately, Moff learns his lesson and does give it a rest for a bit after this.

Like Series Five, the poorest episode of the season is then followed by the one of the best. 

There are some people that actually complain about The Doctor's Wife. They claim it's nothing but fan service and, therefore, can't get into it. If this was merely a 46-minute episode where the Doctor is doing nothing but talking to the TARDIS the whole time, I'd find myself agreeing with them. Instead, it's an interesting and even mildly-terrifying adventure where one of the side-effects of the main plot is that the Doctor is able to talk to the TARDIS for a bit. The main focus of the tale is defeating House. The fan service is an almost cosmetic addition. 

Which is the true beauty of this tale. Yes, it is a love poem about the Doctor and the most important relationship in his life(ves). We absolutely love it when the Time Lord complains to his vehicle about how she doesn't always take him where he wants to go. And then she points out the she always took him where he needed to go. It's a great moment that truly summarizes the entire history of the show. But it's still something that's kept in the background. Where it's meant to be. A story like School Reunion could learn a lot from this!   

It is also massively cool to see Neil Gaiman writing for Doctor Who. It gave the show some solid street cred amongst fans of other franchises. "Oh!" we'd say to a Star Wars geek, "You're a fan of Gaiman, are you? Did you know he's written for Doctor Who? Hasn't written any Star Wars stuff, though, has he?! Clearly, Star Wars isn't good enough for him!" It helps, of course, that Gaiman is a gigantic fan of the show. So much so, that he calls the episode The Doctor's Wife. Knowing the extremely obscure story behind the title. 


The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People has a fair amount heavy-lifting to do. While the main arc of the season is an attempt to help the Doctor avoid his own death, there is also a second ongoing story. Amy seems to be having a serious feminine problem! This adventure faces that issue head-on and ends up giving us one of the most brutal endings to a two-parter that we've ever seen (or is this, perhaps, actually a three-parter?!). Because of the gorgeous set-up these two episodes create, we can't wait to see A Good Man Goes to War.

At the same time, this story does something intensely unique. It creates a giant red herring in the main arc of the season. "Ahhh!" we all say as we see the Flesh copying the Doctor, "This is how he's going to get out of being killed! He'll send in a Flesh version of himself to get shot!" Yes, the copy made of the Doctor dies at the end of Almost People. But we figure he'll just make another one. 

All of this distracts us from the fact that, after only one episode, we are shown the real solution to the problem. Again, I must admire Moff's bravado. One would think he would place the Teselecta later in the season so that we can really take the time to stew over the Flesh. I love that, instead, he presents us with something else that can alter its form almost immediately afterwards 

Most importantly, though, Flesh/People has a solid plot all on its own. Like the Weeping Angels two-parter last season, it doesn't just take care of various arcs. It has some actual meat to its core premise, too. I particularly like how, even though both sides proclaim it, this isn't actually an "Us and Them" situation. The humans aren't entirely good and the Flesh aren't totally evil. It's more like a Silurian story. There are jerks and nice folks on both sides. 

The Doctor's ultimate plan of having Jimmy speak to his son was exceptionally clever. He knew that the encounter would get either version of him to see how ridiculous things were getting and change his ways. Which, in turn, would create a domino effect with the rest of his "side". It's really quite brilliant that this is what resolves the conflict. Ganger Jimmy carrying on in Human Jimmy's place to bring up his son was also quite touching. 

After a pretty crazy cliffhanger, A Good Man Goes to War has a lot to live up to. Impressively enough, it really does succeed. Even the pre-titles are pretty damned cool. After the opening credits, it's great fun to watch the Doctor assemble his army and put his plans into execution. All of it comes together quite smoothly. And I love it as Eleven gives Danny Boy the order to attack Demon's Run and then pretends to be a spitfire! 

And then we get to the major plot twists. Both are very well-constructed. Kovarian getting the last laugh by making Melody a Flesh baby was quite brutal. And the Big Reveal about River Song being Melody in the future was very surprising. For me, at least. I seem to remember a whole slew of fans saying things like: "I knew who she was ten minutes into Silence in the Library!" Which, admittedly, is me making a ridiculous exaggeration for the sake of comedy. But then, I think many of these fans were exaggerating, too. Or, quite possibly, full-on fibbing. I saw absolutely no predictions of this nature in the fangroups before the episode went out. But, suddenly, after the story was transmitted - people were coming out of the woodwork claiming: "I knew it all along!" Why didn't you put your money where your mouth was and claim this before Good Man Goes to War was shown? It's kinda hard to believe you after the fact! 

Anyhow, we reach the mid-season break in very good shape. A couple of major plot threads get resolved but there's also a huge tease of adventures-to-come. If this is what Moff is going to deliver when he breaks a season in half, then I'm all for it!    



As we get to the second half of the season, Series Six is sitting pretty good. We've got three episodes that were extraordinary. Three that were very strong. And one that was "meh". Which makes for some pretty good stats. 

But now we're doing a bit of a re-set. A very pointed rest in the transmission rate allows for a big change of emphasis in this latter set of episodes. Which is exactly what happens. The second half of Series Six feels a lot less cohesive. The Doctor isn't scanning Amy's womb every episode. There's not as much talk of his imminent death. River Song has less of a presence in the stories. The episodes don't feel as interconnected. Which is not actually a bad thing. But it is an adjustment. This always has the potential to alienate an audience. Things were running on one course that seemed to be working well. But, now, suddenly - things are different. One can't help but think of the old proverb: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

I'm more inclined, however, to support this sort of decision. "Never get in a rut!" is a non-existent proverb I've always gotten behind. So I applaud the change of tone that occurs in the second half of Series Six. Yes, we've lost some of that gorgeous dramatic momentum that the first half had. But I still feel that, overall, the season shows a greater sense of artistic merit by going in such a different direction after its break. 

Let's Kill Hitler starts things off nicely and has a few decent surprises in it. I'm particularly impressed that we get even more Reveals about River Song so quickly (once more, of course, fans claimed: "I totally saw it coming from a mile away!") I would have thought Moff would have given the mystery a rest for a bit but he feeds us a little bit more of her origins. He does a pretty good job too of suddenly inserting a character into Amy and Rory's past who wasn't there before. 

Kill Hitler is, for the most part, a fun a little romp that starts off the second half the season quite well. Nothing too extraordinary - if we're being honest. But still a good time.    

Night Terrors comes perilously close to being a second weak link the season. It's still substantially better than Curse of the Black Spot. The plot hangs together quite well. The child actor playing George does an incredible job. He gets so very little dialogue but still conveys so much through his reactions and mannerisms. The director also deserves high praise. He does this incredible job of making so much everyday stuff suddenly seem quite eerie. 

But this is, pretty much, one of the most blatant filler episodes New Who has ever made. It's almost like the briefing Moff gave Gatiss was: "Write me something deeply inconsequential that can be made on a shoestring budget." To Gatiss' credit, he actually delivers an excellent script. But it's just so hard to get behind a story that was made with the same sort of mentality that was put into Time Flight


While the second half of Series Six starts off feeling a bit light and slightly unimpressive, that changes quite quickly with the next two episodes. Both are, quite frankly, magnificent. But I also love how they tell very different tales. It's one thing to create a great story and duplicate it. But to create two that are largely dissimilar shows real talent.  This isn't a production team that works to a success pattern. They truly just know what's good when they see it and run with it. 

The Girl Who Waited is full of wild concepts and a touch of absurdity (those handbots are so goofy! And yet, still menacing). There are lots of big fun ideas at work that make the plot feel very sophisticated and intelligent. But it doesn't stay in its head too much. There's a deeply humanistic side to it, too. I love, for instance, how Amy From the Future doesn't wish to become an aborted timeline. She might not have had the best life but she still doesn't want to be wiped out of existence. Whereas if Girl Who Waited had been about nothing but big sci fi theories, it would have probably missed this beat. 

Karen Gillan really gets to show off her acting chops, here. She does a great job of playing two different versions of her character. Actresses who originally got their start as models tend to get nasty presumptions made about them. That they're just good at looking pretty on film. Karen, however, did actually attend some legitimate acting schools as her modelling career blossomed. She really shows off that training in a story like this. 

The ending to Girl Who Waited is quite brutal. Eleven even seems a bit chilling as he is almost rejoicing that they've "saved the right Amy". But there's a very beautiful side to this all, too. We've all judged Rory and Amy quite a lot throughout the last two seasons. Seen their relationship as being a bit dysfunctional. But this story does a great job of showing us there was a lot more to them than we realized. With this sort of revelation now being made, it does make sense that the Doctor will soon try to drop them off for good. We've explored their characters about as much as we can.    

We leave gleaming futuristic corridors and quickly find ourselves in the 80s hotel hallways of The God Complex. Again, I love how strongly these two episodes contrast each other and yet both tell equally excellent adventures. 

God Complex could almost be described as surreal. And yet, we're certain there's some kind of internal logic going on that we know will get sorted out. The ultimate explanation that we do get for a why hotel has a minotaur and rooms full of nightmares is quite brilliant. Particularly since it makes a quick reference to the Nimon. 

Strangely enough, I quite enjoy the stumbles the Doctor makes along the way as he tries to figure things out. Eleven has this nice fallibility that we see now and again. He just occasionally makes a completely wrong deduction that can even end up costing lives. We've seen this happen before in stories like Time of the Angels and Curse of the Black Spot. Sometimes, he makes bad guesses that have very heavy consequences. For some reason, I enjoy that the writers do this with the character every once in a while. 

Rory and Amy's departure comes at a very odd time in the season. There are still two episodes left. Which leads us to believe that we haven't seen the last of them. Which is the case, of course. But still, it's a very nicely executed farewell. 


With the Doctor now travelling alone, we're getting very close to how things looked at the beginning of the season. Which, admittedly, is some very nice writing. While I did say this half of the season feels less cohesive, it doesn't mean the arc has become completely non-existent. Things are being done more subtly. Which, in many ways, shows much greater skills in the story-telling process. 

