I managed to get to the Christmas Special awhile back, but unfortunately I simply didn’t have the time available to give you my thoughts. Was it perfect? No, no it wasn’t … the early parts of the episode were especially clunky and overdone, but boy oh boy did it end well! A beautifully poignant swan song to their love story.

If you’ve not yet watched the episode, I’ll tell you now that you should stop reading as spoilers – well, they do abound here sweetie! 🙂

The Doctor, having somehow ended up on a planet at Christmas time (he always does that) gets mistaken for a surgeon who has to perform a live-saving procedure on the cybernetic and horrendously violent King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) who is dying with a projectile in his brain. His “wife” turns out to be River Song working a con to try to get the projectile—a massively valuable diamond—out of his head to sell it to mass murderers aboard a luxury space liner. River, who has not yet met the Doctor’s present incarnation, fails to recognise him and increasingly frustrates him with her flirtations with Hydroflax. River takes the Doctor aside to discuss the operation he is supposed to be performing; the Halassi Androvar, the most valuable diamond in the universe, has become lodged in Hydroflax’s brain during a raid on the Halassi vaults and is slowly killing him. River wants “the surgeon” to remove his entire head, considering it quicker and easier.

River Song (Doctor Who)
River Song (Doctor Who) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Believing up to this point the Doctor only had so many faces River refuses to recognize ol’ Twelve, leading to some hilarious moments of him trying to make her realize it’s him and her just not having it. In fact she continues to flirt with Hydroflax which only infuriates him more! They are interrupted by Hydroflax, who has listened to their conversation. Being a cyborg, he detaches his head from his mechanical body for safety and orders it to kill them. While River defends herself, the Doctor grabs Hydroflax’s head and threatens to put him in the garbage disposal, creating a stalemate and allowing Ramone, River’s actual husband, to teleport her, the Doctor and Hydroflax’s head outside of the ship. Believing Nardole to have information about River, Hydroflax’s body (which operates independently) decapitates him to use his head as its own. While the Doctor and River bicker as ever, she constantly pretends to love lots of other men, which you can see hurts the Doctor & wounds him deeply.

Although the Doctor is convinced that River knows who he is, she denies it. She reveals she purposely crashed Hydroflax’s ship in their location knowing the Doctor would be in the area with the TARDIS. Being unfamiliar with his new regeneration cycle, she has pictures of his first twelve incarnations. Ramone has only been able to find the TARDIS, not its owner; River decides they will just have to borrow it instead which she further indicates she’s done many times before without his knowledge. Sensing that Hydroflax’s head is beyond recovery and will die imminently, Hydroflax’s body destroys it, leaving only the diamond. River is asked for the whereabouts of the Doctor, but she explains that although she loves the Doctor they are mistaken in thinking that he loves her enough to find himself with her, as she believes the Doctor to be incapable of falling in love. Seeing the steady gaze and mild smirk on the Doctor’s face, River realizes he’s been with her all along and the Doctor confirms this by saying, “Hello, sweetie.”

Being a time traveller, River is aware that the ship is about to be crippled by a meteor strike, which she uses as their escape plan, taking the diamond in the process. The Doctor uses Scratch’s universal bank transfer device to overload Hydroflax’s body, before heading to the ship’s bridge. While the ship is crashing, River realises that they are heading towards the planet Darillium – home to the Singing Towers mentioned by the future River as the place where she spent her final night with the Doctor (“Forest of the Dead”). Realising that they’re unable to save the ship, they flee back into the TARDIS, but the impact of the crash knocks River unconscious.

After avoiding taking River to Darillium for as long as possible to avoid their last date together mentioned by her future self, the Doctor decides to give in to the inevitable. After travelling to the next morning, the Doctor suggests to a man searching for survivors of the crash that he build a restaurant where they’re standing, with a view of the Singing Towers, and gives him the diamond to fund its construction. Travelling forwards in time once again, the Doctor books the table on the balcony for Christmas Day in four years’ time. When River awakes she is told that the Doctor is waiting for her at their table. Hydroflax’s body, now peacefully controlled by the heads of Ramone and Nardole, was pulled from the wreckage and put to work as a waiter in the restaurant.

What we do get that gives the episode some real emotional resonance is the last 15-20 minutes, when River gives an impassioned speech to the onlooking bad guys who want the Doctor about how you can’t expect a sunset or the very stars themselves to love you back, ending with her realization that the Doctor has been with her the whole time. (How many people made a little happy noise when he said “Hello, Sweetie”? Not that I did…) From then until the end, it’s a really nice denouement to her character and their relationship. Even though it won’t be the last time she sees him, it could very likely be the last time he sees her (unless Moffat brings her back again). Referencing the trip to the Singing Towers they never get to take, and River seeing her diary is almost full up, she knows she’s almost at the end, but at least they get a Christmas of 24 years together to enjoy before then. And the Doctor finally gives her the sonic screwdriver she has with her during “The Library.” (!!!)

As I said, this was just a bit of a romp, but there were definitely some quite enjoyable moments. Any time Kingston and Capaldi are sparking off each other, which is actually quite often, it’s pretty marvelous. As Moffat rather callously said a few weeks ago, this episode takes place right after “The Angels Take Manhattan” in River’s timeline, “but it doesn’t really matter.” Turns out, he wasn’t just being a jerk; it doesn’t really matter. Other than a mention of that being the most recent thing in her diary, there’s no holdover for her. And, aside from some mentions of it being a long time since he laughed and saying all good things must come to an end, etc., there’s nothing to announce that the Doctor’s just had a sad few billion years he can’t really remember. This really is just an adventure.

Douglas Mackinnon did a really nice job directing, as he always does. Mackinnon’s now directed eight episodes, making him the third most prolific director of Nu Who behind Euros Lyn and Graeme Harper. He’s always solid, though I will say, the budget of this episode does appear to have been pretty low. It’s very obvious they redressed the Trap Street set from “Face the Raven” for the alien world at Christmastime, and when River and the Doctor confab aboard Hydroflax’s flying saucer, it’s the President of Earth airplane set redressed. This type of thing happens all the time and usually it’s not so noticeable, but here for some reason it really stood out.

And, yeah, some famous comedians in Britain were in this, like the aforementioned Davies and Matt Lucas. And while they both did fine, the episode was really about the Doctor and River. There were lots of great little moments—like the Doctor having both his sonic sunglasses and his new sonic screwdriver (take THAT sunglasses haters)—and the Doctor getting to finally say the “it’s bigger on the inside” speech the way he’s always thought it ought to be said. Stuff like that made the straightforward story a lot more fun.

It’s Christmas. It’s fun. Doctor Who makes us laugh and tugs at our heartstrings. The only real sad thing is now we’re probably going to have to wait nine more months until we get any new episodes. Bah Humbug.

