Tuesday, 18 January 2022
Sunday, 16 January 2022
Friday, 14 January 2022
News has sadly broken that science fiction and fantasy author Dave Wolverton, also known by his pen-name David Farland, has passed away at the age of 64 due to injuries sustained in a fall. He was best known for his Runelords epic fantasy series and his contributions to the Star Wars universe.
Born John David Wolverton in Monroe, Oregon, he began writing speculative fiction whilst in college. His career began taking off after he won the Writers of the Future contest in 1987 for the novella On My Way to Paradise (revised and published as his debut novel in 1989). The novel was also the runner up for Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel in 1990. Wolverton later served as a judge in the contest and edited the spin-off annual anthology from 1992 to 1998, and again from 2013 to 2019.
Wolverton continued to write SF with the Anee duology and the Golden Queen trilogy. He also branched into tie-in fiction, writing the Star Wars novel The Courtship of Princess Leia, which introduced major recurring factions in the Star Wars Expanded Universe such as the Hapes Consortium and the Witches of Dathomir (who were referenced as recently as this week's episode of The Book of Boba Fett). He wrote several additional novels in the same universe.
Wolverton's career went up a notch when he began writing epic fantasy under the pen-name "David Farland," starting with The Sum of All Men (1998). Wolverton didn't want readers to know it was him, and was reportedly unhappy when he was "outed" in by a UK SF publication; in their defence, they noted that the author biography in the UK edition immediately revealed his true identity. The resulting Runelords sequence became a successful fantasy series, expanding to eight novels by 2009. A ninth volume was promised, but had so far not been published.
Using the Farland name, Wolverton also published the Serpent Catch and Ravenspell series.
Wolverton was also a noted writing teacher, giving lessons and classes on the nature of writing over many years. Among authors he tutored and mentored were James Dashner (the Maze Runner series) and Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive, Mistborn).
Dave Wolverton was a popular author with a strong drive to encourage others to write and write well. He will be missed.
Tuesday, 11 January 2022
The Doctor receives a summons to meet one of his oldest and greatest foes, Davros, creator of the Daleks. Davros is dying, and wants to provoke the Doctor's guilt after the Doctor realised he had an opportunity to help the young Davros on Skaro and instead abandoned him after realising his identity. But this encounter is only the start of a journey presaged by a warning, of the coming of a hybrid warrior who will stand in the ruins of Gallifrey. The Doctor and Clara must identity this threat and learn more about it...or if even refers to one of them.
Doctor Who's eighth series was an interesting foray into the psychologies of its two lead characters, and what happens when they become codependent on one another, developing a toxic relationship (though it does not appear so on a surface level), rooted in Clara's addiction to the danger and excitement and the Doctor's willingness to indulge it. The season ended with the Doctor and Clara realising the unhealthy nature of their relationship and calling it a day, a result of Jenna Coleman initially choosing to leave the show. However, she reversed that decision, allowing showrunner Steven Moffat to dedicate the following season to an even darker thematic idea: what happens when an addict relapses?
It's interesting stuff, but decidedly heavy, and the result is arguably the darkest continuous run of episodes that Doctor Who has experienced since its return in 2005. However, Moffat thankfully realised that dedicating fourteen episodes to this idea would be a bit much, so also remembered to include a more obvious long-running plot point - the search for the enigmatic Hybrid - and an experimental format change, where the season shifts from self-contained episodes to a series of multi-part stories. Only the Christmas specials and a single episode, Sleep No More, stand alone in this season.