Closing Time is the most "RTDesque" story in the entire Moffat Era. The A Plot is sooooo threadbare. In some sense, it almost feels like The Next Doctor all over again. The Cybermen have been thrown in for good measure but haven't really been given all that much to do. Fortunately, they don't come up with a ridiculous plan to build a Cyber-Dreadnought. Nor are there any of those awful Cyber-Shades! But still, they almost don't need to be there. Their presence in the story seems so minute.    

Fortunately, Craig Owen is back. This really helps to distract us from many of the greater problems in the episode. Closing Time is written in a manner that really allows Smith and Corden to play off of each other a lot more than they did in The Lodger. Which leads to any number of endlessly fun scenes. This really does help me to forget that there is very little going on in the actual plot. While I had a hard time forgiving this sort of writing back when RTD was at the helm, it's easier to do so, here. Mainly because this is the only time we really see it happen. Moff has been really good at making sure there's enough real story to actually fill the runtime. So I can let it slide just this once (yes, I know Moff's not the actual writer of the episode but he's still the one in charge of quality control). 

Finally, we get to The Wedding of River Song. One of the more unusual season finales in New Who. It's over in only one episode. Admittedly, it's a little off-putting to not make it, at least, a two-parter. But it's also refreshing for the show to do something so different. 

One of the episode's most curious features is how non-linear it is without actually using any kind of time travel. The story is simply told out of order. Normally, this only happens when characters are darting back and forth with TARDISes or vortex manipulators or other devices of this nature. Having events flow in such a manner without employing the usual framing device gives the whole story a very distinctive feel. 

The best moment of the whole season happens smack-dab in the middle of Wedding of River Song. The way in which the passing of Nicholas Courtney is commemorated is done with great class and respect. At the same time, it's also very sensitive and touching. I remember the first time I watched the sequence and how deeply it affected me. Losing Courtney was very intense. He did a remarkable job as the Brig and I hated that we never saw him properly return to the New Series (yeah, yeah, Sarah Jane Adventures. I know! Spinoffs don't count, though!). It was great the way the show managed to capture that same sadness I was feeling over Courtney by making the loss of his character a pivotal moment for the Doctor, himself. This really is some great writing. A moment like this could have been so easily mishandled and come across as utterly tasteless. 

How the Doctor manages to escape his inevitable death is handled most satisfactorily. Not only was the whole bait-and-switch routine with the Teselecta and the Flesh quite clever, but the way it's ultimately revealed that the Doctor isn't dead was also very good. River's very timey-whimey visit to her mother to let her know the truth of things was a great way to present it. The rapid succession of flashbacks with extra bits added into them made the Reveal much more interesting than just showing us the sequences in their proper order.

While this is a very different way to wrap up the season from what we've seen so far, it's still nicely done. Some seasons have had better finales, of course. But some have also been much worse (thankyou Moff, for never making the TARDIS tow the Earth!) 


The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe had a difficult act to follow. Last year's A Christmas Carol is, easily, the best Christmas Special the show has ever made. It was a fun story that also had just the right level of gravitas to it. And, of course, there were a few touching moments that legitimately drew tears. I'm pretty sure there will never be a better Doctor Who Christmas Special than this one. Moffat, however, made a very desperate attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice. 

While I wouldn't say Wardrobe and Carol are identical stories, they do both go for a pretty similar vibe. Moff is definitely trying to play with out heartstrings like he did last Christmas. But everything feels just a bit too intentional. The sentimentalism in Carol feels like it happened much more organically. Whereas, here, we get the sense that Moff is genuinely trying to make us cry. So that we'll say something like: "Wow! This was as good as last year's Christmas Special!

It's not an entirely bad episode. There are some nice moments. Madge dealing with the loss of her husband but still trying to keep it hidden from her children does actually start making us quite sad. Especially the scene where she reveals the truth to the Doctor. The three soldiers, though a bit underused, also provide us with a very nice laugh (Androzani Major seems to be populated with nothing but ruthless capitalists!) The ending where Eleven, at last, re-joins the Ponds is also very nicely done. Especially when the Doctor experiences his own tears of joy for what seems to be the first time, ever. 

But a lot of the plot involving the magic forest or whatever it's meant to be hangs together quite awkwardly. There are even some bits that don't seem to make a whole lot of sense. With little or no explanation, the trees just happen to know that the Doctor will visit them one more time just before the acid rain starts. They seem to think that the best way to lure members of his party to their spaceship is to hatch a wooden statue in front of them and just have it walk away as it grows to an enormous size. Would this really lure anyone to follow?! I'm pretty sure even an adventuresome boy like Cyril would, eventually, just look at those footprints that are growing to a gigantic size and resolve to turn the Hell back and go home. 

Overall, I'd call Doctor, Widow, Wardrobe a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately, Moff seems to admit this to himself. From this point onward, he learns to take the Christmas Specials in very different directions each year rather than try to keep re-creating the effect that Christmas Carol had. 


I recall Moff admitting something interesting during interviews after Series Six was over. He claimed that he felt he had made various storylines throughout the season a bit too complicated and that, in future, he will try to make the show more accessible to a general audience. It reminded me a bit of some interviews JNT gave in the 90s where he confessed that the Sixth Doctor's coat was a mistake. I make that connection because, in both cases, I am impressed with how unafraid these men were to criticize themselves. But I still savagely disagree with what they said! I adore Sixie's coat and I love how complexly-written Series Six is. 

Bear in mind, of course, that Season Eighteen from the Classic Series is my favorite. A season that is so high-browed that it borders on pretentiousness! So I'm bound to like something like this. I'm even a bit sad that Moff follows through on his decision and tends to dumb the show down a bit from this point, onward. 

Personally, I would have been plenty happy with more seasons like this. I expect science fiction to be something that requires a bit of hard thinking. I want to feel challenged as I sort out what a story's meant to be about. Series Six definitely accomplished that. I would even say it could have been a bit more complicated than it actually was and I would have still been fine. 



Thursday 2 November 2023


If anyone else but Steven Moffat had been chosen to succeed RTD, I might have stopped watching Doctor Who right there and then. In the History of Obvious Choices, this one reigns supreme. While Davies was toying with the show's formula and trying to get things right through trial and error, Moff always came along and delivered a good solid story. That, oftentimes, stood head and shoulders above everything else that was being served that season. How could we not want someone with his level of talent to not take over as Head Writer?    

Of course, there's a big difference between delivering one good story a season and actually assembling a season of good stories. Would Steven Moffat be able to achieve that? Admittedly, RTD was only so good at the task, himself. Series One and Three stand quite strong. But Two and Four were a lot more hit-and-miss. Would Moffat be able to deliver something better? 

The short answer is: Yes. 

We can't give Moff all the credit, here. He had the advantage of learning from both the good and bad choices made by his predecessor. While RTD was often just shooting in the dark, his successor now had a very basic blueprint to work from. 

But he could've very easily handled this situation in an egotistical manner by throwing that whole blueprint out and starting fresh. Deciding that he knew how to make "proper Doctor Who" and ignoring the lessons that were learnt back when he was just a contributing writer. Fortunately, Moffat is smart enough to build upon the established formula. The first four seasons of the show act as a solid bedrock. But, as Moff's era progresses, tweaks get made here and there that turn the show into something much better than what we had been getting under RTD's watch. 

But it all starts with Series Five. First impressions are always important. An excellent first season from RTD guaranteed a healthy future for the show. This season would be almost as relevant. This was the first year of New Who that was being made with someone else at the helm. If it didn't go well, the audience might lose faith that anyone else could make good Who except the man who first brought it back to the screen. 

Fortunately, Series Five is amazing. Nearly as good Series One. 


The Eleventh Hour did give me just a hint of concern when I first watched it. Moff does seem to be repeating a common mistake from the last four seasons. Because the episode has the word "Hour" in the title, the Head Writer decides that it needs to last that long (actually, it goes a bit longer!). If you've been reading my New Who Reviews, you know that the need to fill up a one hour episode no matter what often wears on my nerves. Quite frequently, there's not enough plot for the run-time and we have to deal with a bunch of blatant padding. I'd rather an episode run its standard length and feel tight than drag on just so it can hit a certain amount of minutes. 

It doesn't help that we're not dealing with the most intricate of plots. Prisoner Zero has escaped. The Atraxi are coming for him. Because they can't find him right away, they're going to blow up the world. The Doctor's trying to stop them but he's a bit woozy from regenerating. There's not a lot going on, here. 

Admittedly, the padding does have a lot of charm. The Doctor trying out his new taste buds is cute. And it is great that the whole thing leads to fish fingers and custard. But, if we're being honest, the sequence goes on for longer than it needs to. As fun as it is to watch Smith and his antics, some of this would have been fine left on the cutting room floor. 

There are other moments like this. It's obvious things are being padded out. But, for the most part, I'm capable of forgiving it. Because, ultimately, Eleventh Hour is ridiculously fun to watch. And, while it is a very simple story, the way the Doctor resolves the entire conflict with Prisoner Zero is quite clever (I do still feel sorry for Rory, though, when he gets that phone bill!) The Atraxi Tell-Off Scene that follows immediately afterwards is awesome. An absolutely fantastic way to do what is, essentially, a costume reveal! 

The eleventh Doctor makes such a good first impression. He continues the tradition of making the character an over-excited fanboy. But there are enough differences between him and Ten to make me quite happy. The angst and flirtiness have dissipated in the golden haze of regeneration. The Doctor is back to being heroic and fun. Smith really does evoke the personae of an ancient being caught in a young body. And he is, most definitely, a madman in a box. The character is both magnificently-crafted and excellently-portrayed. 

And this is the True Core of Eleventh Hour. Yes, it's a bit short on plot and runs a tad too long, but Eleven is just so damned enjoyable to watch that I'm willing to let it all slide. When it comes to "introductory Doctor tales", this is one of my favorites. I think Castrovalva might be the only one I like better. 