Hell Bent – Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 12

An interesting name is one of the first things that jumps out at you in this episode that follows the almost perfect Heaven Sent.  Personally, I didn’t like this one as much as the previous episode and perhaps surprisingly given how the previous Christmas episodes have panned out, didn’t like it nearly as much as The Husbands of River Song (review coming).  Now while most of my previous reviews have been more of a retelling of the story, I’m going to change tack a little bit from this point forward and focus more on my thoughts and feelings of the episode.  If you do still want and need a retelling there are lots of great sites that offer it (heck I read them too!) and you can check out some of these:

In Hell Bent we start with the Doctor entering a diner seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  With a guitar (a theme throughout this season) in hand, he strums a tune and while my initial thoughts were how exactly does this follow from him breaking through the Crystal matrix(?) when his waitress in the diner turns out to be Clara – well that definitely was a bit of a surprise as I thought we were done with her after Face the Raven.  I’ll be honest while I did initially enjoy Clara as a companion – I think she was better with Matt Smith.  I just didn’t like her as much with Capaldi and I didn’t think she should have stayed nearly as long as she did.

River Song (Doctor Who)
River Song (Doctor Who) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anywho!

When the Doctor speaks to the waitress, you’d expect that he’d be overjoyed to see Clara back – considering all of the pain and anguish that he’d gone through in Heaven Sent but he seems somewhat unmoved which is initially a bit surprising.  However as he starts to relate the story of how he got there, things start to make sense.  It seems that he actually had arrived in Gallifrey as initially expected at the end of Heaven Sent, and while I wouldn’t have expected it to look like a dust bowl and desert wilderness with a single futuristic city (my thoughts of Gallifrey were always of a technological marvel really … something along the lines of a Trantor or a global mega-city) this is what it turns out to be.

The Doctor has a confrontation with a bunch of Timelords and soldiers and in the end he wins & kicks the Lord President off the planet.  The soldiers all consider the Doctor to be a hero (which is actually quite nice I thought) and everyone consents to the Doctor being in charge.  In the end the Doctor uses some Time Lord technology to remove Clara in the seconds before her death thereby “saving” her.  Unfortunately however her death like so many things is a fixed point and is something the Doctor is unable to truly change.  While it turns out that the “Hybrid” is not Clara or Me (the last of the immortals), but is rather the Doctor and Clara together.  Each pushing the other to terrifying extremes.  The Doctor realizes that the only true solution is to use the neuro blocker to remove all memories of the Doctor from Clara so that she can be safe but Clara booby traps it and it ends up removing all memories of Clara from the Doctors mind instead.  This allows Clara to travel through time with Me on her own missions in their Tardis/Diner pending her eventual and inescapable death, while the Doctor searches anew for another companion.

Sorry ended up giving a bit of a recap afterall, but I think it went fairly quickly?

So what worked for me?

  • I really liked the fact that the Doctor was so well respected by the Soldiers and citizens of Gallifrey and while the Timelords might consider him somewhat of a troublemaker, they still fear and respect him too.
  • I liked the fact that when the General regenerated it was as a female and that was her previous sex also.  The fact that a white person becomes black was pretty cool too!
  • The Sonic Screwdriver is back!  Thank god they got rid of the stupid glasses!

What didn’t work?

  • I didn’t like the fact that the Timelord planet looked so backward … as mentioned earlier, this should have been an awesome and amazing place with technology run rampant – not a barn in the middle of a dustbowl.
  • I didn’t like the fact that the Doctor used a gun and killed the General – even though the regeneration was quite cool.
  • I didn’t like the whole archives and the way they were … it didn’t make any sense?
  • I didn’t like the fact that Me was the only other immortal to survive?  I still don’t understand how she is immortal as while I get that the chip implanted into her revived her from the dead, how does it not work similarly with the aliens that it was taken from in the first place?
  • Perhaps most importantly … I didn’t like the fact that Clara came back … the transition of a companion should be a traumatic effect, not just for the Doctor but also for us as an audience and while I stopped caring for her, her death in Face the Raven was complete.  This … it feels like cheating.  Saying goodbye to Rose hurt, saying farewell to Donna – well that was just tragic.  Amy and Rory … can you say ouch!!  With Clara … there is nothing.  She was gone but now she’s not.

A somewhat different episode to the one that I was expecting, Heaven Sent worked – although it wasn’t without its flaws.  One thing I’ve come to expect from Capaldi at this point is the ability to pontificate at great length.  He’s demonstrated it quite ably in some of more recent episodes of the show (The Zygon Inversion had an excellent example of this as did the amazing conversation between the Doctor and Davros in The Magicians Apprentice), however in each of those cases he had someone else to speak to and play off.  In Heaven Sent, it’s somewhat new territory as Capaldi has basically done a Tom Hanks and is all by his lonesome on the desert island. When you have an episode that is, more than any other in the show’s history, a one-man performance, what you don’t want to do is spend the entire review just talking about how amazing an actor Peter Capaldi is, even if it’s true.

I loved the insights into the Doctor’s character and his thought processes. It was interesting to see how his so-called miraculous escapes are really the result of him retreating into a mental space in his head (represented by the TARDIS console room) and working though all of the variables and possibilities.  Before I dive into this, let’s just get this out of the way. There are some fans out there bemoaning the use of the TARDIS as the Doctor’s Mind Palace and calling it Moffat ripping himself off with Sherlock.  However, while the idea might be somewhat similar the representation of it is extremely different and since these are out of sequence you can see the way Sherlock’s mind palace works – in the Abominable Bride – and it’s extremely different to the Doctors.  The Doctors’ if anything seems to be more like the villain from Season 3 of Sherlock – Charles Augustus Magnussen – as the Doctor’s is more of a physical room (albeit one that is extradimensional and infinitely large) simply shaped to look like the TARDIS console room.

What’s it all about?

The Doctor is trapped in a place he cannot escape, wracked with anger and guilt, with only himself for company, and hunted by a creature he cannot outrun, fight or reason with.  Constantly searching for answers he seems to always end up in the same place and his death (over and over and over) is painful to watch and experience.  Sure, he’s “talking” to Clara, but he’s not, is he? He’s talking to himself and the heart-breaking self-awareness of that takes us somewhere we’ve never actually been: Inside the mind of the Doctor.

However, the one thing this episode really does show us more than anything else is that the Doctor is a survivor first and foremost.  While he might constantly be dying, his deaths are not without a purpose.  See the Doctor always looks at the long game and while we’ve not necessarily seen it to this extent previously, it’s really clear in this episode as his seemingly inconsequential deaths eventually lead to his escape.