Things kick off with Last Christmas, which starts when what appears to be Actual Santa Claus (Nick Frost) turns up on Christmas Eve and effectively recruits both the Doctor and Clara to help investigate a mystery at the North Pole, where a remote Arctic base has run into trouble. It's a pretty deranged episode, but ultimately makes sense with excellent performances from a stellar guest cast including Nick Frost, Michael Troughton and theoretical future companion (if Coleman had indeed left) Shona, played by Faye Marsay (whose then-imminent Game of Thrones recurring role is nodded at in an in-gag). The episode is fun, drawing on a variety of movies for its influences. Alien, The Thing, Miracle on 34th Street and Inception are all clear inspirations for the episode, which cleverly remixes them into something quite entertaining, which handles tonal variation between broad comedy and horror with skill. But the episode's most important moment is when Clara rejoins the Doctor on the TARDIS and admits to having missed the dematerialisation sound with all the energy of an addict relapsing in front of our eyes. Yikes.
The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar form the first story of the season and sees the Doctor accidentally landing on Skaro during the height of the infamous Thousand-Year War between the Kaleds and the Thals. He is offered a chance to help the young Davros but freaks out when he realises who he is. Davros, remembering the incident, calls to the Doctor for help as the end of his life draws near, and concocts a plan to get Clara and the inevitably-not-dead-after-all Missy to help him find the Doctor. The result is one of the best Dalek stories since the show's return, with the Daleks being more incidental than normal whilst the bulk of the story centres on relationships: the Doctor's with Davros, and the decidedly iffy partnering of Clara as a temp companion to the Master. The fact that they make an effective team (up to Missy's inevitable betrayal) is rather concerning, given Missy's lack of morality, honour or ethics. As a two-parter, it's surprisingly well-paced and threads the needle of horror, drama, comedy and pathos. Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach sell the absolute hell out of the Doctor-Davros two-handers that make up the bulk of the two episodes, and the realisation of Skaro is terrific. Almost unfathomably, this is the first story to definitively be set on the Dalek homeworld after the events of the very first Dalek story in 1963, and the set designers have fun recreating some of the sets, props and sound effects from that original story. Even the Doctor's "midlife crisis" opening (playing electric guitar and taking a main battle tank to a medieval duel) is well-handled.
The subsequent two-parter, Under the Lake and Before the Flood, is a creepy story involving ghosts appearing in an underwater base a hundred years in the future. The Doctor has to navigate a story that, in its second half, is split between two time zones, with events in the past dynamically changing events in the future. There's an excellent supporting cast - one of the best, in fact, of these kind of "base under siege" stories - and the fact that the underwater base is under the aegis of UNIT for once means most of the "who are these people who've just shown up?" tedium can be skipped. The abrupt shift in location halfway through means that - for the second story in a row! - we can have a well-paced two-part story, and the cliffhanger ending to part one is a doozy. What lets the episode down is a slightly iffy and convenient ending, and the surprising ease with which the apparently powerful, semi-immortal enemy is eliminated. Also, the sets in this episode are excellent, but almost too good, and are repurposed for several more stories across the next two seasons which does start to get over-familiar (presumably another result of the show's growing budget issues).
The next story is only nominally a two-parter, instead being more two self-contained episodes linked by the recurring character of Ashildr (Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams). In the first part, the Doctor and Clara have to help defend Ashildr's village from an alien race known as the Mire, after Ashildr goads them into attacking. The result is a pretty standard Doctor Who story of aliens menacing a small community, which the Doctor first tries to rally by training them for battle (complete with montage sequences) before hitting on a cleverer stratagem. The actual story is fairly disposable - the Mire might manage the impressive task of being the least memorable alien race created for the show since its return - since it's all a framing device for Masie Williams' excellent performance and the accidental "immortalising" of her through a merging of Mire medical tech and the Doctor's sonic screwdriver.
The second part, where the Doctor encounters Ashildr - now only calling herself "me" - in England hundreds of years later, is far more interesting. Williams gives a different, more powerful kind of performance and the Doctor has to confront what happens when a primitive human gets the kind of life and perspective only a Time Lord can normally be expected to enjoy. It's a much more interesting episode, even if the ending is kind of abrupt and easily resolved. It does set up the edgy relationship between the Doctor and Me which will permeate the rest of the season.
