I don’t know if anybody else got a bit of a Fifth Season vibe from the beginning of this episode. I did, which got my hopes up but overall this was an episode of unexplored ideas. Not terrible but it felt oddly sketched out with hints of something better.
Take for example the idea of this mind altering planet, it gives one character a reason why they can’t initially explain what is going on but otherwise the idea goes nowhere. Which is doubly odd, because it is a concept that could be done really well with a smart script and clever acting.
Likewise the Ooks (sp?), the species of two people who can manipulate space-time psychically with their faith. Great idea but under explored. Also, why are they on the planet that is psychically dangerous? Did they make it psychically dangerous? It felt like we were supposed to get a connection between the two things and we don’t.
The Doctor’s more overt pacifism this season all sits badly at odds with her putting the Tardis crew in such danger. Yes, there has to be a degree of the Doctor being very careless with the lives of their friends otherwise plots just don’t happen as they’ll never let anybody out of the Tardis. Yet here she marches them off to mount a rescue mission into a war zone against a merciless killer. It’s triply odd because the story already has a mechanism for sending Yaz, Ryan, Graham and the Doctor off in different directions: the psychic hostility of the planet.
Chibnall also seems to be trying to do a commentary on religion, perhaps even Christianity. This is not uninteresting but its both too much and too little. Doctor’s more overt pacifism has a feel of a progressive Quakerish Christianity (also consider her riposte to the Bible quote in Witchfinders), we’ve had repeated examples of funeral rights and remembrance of the dead and in this episode the Ooks (sp?) are presented in terms of faith. On top of that, they end up posed in a kind of crucifix imagery. That’s laying it on a bit thick but without actually taking it anywhere. Chibnall is pointing at religion to the point where it is clear he wants us to pay attention to the topic but then…not really saying anything. Religion! Yes? What about religion? Maybe the message is “religion is OK but don’t get too carried away with it”. Which is fine but not a terribly interesting theme for a TV show to keep returning to.
There are multiple dials on every Doctor Who episode. At least one needs to be turned up a notch. Where this season has been fun is where at least one thing gets that extra Spinal Tap nudge to 11. The spider effects in Arachnid made it better, the messed up folktale vibe (and the frog!) of It Takes You Away makes it better. The teeth on Tim Shaw’s face in episode 1 makes it better. Allan Flippin’ Cumming eating scenery! GO UP A NOTCH OR TWO OR FIVE. If there’s already too much in the episode (like this one) that goes unexplored then either pick one and make that MORE or ADD EVEN MORE.