Showing how he deals with grief? We’ve seen some of that before, too, in the 11th atop his cloud or the 10th’s casual cruelty towards Martha, but we’ve never been inside the man as he wrestles with it. And he loses here, because he can’t save Clara, because she dies and there’s nothing he can do about it, and she made the choices that led to her death. He knows that, and he acknowledges that she kinda got herself killed, but he also clearer than ever before admits that she did that by trying to be like him. It gives the Doctor another reason to hate himself, and it wounds him in a way that few things have, so much so, that when he realizes what is actually happening to him, it makes him seriously ask himself if he can’t just give up and lose for a change.

There was that moment towards the end of “Heaven Sent” when it’s finally revealed that the Doctor had been repeating the same sequence of actions over and over and over again, hundreds of thousands of times, as he attempted to break through that twenty foot thick wall, wearing it down ever so slightly, before dying each and every time. There’s that awful instant when you realize that every single one of those skulls at the bottom of the lake belongs to the Doctor, each one of them the result of another cycle, another death.  It’s a genuinely chilling moment.  Dying and knowing the only way to break through the Wall in Room 12 is to repeat the process of arrival, fear and death, again and again, the Doctor drags his bloody, broken body from the bottom of the castle to the top. He thinks he has enough time to make it to the teleport room before he dies, and he thinks he’s figured out the way to beat the trap, but he knows that he’s too broken to even escape through regeneration, and that if he doesn’t try… well.

How many times did the Doctor have to die and be reborn within the Confession Dial before he finally broke through that wall? It seems that it couldn’t have been more than a week for each sequence.  There are 52 weeks in a year.  The Doctor was imprisoned for approximately 4.5 billion years.  Very roughly speaking, that comes to 234 billion times.  And now my head hurts.

 

While inside the Confession Dial, the Doctor refused to divulge what he knew of the Hybrid, the entity that “will unravel the web of time, and destroy a billion billion hearts to heal its own.” And that begs the question, of course. This Hybrid that we’ve been told of all season — this thing that is not a fusion of Time Lord/Dalek — is “me”, or is it “Me”? Is the Doctor saying that he is the Hybrid, or that he created the Hybrid by making Ashildr an immortal? And another question: if the Doctor is the one who saved Gallifrey — and has, in fact, saved it over and over again — then why have the Time Lords treated him in this way, by setting up the circumstances that brought the Doctor and Clara to the Trap Street, and ultimately leading to the events that claimed the life of his friend? Are the Time Lords so afraid that they have forgotten who the Doctor is, and how that he can be both savior and destroyer?

Bang & Kaboom … a major shift in direction here and while it’s one we all saw coming, it’s still somewhat troubling in this excellent episode written by Sarah Dollard.  Clara played the Doctor a little too well, made a decision that was true to her character, and died as a result of that decision. This is both good — in the “if you have to die, die saving someone else” kind of way — and bad — in the “don’t stare at the details too much” kind of way — but on balance… it’s a pretty decent way for the Story of the Impossible Girl to end.

Also welcome back to both Maisie Williams’ Lady Me and Jovian Wade’s Rigsy. I actually quite liked the fact that in all three encounters the Doctor has had with Ashildr/Me, she has been a different version of the person that he and Clara met all those centuries before. That makes the character unpredictable, and that’s always welcome. That she kept her word and has spent the years “cleaning up” after the Doctor is good and its also good to see that some thought has gone into the idea of dealing with the refugees of the many invasions of Earth over the run of the show.  It’s also worth noting here that without his making an immortal out of Ashildr, the Doctor would not be facing Mayor Me and her terrible decision to betray him for the safety of the Street. The Moffat years have often made it clear that the actions of the Doctor have consequences. Me is a person who can, will, and does make her own decisions. The Doctor didn’t make her set up the Street, or bring the alien refugees together. The Doctor didn’t make her make a deal with the Quantum Shade or with whomever is behind the threat to the Street and its inhabitants that led her to betray the Doctor.

Blameless in all of this is Rigsy, and again, welcome back Mr. Wade. Some time has obviously passed for Rigsy and his life is seemingly a good one, and that’s very cool to see. Rigsy acts with honor and compassion himself throughout the story, and that post-credits scene where he has painted the TARDIS with a tribute to Clara is almost heartbreaking. I’ve enjoyed both of Wade’s appearances and hope he comes back, although I suspect that the Doctor would like to avoid him for a while.

It starts out with a brilliant mystery that sees The Doctor and Clara scouring the streets of London, both on foot and from the comfort of the TARDIS in flight mode above the city. They’re trying to find the truth behind a sinister countdown that has appeared as a tattoo on the back of Rigsy’s neck, who phones the TARDIS when he notices the weird marks and can’t remember what happened to him the day before.

When they eventually get to the bottom of it all they find themselves mixed up in another intricate web spun by the immortal, Ashildr, who had sentenced Rigsy to death for the murder of a woman within her refugee sanctuary. It’s a finely crafted story that keeps you hooked right the way through, building up to its devastating culmination and leaving you with no doubt that there was no reprieve this time.

So Clara takes the Chronolock (should have called it the Raven’s Mark… missed opportunity, people!) off of Rigsy, which breaks the contract with the Quantum Shade, and Me and the Doctor ignore the stasis chamber in the room, the teleporter in the room, and just act as if there really is nothing they can do. There may not be, and in the context of the story, that’s what is the case. The problem there is that we don’t have any information leading up to that moment where we know anything about the Chronolock aside from the warning that death cannot be outrun, and without that, the revelation of the still-vague rules of the deal between Me and the Quantum Shade comes pretty much out of nowhere.

Series 9 has been jostling the notion that it had become common knowledge that Clara would be getting written out of the show at some point during its twelve episode stint, and every episode saw her coming close to biting the dust. However, in Face The Raven it takes on the challenge of giving Gemma Coleman a fitting end with little uncertainty that the raven would signal her final adventure with the Doctor.

It was always going to be sad saying goodbye to such a significant part of the show for the last few series and that’s definitely the case here. The dialogue and tension are wound to perfection, pulling at your heartstrings as Clara and the good man say their final goodbyes. Jenna Coleman is on exceptional form, as she’s been throughout Series 9, and she delivers some very moving lines, confirming her place in the history of the show.  Because Clara makes the decision to save Rigsy that way because she believes the Doctor will find a way to save her, and we do, too. Even knowing that this is Clara’s final episode, even with all the clues the season has given us that Clara was likely to die, the idea that the Doctor would be helpless to save her, that he would have to watch her die… who saw that coming, really? It’s that last word that she ignores because she knows that people die on the way to those wins, and she’s even called him out on it, in episodes like “Mummy on the Orient Express”. Sure, she was still coming to terms with the new nature of this Incarnation, but still, she’s aware of the body count that follows the Doctor. She’s had that terrible calculus he makes thrown in her face when she applies it herself to the events of “Before the Flood”. She just can’t see that it would be her, and that is the logical culmination of the increased recklessness and thrill-seeking that we’ve seen grow in her over a season and a half.