The next story picks up some dangling plot threads from The Day of the Doctor, namely the revelation that there are now millions of Zygons living on Earth in secret thanks to a peace treaty negotiated between UNIT and the Zygon High Command (mediated by three incarnations of the Doctor). The result is a tense game of cat and mouse as a renegade faction of Zygons tries to spark war between the peace-desiring majority and the humans, playing on the paranoia of the latter. It's fun to see UNIT semi-regulars Kate Stewart and Osgood back, and Jenna Coleman gets a hell of an acting showcase as both Clara and her villainous Zygon counterpart, Bonnie. Capaldi also gets arguably his biggest and best "Doctor speech" as the Doctor tries to stop the wheels of war after they've started turning. The main problem here is the lack of fallout (the presence of millions of Zygons on Earth is one of those things that later episodes kind of forget about) but the story is great stuff. It is possibly the only multi-part story this season which does adhere to the new show's traditional problem of having too much story for 45 minutes but not quite enough for 90, though.
Sleep No More is the season's single standalone episode, but even this gets a format upgrade. The episode is told through "found footage" only, with us only seeing the events from the perspectives of the character's helmet cams and the space station's camera system. This gives the episode an interesting feeling of claustrophobia and it even plays metatextual games with the found footage format itself. Unfortunately, the episode falters on several levels: the sets are very clearly exactly the same as Under the Lake and Before the Flood, and some minor redressing and fancy camera angles can't really hide that, which does make the story feel cheap. The monsters also feel a bit random, without a strong rationale for their presence. The episode also has a confused ending, seemingly setting up a sequel that never comes (a result of the episode's lukewarm reception on original ending). The result is, despite some good performances, the weakest episode of the season.
Face the Raven kicks off a three-part story with the Doctor and Clara rushing to help save the life of their friend Rigsy (from the previous season's Flatline) who has gained a tattoo which is counting down to his apparent death, an execution for a murder he allegedly committed. This leads them to the discovery of a Diagon Alley-style hidden community in London, this once consisting of alien refugees and fugitives living under the protection of a returning Me. This results in a puzzle box of a storyline as Clara and the Doctor try to find a way to stop Rigsy's death. What appears at first to be a solid stand-alone episode abruptly takes a turn for the catastrophic when Clara's overconfidence, fuelled by her increasing capability as an ally of the Doctor, leads her to make a horrendous mistake and one of the absolute dooziest of cliffhangers in the show's run.
The cliffhanger directly leads into Heaven Sent, an almost one-hander, acting masterclass for Peter Capaldi as he is transported to an apparent prison, an ancient castle in the middle of an ocean, and is haunted by a spectral figure. The Doctor realises he is being interrogated in a highly obtuse way and the castle, whose walls shift like an immense clockwork mechanism, is a puzzle that he might be able to escape if he can find the way. Eventually he finds the solution, but it is so horrendous and mentally taxing that it seems unfathomable...unless the Doctor can find the right motivation to carry on.
Heaven Sent has occasionally been cited as the greatest episode of the show since its return and maybe the greatest single episode of the entire run of the series, with a series of puzzles leading the Doctor to a horrifying conclusion. Capaldi does all of the lifting - heavy or otherwise - for the episode and it at times invokes hard SF, fantasy and the surrealism of The Prisoner, not to mention the Clockwork Mansion of the Dishonored video game series (which was almost complete when this episode aired and came out a year later, so clearly no influence was shared, they just developed a similar idea at the same time). The invocation of the Doctor's "memory palace," where he can retreat to study a problem at hyperfast speeds (thus explaining the number of times he's come up with a plan in the nick of time), is clever. The fusion of Steven Moffat's best script and Rachel Talalay's outstanding direction results in something very special.
Hell Bent finally gives us what fans had wanted to see for ten years by that point: the Doctor's triumphant (?) return to Gallifrey following the events of the Time War. It's a fast-moving episode as the Doctor has to deal with Rassilon and the High Council, find a way of trying to rescue Clara and delving into some of the mistakes of his own past. It's a busy episode, maybe too busy for even its extended run time, but some excellent performances (including Donald Sumpter as a post-Timothy Dalton Rassilon and a frequently-fancast-as-the-Doctor T'Nia Miller as the General) keep things ticking over, even if the ending is the very definition of having your cake and eating it.
