Doctor Who (Series 10)

I have to say, despite how much I liked Sherlock, I’m glad to see Moffat quit of it so he could concentrate on Who and his final season of show-running here. While series 9 acquitted itself reasonably, and Doctor Mysterio was amusing, series 8 has still left a bad taste in my brain. Mind you, he is still not a great show-runner, but 8 suffered so badly from his distraction that having him focused was a better option.

Generally, there were a lot of echos from the first season of the reboot through the first half or more of this series. In some cases, clear steals and references, which was an interesting choice. There was also a clear purpose building through the season… though some of it was spread out rather frustratingly and sparingly. Given that The Doctor and Nardole are supposed to have been in their current positions for decades at the top of the season (which has some odd implications) the slow burn of the bigger arc is understandable.

The addition of our latest companion, Bill, was a nice choice on a lot of levels. She has attitude and smarts and, most interestingly, a life outside the Doctor in a way we’ve not seen before. But it isn’t a series that feels very complete, by the end. Despite some nice structures and some fabulous moments, as a whole it is middling. Peter Capaldi (World War Z) seriously attempts to elevate it all with his talents, which are considerable. But he was handed some very weak scripts, so he could only do so much. He and the, basically unknown, Pearl Mackie make a nice duet, with the returning and redoubtable Matt Lucas (Alice Through the Looking Glass) at their side. But there is an unfocused energy between them all that never quite finds its target.

Overall, it is an enjoyable season, but not brilliant. It tries very hard to be so, but falls short do to its ultimate trajectory. What follows are my reactions as the series ran, rather than as retrospective. As noted, they are spoiler rich, so watch the season first if you don’t want to know anything.

By the Episode (with spoilers)

The Pilot
A strong and interesting opening with a lot of potential. The introduction of relative newcomer, Pearl Mackie, to join Peter Capaldi is not a bad one. She comes in whole cloth, but with enough mystery to drive stories and interest. She is energetic and intelligent. Interestingly, it also unabashedly echos a lot of Rose, the first of the series reboot from 12 years ago.  Perhaps the title is a subtle wink to that as well? Pearl Mackie as Bill has a lot in common with Piper’s Rose; primarily class, sass, drive. The use of the alarm clock sequence, in particular, evokes that launch explicitly. Adding some diversity to the new story was good, even if it feels a little forced (not just female, but black and lesbian). I think the most fun of the episode is the nods all the way back to the show’s roots with Susan’s photo making a prominent appearance (and doesn’t that raise possibilities).

The tale of the episode itself is minimal and, typical of Moffat, thin on reason, but it is clearly all about setting up the series arc. I can live with that if they pay it off. I’m certainly interested to see where it goes and what the heck is in that vault and why. Eventually, it would be good to know why the Doctor singles her out as well (wild guess is that she is Susan’s descendant). For the moment it has been dismissed, but I suspect it has a more pivotal aspect to it. And, one hopes, we’ll understand the reason for the retention of Matt Lucas’s Nardole as having a continued role in the Doctor’s life as the series continues.

Smile
Continuing with allusions to the original Rose arc, we are now in the far-future of humanity after starting with near term. However, with this episode, something new becomes clear. Where previous seasons were episodic, this series appears to be a single, long, unending story. Each, at least for now, tale picks up from the last moment of the previous. The original series did this often, and even some of the reboot, but usually as bridges into the new tale, not like they’ve just moved to the next line in the script. It will be interesting to see if this continues and how it develops. It certainly will affect the pacing.

The story of Smile is intriguing and fun. But another aspect of this series is exposed in how the tale is told. We aren’t really meeting the affected parties and getting to know them much. We are just focused on Bill and The Doctor. Sure they are trying help others, but in the first two episodes, no secondary characters really become important or take shape. It makes the stories feel thin and the pace feel rushed. It may still even out, but it is an interesting change from the recent past (classic often did this). Those secondary characters fill out each new world for us. We also seem to be back to the TARDIS is lost in space in time again, but that may be a short feint.

Thin Ice
With this episode, the series seems to be hitting its stride. We get a nice balance of secondary characters to invest in, and a bit more of the overall mystery of the vault, or at least a tease about it. Bill also gets to fast-forward through a lot of the Doctor’s reality regarding his past and the spectre of death that does seem to dog him thanks to the situations he puts himself in.  This aspect has been a main plot driver for several of the companions, stretched over a season.

The episode is still oddly locked to the Rose season, however. Rather than Dickens (in person) and ghosts for its third episode, we end up with Oliver Twist and monsters. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this quite yet, but I’ll keep tracking it. But there are certainly resonances with previous seasons, down to the last moment with the knocking (think The Sound of Drums and the final Tenant episodes).