The episode title screen of the very first epi...
The episode title screen of the very first episode of Doctor Who, broadcast 23 November 1963. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Capaldi also does a very good job of giving Clara the sendoff she deserves, looking as sad as we’ve ever seen him when the reality of the situation hits home. His part is added to by an equally credible performance from Maisie Williams as the scheming Ashildr, whose duplicity is undone by Clara’s intended cunning, which seals both their fates. We’re clearly going to see more of the former Game Of Thrones star and with the Doctor’s newfound anger at her intervention it should be even more of a tumultuous relationship from now on. It was good to see Rigsy back in action and Joivan Wade does a very good job of bringing a fitting level of gravitas to the episode. He’s well poised and natural in the role and we’ll be surprised if he isn’t an early contender for the next companion for the Doctor.

The reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s narrative poem The Raven also acts to bring more weight and deathly intent to the episode and the presentation of it as a spectral raven is genius. Both Sarah Dollard and director Justin Molotnikov should get a lot of praise for crafting such a special episode to see off the impossible girl.  And that leads to one of the two best moments in “Face the Raven”, where Clara extracts the promise from the Doctor that he will not become the Warrior again because she knows him and that’s exactly what he’ll want to do. She accepts what is about to happen to her and accepts that she made the decisions that led her there, and she demands that he does, too, and if she hadn’t… well. This Doctor likely would burn the Trap Street to the ground in revenge, and then hate himself more than he already does for doing it. Because the Doctor does hate himself for all the lives he couldn’t save, for the deaths he is responsible for, for turning his Companions into weapons against Evil… and for being so lonely that he lets someone like Clara become so close to him, so needed by him, that he lets her become too much like him. For that reason alone — his own self-hatred — Clara saves him, one last time.

And next week the Doctor will face the entity(s) behind the threat to the Street, and there his promise to Clara will be bent if not broken. Because not only did they kick off the events that led to Clara making that particular choice, but they wanted the Doctor himself, and his anger and self-hatred and burning desire to fight the evils of the Universe will have a target that he may not be able to resist. And not becoming the Warrior doesn’t mean the Doctor hasn’t made his anger into a weapon before…

Face The Raven is a truly brilliant episode and the remaining two stories in the series, along with the Christmas Special, will have their work cut out for them to live up to the high marker it has set down. While Series 9 has had its ups and downs, Episode 10 does a lot to confirm it as a classic series in the making, and we’re impressed that they managed to create such tension about the end of Clara, despite the fact that it had become common knowledge that she was leaving the show. It also sets things up for one hell of a finale to the series as the Doctor must face the people behind Ashildr’s deception.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are well and truly up to speed again in Doctor Who Series 9, and with the sheer fun and portentous finale of Episode 5: The Girl Who Died, they’ve only added to the brilliance of the series. This time around they find themselves in the company of Maisie Williams off of Game Of Thrones, playing a valiant Viking girl, and she makes a welcome addition to the storyline, causing more than a few ripples in the space-time continuum before the episode is done.

“The Girl Who Died” is a deeply peculiar episode in this most eccentric of seasons. On the surface it recalls last year’s divisive “Robot Of Sherwood” – a daft historical “romp” (oh how loaded that word has become forWho fans) with little regard for historical accuracy. On the other, it’s clearly meant as a major turning point in the life of the Twelfth Doctor.

Before all that, however, we’re treated to a gently funny adventure with shades of Monty Python and Horrible Histories. The Vikings here are a broadly-sketched lot – Maisie Williams’ Ashildr aside – but it doesn’t matter. This is no more a serious Norse saga than Who‘s original comedy historical, “The Romans”, was an accurate portrait of life in the Empire. Crucially, it is genuinely funny and packed with sharp lines and neat ideas.

Way back in “Deep Breath,” Doctor Who made us a promise about this new incarnation: This was the Doctor with the veil lifted, with the disguises removed. Last season went to some lengths to sketch out just what that might mean, kicking around ideas of whether the Doctor was really a good man and presenting a more remote version of the Time Lord. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but the whole thing had a slightly didactic quality, as though the show were straining to construct an argument about the nature of the Doctor it never quite managed to work out. “Death In Heaven” largely resolved this as the Doctor proudly asserted his identity, and the episodes since have hit upon a much simpler, more pleasing way of presenting a Doctor without artifice. With the Doctor of “The Girl Who Died,” there’s almost nothing beneath the surface, and what you see is pretty much what you get. The Doctor isn’t playing the happy wanderer or the whimsical madman as a way to deflect attention from his true feelings, but he also hasn’t swung all the way back to wondering what emotions are in the first place.

4284The Doctor and Clara start the episode in a whole lot of trouble, throwing us right into the action before the credits have even run, which is always a good sign. When the Doctor gets his act together just in the nick of time to save his TARDIS companion, who’d been stranded in outer space with a killer spider crawling around in her space suit, they teleport back in time and land themselves in even more bother at the hands of a Viking village and their God overlord, Odin.  Starting an episode at the end of an untold adventure always makes for a good intro to a story as it feels like they go out of the frying pan and into the fire week after week, which is sort of what it feels like throughout the majority of the many generations of Doctor Who. Just when they think they’re out of the woods they manage to find another darkly forested situation to get embroiled in and this time around it’s a band of marauding Vikings, their merciless godling impostor and a brave Viking girl that are in the thick of it with them.

“That’s not the real Odin.” “Of course not, he doesn’t even have a yoyo.”

The opening destruction of the sonic sunglasses sets the tone, as the Doctor immediately accepts that, yeah, he and Clara are going with the Vikings. The scene with Odin and the yoyo is brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi, as he finds room for deeper emotions and more impressive moments—when he first sees Maisie Williams’ Ashildr, when he tells Clara that he got out of his handcuffs by magic—amid all the bickering with his companion about his lack of plan and his deeply unconvincing Odin impression. The Doctor’s voice as Odin a wonderful choice, as it’s the kind of half-assed imitation that someone would only undertake if he really, really thought the locals were dumb enough to believe anything. But then, he was going to bluff his way out with a yoyo, so that really goes without saying. Although one might at least have figured the Doctor was, you know,good with a yoyo, an assumption of which the episode most hilariously disabuses us.