Things round off with another Christmas special, The Husbands of River Song. This episode is a definite lighting of the mood after the previous season, with the Twelfth Doctor inadvertently recruited by River Song (who does not recognise him, believing the Doctor to have exhausted his regenerations and died after the Eleventh) to take part in a diamond heist, with the problem being that the diamond is located inside the skull of a powerful alien ruler (played with gusto by comedian Greg Davies). The very definition of a fun, knockabout romp with some able support from Matt Lucas as companion-in-waiting Nardole (well, he's just playing Matt Lucas, but Matt Lucas in Doctor Who works better than it perhaps should). Given how Moffat overused River Song earlier in his tenure as showrunner, she works much better here in an isolated appearance, as Moffat effectively wraps up the story arc he began seven years earlier with Silence in the Library.
The ninth season of Doctor Who (****½) since its return makes a convincing case for being the best of the entire reboot series to date, with a run of very strong episodes culminating in one of the greatest episodes of all time. It is, though, a serious, more adult season with less knockabout larking, which may explain why Doctor Who's long-term (if slow) ratings decline really started becoming noticeable here, as kids moved on to other franchises. The season is available to watch on BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Britbox in the USA.
- 9X: Last Christmas ****
- 901: The Magician's Apprentice ****½
- 902: The Witch's Familiar ****½
- 903: Under the Lake ****
- 904: Before the Flood ***½
- 905: The Girl Who Died ***½
- 906: The Woman Who Lived ****
- 907: The Zygon Invasion ****
- 908: The Zygon Inversion ****
- 909: Sleep No More **½
- 910: Face the Raven ****½
- 911: Heaven Sent *****
- 912: Hell Bent ****
- 9XX: The Husbands of River Song ****
Sunday, 9 January 2022
- 801: Deep Breath ****
- 802: Into the Dalek ****
- 803: Robot of Sherwood ***½
- 804: Listen *****
- 805: Time Heist ***½
- 806: The Caretaker ****
- 807: Kill the Moon **½
- 808: Mummy on the Orient Express ****
- 809: Flatline ****½
- 810: In the Forest of the Night ***
- 811: Dark Water ****½
- 812: Death in Heaven ***½
Saturday, 8 January 2022
Friday, 7 January 2022
Amazon's Fallout TV series has recruited its showrunners: Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner will helm the show on a day-to-day basis, whilst Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy will write and executive produce the show as part of a broader slate of projects they are working on (including more Westworld for HBO).
Robertson-Dworet previously worked as a writer on the 2018 Tomb Raider reboot and on Captain Marvel. She has also been attached as a writer to the new Star Trek movie, a Gotham City Sirens movie and a potential adaptation of Andy Weir's Artemis, with Phil Lord and Chris Miller attached to direct. Wagner is a more experienced TV writer with credits on Silicon Valley, Portlandia and the US iteration of The Office.
It sounds like wife-and-husband team Joy and Nolan have already written the first episode and Nolan will also direct the first episode. Joy and Nolan previously worked on Person of Interest as well as Westworld, whilst Joy worked on Burn Notice, Pushing Daisies and feature film Reminiscence. Their next project to reach the screen is an adaptation of William Gibson's novel The Peripheral, also helmed by Amazon and starring Chloe Grace Moretz.
The Fallout video game series is set in the aftermath of a nuclear war that took place in 2077 between the United States and China. Much of the world is laid waste, but enough people survive to start rebuilding society in the aftermath. This leads to a mishmash of technological capabilities, with settlements struggling to find water but defended by laser-equipped robots. Most of the Fallout video games start with someone emerging from a Vault, an underground nuclear fallout shelter, and having to adjust to life in the new world. Six major games in the series have been released (most recently Fallout 76 in 2018) along with a number of spin-offs. There are also highly popular tabletop roleplaying games and miniature games based on the property. Almost 50 million copies of the video games have been sold to date.