The Beast Below is one of those stories that I feel should get more credit than it deserves. Some folks even seem to have a certain degree of disdain for it. Whereas I found it to be quite clever. An Orwellian society that made a horrible choice in order to save itself and is now doing its damnedest to forget it is a very interesting premise. Liz Ten was also great fun. I still love it every time she says: "I'm the bloody Queen!"  I also quite like what the story had to say about human nature. When the star whale comes along to save us, we just assume we have to enslave it. The fact that it's willing to help us out of the goodness of its heart is too foreign of a concept for us.  

There's a nice concerted effort to make sure Amy is useful. We see it in this story and the next. When the Doctor appears to be failing, she comes along and saves the day. I quite like how the scripts are structured that way. A new companion often gets sidelined in their early days. They just watch the Doctor at work and don't, necessarily, do much. In their first few stories, they are so inexperienced in the Ways of the Universe that they can't really offer much help. Amy asserts herself well in Beast Below and continues to do so in Victory of the Daleks. 

Speaking of which, Victory of the Daleks is half-decent. A good little re-creation of World War II and Winston Churchill, himself. It does feel a tad light on plot (whereas Beast Below fills up its time quite well - it barely gives us a chance to breathe, really!) but it's still quite enjoyable. 

I'm not entirely sure how they were able to build "space spitfires" so quickly. They appeared to be just ideas that Bracewell was toying with earlier in the episode. But, within minutes, three of them are mobilized against the Dalek saucer. Other than that, though, I don't have much trouble with this story. And, admittedly, the space spitfires are pretty cool! 

I actually really liked the idea of a New Dalek Paradigm. The re-designed models were, perhaps, a bit too garish and bulky. But that could be easily fixed. In all honesty, their appearance meant very little to me. But I was very interested in seeing how color-coding would influence Dalek society. Specific liveries now seemed to have certain tasks to perform. I would have liked to have seen that delved into more. Unfortunately, Moff made the same choice Lucas made when a lot of fans complained about Jar-Jar Binks. He just rolled over and gave them what they wanted. The Teletubby and/or Power Ranger Daleks were quickly phased out. Which saddened me quite a bit. I actually wanted more of them. Clearly, I was in the minority Or, perhaps, fans who bitch often bitch loudly. To the point where a majority can feel like a minority! 

Both adventures stand fairly strong and continue to propel the season along nicely. Some RTD patterns are still being followed. We're still doing the first three episodes of a season as: "One in the Present. One in the Future. One in the Past (or vice-versa)" And we've got another Historical Celebrity. But, oddly enough, it feels less grating. The stories are using the tropes but varying them enough to feel a bit fresh. Victory of the Daleks, for instance, does feature Winston Churchill - but the plot isn't built completely around him like other Historical Celebrity stories frequently are. Some weird wasp-like creature isn't telepathically-linked to him and is now trying re-create reality in his image. Nor are ancient aliens trying to re-enter our dimension through him. He's still a pivotal character, but the narrative isn't completely dependent on him. It is, in fact, more about the Doctor fighting the Daleks than anything. This gives the tale a very different vibe from what RTD was offering us and makes it all feel less repetitious. 


I was a bit leery about the Weeping Angels coming back. Blink was brilliant and the monsters in it were absolutely terrifying. But I'm not sure if they merited a second story.  They did seem like a bit of a one-hit wonder. To me, it felt like fighting an evil creature that can only get up to something when you're not looking was an idea that could not sustain itself for more than one episode. 

Turns out those Weeping Angels have more than one story in them. Had Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone just been about not blinking again, I would have felt differently. But we discover several other abilities that the Angels have. We also learn that they won't always zap you back into the past. Sometimes, they'll just snap your neck and kill you. Adding these nuances to them makes a further exploration of them interesting and still quite scary. Blink, of course, is still the better story. But this one's pretty damned good. 

River Song is back. Which is not something that made some fans happy. But she still has her legion of followers and I'm one of them. I think she's a very fun character who was a fascinating mystery. I love how we very gradually find out who she truly is over the next few seasons. It's a very enjoyable arc. I also love how her and the Doctor will keep meeting out of order. I did do an entry a while back where I put their encounters into a "proper" chronology. Easily, one of the most tortuous essays I ever wrote:

The Cracks in the Universe get explored quite heavily, here. Which I enjoyed. At first, I thought Moffat would be taking the same sort of tact as his predecessor did with season-long arcs.  Although he wouldn't be inserting a certain recurring word or words into the occasional script, he would be using a visual cue that would be accomplishing the same effect. We'd just keep seeing that Crack in different places. Until, eventually, it gets explained in the last few episodes of the season. Essentially, we'd be getting Bad Wolf or Vote Saxon but it's the image of a glowing crack, instead!

But he tackled the season-long arc in a different way. More and more, the Cracks will get explained in various episodes. They'll even have a real role to play in the plots of certain stories. Overall, the arc this season won't feel as incidental as it has in the past. Which, to me, is much better writing. Moff isn't just shoe-horning in words like Torchwood or Medusa Cascade every once in a while to remind us there's a bigger plot that's coming along. He's really weaving the arc into the whole narrative flow of the season. 

The Return of the Weeping Angels is more-than-merited. A lot of different things are going on within this two-parter's plot that involve bigger arcs that will develop more later. But, at the same time, the actual story about the Angels is also quite enjoyable. It's wonderfully-terrifying when the Doctor realizes all the statues in the Maze of the Dead are just malnourished Weeping Angels that are slowly waking back up. And I love it when the Weeping Angel is coming out of the video screen to get Amy. 

Blink might be chocked full of iconic moments. But this one's got a few too. 


Vampires of Venice is the season's weakest link. Still not an absolutely terrible episode. Even quite fun, in places. But it has its fair share of problems. 

Rory is, very much, Mickey all over again. But, somehow, I find him much more likeable. This story really helps to put him in a good light. For most of the episode, he's trying to be a voice of reason. He even does a really good job of calling the Doctor out. But I do like how he eventually comes to terms with the fact that what the Doctor does is important and chooses to help him. 

The vampire girls are delightfully creepy and do a very good job at prowling about and being menacing. I quite like how they're ultimately defeated, too. The poor gondola driver who lost his daughter gets his revenge in a very touching manner. 

But him conveniently having all that gunpowder does lead me to one of the bigger problems in the story. There's a lot of "just happening to have hexachromite in a storage room during Warriors of the Deep" going on, here. Lots of stuff gets placed in the plot that will obviously have a pay-off, later. The 10 000 piranhas that won't recognize their Mommy if she keeps her perception filter on is another blatant example of this. We just know that it's going to have a role to play in how the episode resolves itself.  

The rather silly string of coincidences that make the Saturnyne appear like vampires is quite overly-contrived. It would have almost made more sense to keep the whole vampire theme out of the equation. Although, admittedly, it would be bad to lose the scary vampire girls in their white dresses. However, coming up with the super-complicated explanations for why the Saturnyne don't have reflections but still show their fangs felt largely unnecessary. The story's really about Fish People in Venice - not vampires. The title almost seems vaguely misleading!

The ending of the story also just, sort of, falls apart. After a bunch of capture-and-escaping earlier in the episode, the Doctor is able to just show up in the main court of the fortress-like palace of Mama Fish. And, even after threatening to take her down, she just lets him leave. Which seems like a ridiculously stupid move on her part. You know he's an alien with knowledge and technology that could, potentially, defeat you. Lock him up! 

The final resolution of the conflict is quite underwhelming. The Doctor climbs a tower and flicks a single switch. Which, somehow, gets Mama Fish to commit suicide. Can't she just climb back up and flick the switch back on?!

Finally, there's Son Fish blowing up because Amy pointed her compact at him. It seemed just a bit much to swallow. Maybe the intense light causes a pain so strong that it drives him off. But making him explode?!  

I still don't totally hate Vampires of Venice. It has its moments. But it feels more like one of those painfully mediocre episodes we get in the middle of Series Four. Like Unicorn and the Wasp or Doctor's Daughter. It doesn't fit so well in this season. Where most of the stories are quite outstanding.

It also needs to be pointed out that the Doctor appears to do nothing about the 10 000 piranhas. What happened to them?! Did everyone just stay away from the canal they were in 'till they starved to death?! 

Fortunately, the standards go back up very quickly as we move into the next story. 

Amy's Choice is definitely another one of those Unsung Classics. It's sooo tightly-written with a great premise and a really fun villain. 

I'm not sure, exactly, how you could ever write the Dream Lord back into the show. But I'm sure if someone set their mind to it, they could. He's absolutely delightful to watch. Especially with his constant costume changes! His dialogue is absolutely great. I still love the whole line about tawdry quirks! And, of course, Toby Jones plays him to absolute perfection. Absolutely brilliant casting. He's so good in everything he does, really. He's not afraid to play up the fact that he doesn't fit the mold of "square-jawed heroic male character" and is more-than-happy to take on parts like these with the firmest of commitment. 

Seriously, we need to bring back the Dream Lord. Several times. He should start haunting the Doctor as much as the Master does! 

The premise of trying to get the lead characters to figure out which reality is the truth and which is the dream is great fun. I wouldn't say it's the most original of ideas. We've seen this in sci-fi before. What really sets this plot apart, however, is two-fold: 

Firstly, there's all the extra layers going on as they flitter between the two scenarios. For various reasons, Rory wants one reality to be true. While the Doctor favors the other. Amy, of course, must choose which to believe in. But that decision will have huge undertones. Particularly for Rory. Part of the brilliance of the whole adventure is watching the various reactions of all three characters as they deal with the challenge that has been set before them. It's not just a matter of survival. Whatever everyone ends up believing in will have consequences on how relationships aboard the TARDIS will function. It's a very nice sort of psychodrama going on as they deal with the main plot. Which, as I said, adds a lot of gorgeous extra layers to the tale as it plays out. 

