Doctor Who: World Enough and Time – TV Review

After months of anticipation, fevered fan-speculation and increasingly bombastic promos, the first part of the series 10 finale has finally arrived. And not a moment too soon. Although the current run of episodes started promisingly, it feels like the series has been coasting towards the finish line of late, with a few too many fun-but-fruitless episodes that have done little to advance the larger series’ arc.

That’s not an accusation that can be levelled against World Enough and Time, which boasts a Doctor-Missy team-up, the return of a classic Doctor Who foe and the ’surprise’ resurrection of one of the Time Lord’s greatest enemies in an action-packed plot. And yet, while there’s no denying this is one of the most marvellously audacious episodes of recent memory, it still manages to underwhelm, largely because it blew all of its major plot-twists before the episode even aired.


The opening moments fly by, though. A dramatic foreshadowing of the Capaldi’s upcoming regeneration swiftly swerving into a brisk and breezy sequence where an apparently repentant Missy, with her “disposables” Bill and Nardole in toll, tries to save a ginormous space ship from being sucked into the event horizon of a black hole.

It’s an unexpectedly fun, lighthearted sequence for a series finale, with Michelle Gomez back to her whimsically scathing best as a Doctor-in-training. The scene also boasts some gorgeous CGI work in the realisation of the space ship, which really wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen.

And then, Moffat punches the air out of us by literally blowing a hole through Bill’s chest. In a heart-stopping scene, the Doctor desperately pleas with a trigger-happy crew member who wants to kill Bill before an unseen, human-hunting monster comes to take them all, but he can do nothing to stop the inevitable. Her near-fatal wounding is devastating, exposing the Doctor’s steadily growing recklessness and altering Bill’s relationship with the Time Lord in potentially irrevocable ways.


It’s here that World Enough starts to falter. We all know Moffat is fond of time-wimey plots with multiple, interlocking timelines and his obsession with the device seriously hampers the story this time. Firstly, we’re ripped away from Bill’s horrific attack for a needless flashback to the Doctor and his companion breezily planning Missy’s training exercise. We then spend the rest of the episode cutting between Bill’s time in the ship’s creepy medical wing and Doctor’s rapid attempts to find her.

Moffat at least gives this structure an intriguing twist where, due to the effect of gravity on time, Bill and the Twelve experience time at different speeds, meaning a minute for the Doctor equates to weeks of waiting for Bill. It’s a neat concept, yet it adds almost nothing to the plot other than taking us away from Bill’s harrowing experiences in the grim doldrums of the ship in order to watch Capaldi repeatedly attempt to explain the science behind the time difference to Missy and Nardole.


It’s a shame because when it focuses on Bill’s traumatic period waiting for the Doctor to save her, World Enough really soars. The eerie hospital setting, complete with creepy patients robotically shouting out in pain, is fantastically evocative of The Empty Child and director Rachel Talay takes full advantage, utilising creaking door hinges, shadowy hallways, and jump scares to ramp up the fear factor.

Most chilling of all are the Mondasian Cybermen. Faithfully recreated in every detail, these classic man-bun sporting foes are scary as hell, their ghostly masks and human-looking hands making for an unsettling sight. Moffat has also delved deeper into their macabre conversion method to create something that is both disturbing and tragic – you almost feel sorry for these pitiful-yet-petrifying creatures.


Of course, the Cybermen aren’t the only bad guys in town this week. It’s no secret that John Simm’s maniacal incarnation of the Master is the one who’s really pulling the strings behind the scenes and his big reveal towards the end of the episode is worth the wait. Newly goateed and having ditched the hooded-hobo look from The End of Time, Simm is back to his teasingly machiavellian best, introduced toying with an unsuspecting Missy before gleefully revealing his diabolical plan. It’s a short appearance but it’s one that holds plenty of promise ahead of a fuller outing next week.

The only problem is we see all of this coming.

