It’s a month since the Doctor fell. Jokerside took the final journey of the Twelfth Doctor head on with in-depth reviews of every episode. Here’s the digested series review…
THE TENTH SERIES OF DOCTOR WHO SWEPT THROUGH SPRING AND SUMMER LIKE MANY BEFORE, BUT THIS YEAR WAS TINGED WITH THE BITTERSWEET. Like the oily tears of a Cyberman or the salted pulp of a sewer Dalek, it was more bittersweet than most. There was the promise of a new companion, the co-opting of a mysterious, yet familiar, secondary companion, and then the demise of not just the Twelfth Doctor, but Missy too – a mark of just how significant the latest incarnation of the Master has become during this Doctor’s tenure. Or perhaps more pertinently: how significantly the show has spun towards strong and popular female characters since showrunner Steven Moffat’s first couple of series battled accusations of misogyny as much as the Children of Skaro. Central to that had to be Bill, undoubtedly one of the New Series‘ greatest companions.
While hopes were high for the Tenth Series, particular coming on the back of a still marginally inexplicable break and two weak, bordering, on torrid Christmas specials, the recent past posed its own challenge. The Twelfth Doctor’s first year, Series Eight, was crippled by a myopic investigation of the Doctor’s nature – and was rather morose as a result. To the point of ending in a rain-soaked graveyard. Series Nine was a blistering, two-parter packed adventure that flew past, hitting the spot more often than not, but was ultimately crippled by a failure to realise its long promised arc (Chekov’s Hybrid as we call it around here). So all too quickly, the Twelfth Doctor who promised so much, under the steer of the show’s most prolific writer, faced a final journey with an unnecessarily steep climb.
Following the final journey
Fortunately for everybody, Jokerside was there with a pen in hand to take on this final sequence. In-depth reviews of each episode broke down the running arcs, keeping a close eye on the Doctor, uncovering the everyday hooks that are essential to quality Who, and bolting on a Jokerside view askew.
Everyday hooks, a lifeblood of classic Doctor Who, ranged from the reflection that wasn’t quite right in The Pilot and the horrors of shared student accommodation in Knock Knock to hangovers truly getting worse with age in The Pyramid at the End of the World.
Our Jokerside reimaginings carried the flight of fancy from Smile as a remake of Red Dwarf’s Waiting for God, to the deep space perils of Oxygen as the Vashta Nerada chasing Moffat tropes around a space station for eternity, and repainted the rather torrid, mid-series Monk trilogy as an affable sitcom.
There was a distinct sense that this final Moffatt run took its chance to rework and reevaluate ideas plucked from his tenure as show-runner, to the point of veering to a Whisper Man, a Silent and an invading monk walking into a bar and taking a long, long time to order…
Completing the arc
But contrary as ever, perhaps the series greatest success was its arc. As a Norse and sea monster thread ran through the ninth year, a militaristic one through the eighth, the tenth series never wandered far from capitalism. At points, it was as sublime as it was illogical (Oxygen), but any power that came with its link to slavery early in the year were sadly frittered away by the time the last three episodes came around. It seemed that all the main series arc had to do was reach an end-point to beat Series Nine‘s. In fact, the vault arc was unbelievably vital. Jokerside may have guessed that the occupant was everyone from a Time Lord Watcher to a Spare Parts Cyberman. But by the time the astounding series finale came round, completing a series that had truly, really been all about friendship in general, and the Doctor and Missy’s in particular, it had effectively smashed through the idea of an arc. That arc had become the essence of the episodes itself, and ultimately showed itself, refreshingly, to be an utter failure.
Here’s our evaluation of every episode, with our contrary school-rating for each adventure. Stay to the end of the credits for our overall series score…
“Scared is good, scared is rational”
We said: “A seemingly effortless return to the essence of Doctor Who, although the shoe-horning of a safe science-fiction plot brought back as many bad habits as fantastically off the wall nods to the past. High successful and captivating box ticking, The Pilot is a great start. While deceptively morbid at moments, it’s mostly docked points for its return of a rather careless, destructive and unwarranted Doctor.”
“We’re in a utopia of vacuous teens”
We said: “Smile was more about reassurance than setting a new bar. At the heart there’s a concept too weak to maintain its early promise, and the slightest hint of a lack of confidence is carried in its pre-title sequence. It’s the perfect showcase for the increasingly impressive chemistry brewing in the TARDIS control room, and crucially it features a Bowie quote (“Hope you’re happy too…”). But the impression that there could have been so much more remains long after the ‘Next Time’ rolls. While Frank Cottrell Boyce’s first story for the series hid amidst the closing throes of a series, his latest is likely to remain hidden in the opening waves.”