Knock Knock
Wow, really? The only thing of value in this episode, other than getting to see David Suchet (Poirot), was the final tag back at the vault. But to the episode first. It is a bit of a stretch to claim the parallels with Rose’s first season continue. While they are tracking to time period (we’re back in modern London with Bill bringing the Doctor into her life as Rose did in Aliens in London), the tale is somewhat different, though the personal fallout might not be. The episode itself was a weird cross between The LodgerThe God Complex, with a bit of Ghost Light (from the Classic series). Really didn’t much care for the whole haunted-house-but-really-aliens thing. Far too overdone at this point and they brought little new to it. More importantly, this episode didn’t much advance Bill and the Doctor’s relationship, though he dropped some hints on regeneration and such for her sake. Not an unwatchable episode, but not a memorable one either. It makes me wonder why they bothered with the enhanced sound release of it… though interesting and well done, I can’t say it made it particularly better.

Back to the vault…So, guessing at this point at Missy or Susan in the vault (both for reasons unknown). We shall see.

Oxygen
There is some solid stuff in this episode, though it really all about working toward a rather hard to earn a solid (if cringe-worthy) pun: working for the suits. It is another, literally, breathless episode with the terror and danger starting near the top and driving through… mostly so you won’t think too much about the facts. In the midst of all that, we get some good moments, particularly with the blue alien, but we don’t really get to know any of the secondary characters (again) and the faked death of Bill was cheap, even if it was obvious. The episode is really more about Nardole and The Doctor debating about and sparring over the vault and his “duty.” Honestly, I’d prefer little end tags to pull this along as the embedded bits are feeling rather forced and tacked on to stories pitched in a vacuum to the larger arc.

We are drifting more from the direct season one framework, which is good. The essential of this episode is for Bill to realize just how dangerous it all is (about on par with when Rose comes to the same discovery). Of course, if you realize that this season will have only 12 episodes rather than 13, we are in direct sync (as this would map to Dalek). Perhaps I’m stuck too much on this idea, but it was such a strong parallel at the top, I’m not quite ready to give it up. Sound continues to be a challenge for me… between the speed of the dialogue and the timbre of their voices, a lot of what the Doctor and Bill say is getting lost. BBC sound mixing has always been a challenge for my ears, it is just more so with this series.

Extremis
Well, first: Yippee, yes it was Missy! Not that I’m overly thrilled to have the Mastress back in the game (though I do like Missy quite a bit) but I do like being right even if I prefer to be happily surprised. As to this set-up/reset episode, I guess I can’t blame Moffat for doing exactly what Davies did on his last run: put everything at stake. As we’ve drifted off the Season 1 structure fairly completely now (unless Bill is somehow a Bad Wolf surrogate and this new enemy is stands in for the Daleks which hit series one at this point) we are seeing more the compression of Davies first 4 seasons forced into a single series.

I do have to say that I object to the ongoing blinding of the Doctor. Feels like Moffat is trying to do a Death of Superman thing, but suspect it is more about redeeming Missy unequivocally through some form of major sacrifice or merging of the last two time lords (though they aren’t any more, are they?). In any event, it is a good and creepy sort of premise. Nothing new, but interestingly laid out even if the baddy allowed the Doctor to monologue and send his email (sloppy writing).  And I have to admit the opening teaser was a beautiful misdirect, though ultimately a cheat (it was just a dream… sort of). We’re halfway through and now we have what appears to be the major arc. We’ll see what comes next.

Pyramid at the End of the World
We’re finally into something new in this series. The vampiric Monks (or that’s how I think of them at present) are intriguing and creepy. The rules around them aren’t well known yet and this episode is very much incomplete, leaving Nardole dying, infected, on the Tardis floor and, of course, Bill having made a deal with the devil. And to that latter bit…it didn’t feel very real to me. One of the disadvantages of the pace of this season is that we aren’t getting the relationship building time and appreciation between the Doctor and Bill. She’s been very much on the outside of things due to the vault, etc. So for her to sacrifice not just herself, but the entire world on the assumption that the Doctor will get them back out of it? Nope, not buying into it right now. At least the Doctor can see again (somehow) but guessing Missy is gong to be necessary to free the Earth. All that said, there are some clever bits to the story, we’ll just have to see how it plays out and for how long… are they really going to stretch this to the finale? Or is Moffat saving Missy for something bigger down the road?

The Lie of the Land
This episode gets a huge pass for many of its faults for the climactic “Welcome to Fake News Central,” nailing home unequivocally its political agenda and commentary. Absent that, it is the few, spare moments with Missy that sell this tale (and the small tipoff to the series finale in the teaser), because the rest is rushed and so hand-wavy as to frustrate the heck out of me, though I did like the setup of Bill’s mum being paid off.  There is no real logic or good explanation of how the Monk’s machine works or how it is defeated. There is no explanation as to why or what the Monk’s get from conquering a world. There is no reason given why, after investing so much time watching the “threads” of possibility that they would stop doing that and be so easily defeated. I was expecting this thread to carry forward a bit longer, so now I’ve no clue what comes next, other than more Missy and the possible redemption of the Mastress. Clearly Moffat is going big for his final series…  With only four to go, I’m looking forward to seeing if he can pay it all off.