You don’t need to have obsessively trawled through message boards in search of spoilers to know that the Mondasian Cyberman and the Master feature heavily in this episode – it was right there in last week’s preview trailer. Yet Moffat insists on acting like we have no idea what’s coming, slowly building up to what are intended to be shocking reveals, when in fact we already knew what to expect before the episode even aired.


It leads to a bizarre scenario where we spend the majority of the episode watching Simm parade around disguised as Bill’s kind hearted friend Mr Razor. Simm is mightily impressive in the role, imbuing Razor with warmth, kindness, and slightly off-kilter charm, but it’s all for nothing. Even most absent-minded viewer wouldn’t need long to work out its Simm hiding behind the mountain of prosthetics. Likewise, Bill’s early demise and subsequent transformation into a Cyberman are so clearly signposted that they lose all impact. World Enough feels like a surprise party where you can see feet poking out under the curtain and your nan’s head peaking from behind the sofa.

On the plus side, with Master back in full flow and Bill trapped in the casing of a Cyberman, the stage is set for a spectacular series finale next week. World Enough got so many things right – the pace, the tone, emotional resonance were all marvellously handled. If only it hadn’t all been spoiled by an over-abundance of pre-publicity, it could’ve been one of finest episode of modern Who. Instead, if feels like one massive missed opportunity.


Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light – TV Review

One of the most enjoyable features of Doctor Who’s tenth series has been the old-school vibe brought to many of its episodes – see last week’s 60s-tinged Empress of Mars. It feels fitting, then, that the final standalone adventure of the Capaldi – not to mention Moffat – era should welcome the return of ‘classic’ Who writer Rona Munro, who penned the final episode of the original series. It turns out to be a mixed blessing, however. Though it possesses some intriguing mysteries, breathtaking visuals and a promising monster, The Eaters of Light lacks much of the high stakes energy we’ve come to expect of modern Who and it feels lacklustre as a result.

This week’s reason for the Doctor abandoning his guard of Missy’s vault is the need to settle a history-based spat with Bill. Both have their own theories as to what really happened to the Roman Ninth Legion, who historically disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and so they naturally hop in the TARDIS for a quick trip to second century Scotland to find out who is right. Of course, it’s not long before the time-travelling team find themselves getting involved in the usual interdimensional scrapes. As the Doctor and Nardole find themselves captured by a tribe of hostile Pictish warriors, Bill falls down yet another hole and uncovers a band of surviving Roman soldiers who are hiding from a strange creature that only comes out at night.


On the surface, at least, the Eaters of Light has all the makings of an entertaining Who episode. It’s a fun, light-hearted and slightly-strange adventure, featuring an enticing conundrum that blends folkloric mysticism with a timey-wimey plot device (the story revolves around a set of Cairn stones that encase a temporal rift). There’s also plenty of sweeping landscapes, with director Charles Palmer (Oxygen) making excellent use of real locations as opposed to the creaky set work we suffered through last week. The themes, too, will be strongly strongly evocative for fans: the futility of battle, the power of fear, and the benefits of working together for a greater good.


The only trouble is, the story doesn’t pull you to the edge of your seat and get under your skin in the way it should. As with many episodes this series, the Eaters of Light is more than happy to take its time, allowing the mystery to unfold gradually while it digs deeper into the lives of its main characters. The difference this time is that the characters are not particularly interesting. Bill, the Doctor and Nardole aren’t asked to do much beyond their usual roles – although Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas do get to exchange some superb banter, mostly at the expense of the Highland setting (“It’s Scotland, it’s supposed to be damp!”).


Meanwhile, newcomers Rebecca Benson and Brian Vernel don’t fair much better, with the latter’s Roman solider Lucius only required to pointlessly lust after Bill in another needless reminder of her sexual preference. Benson, in particular, feels like a missed opportunity. Her character Kar, the spirited leader of a Pictish tribe, is put at the centre of an interesting moral quandary, having allowed the monster out of the rift in the hope it would kill the advancing Roman army and save her people. Yet this plot point feels completely underfed because Munro never explores the pressures Kar feels in trying to protect her people or the guilt that is caused by instigating the monster’s mass slaughter.