According to another report, the show has also set out a casting call, presumably with a view to film the show this year for a 2023 debut.
Tuesday, 4 January 2022
The Doctor realises that his travels with his companions Amy and Rory are drawing to an end, as they become more settled in their "normal" everyday lives. However, a few last hurrahs may prove to be a step too far for them. The solitary Doctor is soon consumed by a new mystery when he meets what appears to be the exact same woman living in three completely different time periods. What is the secret of the Impossible Girl?
The seventh series of the relaunched Doctor Who, acting as the swansong of Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith, was reminiscent of the earlier fourth series which similarly acted as the departure season for David Tennant. Like that season, it was divided between a run of ordinary episodes and several specials. Unlike that season, it was also split into two "mini-seasons" airing in successive years, resulting in an extremely elongated season (ultimately spanning three years) which ended up frustrating fans on release, who ended up having to wait almost a full year for the Impossible Girl/Clara Oswald mystery to be solved. This season also had the unenviable task of also having to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary with an effects-driven 3D extravaganza featuring multiple Doctors.
Things kick off, as normal, with a Christmas special. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is arguably the slightest of all the Christmas specials, focusing on a vaguely Narnia-influenced story (given away by the title) as a bereaved WWII mother, trying to hide the reported death of her husband in combat from their two children, tries to give them a happy Christmas. A well-meaning Doctor tries to help but inevitably goes overboard, leading to Shenanigans. It's a fun story, if lightweight, and Claire Skinner gives a fine guest performance, but it wastes several high-profile guest stars (Alexander Armstrong, Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir) in under-developed roles.
The season itself kicks off with the splendid Asylum of the Daleks, in which the Daleks face a problem so daunting that the only person who can deal with it is the Doctor, who is reluctantly recruited to help his old foes. It's a fun episode that will have fans of the classic series cooing at the guest appearance of various Dalek models from the original series (especially glimpses of the iconic Special Weapons Dalek). The episode is buoyed by the first appearance of the irrepressible Jenna Coleman as Oswin, a comic-tragic figure played alternately for laughs and hubris and sets up the Impossible Girl arc (though, at this stage, this is not known). The episode's key weakness is that it presents Rory and Amy as their relationship is apparently in severe trouble. The setup and resolution of their relationship crisis, and the lack of fallout through the rest of the season, happens so fast that it feels like it really shouldn't have been included in the first place (contributing to the feeling that Moffat is great at coming up with ideas, middling on follow-through and often poor on the resolution).
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is a fun episode, although it's a little bit too obviously trying to be zany and mad, which risks becoming grating. It does have the nice idea of the Doctor recruiting a gang of various people he's met over the years, including Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) and Victorian big game hunter John Riddell (Rupert Graves), alongside Rory, Amy and, slightly randomly, Rory's dad Brian (Harry Potter and The Fast Show's Mark Williams). An absolutely terrific villain performance by David Bradley (also Harry Potter and, at the time, Game of Thrones, and the future, recast First Doctor) feels a bit incongruous in an episode that's otherwise a knockabout lark. The CG dinosaurs are, for Doctor Who's budget, exceptional.
A Town Called Mercy is stronger, a Western which sees the Doctor have to help an American town besieged by a killer cyborg. The plot has several interesting twists, Andrew Brooke is a solid apparent villain (despite a dodgy voice distortion effect) and guest stars Adrian Scarborough and Ben Browder (Stargate, Farscape) are superb. The location filming in Spain also feels more Western than maybe shooting in the actual United States would have been, given how many Westerns were shot for real in Spain in the 1950s and 1960s to save money. The episode has a larger and more epic feeling than most, despite the constrained nature of the story.