The other thing that really makes the story great is how the whole conflict resolves. If we're being completely honest, Amy has not been the most entirely pleasant of people. Particularly in the way she's been treating Rory. The moment he perishes in the one dream, Amy becomes a very different person. She decides to challenge that reality and die with him. Not knowing for sure if she really will wake up. But also not caring. She'd rather be dead than exist in a world without Rory. As she crashes the van into the house, she settles a crucial element of the plot. More importantly, though, she increases her likeability tenfold. She's realized how awful she's been to her fiance and that she can't live without him. It's a very powerful moment. Much of the instability in their relationship is settled by that sequence. Which is as relevant as the need to defeat the Dream Lord. 

But that ending wasn't quite cool enough. In a great little twist, the Doctor sees through the Dream Lord's deception and blows the TARDIS up so that they all wake up properly. Discovering it was all just a couple of psychic spores in the console was a great reveal. Learning that the Dream Lord was a distillation of the Doctor's darker side was even more awesome. Fan theories about the Valeyard went wild! 

Clearly, the Dream Lord should come back. Perhaps one of the Doctor's greater foes seeks out the spores and, somehow, resurrects him. We then get a few more weird stories that take place in dreamscapes. Then, ultimately, the Dream Lord becomes obsessed with achieving corporeal form. When he does finally find a body, it bears a striking resemblance to Michael Jayston. 

This is my plan, BBC. Commission me to write the scripts and I'll get to work immediately!


The Return of the Silurians probably excited more than a lot of other Classic Monsters that have been brought back into New Who. These are creatures that can give us much more nuanced plots. Unlike Daleks, Cybermen or Sontarans, they're not just hell-bent on universal domination. They are no better or worse than we are. A few of them can be evil. A few others can be good. Of course, the same thing tends to happen on the human side, too. Because of these various conflicting motivations, some interesting drama can ensue. 

In some stories involving them, the battle is a bit more two-dimensional. The Silurians and Sea Devils in Warriors of the Deep, for instance, are all fed up with trying to be nice and want to take out humanity for good. And the Sea Devils in The Sea Devils are, pretty much, your average "monster of the week" during the Pertwee Era. Just a couple of guys in rubber suits waving their arms about menacingly who are meant to be nothing more than the latest threat the Doctor must use Venusian Karate on! 

Fortunately, Hungry Earth/Cold Blood goes for the traditional Silurian story approach. There's jerks on both sides and the good guys have to work around them. Which actually makes for some very philosophical and even inspiring moments. The speech the Doctor gives about "being the best humanity has to offer" near the end of the first part was really quite uplifting. Sadly, however, all great speeches in Series Five are forgotten once we reach Pandorica Opens

Admittedly, Earth/Blood does run into a similar problem that Doctor Who and the Silurians had. It feels just a bit slow, in places. Silurians has a slightly better excuse for the drag. It had to fill up seven parts! But, inevitably, in a story where characters are trying to find peace - you're going to get some ponderous moments that, perhaps, go on a bit longer than they should. And you can't really throw too much action into the plot since it's all about trying to avoid bloodshed!    

I do find it fairly easy, however, to forgive this one flaw. Stories about having to share our planet with someone else, for some reason, fascinate me endlessly. I love that Doctor Who brings back the Silurians now and again to deal with the topic. 

So it's another two very strong episodes for me. I still like Amy's Choice better. But this is a good yarn, too. 

Although, there is one more serious problem that must be discussed before we can truly move on: Silurians with only two eyes were very difficult to accept. They did, eventually, grow on me. But it took a while. And I am hoping that we see some three-eyed Silurians again, someday... 


Initially, Vincent and the Doctor had me a little concerned. Sure, the opening was cool. The Doctor's whole motivation to go on an adventure is the result of something weird he saw in one of Van Gogh's paintings. That's a great way to start an episode. 

But as the story progresses, it feels very much like we're going to get a run-of-the-mill RTD Historical Celebrity tale. The A Plot feels super weak and tons of time is spent just talking about how great Van Gogh is. I'm feeling a bit exasperated. Victory of the Daleks managed to avoid most of these problems when it used Winston Churchill. Apparently, Moff decided to put a second story in the season where the Doctor meets another famous person from the past and has to have next-to-nothing happen in this one!  

But then we get to that ending. At first, I thought this was another End of Time - Part 2 situation. The main conflict of the story had been resolved rather early in the episode. What were we going to do with the rest of the run-time? Was the Eleventh Doctor going to go around and visit all the people he had met so far in the season and see how they were doing?! Maybe even save the lives of a few characters from a Sontaran who is about to shoot them as they deliver some of the most forced expository dialogue in the history of the show?!   

That's not what we get at all, though. Instead, we get time travel being used in one of the most beautiful of ways. As the Doctor takes Vincent to an art gallery in the future, the choice to employ a conventional pop song rather than let Murray Gold score things is brilliant. It gets the moment to stand out all-the-more. Which, in turn, gets our emotional floodgates to open all-the-wider. The various cuts that reveal Vincent's reaction to what the curator is saying about him are pitch-perfect. Tony Curran does an incredible job of playing a man wrestling with the demons of mental illness who is being given too much to take in. But, even in his emotional breakdown, he still recognizes that he's just received the most incredible of gifts. Matt Smith does an equally-excellent job of suddenly realizing he may have done more bad than good by taking him on this trip. As Van Gogh re-assures him that he has accomplished something wonderful, it's impossible for us to not turn into a giant mess of emotions, ourselves. It's the sort of sentimentalism that RTD frequently went for in his era but rarely achieved. Because he, basically, leaned in too hard to the feelings of the scene and gave us something dreadfully sappy rather than genuinely touching. 

It's a moment like this that convinces me the show is in much better hands with Moff in control of things. I really do forget that a good chunk of the episode is actually a bit weak. This sequence really does pluck masterfully at my heartstrings and causes me not to care about any of the flaws Vincent and the Doctor may have had. In fact, if you don't like this story, than it makes me wonder what's wrong with your soul. 

After showing us how well he can reduce us to tears, Moff displays an equal level of competency with comedy. The Lodger is a fun little romp that has just enough of a plot. But it is still, mainly, about giving us a nice laugh before the season finale. It's light. It's fun. And it's got just the right level of charm to make us want to see Craig again a year or so later!   

James Crowden is clearly a gigantic asset to this tale. His comedic timing and delivery turns a fairly sedate storyline into something really engaging. He's just so damned fun to watch. The other plot threads are just-about substantial enough to create a decent episode. But it's really all about Craig's various shenanigans that hold the whole adventure together. We're particularly invested in seeing him finally get Sophie. 

Matt Smith, however, should also get a lot of credit. He is equally-enjoyable to watch as Eleven is trying to figure out "how to be a normal bloke". For the most part, he fails miserably. And much comedy is drawn from this, too! 

Essentially, this story is depending massively on the talent of its two leads. Both deliver incredibly well. 

In many ways, this is another great example of Moff taking what RTD was doing and giving it just the right tweak to get it to finally work properly. Craig and Sophie never quite being able to express their true feelings to each other is definitely the sort of stuff you get in soap opera writing. But, because the emphasis feels strong enough on the sci fi elements, the more "soapish" aspects of the tale don't cripple the narrative. In fact, they enhance it. It's all in the way the content is arranged and delivered. This story does have a bit of an RTD vibe to it. But, because it's being handled with Moff's sensibilities, it really works well. 


At last, we reach the season finale. A conclusion that has built up quite nicely because of how the arc was constructed all along the way. We're especially intrigued about these Cracks after discovering that a fragment of the TARDIS' exterior was floating around inside one of them. Again, so much better than just mentioning Bad Wolf now and again (or, even more bizarrely, having a character flash back to it being said in a scene when she was not actually around to hear it!).

I quite like how Moff plays: "Let's see just how long we can make the pre-titles last!" It's a very nice sequence that gives us a fun little season re-cap without dwelling on it too long. The final reveal of the painting has a similar impact to the Police Box fragment at the end of Cold Blood. But even bigger, of course. 

When it comes to Pandorica Opens, one of my own best arguments can be used against me. During my Reviews of 80s Who, I would frequently point out that many of the problems fans had with this decade of the show existed just as strongly in the "Golden Age" of the 70s. But, in discussions of that period, they never get mentioned. Because, of course, 70s Who is somehow meant to be absolutely flawless and perfect. 

"If you're complaining about it in the 80s," I would quip, "you've got to be equally-unhappy with it in the 70s"

A similar point could be made about the penultimate episodes of the last two seasons. Both have a pretty simple main plot. The Doctor is trying to get into the Medusa Cascade in one tale and he's attempting to open the Box of Pandorica in the other. That's the whole episode. Nothing more. Both do a bit of a "tribute" to the Head Writer as various characters that they've created all come back for a bit. Both deal with the destruction of the Universe. 

I hated on Stolen Earth pretty badly in my last Review. So it stands to reason that I should despise Pandorica Opens just as much. 

Except, of course, that the similarities between the two tales are largely superficial. The plot to Pandorica, for instance, seems light for a while. But as certain subplots build, we learn that the main story was far more complicated than we first realized. The Doctor's simple quest to open the Box of Pandorica turns out to be a giant trap hatched by his greatest foes. Which leads us to one Hell of a big cliffhanger where the Universe does actually blow up. As opposed to Stolen Earth where he prevents the destruction of the Universe. Even though certain things in the season couldn't have happened unless the catastrophe actually occurred (and then the author uses a nonsensical pseudoscience term like "dimensional retro-closure" to explain away the inconsistency!) . 

There are many other differences that I could point out about the two stories but I'll just move on. I will, however, add that this does seem like one more of those instances where Moff gets right what RTD failed at. 

The Big Bang is an absolute delight. One of those episodes that completely draws you in and is near-impossible not to watch in just one sitting. It moves at a wonderfully breakneck pace and has some absolutely iconic moments. I love when River Song confronts the Dalek that she thinks has just killed the Doctor. The image of Eleven bouncing about through Time in a fez and a mop is utterly hilarious. Texting "Geronimo!" just before he plunges the Pandorica into his exploding TARDIS is utterly classic! There's just so much to love, here. This is how you wrap up a season!    