Apart from a few instances of people poking pointy objects at each other, the episode is also lacking in action to help move the plot along, and it drags as a result. Part of the problem is that the monster is barely a part of the action. A glow in the dark dragon with sentient tentacles, the monster has an impressive, and no doubt expensive, CGI realisation, which perhaps explains its long absences from proceedings. That leaves it feeling somewhat peripheral to the plot, however, and severely diminishes its impact as an enemy to the human race, especially given its motivation seems sketchy at best (apparently it needs to kill all humans so that it can eat stars, or something). Without this basic threat level, there’s a noticeable lack of tension in the plot which is desperately needed to propel proceedings forward.


Overall, the Eaters of Light offers some intriguing concepts, beautiful exteriors and a few fun character exchanges to enjoy, but it suffers due to an undercooked script that would’ve been greatly aided by fleshing out it’s core characters. Instead, it remains a solid but unspectacular episode that will be swiftly forgotten come the first instalment of series 10’s two-part finale next week.

Doctor Who: Empress of Mars – TV Review

With the Earth now safe from a zombified dictator-led alternate reality following last week’s conclusion to the Monks trilogy, series 10 of Doctor Who gets back to basics with a largely standalone adventure, Empress of Mars. Featuring rickety sets, a bizarre story involving Victorian soldiers camped on an alien planet, and the return of a classic foe, there’s a charmingly old-school feeling to Mark Gatiss’ latest (and possibly final) Who tale. Fleeting waves of nostalgia aside, though, Empress of Mars is a fairly uneventful episode that tells us very little that we didn’t already know.

A lively opening sequence sees the Doctor and Bill sneak into a NASA control room at the very moment a team of flummoxed scientists are expecting to receive the first communication from a new space probe orbiting Mars. When the images finally download – evidently BT is yet to roll out 4G to neighbouring planets – they discover the message God Save the Queen spelt out in rocks on the planet’s surface. Naturally, the Doctor, Bill and Nardole (who’s presumably given up on trying to keep Twelve within the vicinity of Missy’s vault) hightail it straight the Mars in 1881, the year the rocky SOS first appeared. Upon their arrival, they find things are not quite as they expected: oxygen is freely available, there’s a roaring camp fire and a squad of Victorian soldiers are using a giant space cannon to blast the Red Planet’s innards in search of precious minerals.


Earlier this week Gatiss described the episode as the kind of thing he’d like to watch on a bank holiday Monday, and there’s certainly something about the Victorians on Mars set-up that feels quintessentially Whovian, almost like it could’ve fallen straight out of the Hartnell or Troughton eras. The retro feel is most definitely felt in the special effects work, which often feels like it was made in the 1960s. Some fancy CGI shots of the Red Planet aside, much of the episode supposedly takes place in a cramped cave below Mars’ north pole, but there’s no escaping the knowing feeling that it’s really just a sound stage in Cardiff. That’s not intended as a criticism of director Wayne Yip, who does an able job with the budget available. A sequence where the Ice Warriors rise up out of the dirt is particularly effective.

Where the dodgy effects work does cause problems, though, is in the design of the Ice Warriors. Cold War wisely took the Jaws approach to making a monster scary in spite of a lacklustre budget, keeping a lone Warrior off screen for as long as possible as he slaughtered the crew of a nuclear submarine from the shadows. Empress of Mars makes the mistake of bringing back the enemy in its full, lumbering glory, and the results are hardly intimidating. Rather than an advanced race of highly skilled invaders, the Warriors look more like someone has slapped a waste paper basket on an extra’s head and told him to walk like he’s got a pole shoved where the sun doesn’t shine. And their new method of offing their enemies, which involves turning their target into a bundle of dirty laundry, looks a lot sillier on screen than Gatiss and Yip probably envisioned.