We said: “‘Despair, loneliness, a prisoner in chains’ — that’s the sorry centre of a glowing story. There’s an immensely Christmas vibe to Thin Ice, and that isn’t just found in the fair and frozen water below. It has the feel of a special. It tackles spectacle, contemporary issues and morality — from the ‘good guys’ constant five-fingered discounts, to the privileged discrimination and exploitation on the side of the bad. It’s quintessential Who, but that unfortunately also comes to bear on a (traditionally) undercooked aristo-villain. Still, 4th February 1814 done. Superbly done. From the show’s natural obsession with death to historical adventure, to ethics, to the challenges and changes of a time past. And all without the slightest mention of ‘Timey-Wimey’.”
“Mercy at last.”
We said: “It escapes the shadow of Blink, and its weirdly contrived student set up, but only just. Knock Knock leaves a veritable list of questions in its wake — or perhaps, whatever a collective noun for lists is. And that undermines a lot of its effective, atmospheric work, its guest cast, and costs it a rating. It’s saved by two impressively horrible scenes where being wooden is wholly jaw-dropping. But overall, while only mildly denting the quality of the current run of stories, and keeping the horror vein alive and twitching, it proves to be so much less than the sum of its parts. Here’s hoping that all who worked on it, return to fine-tune their next adventure.”
“We’re fighting an algorithm”
We said: “But what an algorithm this series has hit. Oxygen’s based on a heavily layered idea, which requires a big explanation. But it rocks along in a claustrophobic, well-realised way that barely spares you time to question the logic of defining workers by breaths. Even if that aspect doesn’t quite cut the mustard, the heavy anti-capitalist sentiment is exactly what Doctor Who should be doing. Because: Why not?
Most astonishing, is that Oxygen cuts a sharp miserable and nihilistic note that reflects an emergent tone of the series. It’s “the end point of capitalism, the bottom line where human life has no value at all”. And the only good news is that having solved one minor battle, the damaged Doctor will lurk around for ”the human race (to) find a whole other mistake”. It’s bold stuff, and more than an exemplary example of the long-worn base under siege story. Its big win is providing a strong start and a true resolution. Like (Mathieson’s earlier) Mummy on the Orient Express, it takes those core issues that are simmering at the heart of the year and ties them up in a strong episode. Mathieson strikes again, elevating Moffat’s broad palette in a series that’s struggled to do the same so far.”
“Only in darkness are we revealed”
We said: “The Da Vinci Code, The Matrix, Harsh Realm, that time the cat next door jumped into your face twice… The construct of a false, AR world is well developed in popular culture and action science-fiction. But Extremis isn’t really about the concept as much as the set-up. For that reason, come the end it doesn’t quite feel that its heart is in it. In fact, it all hinges on an email, and that’s not quite enough to make up for the inner-misery and horrors the TARDIS crew are rather mean-spiritedly put through.
It’s a paradox, unfairly with the score and promise that comes with the arrival of a peak season three-parter, is that it seems wrong that the tenth series is kicking into gear with an episode so different from its predecessors. If it’s intended as a neater remake of the Eleventh Doctor’s arcs, Extremis is a great success. But let’s hope the real homage comes in the confirmation that this is all be part of something more. And I don’t quite mean AR.”
The Pyramid at the End of the World
“The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments”
The Pyramid at the End of the World represents a terrible slump for Series 10, recalling the worst companion/Doctor dynamics from the New Series era, more than the epics it hopes to homage. And I really don’t think anyone was aiming for that.
It tries to be globe-trotting, but through no particular fault of the director, ends up like an episode of the show’s studio-mate Casualty. The impressive waste of guest stars and (potentially) enigmatic monsters sends out a distinct message in opposition to the Pyramid of the title: ‘drop it’.
Next week has a great deal of work to do if it hopes to pull this series back on track as we hit the home straight and the final days of the Twelfth Doctor. I’m genuinely jealous of the Gallifreyan and Omega conspiracy theorists who’ve managed to have their knickers twisted by this multi-parter. And to think these were the writers who brought us the superb Zygon invasion story line in Series Nine, a series fast looking like an inversion of this. Gah, and twice gah!”
The Lie of the Land
“Humanity and the monks are a blissful and perfect partnership”
If we were, this may go down a lot better.