The Power of Three is one of the most divisive episodes of Nu-Who. It starts off excellently, with the Doctor encountering an almost Arthur C. Clarke-style inexplicable mystery as millions of blank cubes show up all over the Earth and proceed to do absolutely nothing for a year. The Doctor moves in with Amy and Rory to monitor the phenomenon and recruits Brian to help him out, leading to some great comedic scenes, although ones that risk feeling like a reprise of The Lodger and Closing Time. The episode also reintroduces UNIT and sets up their new scientific advisor (and later commander) Kate Stewart, played with tremendous charisma by Jemma Redgrave. There's a nice throwback feel in the episode to the Russell T. Davies era, with the contemporary setting and the focus on the strange amidst the mundane (also a callback to the Third Doctor era, as Jon Pertwee liked to say Doctor Who was at its best contrasting the weird with the ordinary, like a "Yeti in Tooting Bec"). The absolutely superb setup crashes headfirst into a horrible ending, though, apparently the result of guest villain Steven Berkoff behaving like an arsehole on set and his scenes being cut and a finale having to be reshot without him present (leading to one of the most deus-ex-screwdriver endings in Doctor Who history). The production difficulties help mitigate what would otherwise feel like the most schizophrenic episode of the show in some years.
The Angels Take Manhattan is an impressive episode for its scale and scope, being set in New York City and, unlike previous ventures to the Big Apple, the episode is actually partially shot in the city. It's a Steve Moffat extravaganza, with a time-tangling, twisty narrative unfolding in multiple temporal locations featuring the Weeping Angels and the inevitable return of River Song, whose once season-defining appearances have risked becoming stale. However, Alex Kingston is on excellent form and the story is extremely well-constructed, with a nice sense of epicness despite it only being a single-parter. The ending does feel highly contrived, though. Even if the Doctor can't take the TARDIS back to New York City ever again, there's no logical reason whatsoever why the Doctor can't materialise in, say, Westchester and catch a train into the city, or Rory and Amy could just...move? It also feels very odd to have set up Rory's father as a character and then not have him appear in this episode where it feels appropriate.
The Snowmen was the 2012 Christmas special, splitting the two halves of Series 7, and feels like a refresh of the premise following Amy and Rory's departure. The Doctor is travelling alone and getting grumpy as a result (which feels like an over-explored idea at this stage, but okay) until he joins a group of his allies in Victorian London: the Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her human maid/wife Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) and Sontaran medic/butler Strax (Dan Starkey), the "Paternoster Gang" who formed after they joined forces in the previous season's A Good Man Goes to War. They quickly find themselves coming into conflict with the Great Intelligence (the voice of Ian McKellan!) and its human stooge Dr. Simeon (the always-outstanding Richard E. Grant). The stacked guest cast is augmented by the return of Jenna Coleman, playing a character very similar to the one she did in Asylum of the Daleks but with more wit and charm. The episode emerges as one of the very best Christmas specials, thanks to Coleman's outstanding performance, the witty banter of the Paternoster Gang (which soon establishes them as firm fan favourites) and Richard E. Grant giving it 200% to make Dr. Simeon one of the most compelling villains in the new show's history. There's also some excellent fairy tale imagery in the episode, like the Doctor living in his TARDIS on top of a cloud that can only be reached by an invisible stair, which is very effective.
The second half of the season itself is consumed by the mystery of the Impossible Girl, as the Doctor locates a third iteration of Clara Oswald/Oswin living on contemporary Earth and recruits her as his new companion. This is an interesting twist, as the Doctor either allows people he's met in his adventures to join him once they've proven themselves worthy or has people forced on him for varying reasons. This is the first time he's deliberately set out to "recruit" a companion for other reasons (she's a puzzle he wants to solve) and there's something cruelly manipulative about that which the show never really gets to grips with (a side-effect, probably, of Smith's impending departure).
The Bells of Saint John is a solid if unspectacular story, another Russell T. Davies-esque throwback being mostly set in London and seeing the Doctor recruit a contemporary young female companion whilst fighting an alien threat. It's pretty rote, as things go, but also inoffensive (though there's the feeling that Celia Imrie is wasted here). The Rings of Akhaten is another episode of two halves, the sequences where Clara meets a lot of aliens for the first time and helps out a young girl being intriguing but the resolution feeling rather undercooked.