Even the introduction of the queen of the species, Adele Lynch’s titular Empress Iraxxa, does little to offset the naffness of the story. Lynch brings an entertaining mix of grace and venom to the role, but the opportunity to bring a female perspective to the species is sadly squandered – she’s really just another war-hungry commander who’s more concerned with swinging her military might around than working towards a peaceful resolution.

The crux of the plot sees the Doctor trying to broker peace between the Victorian army, who are seeking to claim Mars in the name of Queen Victoria, and the Ice Warriors, who had been hibernating on the planet for millennia until the meddling Red Coats rudely woke them from their slumber. There’s potential here to explore the Doctor’s split loyalties between the human invaders and the indigenous species. Yet, much like last week’s episode, which rushed a chance to examine Twelve’s darker side, Gatiss only gives this tension surface-level attention in what feels like a largely weightless adventure.


It does, however, give Gatiss a chance to take pot shots at Britain’s empirical past. This largely achieved through Ferdinand Kingsley’s delightfully unctuous Catchlove, a smug Victorian solider who appears completely oblivious to the fact that he’s in the wrong and who bellows things like “Don’t belong here? We’re British!” with enough righteous indignation to make Nigel Farage leap to his feet to salute.

After the grand scale and high-stakes drama of the last three episode, Empress of Mars feels like a huge dip in quality, disappointing with its unimpressive special effects, harmless villains and an undercooked script that lets down its main players. This is yet another Gatiss-penned episode that fails to deliver the goods.

Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World

After last week’s mind-bending head-scratcher of an episode, which seemed to turn off viewers with its multiple timelines, ‘false’ realities and muddled plot resolutions, The Pyramid at the End of the World is a much tighter, more contained affair that feels all the more effective for it. Having set up the sinister Monks’ evil plan for world domination, this week’s episode sees the creepy foes set their scheme into motion. It’s a gripping invasion thriller with a conscience, offering plenty of twists and turns alongside some biting social commentary, and it all builds to a devastatingly emotional climax that feels all the more poignant in light of the horrific Manchester attack.

When last we saw the Monks they were preparing to launch a full scale invasion of Earth and we pick up the action with our fabulously robed enemies having taken up residence in a huge ancient pyramid where they are patiently waiting for their plan to take effect. Meanwhile, in a lab in Yorkshire, two scientists are testing a deadly bacteria that, if it became airborne, has the potential to wipe out all life on Earth. Don’t worry though, these scientists (played by Rachel Denning and Tony Gardner) seem like dependable professionals. Except one of them has broken her glasses and doesn’t have a spare pair (has she never heard of Specsavers?). Oh, and the other one is nursing an epic hangover. On second thought, it might be best to keep your windows and doors shut…


Despite the potentially world-ending events at stake, the episode is surprisingly slow-paced and contemplative, inviting the audience to gradually piece together how these two initially separate plots intersect. It’s by no means an uninteresting watch, though, partly thanks to some snappy editing and camera work by Daniel Nettheim, who ensures a steady momentum is kept throughout. He also manages to retain the epic scope and feel of last week’s episode. The arial shots of the pyramid are particularly majestic, while its interiors are suitably spooky and surprising – even if the presence of the Monks makes it feel a bit like an episode of The Crystal Maze: Zombie Edition.

Co-written by Peter Harness and showrunner Steven Moffat, who last teamed-up for series nine’s politically-charged Zygon two-parter, The Pyramid unsurprisingly shares similar themes, even if the social commentary isn’t quite as overt this time around. The Monks haven’t plonked their pyramid just anywhere, they’ve chosen a point of strategic importance for the world’s three biggest armies – America, China and Russia – in the hope of provoking a diplomatic incident between these world powers. This clever set up raises the issue of whether these powerful nations can work together in order to resolve a crisis in the middle east, but it also takes some surprising turns.