Moff does a masterful job of putting everything into the plot that the Doctor will need to re-boot the Universe. This isn't a "hexachromite in the storage room" scenario, however. It's all placed quite cleverly so that we only figure out the full usefulness of the things around him as the Doctor does. Once more, the Time Lord's resourcefulness saves the day. Which is how a good Doctor Who story works. Its protagonist takes what's readily available and uses it in a helpful way. 

There is one controversial aspect to the episode that some fans complain about that is actually a bit valid (Rob agreeing with a fan complaint?! Who's really writing this?!). The Doctor going back in time to get himself out of the Pandorica is a substantially-large cheat. It, pretty much, invalidates any time the Doctor gets incarcerated. He can just use a bootstrap paradox to get himself out! 

While I do see the point of this objection, I still don't find myself particularly bothered by it. All the timey-whimey stuff in the second half of the story is great fun to watch. So much so, that I can overlook the cop-out. Maybe that makes me a bit of a hypocrite. I do wonder if I'd been so forgiving if RTD had written the episode. Whatever the case, it doesn't really bother me. In fact, I kinda enjoy it. 

One of the vital ingredients of New Who is a big, spectacular season finale. This has been known to work to its detriment. Sometimes, all the arc-building that the Head Writer implements in a season just doesn't get the right kind of pay-off. I actually quite like the fact that Season Eleven doesn't really try to achieve anything like this. We just find out what Tim Shaw has been up to. I actually wish we got more seasons like this in the New Series. 

Having said all that, however, I will say that Series Five probably has the most satisfactory season finale in the whole history of the show. The events leading up to it are all well-constructed. And the ultimate resolution to the mystery of the Cracks in Time is highly satisfactory. This is a great little two-parter that finishes up the year beautifully. 


Up until now, Christmas Specials on the show had been largely underwhelming. On some occasions, we got something passable like The Christmas Invasion. More often, though, a holiday special was something truly awful like The Next Doctor. This is yet one more thing that Moff fixes. For the most part, he raises the bar with festive episodes. 

And he's off to a great start with A Christmas Carol. Eleven was already quite fun and zany throughout the season but he seems to go into overdrive, here. He is utterly hilarious as he jumps around like a fool on Young Kazran's bed. I love how he keeps removing inconvenient characters by getting them to win a lottery that doesn't exist!    

Michael Gambon also deserves huge accolades for his work. Especially when you consider that I dislike Harry Potter so much that I, generally, can't stand seeing actors associated with the franchise in other things (although, admittedly, Radcliffe was brilliant as Weird Al Yankovich!). I am so impressed with the performance Gambon gives as the Doctor starts altering his character's memories. It's such an abstract concept that he brings to life magnificently. We literally watch him getting a soul. Whilst, at the same time, being completely bewildered by what's happening to him. He really does have some amazing chops. Too bad he's in Harry Potter! 

A Christmas Carol is another great example of Doctor Who giving us something truly touching that doesn't have to get shmaltzy or oversentimental. It tugs at the heartstrings - but doesn't tug too hard! 

It's my all-time favorite Christmas Special. 

Thus far, at least. 


How different things look as Moff's first year in the Head Writer's Seat comes to an end. Series Four gave us the worst season finale and Christmas Special. We get a full reversal this year. 

As I've said before, I don't want to bash RTD too hard. He was blazing a trail in those early days and there were bound to be missteps. But Moff was wise enough to learn from the successes and mistakes of his predecessor. I also think it was very smart on his behalf to take more of a Graham Williams Approach as he steps into power. He doesn't re-invent the show too much and maintains a pretty similar pattern to what RTD initially laid down. This makes it much easier for the audience to accept all the changes that are going on. As the show progresses, he'll remake things more and more in his own image. But he's easing us into the transition. 

I'm also much happier with Eleven's character. I still remember that fateful moment in Beast Below when the Doctor starts telling Amy about how he's the last of the Time Lords. As the scene plays out, I'm thinking to myself: "Get Ready! Here comes the angst!" But, as the sad old Time Lord finishes his tale, I'm remarking to myself: "Well, he reigned that in quite nicely!

The Doctor is back to being a generally fun-loving character who is much more interested in sciency stuff than he is in chasing skirts. While there are many similarities between Ten and Eleven's personalities, the fundamental differences make this new incarnation far more appealing. This Madman in a Box will, in fact, be my favorite New Who Doctor until Thirteen comes along.     

Along with Moff's writing, these two do seem like an unbeatable combination. We'll have to see for sure as new seasons come out. 

But things definitely look promising....





Monday 16 October 2023


Let me just lead this by simply saying that Series Four is a very mixed bag. It starts out quite strongly  but then dips a bit. Then climbs back up. Then absolutely plummets. 

By no means do I consider it an absolute flop like Series Two was. There are some definite high points to the fourth season of New Who. Whereas, aside from Girl in the Fireplace, there's little I can genuinely like about Series Two. Four, at least, has several episodes that I have a lot of respect for. I'd estimate that I enjoy about half the season. 

Which means, of course, that I consider the other half of Series Four to be poor in quality. Which is not the sort of impact a show wants to have on its audience. In an ideal world, everything that goes out is loved by everyone. But if even 80% of a season's content is well-appreciated, you can probably still say it was a successful run. Much below that, however, and we have to start passing harsher judgement. 

With only half the season seeming all that good, I think I have to make the very vicious statement that Series Four, in general, is low in quality. It doesn't quite make it into the ranks of Seasons Seventeen or Twenty-Four. Or, as I already said, Series Two. But it's not that far above them, either!  

SPECIAL NOTE ("SPECIAL"! SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!): I will be handling the Series Four Specials in much the same fashion as I did Time Crash and Voyage of the Damned in my last Review. Basically, they will get their own section at the end of the entry. 


Partners in Crime is a very pleasant surprise. Clearly, it's meant to be a more humorous episode. Comedy doesn't tend to play out too well in the RTD Era. We either get something like Love and Monsters which tries too hard for the laughs and just comes across as overly silly. Or it does like The Runaway Bride and actually fails to be all that really funny at all (but, boy, can it play farty trumpet music in the background!). 

But the comedy in Partners is pitched just right. There's a proper measure of it that doesn't go too far and the jokes are legitimately funny. Donna and the Doctor always missing each other for a good chunk of the episode is quite cute. It's utterly hilarious when they do finally meet through their respective windows. I also like that, like Smith and Jones, this is a Contemporary Earth story that isn't just another straight invasion attempt. Once more, humanity is caught in the middle of something bigger that's going on in intergalactic politics. The well-executed comedy and interesting core premise make it a solid start for the season. I even like the fact that Murray Gold gives us some fun background music that doesn't have to depend on farty-sounding trumpet music too much! 

Fires of Pompeii tends to receive a lot of respect. And it totally deserves it. The plot is extremely clever. The moment where the Doctor realizes he has to unleash one of the hugest disasters in history to save us from an alien invasion is absolutely brilliant (and also quite brutal!). The whole lead-up to this Revelation is magnificently-constructed. As are the events that transpire afterwards. The whole episode is beautiful from beginning to end. This is how you write a great Doctor Who story that only has 46 minutes to be told in. 

Donna does a lot to establish herself as a strong companion in this story. Her constant appeals to the Doctor to try to evacuate the city shows us this beautiful determination that makes her very endearing. When she reaches that fateful moment with him, though, where he has to activate the volcano, we admire the courage she shows as she instantly chooses to share the responsibility with him.. All the strength of character that she has throughout the story makes it totally believable when she is able to persuade the Doctor to save just one family from the disaster. Donna really shines, here. I can totally understand why fandom adores her so much. 

On top of all that, Pompeii does a great job of featuring actors who have much bigger roles to play in the future! I'm even quite impressed with how diverse they are. The characters they play here don't resemble their future parts at all! 

And then there's Planet of the Ood. I always felt this one deserves more love from the fans than it gets. The Ood were one of the few things I found all that interesting in The Long Boring Satan Debacle from Series Two. It was nice to actually see their backstory. Like the Judoon, they're another interesting species that have deserved the various appearances they receive throughout New Who. Although, I do get the impression that we're only seeing them return, sometimes, because Production wanted a scene with a lot of aliens in it and there's always a few Ood costumes lying around in Wardrobe! Still, they're fascinating creatures and I love the way their whole civilization is structured. It was some very imaginative world-building on the part of the author .  

I do like it when Humanity turns out to be the Bad Guy. As they do, here. It makes total sense. We have a long history of being really big jerks to each other so it stands to reason that, when we go out into space, we're going to keep being jerks. It's just one more factor that gets me to prefer Doctor Who over Star Trek. Trek makes us seem like we're just going to become this absolutely perfect utopia in the future. And I find that hard to believe. 

In the end, I absolutely love Planet of the Ood. Another excellently-constructed story that I just might do an Unsung Classic entry about, someday. 

Finally, we get to The Sontaran Stratagem. The first episode of The Great Return of the Potato Heads actually does really well. The right balance is struck between the military buffoonery of the Sontarans and making them seem legitimately vicious. I even like that they have a war chant, now. Kevin Lindsay did a great job of bringing this particular monster to life in the first few Sontaran tales That portrayal is being honored whilst, at the same time, interesting new things are being added to it.  

The Doctor being able to outwit the Atmos device is about the only thing that doesn't sit that well with me in this episode. Theoretically, it works. But it's one of those things that you can't help but think that the device would have some sort of in-built defense against. A subroutine in it's programming that, basically, says: "If someone is telling you to go in the direction you've been programmed to go in, just keep going..." Or something to that effect! 

Otherwise, though, this episode looks really great. I'm not just happy with how the Sontarans are represented, the plot also seems quite interesting. I love when baddies form secret alliances with treacherous humans. You just know good 'ole Luke Rattigan will get a knife in his back once he's served his purpose. And you can't wait to see it! As we get that great shot of a Sontaran flying around in the traditional geodesic-dome-shaped spaceship, I'm excited to see what will come next. 