Cold War is a huge improvement, being a tightly-constrained story set on a Soviet submarine in 1983 with an absolutely outstanding guest cast: Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones), Tobias Menzies (Game of Thones, Outlander, Rome) and David Warner (Titanic, Time Bandits, lots of Star Trek). Mark Gatiss writes a story very reminiscent of classic Troughton/Pertwee "base under siege" stories and the return of the Ice Warriors is extremely welcome, especially the acknowledgement of their complexity; unlike the Daleks and Cybermen, and arguably Sontarans (the other three of the "big four" classic series villain races), not counting Strax, the Ice Warriors are a complex society of individuals, some good, some evil and some amoral, and it's good to see that acknowledged here.
Hide is another excellent episode, as the Doctor and Clara investigate a classic haunted house scenario. What could be a slight story is given added weight by outstanding guest performances from Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine, a nice twist in the tale and an atmosphere that recalls 1960s and 1970s BBC ghost stories, as well The Quatermass Experiment.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS scores some kind of record as the episode with the most amount of time spent in the TARDIS itself since the show's return in 2005 (and maybe the most since The Invasion of Time in 1978). Clara being lost in the bowels of the TARDIS and the Doctor who to save her and get his ship working again is a sold premise, but the incidental cast of salvagers don't feel like they add much to the plot. Ashley Walters, Mark Oliver and Jahvel Hall give good performances, but the characters are not fleshed out and their non sequitur "plot twist" can only be greeted by a shrug. However, the trip into the TARDIS, including glimpses of the library and much-discussed swimming pool, is fun and Clara's discovery of why the Doctor recruited her is a well-played scene.
The Crimson Horror is another solid episode, one that doesn't even feature the Doctor until a considerable amount of running time has elapsed. The focus is instead on the Paternoster Gang, who are at their crime-fighting best in this episode. Dame Diana Rigg (The Avengers - not that one - and Game of Thrones) also gives an outstanding and deliciously evil performance. Her daughter Rachael Stirling (Tipping the Velvet) is also superb as Ada, the blind girl who aids the stricken Doctor. It's an effective, Fourth Doctor-ish period piece, though arguably it gives Jenna Coleman almost nothing to do as Clara.
Nightmare in Silver is Neil Gaiman's second script for the series, but in no way is as good as The Doctor's Wife from the previous season. The episode sees the Doctor and a bunch of futuristic soldiers fighting off a Cyberman army in a ruined theme park, a premise which surprisingly generates a lot of potential. Tamzin Outhwaite and Jason Watkins are outstanding guest stars, but it's Warwick Davies who emerges as the episode's MVP, and it's somewhat surprising he hasn't been back as his character would seem to have a lot of unfulfilled story potential. Jenna Coleman also has a great time as Clara is promoted to a military command position and she adapts well to being in that role. The mental struggle between the Doctor and the Cyber-Planner who takes up residence in his cranium is not well-depicted though, with Matt Smith at his most hammy in these scenes. Still, not the disaster it's often presented as.
The Name of the Doctor rounds off the Impossible Girl storyline and also addresses the Doctor's fated death on the planet Trenzalore. The episode has a creepy, horror vibe and air of foreboding which is impressive, though trying to include the Paternoster Gang, River Song and the Great Intelligence (now properly played by Richard E. Grant) does lead it to feeling somewhat overstuffed. It also feels like there should be a nod to the Great Intelligence's intervening battles with the Doctor; chronologically, between The Snowmen and this episode, the Intelligence also fought the Second Doctor in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear (the missing archival episodes of The Web of Fear were, at the time, in the process of being returned to the BBC), making it a more powerful and capable foe, but this isn't mentioned. It's a solid finale, though the Paternoster Gang are at risk of being overused at this point and the revelation of a mysterious "missing" incarnation of the Doctor between his eighth and ninth lives (played by John Hurt) felt like a stretch at the time.