The Monks, unexpectedly, don’t launch any attack, nor do they retaliate to Earth’s show of military aggression; instead they invite each country’s representatives to take a glimpse into a future where humanity is on the brink of extinction before offering to rescue mankind. The catch? The human race must submit totally to the Monks and agree to live under their rule forever. It’s an intriguing premise, exploring how fear can drive people to side with dangerous individuals and also how a feeling of desperation to can see people make reckless decisions.

Such desperate situations are where the Doctor shines, and it’s a delight to see Peter Capaldi’s Twelve getting back to his usual eccentric, slightly bolshy self after last week’s more vulnerable appearance. Though he’s still suffering the effects of blindness, he refuses to let a little thing like a lack of sight hold him back, enlisting the help of his trusty sonic sunglasses and Matt Lucas’ Nardole to guide him through the mission. It’s always thrilling to watch the Doctor in his element – saving the human race from an alien foe – and he’s in full flow this week, charging down hallways, making smart people feel stupid and conjuring up completely mad schemes in order to save the day.


All of which makes those dramatic final scenes all the more devastating. Having successfully outmanoeuvred the Monks by plotting to blow up the Yorkshire lab in order to sterilise the bacteria, the Doctor finds himself trapped in the quarantine bay unable to unlock the doors as he’s too blind to punch the code into the keypad. The moment where the Doctor confesses to Bill that he’s been keeping his loss of sight a secret, which prompts Bill to consent to the Monks’ demands in order to save him, is truly heart-wrenching and emotionally wrought. Capaldi and Pearl Mackie play the scene superbly – you really do feel the anguish and desperation of Bill’s choice and totally believe the Doctor’s despair that the human race has been sacrificed to save his life.

The Pyramid at the End of the World might not boast the bangs and whistles you might expect of an alien invasion thriller, but it’s an intelligent and enthralling sci-fi story all the same, posing plenty of big, challenging questions about the world today while offering an epic scale and scope that wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen. And that emotionally-charged finale leaves things perfectly poised for next week’s concluding chapter to the Monks Trilogy.

Doctor Who: Knock knock – TV Review

Frightening is the best word to describe the latest episode of Doctor Who’s tenth series. Toying perfectly with the gang of pesky kids trapped in a haunted mansion trope, Knock Knock is basically a 45-minute teen horror movie, offering scares, creaks, thrills and chills aplenty, with a sprinkling of Doctor Who magic thrown in for good measure. And while it might not be the most inventive fright fest you see this year, if you’re a fan of the things it apes, this Mike Bartlett-penned story is a spooky throwback that offers a refreshing change of pace in a series thus far dominated by character-driven episodes.

Having survived a swarm of flesh-eating nanobots and a brush with a giant monster under a frozen River Thames, Bill is finally settling into student life, making friends with a group of freshers who invite her to move in with them. Of course, that means enlisting the services of a smarmy estate agent who merrily carts them between prospective properties, each more dire than the last, until they bump into a friendly looking landlord, played by David Suchet. He shows them around his old, spacious mansion, available at a suspiciously cheap price. But before the gang can move in to their perfect student digs they have to agree to one rule: don’t enter the locked tower, which seems to be the source of the mysterious tapping sound that echoes through the house.


Knock knock is undoubtedly one of the scariest Who episodes for a long while. Returning director Bill Anderson deftly creates an unsettling atmosphere within the groaning, isolated house by utilising old-school scare tactics. A lightening storm is raging outside, shutters burst open out of the blue, floors boards creak incessantly, blood-curdling screams can be heard off screen, and, worst of all for any millennials watching, there’s no wi-fi connection. All expertly crafted to ramp up fear factor to maximum levels (for a family show, at any rate). This is one to watch barricaded behind sofa with a healthy supply of cushions.

Much of this series has been focused on sketching out the burgeoning Doctor-companion relationship between Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, but this episode offers a welcome opportunity to get lost in a spooky, absorbing yarn. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any intriguing moments for the TARDIS duo. There’s further signs of a slightly more combative dynamic forming between the pair as Bill tries to keep her adventures with the Doctor separate from her personal life – which leads to a particularly hilarious interaction where Bill tries to pass off the Time Lord as her nosey grandfather. Capaldi, meanwhile, is in his element here, catching wind of the strange goings on before anyone else and swiftly dancing into the heart of the trouble in order to find the truth behind the suspicious happenings.