What a disappoint I will have!   


You thought I was just going to go through the season chronologically story-to-story, didn't you? Just goes to show: I'm full of surprises! 

There's a series of painfully mediocre or even awful episodes that we will skip, for now. I want to cover all the positives in one lump. Then we will go back and discuss the not-so-good or even genuinely crappy stuff. 

Midnight is, without a doubt, absolutely brilliant. I love it when Doctor Who does this sort of thing. I'm so happy that, even in its new form, it continues to produce weird, experimental material like this. We need to be reminded, from time-to-time, that television is a genuine art form and not just something that works to a formula that's designed to keep us entertained. Producing an episode like Midnight does exactly that. 

Aside from the intro and outro and a brief scene in the cockpit of the Crusader, everything takes place on just one set. Which makes this more of a play than a TV episode. Just to make it feel even more cultural, however, many fans like to compare this story to the works of Franz Kafka. In a time when Doctor Who seemed to be drawing far too much from Pop Culture, it was nice to see it suddenly taking on a much more Classical tone. This is, in fact, another thing I really appreciate about the show. I love that it's not afraid to draw from something older and more high-browed. Even something as awful as Horns of Nimon redeems itself slightly by being based on an old Greek myth! 

The pacing of Midnight is absolutely gorgeous. We are given a set of characters that all seem very likeable in many ways. They have their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but that's part of what draws us to them. We spend several minutes watching them form a bond but none of it feels the slightest bit like padding. It's important character development that is genuinely interesting to watch. There's not a line of dialogue that feels useless, here. Even little details like the son mouthing the words of his father as he says: "The pool is abstract" is absolutely perfect. It shows just how cynical he's become with his parents. All of this is written and played to perfection. 

And then, of course, things start taking a darker turn. Slowly but surely, tensions builds as events on the Crusader become more and more sinister. A mob mentality grows strong and the Doctor, for once, seems incapable of stemming it. All of this is executed to absolute perfection. So that, even though it's all restricted to one location, we are totally captivated by what we're watching. This is some truly outstanding stuff. I'm delighted that the season suddenly went in such an unusual direction. 

During the Tennant Era, RTD has been, for the most part, putting in some fairly solid contributions. But this is the first time since Series One that I've really felt like he's written something truly remarkable. It's nice to see that he can still produce great material. He just has to be willing to take some risks and try something different     

I should probably not like Turn Left as much as I do. It's part of another boring, repetitious pattern that RTD brings into his era. The "We have to re-cap everything that's happened on modern-day Earth in the last two years" trope. He did it first in Love and Monsters and he's brought it back, here. 

Oddly enough, though, I really love Turn Left. Midnight, of course, is still the better story. But this one is quite good, too. If it's done well, I can really enjoy an "alternative timeline" story. A lifetime ago, I collected comic books for a while. Marvel's What If? series was one of my favorites! 

There are two things that Turn Left does that sets it apart from the average tale of this nature. Firstly, it does a very good job of making a historical allusion that shows Britain is turning into a fascist state. It's absolutely heartbreaking when Wilf proclaims: "It's happening again." as the Italian family is hauled off to "a labor camp". Secondly, it has a damned clever ending. Donna's sacrifice to restore our reality is quite touching. I especially love how we see the truck that would have hit her driving past her and her mom in the pre-titles. In this universe, the driver of the truck doesn't have to deal with the guilt of accidentally running someone over!    

After having endured a run of episodes in the mid-section of the season that I wasn't too thrilled about, I'm thankful for these two episodes. Both seem to be holding to a very high standard. My faith that Series Four will turn out all right has been renewed. I'm hopeful, again. 

Sadly, all those hopes are about to be dashed against the rocks. 


And with the Good Stuff now out of the way, let's jump all the way back to the fifth episode and talk about the first phase of Things That Went Wrong. 

After a promising first episode, The Great Sontaran Debacle goes to absolute crap! There are a lot of problems with Poison Sky. Enough to make it a singularly bad episode. 

The actor playing Luke Rattigan goes just a little OTT in Sontaran Stratagem. But, overall, his performance works. In the second half of the adventure, however, he definitely wanders off into Professor Zaroff Land. His various hissy fits and mental breakdowns are way too exaggerated and become quite unbearable to watch. How Rattigan is used in the final few minutes is quite clever.  But, for most of the episode, he's largely annoying. 

The Doctor setting the sky on fire to save the world seems just a bit ludicrous. Especially since it seems like absolutely no one is harmed from it. The flames seem to erupt a safe distance away from everything. Even The Valiant has placed itself conveniently. And it's only the clone feed that gets burnt. The fire doesn't continue consuming our atmosphere once it's eaten the gas. It's just a bit too neat of a solution for what seems like a very chaotic and uncontrollable course of action. 

I'm not sure what other kind of plot could have been devised, but turning Earth into a clone planet for the Sontarans doesn't really work well. I would even say that there's a bit of an Android Invasion vibe going on, here. A super-contrived way of polluting our atmosphere is put into place over what probably took an endless amount of time and effort (installing ATMOS into 4 million cars certainly didn't happen overnight!). Couldn't the Sontaran Battle Cruiser just release the gas into our atmosphere like it was crop-dusting? Or it could have dropped a couple of super-intense gas bombs onto the surface and exploded them. Or something like that. These all seem like something the Sontarans are far more likely to do than the long, tedious gesture of covertly creating a company that turns a bunch of our vehicles into gas emitters. 

Speaking of the way the Sontarans are portrayed, I do like how they were presented in the first half of the story but they tend to get them totally wrong in Part Two. I've already pointed out how their actual plans to make the Earth a clone planet doesn't really suit their usual methodology. But there's other stuff, too. 

In an effort to make the Sontarans look as numerous as possible, there are several shots of extras being packed into too tight of a space. This causes them to seem much more stiff and clunky than they usually are. Sontarans in Classic Who could often be quite nimble. Even agile. Their movements in this episode make them seem more like they're just another version of Cybermen. 

And then there's the fact that bullets can kill them. Sontarans always struck me as being far more invulnerable than that. They're wearing a sort of space armor. Shouldn't that, at least, be as effective as Kevlar? I would even assume that the Sontaran constitution, in general, could withstand bullets. Sure, Jamie's knife hurts a Sontaran's leg during The Two Doctors. But the wound seems to heal up shortly thereafter. To me, bullets would work in a similar fashion. Perhaps if you really pump a Sontaran full of lead, he'll go down. But several of them die from just one shot. 

These various problems bog the story down far too much. Poison Sky is legitimately bad. I do feel sorry for Helen Raynor. I still think she could have done some great stuff if RTD had not thrown her into the ocean without a lifejacket (twice)!    

Up Next is The Doctor's Daughter. A better story than Poison Sky. But only so much. 

It's one of those adventures that tends to zig when it should have zagged. It tries to have several contemplative moments but they all seem to happen in the wrong place. Alternatively, the action sequences don't seem to be in the proper spot, either. It's like the writer is almost counter-intuitive. Arranging the plot elements in the exact opposite way that they should be.

Also, a lot of the debates during those moments of reflection are quite flimsy. Is Jenny really the Doctor's daughter? Well, no. She's a sort of weird clone that was foisted upon him. Is she an independent being? Not really. She's had a lot of pre-programming that she has the potential to break free of. Is the Doctor the warrior that Jenny is claiming him to be? He's more like a guy who's just phoning Martha to make sure she's okay! All these great questions can be answered quite easily in a sentence or two. But they really love to dive into some lively debate using points that don't really hold much water. 

Oddly enough, I find the Hath to be a bit too campy for my liking (and this is coming from a guy who was okay with farting Slitheen!). Yes, they talk through blowing bubbles - but shouldn't the TARDIS translator still be able to do something about that? And I still can't figure out why a species that doesn't need to breathe air should be all that bothered by quicksand! Yes, we hear the glass that holds the liquid they breathe shatter. And maybe they need that liquid to stay alive. But I'm not sure why it suddenly shatters so easily. That same Hath was too close to an explosion earlier in the story that dislocated his shoulder. Surely, the glass should have shattered then. If the quicksand is dense enough to break blast-resistant glass, it probably would have done some serious harm to Martha. But she climbs out of it without a scratch .

The final few minutes of the story don't make much sense. How the TARDIS is diverted to Messaline is not that well-explained. I'm still not sure how Jenny creates an "endless paradox". Jenny's sudden resurrection is just as irrational. Did being part-Time Lord save her, after all? Or did it have something to do with the planet's terraforming? Can't say for sure since no explanation is offered in the slightest. 

I still wouldn't call The Doctor's Daughter a complete failure. It's passable. But barely passable. 

The Unicorn and the Wasp contains a couple of RTD-Era tropes that I'm getting really tired of. 

Firstly, we get our latest "Historical Celebrity" storyline. Where someone famous from our civilization's past is, somehow, woven into the plot and made an integral part of it. Sometimes, this is done in a clever way. Like how the Carrionites needed Shakespeare's deftness with words to liberate them. Other times, it's done quite clumsily. Like having a giant alien wasp suddenly become influenced by the works of Agatha Christie and then she just happens to show up at a party he's at a week later. 

We also get another one of those stories where the subplot seems to be getting more attention than the main one. Unfortunately, the only thing going on in the subplot is telling Agatha Christie every few minutes how brilliant she is. So, basically, both plots are fairly insubstantial. Which results, of course, in a tale of little or no consequence. It doesn't even really do the best job of explaining how exactly Christie disappeared for ten days. Which seemed to be one of its main points. 

The climax of the whole adventure also came across as somewhat silly. A chase scene in vintage cars that can barely go faster than 2 km/hr is hardly a thrilling visual. And a giant sentient Wasp lacking the common sense to not plunge into the water seems like a pretty weak way to end the whole conflict. 

Having lodged all those complaints, I will add that Unicorn and Wasp does have some fun moments. Like the story before it, I wouldn't call it an absolute dud. But it barely qualifies as being legitimately good, either. 