The Lie of the Land is… Puzzling. Very puzzling. It takes a number of brazen liberties with Who history in 45 minutes but just hasn’t the heft to make them interesting nor fuse them together. Even the resolution, elevated above the usual love conceit to reach back to seeds sewn early in the series, seems odd for that very reason. I’ve no idea how the Monk trilogy will be taken in years to come or quite how it can be described now. A clashing diminishment of the sum of its parts seems a fair summary.
Small set-pieces, unexpected jokes and the central acting make up for a lot, but the core plot problem is all-too familiar in the Capaldi era. It isn’t even enough to muster up that much passion in Bill’s passion. How’d she put it? ‘Oh my God, I’m going to beat the shi…’”
Empress of Mars
“Oh sod this for a game of soldiers”
We said: “The Series 10 slump continues. Oh, Empress of Mars is a technicolour riot that tries to tick far too many boxes, but none of ’em stick old love. It’s founded on some preposterous turns of event and character shifts. Particularly the Doctor. Given the revelation at the end, replete with a bizarre but pleasing cameo for Classic Who fans, it’s remarkable that the Doctor didn’t know about any of these events beforehand. At least, before their finale return, the Cybermen won’t feel so bad now they’re not the show’s most misused classic monsters.
Last time they go naked, this time the Ice Warriors got female. And shouty. Really shouty. Two appearances and not a single Ice Lord is enough to drop a review grade. But forcing these noble monsters, at once point masters of intimidating siege stories, haltingly terrible in the ice or on moorland, into a slavish plot twice on a row is cold-blooded indeed.”
The Eaters of Light
“That’s the trouble with hope — it’s hard to resist”
We said: “A twist on Peter Pan, dipping into the nostalgia of children’s stories, tied to the essence of ancient Britain. And a compelling behind-the-scenes link to the Classic era of Doctor Who.
What return for Rona Munro this is. Structurally, it may sit a little close to last week’s Empress of Mars, but everything in ancient Britain is richer. The characterisation, the references. This is a fine slice of Who that rises to its berth late in the series and finds less obvious roots through to the genre’s past. And even manages to cast a fresh light on our old and fast-ailing Time Lord. The experiment in nostalgia worked, a cycle is complete.
World Enough and Time
“To survive, they are what we all must become”
We said: “Any comparison with the show itself, on the cusp of a wholesale change, falls apart on the fact that not every episode can be this good. World Enough and Time isn’t perfect. It’s just astoundingly, gob-smackingly, blindingly good Doctor Who. Heart-wrenching, sci-fi fuelled, surprising, laugh-out-loud funny, obsessed with its past and just bloody unmissable. It harks back to some of Moffat’s epic best scripts, the like of Time of the Angels, while rejecting the fairy tale, tangled romanticism of his worst.
This one will stay in the memory, we can only hope with every stream of regenerative juice that next week’s finale can match it.”
The Doctor Falls
“Left you my tears, remember?”
We said: “The Doctor Falls. There’s no joke or misstep there.
A regeneration montage of companions? Check. A mash of regenerative phrases? Check.
The Doctor Fall’s greatest achievement may be to nod so heavily at the past (one of the weaknesses in the Moffat era) and pull out one of the finest ever episodes of New Series Doctor Who at the same time.
It’s a simple western in many ways. Time and threat constrained, the Doctor is framed in a no win situation, and despite his early bravado, that’s an interesting and appropriate place to find him, no matter how much we expect him to make it through. Speculative fiction may provide the backdrop, a knockout performance from everyone involved, not least Peter Capaldi, adds the emotion. Misunderstood, misrepresented for so long, this most fallible and flawed incarnation of the Doctor falls on his mistakes and pulls out the greatest depths of pathos as a result.
So, as any hope the remaining at the end is so hollow, how can it possibly feel so good? Well, it does. Moffat’s completed his run of the the Man with No Name. Immoral at the beginning, prone to error, defined by his mistakes. How much prettier it is than the tangled spaghetti that backed Moffat’s early series.
And it even manages to pack in some filthy jokes.
Magnificent Twelve? It really is magnificent. The Twelfth Doctor’s finest hour.”
Helluva finish eh, in a series of unexpected highs and inevitable lows. In all, the lows that drag the overall grade to a surprisingly low level. Because Series 10was for vast swathes a great success, and certainly the Twelfth Doctor’s strongest.
Average Series rating : C+
We’ve been here before. Dig into the Twelfth Doctor’s previous travails, not with reviews but thematic essays (it’s alright, it kicks off with Douglas Adams!) >