While there’s still very little time given to the supporting cast (the students really only exist to add to the bodycount), Knock knock finally presents us with a fully-formed imposing villain in the form of Suchet’s creepy landlord. Appearing at first as a kindly old man who offers desperate students a place to stay, the Landlord soon reveals his more sinister intentions. It transpires he’s in tune with an infestation of alien creepy crawlies, which break out of the woodwork and devour the house’s human inhabitants. The bugs are suitably unsettling and Suchet is rather brilliant, possessing a palpable intensity of presence to convey his threat with a mere whisper or look as his pops into view without making a sound.


As any horror fan will know, the bumps and scares work best when we don’t have a clue what’s going on. When everything happens just out of sight, the mind can only wander to dark places to try to explain them, and for the majority of this episode Anderson plays on our natural inclination to fear the unknown perfectly. It’s unsurprising, then, that the fear factor lessens the more we learn about the house’s true nature. Fortunately, Knock knock has more to it than simple shock value.

Rather than quietly petering out as the mystery is solved, the story gently transitions into something altogether more profound and emotionally devastating. In a classic Doctor Who twist, we learn that the Landlord is not acting out of pure malice but out of love for his ailing mother. Having found a way to save her as a child, he has spent his entire life caring for her, luring students into the house every two decades to feed the bugs that are keeping her alive. The big reveal is perhaps spoiled slightly by the dodgy effects work used to bring Mariah Gale’s wooden facade to life, but it does nothing to temper the impact of the heart-wrenching moment the Landlord realises he has to let his mother go. Again, Suchet is tremendous.

In the end, Knock knock is another strong episode for series 10. Breaking from the trend for slower, character-driven stories, it delivers a gripping tale that, while offering nothing new in the horror stakes, nevertheless provides an abundance of scares before knocking us all for six with an unexpectedly tender finale.

Doctor Who: Thin Ice – TV Review

The first episodes of Doctor Who’s tenth series have been very companion focused. The Pilot introduced us to Pearl Mackie’s refreshingly ordinary cafeteria worker, Bill, before Smile whisked her away on her first voyage to the far future. Thin Ice is the complete opposite of those episodes in every sense. Hurtling back in time to Regency era London, this period-set adventure is the episode that finally puts Peter Capaldi’s Doctor front and centre.

We re-join the Doctor and Bill immediately after last week’s bonkers dropping off point, with a massive elephant roaming across a frozen river Thames during a bustling frost fair. Far more worrying, though, is the giant creature that seems to be lurking beneath the ice and the floating, bioluminescent lights that are luring unsuspecting punters to their frosty deaths.

As is befitting a flagship show on the Beeb, Doctor Who has always excelled at aping period dramas and this episode is no exception. Director Bill Anderson faithfully recreates Regency era London in all it’s showy glory, and while the special effects don’t always convince – at one point Capaldi’s Doctor tries to make a serious point while waving a rubber fish around – Anderson injects plenty of fun into proceedings, particularly as the Doctor and Bill explore the various attractions at the fair. Encountering such odd delights as sword swallowers, street magicians, bare-chested wrestlers, and poor street urchins, the overall effect is wonderfully trippy, like a Dickensian Christmas tale mixed into a fever dream.


It’s not all fun and games, of course. Written by Sarah Dallard, who previously penned the Clara-killing Face the Raven, Thin Ice sees Doctor Who stepping onto its soapbox to touch upon such weighty themes as animal cruelty, the class system, sexism and racism. It’s the latter that’s given the most focus here with 17th Century London refreshingly depicted as a combustible melting pot of different cultures, a fact which is often overlooked by the media (as Bill sharply points out).