There’s a good amount of comedy to the episode, ranging from the hilarious vision of Ofin’s face in the sky and some great quips from the doctor to the dim-witted comic style of Tom Stourton who plays a Viking blacksmith whom the Doctor names Lofty. It makes it a fun and light-weight adventure for the most part, but just when you think it’s all just a jaunty jape in the past it suddenly gets a wee bitty serious on you, giving it much more gravitas and series impact than you’d bargained for.  Once “The Girl Who Died” establishes that dilemma for the Doctor, of how to defeat the false Odin without putting humanity at greater risk, it answers the question in two distinct ways, one speaking to the head and the other to the heart. The first is in seeing how the Doctor does eventually work out a plan that will deliver victory for the Vikings. His strategy is pleasing on multiple levels, as it effectively takes the silliness on display in so much of the episode and weaponizes it against the more serious threat of the Mire. The solution lies not in making the Norse more fearsome but rather in getting the aliens to admit they are every bit as ridiculous as anything else going on here, with the Doctor showing off some clever psychology about the importance of reputations to boot. The preceding sequence, in which the Doctor realizes the electric eels are the solution as the townspeople gawp at him, is one of the best-realized examples of the Doctor appearing only dimly aware that there is anyone else in the room with him. Again, “The Girl Who Died” is very smart in when it makes the Doctor alien and comedic and when it makes him human and emotionally vulnerable.

Make no mistake: The Doctor of this episode is as alien as ever, but “The Girl Who Died” allows him to feel and then articulate recognizable emotions. When he feels rage and heartbreak after Ashildir’s death, he doesn’t hold back in his reactions or—and this is crucial, given how circumspect the Doctor can be—explaining just why he feels so strongly. In pretty much all phases of the episode, the Doctor is honest in ways we so rarely see him be. When Clara points out that he never actually tells her the rules of what they can and can’t do, he gradually admits that there really aren’t any hard-and-fast laws, just lots of unintended consequences. This isn’t an episode where the Doctor pretends to not have a plan right up to the opportune moment. He genuinely has no idea how he, Clara, and a bunch of Norse farmers and fishermen are going to defeat one of the galaxy’s most fearsome warrior races, and that melancholy hopelessness informs both his joy when he does come up with a plan and his heartbreak when he realizes he once again couldn’t save everyone.

More grating was the return of the Doctor’s ability to speak baby. It’s deployed here to more serious effect, but that doesn’t really work… The gravitas of the Doctor asking “do babies die with honour” is hard to swallow when it’s been spurred on by him translated an infant’s gurgling.   The Doctor has been getting pretty serious for a while now, in particular with his concern for Clara’s well being and it’s beginning to feel a bit too much like a warning than well meaning care.The Girl Who Died only adds to this sense of rising foreboding and the more serious, mortality-framed ending acts as a significant reminder of Clara’s relative frailty, despite her evident action adventure skills. The fact that we also know that Jenna Coleman will be calling it a day on Doctor Who some time during Series 9 only adds to the tension every time she finds herself in a pickle.

Where the episode really works, however, is in the scenes between the Doctor and Ashildr (Maisie Williams).  Capaldi’s performance has been funnier and more obviously “Doctory” this season, but it’s also been increasingly clear that his is a selfish hero. As his testing of the theory that ambiguously led to O’Donnell’s death in “Before The Flood” showed, this Doctor is concerned primarily with protecting the lives of the people he knows. “I lost someone who matters to me,” he says at one point here, and he later predicts Clara’s potential demise and it’s all about how he will feel when it happens.

But then he meets Ashildr, and there’s a connection and her death shakes him to his core. It sparks the memory of saving Caecilius at Pompeii and reminds him that he can do pretty much anything he likes. There will be consequences (more on that next week…) but it gives him a purpose again. “I’m the Doctor, and I save people” feels like a moment of real triumph and realisation. Shame that it was plastered all over the trailers.  I haven’t yet talked much about the episode’s big guest star, as Game Of Thrones favorite Maisie Williams plays the title character, an individual who is quite rudelynot Susan or the Rani or River or Jenny or a Clara fragment or whoever else. Rather, she’s just a brave, kindhearted girl that neither the Doctor nor the town could bear to lose. Williams is very good here, although I suspect it’s next week’s “The Woman Who Lived” that will really see her show off her acting chops and challenge the Doctor, so I’ll save most of my discussion of her work for that next week. Her best quality here is one that likely won’t surprise those familiar with Arya Stark, as she has a presence here that feels both authentically medieval and eminently relatable. When she undoes Clara’s very smart work talking the Mire into leaving and declares war on them, she reveals herself the product of a culture nearly as alien to us as the Mire, yet it also feels completely logical for her to defend her town’s honor in this way. Much as this season’s episodes have seen Peter Capaldi move from playing the Doctor to, at least to the extent it’s possible, being the Doctor, so too does Maisie Williams show the difference between pretending to be a Viking girl and really inhabiting the role.

“She might meet someone she can’t bear to lose. That happens. I’m told.”

When Peter Capaldi said, pre-series launch, that “the Doctor is about to make a mistake that has cataclysmic repercussions,” most of us assumed he was talking about leaving the young Davros to die (or not). But on the evidence of this week, not a bit of it. Three stories in, we’ve had the blockbuster one, we’ve had the creepy, old-fashioned one, and now it seems, we’ve reached the fulcrum of the series. In saving Ashildr (Maisie Williams) just a week after calling out the Fisher King for bending the rules of life and death, the Doctor has done exactly the same, and he realises straight away that he’s on dodgy ground. Davros’s warnings about “the hybrid”, and that “compassion is wrong” are surely going to hang heavy over the coming weeks, that final lingering shot of Ashildr darkening as she watches everything around her die, trapped in her own, endless life, is surely going to have consequences.

Sorry for the delay on these – been a busy time!

Right lets get started, shall we?  I’m not too sure what it is with the Doctor and monsters related to water – I mean it’s almost like he’s TRYING to scare us isn’t it! 🙂  Let’s be honest – this episode and its partner while not as frightening as the David Tennant helmed Waters of Mars was still enough to send my kids scurrying upstairs leaving me all alone in the dark.  However the ghosts were not what they seemed so without further ado – lets get into the recap.

When the Doctor and Clara bland on yet another seemingly deserted station they don’t really realize that they are trapped underwater. Exploring they come across a derelict and seemingly far advanced spaceship which has some strange writing on the inside that the TARDIS translation engine is unable to read. After the Doctor and Clara both look at it – and it seemingly gets imprinted on their eyes – they continue their investigations of the station. Almost immediately they come across a ghost – something that the Doctor does not believe should exist. When they find the remainder of the crew they explain that the ghost is actually their old commander who was killed, seemingly randomly by the derelict spaceship while they were investigating it.

The Doctor – as mentioned previously – refuses to believe in the existence of the ghost stating that in all of his travels he has never yet come across such entities however as more and more facts seemingly lineup he is forced to agree with this despite his earlier arguments to the contrary. Realizing that the only way they can stay alive is by trapping the ghosts they come up with a plan to get them into a faraday cage where they will be unable to escape.

Managing to trap the ghosts the Doctor and Clara get separated when the emergency protocols activate on the station flooding the hallways with seawater to shutdown an overheating reactor. The Doctor realizes the only way he can figure out what is really going on, is to travel back in time to when the ship itself was discovered Before the Flood (see what I did there?)