The Empress of Mars
I never really felt the need to revisit The Tomb of the Cybermen, but this Mark Gatiss (Denial) take on the idea with the Ice Warriors has its moments. Few, admittedly, but a few. One of the nicest aspects is the guest spot of Anthony Calf (The Man Who Knew Infinity). With very little screen time, he provides you a complete character and story. Frustratingly, no one else really does, including the Doctor and Bill. The final moment, and the return of Alpha Centauri (including the original voice of Ysanne Churchman), was a nice nod to the Peladon sequence, though I do wonder if this didn’t break that bit of history in some way. However, really the whole excuse of this episode is to get Missy out of the vault… and perhaps next week we’ll know why the Tardis went nutty when Nardole went into it. This is the breath before what I expect to be the final run to the series and Moffat finale. We’ll see if they can redeem Missy and give the Doc a good send-off (cause, even if you didn’t know it, it has become obvious he’s about to regenerate — nicely tipped at the top of the previous episode).

Eaters of Light
Easily the best episode of the season so far. It had characters, scope, depth, humor, and sure the crow thing was wonderful, surprising, and silly all at once, but it worked. And, yes, the time sense of in the portal and out got a bit mucked, but loved the idea and resolution. They even got the full regeneration statement in this time; so even if you didn’t know what was coming, you know what is coming now. This is the Doctor I miss. Great stories and characters. And even though the Missy bit was a little squeezed in, it was a wonderful scene. With only two left to go, I’m really hoping this is indicative.

World Enough and Time
Seriously, did you need any more hint than the title? OK, then the opening moments should have sealed it. How those moments relate to the story that followed…I’ve no idea yet. In fact, I was somewhat annoyed that we started there and then looped back. Again. OK, annoyance aside, the setup of the tale with the time dilation is fabulous. Great idea and it starts off wonderfully. Wasn’t crazy about Missy’s dialogue, funny as it was, because she just didn’t feel ready, so why would the Doctor have sent her out there with his companions? But conceptually it was great.

John Simm’s (Doctor Who 6) as, initially, the Zathras-like character is a hoot. Also, pulling off the reveal like the old Classic Master (the ripping away of the disguise) was also a nice touch. I do have to admit I was waaaaay ahead on where it was generally going having recognized the face coverings from the first incarnation of the Cybermen. I feel like this rewrites the history of Mondas, but I honestly don’t recall what the genesis story of them was. I’m sure some geek will dig it out and call Moffat out on it if it exists.

Of course, the top-line story here now is the 2 Masters. Not sure how I feel about that yet. Probably necessary to get Missy redeemed. She literally has to battle herself. And the fate of Bill is very much in the air as we know of no way to reverse the process she’s been through (based on 50+ years of the show).

So, we know what’s coming now, without question, in the next episode. These new elements raise the stakes and muddy the waters all at once. We are no longer just worried about Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor…the focus is primarily about the Doctor and the Master.  Certainly there were enough speeches about who Time Lords could be friends with over the last season (even if that is a feint). Hoping Moffat doesn’t pay for his surprise by blowing his final season by losing track of the heart of the Doctor. We shall see…

The Doctor Falls
And if the last titled show wasn’t enough, this makes it clear from the outset what is coming. And yet it wasn’t. I’ll come back to that. First I do want to say it was nice to see The Pilot come back, even if making her a Deus Ex Machina to save Bill was cheap and not provided enough foundation…and they’ve set up the Doctor to have a similar possibility. The rest of the episode, however, was so rushed.

We start again with a tease (different to the previous episode), loop back, and ultimately find ourselves unsatisfied and without an ending. There is no basis for Capaldi’s wonderful speech of “not wanting to change anymore.” The Masters, though they have a fun confrontation, don’t resolve Missy’s plot-line nor her redemption. The final moments of the Hartnell look-alike are just painful. And I’m pretty damned sure that the evolution of the Cybermen and the storyline violate galactic history as we know it.

Basically, it was a confused mess, even if it had some nice moments. You can’t keep teasing an audience with a regeneration and then not deliver. It is bad entertainment and breaks the contract. Now it seems we have to wait for the Holiday episode to see what and (W)ho happens next, which is a change as well. The holiday was usually used to bridge the series and, when needed, the new Doctors. I can’t say I felt fulfilled by this finale, but I will be glad to be quit of Moffat next year. He has never understood how to run an uber-arc in a story, even if his individual scripts can be quite good. And now he has really ticked me off and lost the last of my trust.

Doctor Who

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