That’s not to say the Regency era was some sort of utopian society where all creeds lived peacefully as equals, far from it. Bill’s initial reaction upon stepping out of the TARDIS is one of fear (“slavery is still totally a thing!”) and she’s forced to suffer through her fair share of nasty individuals spitting racist insults to her face (an incident which leads to a genuine punch-the-air act of heroism from the Doctor). There’s perhaps a case to be made for not giving such distasteful opinions the oxygen of publicity, but surely it’s important for a show ostensibly aimed at children to challenge such hateful views head on? And if that annoys the Daily Mail too, well that’s just an added bonus.


But while its themes are thoroughly modern, the episode continues to evoke ‘classic’ Who with its unhurried approach to storytelling. One of the most enjoyable elements of series 10 has been the space given to allow the Doctor and Bill’s burgeoning relationship to grow and develop. Thin Ice sees the early cracks begin to show in their friendship as Bill suffers her first brush with death, witnessing a young homeless boy getting swallowed up by the creatures beneath the river. Naturally, she’s horrified, grief-stricken and angry, feelings that are only intensified by the Doctor’s seemingly callous lack of emotion (though we of course know better). The episode is really a test of whether Bill is equipped to cope with the terrors that come with following the Doctor on his wild adventures. Needless to say she passes with flying colours.

There’s also an opportunity for Capaldi to really flex his acting talents for the first time this series. While it’s been fun to watch the Doctor take to his new role as Bill’s time travel tutor, which looks set to be a regular feature of the series, it’s pleasing to see a return of the complex, fully-rounded Twelve we’ve grown to love. Uncovering a sinister plot to keep an alien creature chained beneath the Thames’ icy wonders, Capaldi is clearly in his element, swinging between a full gamut of emotions with his usual ferocious energy as he goes up against the beast’s cruel captors. He even gets to deliver one of his soaringly eloquent speeches, this time deriding the use of oppression in all its forms. Simply put: it’s vintage Doctor Who.


Sadly, it’s yet another episode in which a capable supporting cast are given very little opportunity to shine. Asiatu Koroma impresses as the savvy and compassionate leader of the pickpocket gang, Kitty, but otherwise there are few characters really worth talking about. Matt Lucas’ Nardole once again makes only a fleeting appearance to advance the series arc – here’s hoping the pay-off is ultimately worth such a frustrating build up.

The only other character worthy of note is Nicholas Burns’ villainous Lord Sutcliffe. Burns is suitably slimy in the role of a ruthless business owner who exploits alien creatures and the poor for his own personal gain, but unlike Capaldi and Mackie, he’s given very little screen time to explore his character in more depth – Sutcliffe apparently acts like an A-hole just for the hell of it. This appears to be the fatal flaw in Steven Moffat’s sedate approach to storytelling this series. While it’s exciting to watch the Doctor and Bill being given more space to explore new worlds and eras in detail, it has a tendency to leave very little time left for the actual plot. As a result, the climax to the episode feels undercooked and completely lacking in tension or suspense as any obstacle is swiftly overcome and Sutcliffe is effortlessly defeated just in time for the start of Casualty.


Overall, Thin Ice is another enjoyable if slightly unremarkable episode that skimps on the story in order to focus on the intriguing interplay of its central pairing. Still, as long as Capaldi and Mackie continue to push their characters in exciting new directions, there’s every reason to keep on watching.

Doctor Who: Smile – TV Review

If last week’s season opener The Pilot was dedicated to introducing new companion Bill, this week’s episode of Doctor Who is all about fleshing out the burgeoning relationship between Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and his new friend. And like all new couples who’ve survived a few furtive first meetings, they’ve decided to embark on their first trip together as the Doctor whisks Bill on her first proper adventure to a distant planet.

At Bill’s request the TARDIS surges thousands of years into the future to land on the planet Gilese 581D, a brand new human colony that’s worryingly lacking in fleshy, bipedal inhabitants. What it does have, though, is a roving staff of cutesy robots with emoji faces who patrol the gleaming futuristic city to ensure all the humans are perfectly happy at all times. What happens when the smiley face on one of their mood indicators turns upside down? The answer will shake the skeleton from your skin. Literally.