Both Daughter and Wasp also do this exceptionally bizarre thing. Each story has a subplot that seems completely arbitrary. Like that Poacher in Pyramids of Mars who's really just there to help pad out the run-time. 

Discovering that the war between humans and Hath has only been going on for a matter of days has no real relevance to anything else in the story. It just gave Donna something to do while they ran around in tunnels for a bit. 

Even sillier, though, is the actual inclusion of the Unicorn in Unicorn and Wasp. Admittedly, she's a fun little twist. But, otherwise, she serves no real purpose to the plot. The pendant that she steals could've very easily been introduced into the plot without her. In fact, it seems a bit silly that she surrenders it so easily once she's been called out. So, if anything, she works to the detriment of the story rather than its benefit. As it features a thief who doesn't really seem all that convincing. 

After a very promising start of four really solid episodes, the next three totally remove the wind from my sails. I really thought we were getting another Series Three. Perhaps even something better. But I'm rapidly losing my enthusiasm for this season. The mistakes of Series Two are returning to haunt us. 


Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead sits in an odd place for me. This, as far as I'm concerned, is the first time Moffat misses the mark. Not by much, mind you. There's still some stuff that he does really well in here. River Song is particularly fascinating as a character. Given how Doctor Who works, we can't be sure we'll ever see her again. But I'm glad that we do. Alex Kingston was also a brilliant casting choice. She plays the role perfectly. 

Certain plot elements concerning the Library are well-conceived. I think the whole story behind CAL and Doctor Moon is quite brilliant. How everyone was "saved" was another great idea that shows off just how great of a grasp Moff has on wordplay. I also love how the Doctor gets the Vashta Nerada to stand down by just being really menacing. It's an ultra-cool moment. 

But there are problems with this story, too. In some ways, they might seem minor. But they're enough to get under my skin. 

Last season, I thoroughly enjoyed how Moffat took something common like angel statues and made us terrified of them. It was, very much, in keeping with what Classic Who liked to do. But with all the paint-by-numbers writing that's been going on in this era, I really didn't like how he repeated himself so quickly by now trying to make us afraid of the dark. Thus far, he had shown himself to be very diverse in his scripts. We would, eventually, see him sometimes going back to the Well with creatures that had some similarities to each other. Like the Weeping Angels, the Silence and the Monks. But, if we're not seeing the repetition too frequently, I'm fine with that. Authors will sometimes re-package an idea they've used before. Even the Great Robert Holmes did that from time-to-time. It's about how often they do it that determines how truly unoriginal they are. Two stories in a row by Steven Moffat that use the same sort of horror device felt a bit stale. Particularly in a season where everything feels like it's being re-used over and over!

My other big objection is almost a bit obscure. Silence/Forest feels like a desperate attempt to re-create Human Nature/Family of Blood. The similarities between the two are, oftentimes, quite subtle. But some are more obvious. The last few minutes of the story having voice-over is probably the most blatant example. There's not really anywhere else in the show where such a device was being used except in the second two-parter from Serie Three. It does genuinely feel like they're trying to re-do the ending to Nature/Blood when they employ a voice-over again

Intentionally trying to get lightning to strike twice always comes across as awkward. Which becomes a genuine tone for the whole story as I watch it. Moff's two-parter should have been doing its own thing rather than trying to have the same sort of vibe Paul Cornell had generated the season previously. 

Again, I will admit: my objections may seem a bit trite. But, somehow, they're big enough to give me a certain degree of disdain for this story. It's still very good in many ways. It's not that I hate it. But I do feel that it's substantially weaker than anything else Moffat has created, thus far. After three episodes that were difficult to sit through, Moff not delivering as well as he usually does adds to the dislike I'm feeling for this season. 


"Sadly, all those hopes are about to be dashed against the rocks" was something I said earlier in this entry. But, because I want to be all cool and artsy and take a non-linear approach to the Review, you probably forgot that I wrote that. 

At last, we've reached the point in the season that I'm referring to in that statement. 

I don't think there will ever be a worse season finale than the end of Series Four. To me, it's just a gigantic mess. Only to be followed a short while later by a series of Specials that are an equally-large gigantic mess. Basically, aside from Waters of Mars, it's all downhill from here... 

There's been this weird comparison that fans have been making over the last few years. They like to see Stolen Earth as Doctor Who's version of the MCU Movie: The Infinity War. I, however, see one huge difference between the two. Infinity War tells a compelling story that is affecting the lives of a vast array of characters. The plot of the story moves along by touching base regularly with all of these different beings who are making a concerted effort at trying to stop Thanos from completing his Quest. Stolen Earth, on the other hand, is a story that has little or no plot. The Daleks are invading Earth again. A silly contrivance that was the "catchphrase of the year" is stopping the Doctor from getting there to help. In order to pad out the episode, we spend endless minutes watching the reactions of various characters as they discover the Daleks are attacking their planet. 

We do get to meet the Shadow Proclamation. That's a bit cool. Also, Harriet Jones makes a surprise return appearance. But it's still just a bunch of stalling. All that's really going on is that the Daleks are invading the Earth and the Doctor can't get in to the Medusa Cascade to help. That's, more-or-less, the whole 46-minute episode. Anything else they've thrown in is mere window-dressing 

I get it, of course. RTD is trying to celebrate his era by bringing back some of his most beloved characters. But I really think this level of commemoration after only four years of showrunning is a little unwarranted. Also, it seems a whole lot less vain to have others pay tribute to you rather than do it yourself! 

For me, Stolen Earth just doesn't work. 

The regeneration cliffhanger creates a strange reaction in me. I'm of two minds about it. One side of me thinks it was an interesting and even creative device. Particularly with the way it used the Doctor's spare hand that's been sitting around since the end of Series Three. 

Another side of me thinks it was a really stupid way to use up a regeneration. It might have almost been better if Tennant had just turned into Matt Smith right there and he had taken over for the second half of the story. Coming up with some really goofy pseudoscience explanation just so Ten could keep the same face after a regeneration seemed really over-contrived. 

Journey's End doesn't do much better than its predecessor. It still uses the extended cast to pad things out a bit. I am glad that several groups are starting to come together, at least, so that less of this "filling time by checking in regularly with a large cast" nonsense is happening. 

Most of these gangs are enabling various plot strands that will help the humans to defeat the Daleks. But then all those big plans are nipped in the bud by the Daleks doing one quick teleport. As this occurs, we can't help but see those subplots for what they really are: yet more padding. Even in the 2000s we're  getting Doctor Who stories where there's barely enough material to fill up half the run-time. I had a hard enough time sitting through stories like this that were made way back in the 70s. This shouldn't still be happening. 

Davros is back. That's kinda cool. But he does that thing I complained about way back in my Series One Review when I was talking about Boomtown. A character who's clearly morally depraved can't run around trying to judge the Doctor. It just looks stupid. Especially the way Tennant seems to take it so quietly. Just bowing his head in shame at Davros' accusations. One would think he would actually be laughing at him. 

"I make people into weapons?!" he should be saying with a sneer, "There's the pot calling the kettle black!

As if there weren't enough problems with this two-parter, the story then goes and does one of the most absolutely ridiculous and cringy things in the whole history of the show: The TARDIS tugs the Earth back to it's proper place in the cosmos. The cutaway shots to various supporting characters clinging to things in their livingrooms while papers and props get thrown at them by off-camera technical staff are just downright silly. Are we really meant to believe these people are going for the ride of their lives as their planet hurtles across the Universe?! It's just so awful! 

Is it just me or does the actual Ultimate Plan of the Daleks not actually make a whole lot of sense? I mean, I can - sort of - understand it. The Daleks hate all other races and might wish to wipe them out. But you'd think they'd still want a few lesser species around to conquer and enslave. Even if they did want to wipe out all other life, the Reality Bomb destroys everything in all of time and space. Wouldn't the Daleks still want the stars and planets around to draw resources from? Is their empire completely self-sufficient? They can just tick away eternity without need of any supplemental energy? Probably not! In the end, what the whole story's about seems a tad illogical. Like RTD didn't think things through too hard but just wanted his last Season Finale to be as big a threat as possible. 

Are there any redeeming qualities to any of this? There are some elements that I felt worked quite well. The insane Dalek Caan was quite fun. The meta-crisis Doctor was also a bit cool .I enjoyed most of what they ended up doing with Donna. Getting her memory erased was quite gutting to watch. But this was also another of those "false prophecies of a companion dying" scenarios that RTD keeps creating. This really mars the quality of Donna's departure. The Head Writer should have either not tried to trick us again by leading us to believe that she was going to perish or he should have just killed her. Repeating with her what he did with Rose was just annoying. 

Still, I wouldn't call Stolen Earth/Journey's End completely awful. There's enough in there that I enjoyed. It's not one of those tales that's so bad that I just want to pretend it never happened (WARNING: We are about to get one of those stories!). But I wouldn't call it all that good, either. It tried to be so grandiose and epic but just ended up coming across as poorly-constructed and ill-conceived. 


The dust of Series Four is settling. Moffat and Smith are waiting in the wings. I, for one, would just like them to step in and take over as quickly as possible. But Tennant remains at the helm of the TARDIS at the conclusion of Journey's End. We still have to sit through five Specials before we can truly move on from this era. 

From a purely structural standpoint, the Specials are shooting the whole Tenth Doctor Era in the foot. While I didn't enjoy the finale to Series Four, it was clearly supposed to be the ultimate climax of the whole period. What everything was meant to be leading up to. This really should have been where Ten took his bow and left the show. 

Instead, we now have to watch a set of Specials that will try, once more, to reach some sort of zenith and then write this latest incarnation out. It's not the best method to build an arc. In fact, I'd call it a very awkward way to finish off the tenth Doctor's reign. 

It doesn't help that the whole run begins with The Next Doctor. This is, without a doubt, the worst story in the New Series. It's just so bad. 