Telling Clara that he will come back for her, the Doctor departs in the TARDIS however shortly thereafter Clara sees a new ghost floating outside the window – this time it’s the Doctor.

Thoughts

Not one of the best episodes I’ll be honest.  There were some elements that were interesting but the ship itself was just too cardboard and didn’t have any realism. While I know that Doctor Who is not necessarily about the special-effects they generally seem to at least make an effort and in this case I felt that they hadn’t bothered.

Clara herself however seems to really be making an effort perhaps too large of a one has she seems to be setting herself up for failure. While I know that Clara is leaving the way she’s been acting almost makes me wish she was gone already as more and more it seems that the Doctor is her companion versus the other way around. While Clara has never been my favorite companion, I’ve not actively disliked one and unfortunately that is very much the way I’m starting to feel about her now.  I know – I’m probably just setting myself up here as I’m sure that they’re writing her this way for a specific reason and she’ll turn out to be some god or something that has to sacrifice herself to save the universe, but right now … I don’t like her!

The ghost themselves are interesting I guess, and having them able to manipulate physical objects was a nice twist and something that I was not initially expecting. The timing of this episode was extra good in terms of real life events of course as it was only recently reported that water had been discovered on Mars which tied back to the excellent Waters of Mars episode and had a good correlation to this one.

Lets start with the positive on this episode as it must be said, there were some misses, but still quite a bit to like and while this episode was not as good as The Magician’s Apprentice, it still moved forward in a fairly quick and interesting fashion.

While we all knew that Missy and Clara were not killed at the end of the previous episode, their means of escape from the Dalek’s was explained quite well and their interactions throughout the show were spot on. I especially liked the “view” that Clara had of the Doctor’s escape in a similar fashion and her explanation of his gift for similar escapes from other enemies in the past. Missy specifically while seeming “almost good” last episode, continued that trend here, but gradually and convincingly started to revert to type in a more and more demented fashion and started to remind me of the Joker in some weird and wonderful ways!

Similarly the Doctor and Davros’ conversations and interactions were exceedingly well done and you could absolutely get into it. While anyone would assume that Davros was bluffing and playing on the Doctor’s feelings, more and more throughout the episode, he managed to persuade you of the genuinness of his feelings and his eventual betrayal when it came, as well as how it came was a surprise.

Quick Recap

If you recall from last weeks episode, Clara and Missy were supposedly killed by the Daleks. Well this week starts with them explaining how they escaped (basically Missy had reprogrammed their teleportation devices to send them elsewhere when they were shot by the Daleks) and then discussing how they can break back into the city that is filled with murderous Daleks so that they can save the Doctor.

Entering the sewers of the city – Clara rightly asks, why do Daleks even have sewers? Missy informs her that the sewers are not for removing waste from the Daleks but as they are essentially immortal, when their shell decays the remnants of the Dalek pool in the sewers of the city. While they no longer have the ability to navigate and drive a Dalek shell/body – they still continue to hate as a Dalek and Missy uses this knowledge to trap and kill a Dalek that has come into the sewers searching for the intruder.

“genetically hardwired to keep on living, whatever happens”.

Placing Clara in the Dalek shell – with eerie similarities to Clara’s first appearance on the Doctor in epic Asylum of the Daleks – Clara is “taught” by Missy how to navigate and use the Dalek body. Scarily emotions and words like love and hate and exterminate are the tools that power the Daleks disintegration beams and Clara is quickly frightened by what she’s gotten herself into.

‘How are you supposed to make it go without pedals?’ Clara asked.
‘Telepathic control.’
But inside when she spoke, to her horror she found everything was automatically translated into Dalek-speak.
‘I am Clara Oswald’ came out as ‘I am a Dalek.’

Meanwhile the Doctor and Davros continue their repartee and in a short interlude it seems that the Doctor might have found a quick and easy way to escape when he removes Davros from his chair and uses it to taunt the Daleks in their control chamber.

‘Davros is an insane, paranoid, genius who has survived among several billion trigger-happy mini tanks for centuries,’ he told the army of Davros’ ‘children’. ‘Conclusion? I’m definitely having his chair!’

While this interlude is short, the interaction between the two in the latter half of the episode is both poignant and moving, and Davros particularly does an exceptional job in his portrayal of a dying madman that has seen the truth. When he opens his eyes – well I’ll be honest, thats a scene I NEVER expected to see!

Davros even wept as he asked: ‘I need to know before I go. Am I a good man?’

However, as we’ve come to expect from both the Doctor and his most bitter enemy, leopards just don’t change their spots and while the Doctor is seemingly trapped in his efforts to restore Davros to life so that he can see one more sunrise, in reality the Doctor has realized that its all a setup and trick. Bequething his Time Lord energy to Daleks, the Doctor has realized that its not going just to Davros and those Daleks still in their bodies, but to ALL Daleks on the planet including the bodies of millions and millions of quiescent Daleks that were previously only in the sewers.

generations of Daleks just woke up very cross and they are coming up the pipes ! This city is about to be sucked into the ground, your own sewer is about to consume you !’

Realizing that Clara is trapped in the Dalek shell when she utters the word “mercy”, the Doctor helps her get out. Missy meanwhile is forced to flee as while she’d saved the Doctor from Davros, she’d commited a more heinous crime when she attempted to trick him into killing Clara by pretending that the Dalek body she was inhabiting had actually been the one that killed her.

While we were left last week with the Doctor facing a young Davros seemingly about to destroy him, this week we see the conclusion to that and the Doctor instead exterminates the handmines and saves Davros’ life. The boy wanted to know if was a friend or an enemy though.

‘I’m not sure any of that matters – friends, enemies..’ the Doctor assured him. ‘So long as there’s mercy.’

No!!! Not the Sonic Screwdriver!!

Overall a bit of a mixed feelings here. I mean the first and most obvious thing that must be said here, is that millions of toys around the world have now been consigned to the dustbin of history and I’m sure whole factories full of toy makers are cursing the BBC and Moffat for what he’s done in this most recent episode. If you recall from last week’s episode (The Magician’s Apprentice), the Doctor had given his Sonic Screwdriver to a young Davros, well now its gone (perhaps for good?) and has been replaced by “wearable technology” – sonic (?) sunglasses! I’ll be honest, that’s one thing I really didn’t like – if they wanted to introduce a new line of toys or gadgets, wouldn’t a smartwatch have made more sense? Sunglasses while admittadly cool, just aren’t the right tool in certain situations and just don’t make sense. Of course, in terms of a (secret) grand reveal it’s quite appropriate, as I’m sure everyone was rightfully surprised when it happened! As Capaldi has been featured wearing these shades in episodes being filmed for the remainder of Season 9, it can be assumed that they are here to stay – at least for this season & while the Sonic “Screwdriver” was most definitely not a screwdriver, its a gadget that I will personally miss.