It’s fair to say Frank Cottrell-Boyce split fan opinion with his previous Who episode, In the Forest of the Night, but the screenwriter can surely look forward to a much warmer reception this time out. Riffing on such dystopian blockbusters as The Martian and Interstellar, Smile boats some intriguing and ingenious sci-fi concepts as it explores the perils of a fully digitised future and the possibilities and complications of colonisation, as well as offering come pretty disturbing proclamations about what may be the ultimate fate of our species on this planet. Cottrell-Boyce also throws in a few clever gags about our current relationship with tech. That the humans on this shiny new colony can only express their feelings via emoji’s feels like a pointed jibe at our over-reliance on smartphones and email to communicate.

Long-term fans will certainly be pleased to hear that Smile feels like an old school Doctor Who episode, whisking us off to a wildly inventive new world and giving us plenty of time to explore the unfamiliar surroundings in detail. The first half is pretty much a two-hander between the Doctor and Bill as they gently dig deeper into the deadly mysteries that lurk beneath Gilese 581D. Not only does this give us ample opportunity to take in the episode’s spectacular production design, it also leaves room for us to take a more in-depth look into the Doctor and Bill’s nascent relationship. Pearl Mackie again steals the show as Bill, delivering many of the episode’s best lines with her open critique of the TARDIS’ interior design (“You can’t reach the controls from the seats!”). There’s an entertaining freshness to their dynamic as they continue to suss each other out. The Doctor has been clearly energised by Bill’s arrival, revelling in the opportunity to be a flashy clever clogs as he schools his new friend in the ways of space and time, while Mackie’s excitable, slightly naive curiosity neatly offsets Capaldi’s immediately suspicious, possibly even cynical, attitude when they arrive on the new planet.


Once again, this is not an episode in which the supporting cast are afforded a chance to shine, with Ralf Little and Mina Anwar’s talents particularly underused as two of the planet’s human settlers. As with last week’s episode, Matt Lucas’ Nardole struggles to justify his promotion to series regular, appearing in only one short scene at the start of the story. In fairness, this week’s appearance at least offers a hint of greater things to come from the character, with further reference made to the mysterious vault hidden below the university and the doctor’s as-yet-unexplained oath to watch over it.

The monsters, too, are unlikely to join the ranks of the Doctor’s most memorable foes. Apparently called the Vardys, the Wall-E-esque robotic servants seen in the promos are actually just the user-friendly interface for a giant swarm of worker droids who buzz around the city, hiding in the walls ready to pounce should anyone fail to keep their emotions in check. Of course, the emoji faces are inherently goofy, but the bigger problem is that the army of deadly robo-bees the Varyds control are similarly unimposing, even if their favoured method of execution involves chewing human flesh to mulch and grinding the remaining bones into fertiliser (still preferable to Matt Damon’s method of growing crops). Such a lack of menace means any attempts to raise the stakes in the episode’s final third inevitably fall flat. We just never truly believe that the Doctor and Bill are in any real danger when the Varyds are approaching.


At the very least, the episode looks great. Filmed at the City of Arts and Sciences Museum in Valencia, the architecture is breathtaking. Perhaps taking its lead from The Girl Who Waited, the pristine white aesthetic echoes the glossy, if clinical, minimalist style that’s ever so popular in utopian fantasies right now.

It seems that Smile is another solid, if unspectacular, outing for our new TARDIS duo. The visuals are superbly striking and Cottrell-Boyce explores some intriguing and inventive sci-fi concepts in this futuristic adventure. Yet without a suitably menacing villain or an enticing set of supporting characters, there’s really very little here for fans to sink their teeth into. More than anything, it’s another promising glimpse into new Doctor/companion dynamic that seems to be growing stronger with every episode. Here’s hoping they continue to venture into exciting new directions as series 10 progresses.