Once more, RTD is using Tabloid Headline Tactics to lure us in. "Oh my God!" we're meant to think, "Could this be a Doctor from the future?! I've got to tune in and find out!

Except that, by this point, RTD has cried wolf way too often. He tried to make us believe Rose was going to die. She didn't. Then he did the same with Donna. And she also lived. Clearly, this "next Doctor" is going to be anything but a future incarnation of our beloved Time Lord. 

And, of course, he's not. The reason that he does think he is the Doctor is super-contrived. Those info-stamps also seem ridiculously convenient. A quick and easy way to take out a Cyberman. And it's a good thing the Cybermen left their transport equipment in such an easy place for the Doctor to take it. You'd think the one thing that could send the evil cyborgs back home would be moved to a more defendable place. Or, at least, placed under a heavier guard. But it isn't. Thank goodness for that!  

This is also yet another classic case of the B Plot being given stronger emphasis than the A. The whole nonsense with the Cybermen feels almost grafted on to the narrative. The real focus is on whether or not David Morrissey will be playing the Doctor in Series Five. Which he won't, of course .And the fact that the whole adventure is hanging its hat on this premise makes it become largely uninteresting once we've learnt the truth of things. Especially since the Cybermen have received so little genuine attention. 

So much of this tale just feels completely ludicrous. Like the Daleks in the last story, the ultimate plan of the Cybermen seems a bit dumb. Rather than use the invasion methods they've employed countless times before (essentially: go out, grab a few humans, make them into Cybermen...lather, rinse, repeat), they build a huge Dreadnought that they will then use to convert the population of Earth. Which makes little or no tactical sense. People will see that thing from miles away and run for their lives. Not sure how it's going to catch anyone and turn them into Cybermen! 

Yet again, RTD just wants to create a huge spectacle and doesn't really think things through much. "Let's have a giant steampunky robot traipsing through 18th-Century London with Cybermen inside it." he decides,  "That'll be cool!

There's way more I could complain about (you can see a few more potshots that I take here:, but I'll stop. This Review must move on. 

Thanks to The Next Doctor, however, the Specials are off to a horrible start. 

Planet of the Dead is a fairly passable romp. It does what it says on its tin. It gives us something cute and light-hearted before we have to get into the heavy stuff. We've got some fun characters on a dangerous adventure that isn't too terrifying. Overall, it's a good time. 

The last few minutes of the story always bother me, though. Firstly, the timing of it all is quite clumsy. That portal to our planet stays open for quite a bit. The bus makes it through and so do a few alien manatee creatures. But only three. They fly around incessantly with the portal still open as UNIT tries to take them down. In the time that the gateway was still open between worlds, another thousand or so of the manatees should have slipped through. They were right behind the bus as it escaped. But, conveniently enough, we only get three. Did the others get lost?! 

The other thing that really bothers me is how, even in the adventure that's meant to be light, Ten still needs to get angsty. "I travel alone." he tells Lady de Souza with a big serious frown on his face that is meant to show the weight of the Universe on his shoulders. But, instead, just feels a bit cringy. Just once during the Specials, can we get a story where the Doctor doesn't have to let everyone know how much it sucks to be him? 

I guess not... 

Planet of the Dead is, at least, okay. Painfully mediocre, at best. Which is ironic since it's called a "Special". To me, that indicates it should be more exciting than the average episode of Doctor Who. I did feel a bit silly waiting around all that time for a story that wasn't really anything all that great  I, literally, found myself saying: "Is that it?!" as the ending credits rolled up.    

But, at least, it's not terrible like Next Doctor was. 


Waters of Mars is the only true happiness I feel as I sit through the Specials. It's an absolute Classic. 

Just this once, Ten's angst is actually working. It's ripping his hearts apart that he can do nothing to help this group of genuinely engaging characters. We want him to save them as much as he does. We do really like this crew. Which makes his transformation into the Time Lord Victorious that much more believable. We feel a lot of what he's going through as he takes this dark journey. 

As a hardcore fan, I also appreciate that Waters helps to settle one of the greater debates that we indulge in: Why is it that the Doctor can, sometimes, interfere with things and other times he can't? It's something we've been wondering about since Season One. In The Aztecs, he tells Barbara she can't re-write history. But only a handful episodes earlier, he's freeing Marinus from the tyranny of the Voord. How is it that one event must remain untouched while the other seems to get massively altered? 

The answer, of course, is that one is a Fixed Point and the other isn't (well, it's the simpler answer, at least). Thanks to RTD for finally settling this problem. He not only came up with a great concept, but he explained it within the context of a superb story. 

There is an excellent balance, here, between A Plot and B Plot. RTD (along with a little help) is showing that he can get the emphasis right when he puts his mind to it! Both narratives unfold at a gorgeous pace, too. As Fixed Points get explained to us, we also learn what caused the disaster on the Bowie Base. All of this flows quite beautifully. Like Blink, I find that once I start watching this story I can't step away from it. It totally draws me in. 

The Doctor also becomes really scary at the end. There's some serious megalomania going on as he realizes there's nothing anyone can do to stop him from altering a Fixed Point. I really loved seeing the character go in this direction and wish we'd gotten more of it. 

I would also note that this is probably Tennant at his best. He pitches everything perfectly, here. Even the angstiness as he's stuck in the airlock is not getting under my skin. And when he does lose his mind for a bit, his arrogance and fury are awesome to behold. 

Waters of Mars makes all the other Specials worth it. I put up with them just because I know there's this beautiful treat is sitting at the center of it all. 


At last, we reach The End of Time. The era is nearly over. This should be a happy thing. Unfortunately, we've still got a good two hours of some fairly bad stuff to endure. 

Before dwelling too hard on the negatives, I'll discuss some of the stuff I like about this story. Getting a decent look at the Time Lords for the first time in New Who was definitely very exciting. All those crashed Dalek saucers around the Citadel was definitely a memorable image. And the hint made about the Doctor and the Moment was quite intriguing. I really enjoyed all the stuff involving the Time Lords. Timothy Dalton was the perfect casting choice for Rassilon.   

The "ultimate showdown" between the Master and Rassilon with the Doctor between them with a big 'ole pistol was also a pretty great moment. Particularly as the Doctor recognizes the mysterious woman who's going to get turned into a Weeping Angel and Flavia's Lament starts to play in the background. It gives me the chills every time.   

But then there's the rest of the tale: A long drawn-out mess with a threadbare plot that's largely uninteresting. If this weren't the Grand Finale for both Tennant and RTD, I doubt anyone would really get into this part of the narrative all that much. The Master getting caught up in a series of unfortunate events while the Doctor keeps trying to catch up with him is all we're really getting for most of the story. I'm not sure why RTD thought this would be the sort of thing we'd want to watch for a few hours. 

We also get one more of the Head Writer's tragic flaws on display before he leaves us. Once again, he's fiercely dedicated to making both episodes last an hour. But, as usual, there's just not enough plot to sustain the run-time. This becomes most obvious in Part One where we have to spend an endless amount of time watching multiple Masters waving to us from all around the world. A handful of shots like this does make sense. We needed it firmly established that everyone in the world really was the Master, now. But, instead, we get another "possessed Sarah Jane walking through a nuclear power plant at the end of Part One of The Hand of Fear" situation. Because Production needs to mark time, the sequence drags on forever. To the point where I really do just want end the episode early and go to Part Two.  

The lack of plot in Part Two is even more formidable. I still remember when I saw this episode for the first time. A friend had actually downloaded it and we were watching it together. Because it was a download, it had that little browser bar thingy at the bottom showing us how much of the episode was done and what was still left. Both of us were a bit befuddled as Ten releases Wilf from the glass chamber. We were like: "This is it. He's gonna go regenerate, now. There should be, maybe, five minutes left to this episode!" But the browser indicated there was waaaayyyy more than that! 

So Ten runs around for a while and we get a condensed version of Stolen Earth. Again, he catches up with the old gang. Even though we saw all this just five episodes ago. Not only did we not need this again so soon, but - even when the show did this the first time - it hardly felt necessary. Why are we already wallowing in nostalgia for something that's only been running for four seasons? Does TV really move this fast, now? Four seasons is now the equivalent of a Twentieth Anniversary?! Or is this, perhaps, a bit of sentimental overkill that is trying mask the fact that there really wasn't enough plot?!   

I'm betting on the latter. 


And so we come to the end. Tennant has stepped out so Smith can take over. RTD is letting Moffat seize the reigns. And I, admittedly, am happier for it. By the time we reach the end of this era, I really do feel as though some major house-cleaning is in order. 

I will extend a certain level of leniency toward Russell T. Davies.  First of all, he did successfully bring back Doctor Who. Because of what happened in '96, we understood that this was a much trickier task than imagined. He needed to get the formula just right. It was a precarious balancing act between staying true to the show's roots and still making it accessible to new viewers. In Series One, he nails this perfectly. Which will go on to guarantee a long life for New Who.

I can also accept that this can be a tough act to continue. Over the next few seasons, the show is really going to need to find its feet. And this will involve some experimentation and even some failure. So I don't want to come down too hard on the guy. He had to forge a whole new path for the show and there were bound to be some mistakes. 

Having said that, however, there were still a certain amount of bad choices that could have been avoided if the Head Writer had, perhaps, been a bit less married to his method. He insisted on keeping angst as a core character attribute to the lead. Which actually ended up making Ten very unattractive. He also thought it appropriate to actually celebrate himself at the end of his era. And, most significantly, he maintained his paint-by-numbers writing style throughout the entire four seasons. This, more than anything, makes this period of the show very difficult for me to re-visit. I'll watch an episode here and there. But getting through an entire season can be quite arduous. 

I don't totally hate RTD's work on the show. Even after Series One, there's quite a bit of stuff there that I can really enjoy. Just like there's a lot of stuff from the Letts and Dicks period of Classic Who that I find genuinely charming. But I also feel that this is another period in the show's history where we do reach a creative low. 

Which means that, when RTD does finally step down as Head Writer, I'm glad to see the back of him.