Finally this episode has done nothing more than reenergize the Daleks as while it might seem they are setback by the muck from the sewers, we all know they will be back and if the Doctor knew that Davros was pretending, he’s done nothing more than give him additional life which seems a bit wrong to me? In addition, the same can be said of Missy couldn’t it? She’s an excellent character and I really love the spin she’s brought to the show, but previous iterations of Who had done what they could to stop her … here, he’s just told her to go away. Seems like a bit of a cop out.

Overall I didn’t love this one as much as I did the previous episode. There was some good stuff for sure, but the negatives in my opinion did more to hurt it.

Loved it, loved it, loved it!  Many girlish squeals of joy also! 🙂  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets get down to it shall we?  There was just so much to enjoy and love in this episode I know that I’m going to miss something however I’ll try to cover the high points and would appreciate any reminders for things I might have missed in the comments below.

The first thing that struck me right from the start is that this episode is definitely being shown in a “Star Wars year” as one of the earliest scenes is of an alien wandering through a bar that reminds me of nothing else but the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine.  Literally snaking through the crowd (this reference will be made clear later) we see the Oood and other familiar characters from Dr. Who lore, however most important perhaps is the search that this mysterious hooded figure is on.

Colony Sarff (looking very much like a Sith Master – another reference to Star Wars) is on the hunt for the Doctor and when he’s unable to find him in all of his regular jaunts, he returns to his master … Davros.  Davros it seems has remembered something, something important and something about the Doctor.  What you may ask?  Well that was actually answered in one of the coolest prologues I’ve ever seen!

In the prologue, the Doctor comes across a little boy on a war torn land.  Similar to other rescues that we’ve seen him make countless times before, this looks like just another run of the mill encounter.  The boy however is stuck in a field with “hand mines” that are one of the more interesting and gruesome weapons provided by Doctor Who.  Able to literally suck a person into the ground to their doom, they are able to see people to attack and while the Doctor is good at saving people, you really need to wonder how he’s going to make this miracle happen?

The answer in this case however, is that he isn’t! The boy it turns out is someone we all know and hate – Davros the creator of the Daleks himself is the one trapped in the field of hands and the Doctor surmises that by leaving him to die, he can possibly change the path of the future and save trillions from extermination.

Silly Doctor … this time he forgot that Davros himself must be a fixed point in time … the creator of the Daleks cannot be killed by non-action.  The Doctor really only has two choices here … either kill Davros or save him.  Unfortunately neither option guarantees that the Dalek’s still won’t be built.

However, Davros himself is not the only villain in this episode … perhaps the one that we all loved and hated the most … the Master in his female incarnation Missy is back! If you recall from the episode Death in Heaven (the Season 8 finale) – Missy was seemingly disintegrated by one of the Cybermen – somehow the Doctor’s finest foe resurrected herself (“Ok,” she deadpans. “Cutting to the chase. Not dead. Back. Big surprise. Never mind.”), and now she really wants to be considered more of friend. At least a frenemy.

The Master/Missy has always been a character right on the edge of sanity – while the Dalek’s are simply evil incarnate, the Master has always been someone that could have been on the side of light if things had just gone just a little bit differently.  With the return of Missy in The Magician’s Apprentice, we see a capricious foe, one that while still an enemy of the Doctor is also perhaps his oldest and truest friend and from what we’ve seen over the previous seasons – this is actually somewhat true!  I’d be the first to acknowledge that the Master was always one of the Doctor’s greatest foes, however was he not in some ways made this way due to the meddling of the Time Lords?

 

When she (Missy) stops all the planes in the world to get Clara’s attention & likens her to a dog that is being walked by a nearby couple, it’s supremely classic and in some ways give you the best indication of how the Time Lords (perhaps including the Doctor himself) see us.  Pets to be cared for and nurtured, but ones that they are infinitely superior to – not only in knowledge, but also in ability and determination.  With Clara’s help, Missy is able to track the Doctor down who has been hiding in the renaissance era, this is probably the weakest part of the episode as while it’s fun to watch, its nothing more than a rip-off of Back to the Future & while some of the aforementioned scenes also rip-off other movies/shows, they are done in a way that is subtle, whereas this is definitely not!

Missy however is nothing more than brilliant in this scene and it’s probably one of her strongest ones on screen.  While she was excellent in her conversation with Clara, her she is sublime.  She plays the perfect foil to the Doctor and his over the top ego & acts as the villain to his hero in his ramblings to the crowd.  She’s just amazing and I can’t wait to see what else she brings to the screen this season!

Sarff arrives while Missy and the Doctor are interacting and while Missy is trying to get the Doctor to answer the question of why he sent her his will and why he thinks he’s dying, Sarff tells him that Davros has remembered & the Doctor immediately goes white.  As both Clara and Missy point out, its a new look for him – one of shame.

Taken to a citadel seemingly hovering in space, the Doctor meets up with Davros and while the scenes and conversations of all of Davros’ previous encounters with various incarnations of the Doctor play on the screen – including the brilliant Genesis of the Daleks with Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor – Peter Capaldi seems up to the challenge of replacing this memory in all of our minds.  When Clara and Missy discover the the citadel is not actually hovering in space, but is in fact on the surface of Skaros – the home planet of the Daleks themselves, well that’s where the plot really thickens!

While Missy tries to persuade the Daleks that she should be their new leader & help them take over all of space and time with the aid of the TARDIS, they are less than interested and proceed to EXTERMINATE her, followed by Clara and the TARDIS while the Doctor looks on in horror.  While you might think that was a suitable cliff hanger to leave us on till next week, its not over yet – the Doctor appears back on that war torn battlefield with the little boy … this time however it seems he’s made a decision and its not to save the boy but rather to kill him & perhaps end the reign of the Daleks before they even begin!

Ohhh, boy … this was definitely a good one and if the rest of the season matches this episode in terms of story and production values, we’re in for a very exciting journey.  This episode has the potential already to be one of my favorite ones, possibly second to the Doctors Wife.  Can’t wait till next week!

While getting coffee for Clara, The Doctor uses the TARDIS to rescue Journey Blue, a soldier fighting the Daleks, from her exploding spaceship. Returning her to command ship Aristotle, he avoids being executed as a Dalek spy by agreeing to treat a Dalek that has malfunctioned and ‘turned good’. The Doctor retrieves Clara from Coal Hill School, where she has just set a date with maths teacher and former soldier Danny Pink, and they set off in the TARDIS for the Aristotle. On the way, The Doctor asks Clara if he is ‘a good man’ but she does not know.

