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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”).

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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.

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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: 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…

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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.

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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.

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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: The Pilot – TV Review

The wait is over. After a Doctor Who-less 2016 (minus the now obligatory Christmas special), proper weekly adventures with our favourite curmudgeonly Time Lord have returned.

The fact that the first episode of series 10 is called The Pilot should not be overlooked. Perhaps worried by the show’s slight dip in the ratings during series 9, Steven Moffat has taken the departure of Jenna Colman’s Clara as an opportunity to press the reset button on the 54-year-old show. Exploring afresh the key concepts and joys of Doctor Who, The Pilot is a fun, if unremarkable, re-introduction to the madcap world of a hero who travels through time in a police box and uses a special screwdriver to fix the universe.

Clearly, this episode has its eyes firmly on attracting new fans to the series, which means a lot of time is taken up with explaining how the Tardis works and just exactly who is this hoody-wearing, electric guitar-rocking man who calls himself the Doctor. For long-term fans, that might sound like a lot of raking over old ground, but there are still a few pleasing callbacks and interesting tidbits (we finally learn the location of the Tardis loos, for example) to make it a worthwhile watch.

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The newest element is of course the arrival of the Doctor’s new companion, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie). Introduced as a lunchlady working in the Bristol University cafeteria, there’s something immediately endearing about Bill. She curious and adventurous, sneaking into lectures at the university even though she isn’t a student, and a hopeless romantic, clumsily infatuated with a student called Heather and forever searching for a connection to the mother she never knew. While some have complained of being put-off by Bill’s lack of Who knowledge and constant questions, her ordinariness is part of her charm. She feels like a new fan of the show, excited, overwhelmed and completely in awe of this boundless new world she’s stumbled upon.

With so much of the focus on Bill’s induction into all things Time Lord, there’s very little room for the actual plot in this opening episode, which is one of the weaker series openers of recent years. New director Lawrence Gough works hard to inject some energetic flair into the visuals, with some strong CGI effects and plenty Sherlock-inspired whooshing camera work as a multitude of images surge across the screen. Sadly, The Pilot also shares some of Sherlock’s biggest narrative flaws.

Moffat once again demonstrates his knack for transforming ordinary things into frightening monsters, this time turning his imaginative eye to puddles. The sudden appearance of a pool of water is what first attracts the attention of the Doctor and his new companion. It hasn’t rained for days and yet the puddle never seems to dry out, even as the weeks and months pass, and when anyone stares into it they can’t help but be unsettled by their own reflection, even if there not quite sure why. Things get even more terrifying when the puddle decides to go all Terminator 2 on the Doctor and Bill, leading to scenes of a watery figure rising up out of plug holes in pursuit of its enemies.

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But while the episode is not short of scares, it’s incredibly light of momentum and impact. Part of problem is that story feels very disjointed, inheriting Sherlock’s scattershot story structure by constantly surging forward in time with endless montages and short scenes that never allow the themes and ideas of the story to gain a foothold.

The impact is most keenly felt with the supporting characters. The much-hyped Daleks are barely worth a mention. Rather than being the primary villain, as you’d expect, their inclusion here is inconsequential to the main plot and feels like nothing more than a fan-pleasing afterthought. Stephanie Hyam’s Heather also feels like wasted opportunity. The literally starry-eyed object of Bill’s affections, Heather initially seems like just another MPDG enticing Bill to seek adventure, only for nascent relationship to be scuppered when she’s dragged into the puddle to become a vessel for its watery fury. The entire episode hinges on romantic connection between these two characters but it’s not given enough time to develop. Consequently, what’s intended to be heart-wrenching finale turns out to be nothing more than a soggy mess.

And then there’s Nardole, the Doctor’s other new recruit. Plenty of fans questioned Matt Lucas’ promotion to series regular and there’s very little here to suggests he’ll break out of his comedy butler routine anytime soon.

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Given this is such a companion-centric story, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Peter Capaldi’s the Doctor doesn’t get much of an opportunity to shine. It’s fun to see the Doctor lark around as a bonkers university lecturer, a role we’re likely to return to given he’s yet to discover the secrets behind the mysterious vault hidden below campus, but here he’s really only required to spout sci-fi mumbo-jumbo to a confused Bill.

More encouragingly, there are already signs of a sparky Doctor/companion dynamic burgeoning between Capaldi and Mackie. As Nardole helpfully points out, there’s some good banter between the two and, more importantly, by the episode’s end Bill has already started to challenge the Doctor by reminding him of his humanity when he attempts to wipe her memory. It’s vital that the companion provides a humanising counterweight to the Doctor’s alien behaviour, and it’s promising to see that Bill already has the measure of her new friend.

The Pilot, then, is an encouraging, if unspectacular start to series 10. While it doesn’t offer the grand spectacle of previous series openers and feels disappointingly light on strong villains and supporting characters, it’s a spry and effective introduction to the Doctor’s new companion. And you never know, it might just welcome a whole new set of fans to the wonderfully strange world of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who’s Christmas special will feature it’s very own superhero

If the abundance of Marvel and DC properties on telly these days isn’t enough superhero action for you, you’re in luck. Apparently, this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special will have it’s very own super-powered hero.
Justin Chatwin – he of Orphan Black, American Gothic and Shameless US fame – will join Peter Capaldi’s Doctor for the festive episode later this year.
The casting was announced by Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat when the pair appeared on CTV’s Your Morning in Canada to tease the first look at series 10 of the long-running sci-fi show.

“We’ve got a wonderful Canadian actor – Justin Chatwin – who’s in it,” Capaldi beamed on Canadian TV. “He told me if I mentioned his name I’d get a free drink!”

The Time Lord continued: “[Justin’s] in it, which is brilliant. We just finished filming it on Friday. It’s very festive. I don’t know quite what I can say about it!”

“Justin is a superhero – as all Canadians are,” Steven Moffat teased.

As you can see, the pair were pretty cagey on the details as to how or why Justin’s character will be involved in the story. Could he be the Doctor’s temporary companion, filling in for a one-off episode before Pearl Mackie arrives in series 10? Or will he be the dastardly foe looking to spoil the Doctor’s Christmas fun?

With the Christmas special expected to air on 25 December on BBC1, we only have a few short months to wait before we find out.