These events lead into the 50th Anniversary Special, which comprises a mini-episode called The Night of the Doctor and a full-scale extravaganza special, The Day of the Doctor. The Night of the Doctor is short but outstanding, finally giving more screentime to Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and depicting the opening stages of the Time War. The Sisterhood of Karn also returns from the classic serial The Brain of Morbius. It's a lot to pack into eight minutes and the episode does well with it.
The Day of the Doctor itself is rollicking good fun, knowing its job is to be a knockabout silly adventure with nothing more than the bare bones of a reason why multiple Doctors should show up and join forces and it executes that well. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors spark off one another well, although the episode does highlight that there probably haven't been another two sequential Doctors who've been so similar to one another, with the War Doctor (an outstanding performance by the legendary John Hurt) needed to provide more variety to proceedings. The return of the Zygons for the first time since their 1975 debut, the inclusion of Queen Elizabeth I, a visit to Gallifrey during the Time War and the modern-day UNIT storyline add to the epic feel of the episode. The "reversing" of the destruction of Gallifrey manages to avoid feeling like a cop-out, with Moffat doing a good job of explaining its survival in the face of utter annihilation, cheesy as it is. The episode does look amazing (pointless 3D interludes aside), introducing some visual trickery and camera ideas that will continue into subsequent seasons (like seamless exterior-to-interior TARDIS tracking shots, which directors soon become inordinately pleased about).
The Time of the Doctor, the 2013 Christmas Special, dedicates itself to one idea: the fall of the Eleventh Doctor. The Doctor is lured to a remote planet by a mysterious distress signal. He joins forces with his old friend Tasha Lem (a superb Orla Brady) to investigate and inadvertently sets in motion the events that lead to the creation of the Church of the Silence, the attempted destruction of his TARDIS and the cracks in time. These story elements have not been featured strongly this season, so this sudden rush of callbacks to Series 5 and 6 feels abrupt, but Moffat has a good go at explaining the last three seasons of plot (and plot holes) anyway. The idea of the Doctor spending centuries defending one small village from constant attacks is a powerful one, if not particularly plausible (why stay in one spot on one planet that's under siege from the most powerful races in all of space and time when there are other settlements available?). There's a lot of under-explored concepts here, like the Truth Field, and the Christmas setting feels shoehorned into a story that's not really about that. Despite that, Matt Smith gives a superb performance in his swansong.
The seventh series of the resurrected Doctor Who (****) is an improvement over its confused forebear, buoyed by some very good episodes and a strong new companion with Jenna Coleman and an amusing set of supporting characters in the Paternoster Gang (who do risk being overused by the end of the season). However, this is the first series since the 2005 comeback season that doesn't have a hands-down, all-time classic episode. To be fair, it also lacks any real stinkers, with the derided-at-the-time Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and Nightmare in Silver both standing up better than expected. The Impossible Girl story arc is much more bearable when it's compressed into a single run-through rather than spread over two and a half years, the 50th Anniversary special is great fun and the season demonstrates how good the show can be when the showrunner is not trying to tell some overwrought story that requires three flowcharts and a spreadsheet to understand. The season is currently available via BBC iPlayer in the UK and HBO Max in the USA.
- 7X: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe ***½
- 701: Asylum of the Daleks ****
- 702: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship ***½
- 703: A Town Called Mercy ****
- 704: The Power of Three ***½
- 705: The Angels Take Manhattan ****
- 7XX: The Snowmen ****½
- 706: The Bells of Saint John ***½
- 707: The Rings of Akhaten ***
- 708: Cold War ****½
- 709: Hide ****
- 710: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS ***½
- 711: The Crimson Horror ***½
- 712: Nightmare in Silver ***½
- 713: The Name of the Doctor ****
- 714a: The Night of the Doctor ****½
- 714: The Day of the Doctor ****½
- 715: The Time of the Doctor ****