The Doctor, Clara, Journey and soldiers Ross and Gretchen are miniaturised to go inside the Dalek whom The Doctor has nicknamed ‘Rusty’. They are attacked by Dalek antibodies and Ross is killed. The Doctor seals the radiation leak causing the Dalek’s damage, which provokes Rusty to lead an attack on the Aristotle. Gretchen sacrifices herself so The Doctor and Clara can recover the memories that made Rusty ‘good’. Linked in to The Doctor’s mind, Rusty destroys all his fellow Daleks. The Doctor refuses Journey as a companion because she is a soldier. Clara tells Danny she is not so prejudiced.

The script for ‘Into the Dalek’ is much tighter and more coherent than ‘Deep Breath’ though there is far too much time wasted on talking about The Twelfth Doctor’s moral ambiguity. The sparse storyline and reduced number of characters helps enormously, and even the extraneous cut-away to Missy in the ‘Promised Land’ season arc is kept to an absolute minimum. The miniaturisation idea, liberally borrowed from the movie Fantastic Voyage and previously used in the Tom Baker serial ‘The Invisible Enemy’, works well although the unique jeopardy of the situation is occasionally forgotten about and it becomes just another labyrinth.

As with other Dalek episodes in the Moffat era, the use of The Doctor’s most iconic adversaries is fairly incidental. There’s no longer any continuity between the Dalek stories and often it feels like they are metal MacGuffins moving the plot along on castors. Though The Doctor talks about his first run-in with The Daleks, there’s a very fractured sense of the Dalek mythology. They seem more like abstract philosophical concepts of good and evil than fully-realised antagonists. The captured and conflicted Dalek storyline is perhaps a little too close to 2005’s Dalek and was arguably done far better then.

The Radio Times for 30 April–6 May 2005 covere...
The Radio Times for 30 April–6 May 2005 covered both the return of the Daleks to Doctor Who and the forthcoming general election. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Deep Breath’ was a bridge between the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi eras but ‘Into the Dalek’ gives us a much better idea of how the series will progress. We see that The Doctor will be dropping by Coal Hill School to whisk Clara away to the universe rather than her being a permanent resident of the TARDIS. With the introduction of Danny Pink, we get a link with contemporary earth and possibly a new companion. It looks like we’re only going to get glimpses of Missy and ‘The Promised Land’ in each episode, until at least the season finale.

This is also the first time we’ve seen The Twelfth Doctor outside of his post-regeneration haze, and he shapes up to be a deeply pessimistic and cynical incarnation of the character. The Doctor seems terribly fatalistic about the inevitability of Ross’s death and the impossibility of a ‘good’ Dalek, also notably less certain of his own moral authority. Consequently, Clara has to become more confrontational with The Doctor, which hits the viewer hard when she roughly slaps him across the face in a moment of callous disinterest. She also starts to function as the antidote to The Doctor’s increasingly judgmental attitudes.

The second story featuring a new Doctor is usually where we see what we’re going to get from the character but Peter Capaldi came in so strongly with his abrasive and strange portrayal that there’s not much work left to do, and The Doctor’s sinister side seems to have peaked in this episode. Rather ‘Into the Dalek’ is a chance to get back to more rugged storytelling and pure action after a ponderous and arty season opener. I’m not angling for a return of the Russell T Davies-era where Daleks were overused and all-consuming, but I do think that the stories they feature in could be more quintessential to the Daleks and their history in the series, rather than having them as a piece of metal to hang a premise on. Overall, ‘Into the Dalek’ is very satisfying sci-fi but doesn’t do much for The Doctor or The Daleks.

On his travels through time and space, The Doctor hypothesizes that no-one in the universe is ever alone. He travels to Clara’s flat to share his theory, and finds her home from a date with Danny which went horribly wrong after the topic of his military service came up. The Doctor wants to use Clara’s childhood to investigate a common dream that he thinks proves his contention. Clara connects with the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits to find the dream in her past but, still thinking about Danny, they end up visiting him in a children’s home in Gloucester in the 1990s.

In trying to protect the child from a mysterious figure under his bedcovers, Clara inadvertently causes him to change his name from Rupert to Danny and become a soldier. The Doctor takes Clara back to try and salvage her date, but they are interrupted by time-traveller Orson Pink, Danny’s grandson, who The Doctor has rescued from the end of time. All three return to the last planet to try and ensnare the elusive eternal companion. Upon leaving, Clara ends up on Gallifrey, comforting a childhood version of The Doctor scared of the dark, which is what motivated his original hypothesis.

This is very much an episode of two halves. The first is a suspenseful piece of paranormal horror while the second teases out The Doctor’s psyche and timeline, much like 50th anniversary special ‘Day of The Doctor’. It’s not surprising that the two should come together in an episode written by Steven Moffat, as they are both his writing defaults, but the two don’t really gel. The horror half is much stronger dramatically and though the twist is wholly original in the history of Doctor Who, trying to tie it into The Doctor’s past history goes a step too far.

The script goes to rather elaborate lengths to keep Danny out of the TARDIS, which is one of many odd choices made here by Moffat (including a redundant ‘time cannon’ sub-plot) that you idly hope will eventually come to fruition in later stories. In hindsight, the concept would have worked better without the futuristic section and Gallifrey scenes, as the idea of a Doctor Who story without monsters is so unique and powerful it could easily stand on its own. Though the biggest problem is that tension cultivated in the first half is undone by the time-hopping of the second.

Although The Doctor’s psyche is at the centre of the episode, the idea that his personality comes from childhood fear of the dark is something that Moffat has rather forced upon his characterisation in this episode rather than it explaining past behaviour. Either that or Moffat’s cod-psychological explanation of how this forged The Doctor’s ‘superpowers’ is simply unconvincing. That said, these biographical nuggets gives Capaldi’s authoritative Doctor some much-needed vulnerability. We get a better sense of Danny’s backstory (and hints about his future) while his scenes with Clara put her in a much less sympathetic light than we’re used to.

Clara’s encounters with Danny’s past and future lead to a rapid development of their romance but otherwise the episode acts as a consolidation of what we found out about The Doctor last season, with a brief clip from Day of The Doctor bridging the gap. It’s indicative of how this season lives in the past rather than giving Capaldi’s Doctor a clean break. The season arc is ignored (for once!) and for the most part ‘Listen’ is a self-contained story with some mythology revision thrown in as an afterthought. Though I suspect we might return to the episode later on.

I’m not really sure what to think about ‘Listen’. I was so enthralled by the ‘monster under the bed’ segment of the story that, even with the innovative ending, it was disappointing when it once again boiled down to a series of coincidental time paradoxes. Part of me would have been happier if it had turned out to be a monster! There’s too much going on too fast for the episode to be as suspenseful as it could have been, and I’m not sure it knows what its strengths are. We’re supposed to find more satisfaction in seeing The Doctor as a child on Gallifrey than the unprecedented revelation that for once there is no antagonist. Still, the episode contains the most concentrated bout of scares we’ve seen in Doctor Who for a while, and it’s good to see Moffat experimenting for a change rather than resting on his laurels.