Doctor Who Series 10: The Final Verdict on the Twelfth Doctor’s Final Journey

Doctor Who Series 10 Joekrside ReviewsIt’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 Tiem 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…

The Pilot

“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.”

Rating: B

Smile

“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.”

Rating: C

Thin Ice

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’.”

Rating: A-

Knock Knock

“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.”

Rating: C-

Oxygen

“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.”

Rating: A-

Extremis

“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.” Read more…

Doctor Who: The Master through the decades – The New Series Compression Eliminated

The New Series Masters - 21st century

Bringing the Master’s journey up to the current day. For the past two years, Jokerside has tracked the Doctor’s arch-nemesis through time… Well, through the past five decades. From his suave arrival in the 1970s to her tussles with the Twelfth Doctor, Jokerside presents the summary… The 21st century: The Master throughout the New Series!

ARRIVING EIGHT YEARS INTO THE SHOW’S RUN, THE MASTER QUICKLY ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AT THE TOP TABLE OF DOCTOR WHO VILLAINS. The 18 years that followed saw mixed fortunes for the dastardly Time Lord, from volte faces to crispy husk, from zombie smarmy to a complete lack of priorities.

The suggestion remained however, that the foe would always return for the big moments. While the Daleks and Cybermen stole a spot in the show’s 25th anniversary season, it was the Master who backed the final story of the Classic Series. On many levels, brilliantly named Survival. Seven years later, it was the Master who took the role of antagonist in the Doctor’s short-lived foray into American television.

So surely it was a done deal that the show’s glorious return to British screens in 2005 was counting down to the greatest death-dodger’s next resurrection… It just took a couple of years. And when this Jokerside retrospective of the Master through the decades reached the 21st century, a few rules needed to be broken.

The schism caused by the Great Time War on screen and the machinations of the BBC behind it, led to two parallel glances for the first decade of the new century. The Who canon had split and the trail of the Master with it. Although it hadn’t appeared likely at the beginning of the decade, the 2000s would prove to be a pivotal decade for the despicable Time Lord. He was to take on three distinct forms, breaking out of his survivalist years with a bang, before plummeting back to them and helping to take out yet another of the Doctor’s incarnations on the way. And then things were really going to change.

But the confusion started, as Jokerside observed, with the villain’s demise at the close of the 1996 TV Movie, “an inescapable ‘curse of fatal’ type death, was subsequently picked up by two very different returns that resolved in two parallel universes. And of course, thanks to the ever-eccentric machinery of the BBC, they’re as co-dependent as they are incompatible. Yeah, and people wonder why fans are pre-occupied with canonicity… To make matters even more confusing, across the two realities there are some notable similarities to mull.”

So, let’s split the universe.

The Master in the 2000s – “Dear me, how tiresome” (A Tale of Two Jacobis)

Scream of the Shalka, online anniversary special (2003)

The Master in Scream of the Shalka and UtopiaNovember 2003 marked Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary, but there wasn’t to be much of a celebration or televised special as there had been around the show’s 10th, 20th or 30th birthdays. At least, not in the usual sense. Doctor Who was no longer a beast of television, but continued through an extended universe of audio plays, books official and unauthorised, comics, reprints, merchandise and in the of-their-time web pages of BBC Interactive.

The dream project of James Goss, then BBC producer now Who author, had to steer the production over rocky terrain to bring a new kind of special to dial-up internet across the world. Gs pulled a number of great decisions from the jaws of adversity, such as hiring Paul Cornell to pen the script. And Cornell’s take was no slavish continuation:

“Cornell crafted a classic and creepy tale in the Quatermass-mould, an innovative invasion that was in many ways a lighter precursor of the process Russell T Davies would undertake for the television reboot. It’s no surprise they came up with some similar solutions in the changed media landscape of the new century. Rightly ignoring regeneration, as Rose would, Shalka introduced a new Doctor with a notably sharper and fluctuating personality, coping with in-built angst as he struggled to shake off the grief of losing an unseen and un-named female companion. In this continuity, much to his chagrin and resentment he’s continually dispatched to problem areas by those unseen and unnamed… We can only assume that the Time Lords had a new PR team in.”

And alongside Richard E Grant’s new Doctor came was a refreshing if deceptively familiar Master in tow.

“In a series of short scenes, this Master cuts a memorable figure. Superbly voiced by Derek Jacobi, his is an incarnation very much in the Delgado mould. In many ways, this is Cornell’s love letter to that Master. But the trick here is that he’s never a major threat. As if he’s trapped in a time loop of the last few minutes of almost every one of the Delgado incarnation’s plots – forced into joining forces with the Doctor.”

Cornell managed the difficult feat of wringing classic menace and humour from the villain, enhanced by the flash-based but effective animation that often keeps, “this android Master’s silhouette in shadow amid stunningly shadowy imagery, as if to compound his mysterious constraint.” The links were never tied up, but there are clear assumptions to be drawn from this and his fate at the climax of the TV Movie. Best of all, it brought a ready-made new dynamic for the show’s leading Time Lords: Read more…

Doctor Who: The Master in the 2010s – “I need my friend back”

The Mistress, Time Lady and Cyberman

You’re still obeying me? Excellent. The MaRCHster takeover reaches the current age end with quite possibly the Master’s most successful comeback. But the Twelfth Doctor, made for the kind of rivalry that was denied his predecessor, encountered a Master very different to previous iterations. this was one intent on taking us all for hellluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and all those miserable constraints of survival, the time of the Mistress was upon us. A tale of … Hey Missy!

