The retro-style episodes take an overt aim for the Sylvester McCoy era, with a story by Rona Munro who last wrote for Doctor Who in the 1980s. The McCoy elements come out in the general oddness but also in how harsh the Doctor is to the young Pictish warrior woman – at times the dialogue being quite jarring given the character of Capaldi’s Doctor.
We are in Scotland during the Roman occupation of the rest of Britain. Bill endears us all again but this time by revealing her obsession with the lost Ninth Legion of the Roman Empire. That includes a shout out to the children’s classic The Eagle of the Ninth.
Of course the lost legion was killed by an alien monster and so the Picts, what’s left of the Roman centurions, Bill, Nardole and the Doctor unite to defeat it. However, the story to get to that point is nicely done, making use of the the classic Doctor and Companion go off on slightly different adventures.
The fact that crows can talk was a nice touch, making the gritty, realistic setting have a sense of the deep past and misty mythology. Some neccesary Scottish jokes and Latin Tardis translation jokes kept the humour up.
The main story finishes quite early leaving a longer epilogue on the Tardis where Missy has been doing some odd jobs…
Next week: Mondasian Cybermen!
It is Mark Gattis time on Doctor Who. Long time collaborator with Stephen Moffat both off screen and on screen (e.g. as Mycroft in Sherlock), Gattis has never written any truely stand-out episodes but has managed a few goodish ones (e.g The Unquiet Dead).
As episodes go, this one is almost the platonic ideal of a Gattis one. Victorian setting with some interesting twists (British soldiers on Mars in a steampunkish aesthetic), a classic “monster” (the Ice Warriors) but an otherwise conventional story.
The backstory (explained by the officers to Bill on Mars) is that British soldiers in SOuth Africa found an Ice Warrior spaceship with a hibernating Ice Warrior. Christening him “Friday”, the Ice Warrior transported the soldiers back to Mars and is helping them dig for treasure in the remains of the now extinct Ice Warrior civilisation. Of course things go awry…
Some obvious digs at colonialism and a by the numbers plot well executed.
The main squee moment being a late cameo by Ysanne Churchman as the eyeball-with-arms alien Alpha Centauri, from the classic “Peladon” stories from the third Doctor’s run. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0161489/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
Fun, but not great.
Oh dear. The question was, could Doctor Who pull off a three parter without coming all unravelled before the end? It tried – and 2.3 of the way through, it looked like it could make it but…the story just gave up. Unusually, you get to see the exact moment where the story ran out of ideas.
To recap, a species of corpse like monks had simulated Earth to find a ‘weak point’ (part one), then offered an ultimatum to Earth: they will rescue the planet from its own destruction if humanity submits to them (part two) and in a last minute twist it is Bill who surrenders to them to save the Doctor. In this third part, the monks have taken over the planet and are controlling people’s memories of history to the extent that most people believe the monks have always been present on Earth. Worse yet, the Doctor is making propagnada speeches for them.
The set-up is OK, lots of nods to 1984 as well as revisiting elements of the season three final (the one were Martha Jones is alone in a world controlled by the Master). Bill locates the Doctor but her rescue attempt fails when the Doctor reveals he genuinely is cooperating with the monks…and then reveals that he isn’t. And that’s about it.
Why the monks are bothering with any of this? No answer. The monks don’t even SAY anything in the episode. After such an elaborate build up, the monks have no motives or purpose. It isn’t even clear why they bother having the Doctor make videos for them.
It’s a real shame because the earlier, still promising, part of the episode let Bill take centre stage.
Peter Harness co-wrote this middle part of the current Doctor Who three-parter. His previous Doctor Who credits includes the divisive Kill the Moon and the more liked but unconventional Zygon Invasion/Zygon Inversion two-parter. There is a tiny but odd reference to Kill the Moon when the Doctor describes the Earth of the near future as “as dead as the moon” but UN/geopolitics set-up is more firmly like the Zygon Invasion.
The corpse-like monks are back but this time they’ve brought a pyramid an ancient pyramid and landed in central Asia in disputed territory near Chinese, US and Russian forces. The crisis sends the UN to look for the Doctor, which in turn leads the UN Secretary General to interrupt Bill’s date with Penny.
Meanwhile…in bio-research lab two scientists are conducting tests on plants. Given the flights of fancy of last week’s episode, the scenes in the lab are very grounded and nicely done. Erica (Rachel Denning) and Douglas (Tony Gardner) are presented as just ordinary people doing their job – although their very unconnectedness to the rest of the story creates a sense of lingering doom. Douglas has a hangover, Erica’s glasses were broken on her way to work: minor humdrum events that are setting ominous events in motion.
Good not great but also something of a classic. The story sits, rather like the freaky pyramid, at the borders of multiple Doctor Who elements: an overtly SF story about a bio-engineering threat to life on Earth, a more fantastical story about corpse-like monks in an alien pyramid, and the classic theme of the Doctor stopping multiple armies from shooting each other.
A big shift up from last week: a scary episode with some overt political commentary. The main recycled idea this week is dead people in shambling space-suits from Silence in the Library. This time no spooky aliens but rather autonomous space suits clunking away after their occupants have been killed. So all the aesthetics of space-zombies but without any actual space-zombies.
The main premise of the story is privatised air – I think some old 2000AD Future Shocks may have done that idea before. Like many SF short fiction ideas, it’s enough to build a story around but the wider mechanics of it probably don’t stand up to too much examination. Oxygen is possibly not the most expensive resource for a space economy but the episode shows how neatly it can be commoditised and then, under the guise of a simple economic exchange, used as means of authoritarian control.
What the episode did surprisingly well was the atmosphere (sorry) of real threat and predicament. Bill is placed repeatedly in danger that feels plausible and the Doctor suffers a substantial injury that is unresolved by the end of the episode. Will it all be fine in the end? Well obviously it will, but this episode felt threatening in a way that is inherently difficult for Doctor Who to do when the titular character is a living Deus Ex Machina.
The not-actually-space-zombies themselves became rapidly less creepy with familiarity. The clunk-clunk of the magnetic boots and their ruthless efforts meant that they quickly went from freaky to just another variant on Cybermen. I assume this was intentional.
Teaser for the next episode (apparently a 3 parter) involves the Pope, libraries and the return of Missy.
You can see all the pieces this episode is made of, Rose’s first outing to the past in the first season of NuWho in the Unquiet Dead, the gang of urchin children from The Empty Child, the imprisoned aquatic monster from The Beast Below, a hundred one greedy capitalists playing with forces they can’t control. Yet, this episode still felt fresh and fun.
Bill continues to impress as a companion and the use of familiar elements allowed the episode to build rapport with the Doctor. In particular, the script gave time for Bill to react to death and to a realisation that the Doctor is a more menacing person than she may have realised.
I’m enjoying this back to basics approach.
A cheeky title for the first episode of Steven Moffat’s last season as show-runner. Doctor Who has two kinds of required episodes: the new companion intro and the regeneration episode and keeping those episodes fresh can be a challenge. The Pilot does what it needs to do very well – it keeps the focus on Bill, a cafeteria worker at Bristol University, a without belabouring a backstory, gives a sense of a three-dimensional person grounded in the real world.
Without delving into the story, it has the nice balance of spooky, silly and running away that you might want out of a Doctor Who episode. No startlingly original ideas but rather a focus on a fresh take on the familiar.
Framed as both an introduction to a new companion and a re-introduction to the series, there are lots of nods to the past from the pictures of River Song and Susan on the Doctor’s desk to a Dalek cameo. Something for everybody.