Dark Water and Death in Heaven (Series 8, 2014)

IT LOOKS LIKE THE MASTER, NOW THE MISTRESS, IS BACK FOR GOOD. SERIES EIGHT WAS EMPHATIC ABOUT IT, BEFORE SERIES NINE WAS PLAYFUL… Showing her face in almost every episode during 2014, the Master’s total appearances were very nearly 25% greater by the end of that year than the beginning. All those little asides may have seemed arbitrary, even after the great reveal of Dark Water, but programme credits ensured they were canonically embedded every time. Add in her appearance in the opening two-parter of Series Nine and that rogue’s easily amassing a frequency of appearances on a par with her/his early 1970s arrival. Time to stop mixing pronouns and determiners – we all know who we’re talking about. And Missy is undoubtedly already in the league of Delgado’s dapper ‘80s incarnation and Ainley’s smug ‘80s successor. Michelle Gomez’ recent nomination for a BAFTA, something Peter Capaldi’s Doctor astonishingly didn’t achieve for his work in Heaven Sent alone, can’t be underestimated. This incarnation, quite impossible to follow, will be around some time. And there are signs that the show itself is moving in her wake. As if in acknowledgement, the last series saw the current grey haired grump of a Doctor developed an increasing penchant for velvet jackets and capes last seen during the master’s prime.

Masterful appearances The Master in Doctor Who
How the Master’s canonical* appearances stack up in 2016. (*with the honorary inclusion of 2003’s Scream of the Shalka)

40 years on from his arrival, the Master’s life cycle has reached ever new levels of absurd drama. Yes, even more than his bug-eyed husk scheming on Gallifrey or years hidden in a garden on Traken. In fact, after the slide from suave villainy to desperate skeleton during the 1970s and those ridiculous grasps at ongoing survival through tenuous plots of the 1980s, the 21st century has set a new bar for villainous highs and impossible odds of survival lows. Last decade, the Master’s return was hidden in plain sight, through rumour and electioneering. It was a light but neat exploration of what Moffat inadvertently branded the show’s timey-wimeyness in that same series; a counter-balance to the alternative timeline year of hell that formed from his actions in the last episode of the series. The Master who fought impossibly, and gothically, back from the dead to see off the Tenth Doctor at The End of Time was never quite the same as a result. He was still brilliant, still unhinged, but with flashes of skull that recalled his death-tempting slumps of the past. He wasn’t a complete incarnation and was last seen dragging Rassilon and the Time Lords back into the Great Time War from which the cowardly rogue had previously taken great pains to escape. If the Master was going to return it would have to be breaking the Time Lock and overcoming the mystery of Gallifrey that has done much to distinguish the New Series from the Classic

A new world

“Those words from me are yours now”

The world the Mistress slowly returns to is a whole lot bleaker than the one the Master left, but that’s partly down to her convoluted scheme. From the Twelfth Doctor’s debut in Deep Breath Series 8 is a bleak one over all, dogged by death and war, taking breaks in the dainty, absurd teatime surroundings of the show’s mysterious new Mary Poppins. The quick, sad and blunt beginning of Dark Water reconfirms that thanatopsis, as if it was needed. There’s still a light spin on a tried Moffat trope as the old lady’s confused voice, employing that well known Tenth Doctor line, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” tells Clara that Danny Pink is dead. And so that strange relationship comes to a close in an extraordinary opening to a season finale that’s even more bizarrely the show’s first two-parter in three years. It doesn’t quite scan considering the previous series of the pair’s relationship, but sets a fast rolling beginning not for the drama but the concept. So begins a story that starts and ends in deceit, in fact it’s riddled by it. Read more…

The Golden Age of Cybermen Part 2: From The Tombs to The Invasion

Golden age of Cybermen Tomb, Wheel and Invasion

Hey, it’s the 49th anniversary of the first broadcast of the second episode of The Moonbase! So when better for Jokerside to conclude its epic look at the Cyber-legion’s best days that began on the Doctor’s 52nd birthday. Having quickly assumed a dominant position these implacable foes marched through the late 1960s with an offensive of classic stories and iconic sequences. Jokerside stands in awe at the close of the Golden Age of the Cybermen between 1967 and 1968.

THERE WAS NO STOPPING THE CYBERMEN ONCE THEY’D STARTED. They’d found their nemesis in the Doctor’s second incarnation and were determined to defeat him. Or rather, repeatedly fail to factor him into their plans until he inevitably turned up to disrupt them. Part of the problem was that the species had clearly splintered into different nomadic factions before the destruction of Mondas in 1986. That’s the narrative angle, but in terms of the production, few alien races in the vast history of science fiction television had change built into their every appearance like the Cybermen. While the fundamentals remained, designers altered, amend and enhanced the design with every story. Sometimes they strove to make further allowances for long-suffering actors, sometimes they incorporated new materials or techniques. That’s a nice nod to the nature of the Cybermen but also a neat reflection of the change built into Doctor Who itself – could the Doctor have found his ultimate villain? If he had, he soon lost them as they dwindled to sporadic appearances after the 1960s.

Golden age of Cybermen The Tenth Planet and The MoonbasePart of the problem was that much like their cybernetic upgrades their appearances were more frequent than they were evolutionary. That’s in stark opposition to the Daleks, where each of the Pepper Pot’s early appearances scaled up the plot and threat in true sequel style. While the fiends of Skaro were first encountered by humans during the their hugely successful invasion in the latter years of the 21st century, human’s first contact with their cybernetic cousins took place a century earlier – the late 1960s or mid-1970s based on your UNIT dating conundrum perspective. And wonderfully strangely, that chronological first contact was the fifth time that viewers at home had encountered them in just over two years.

1968’s The Invasion was the Cybermen’s greatest adventure, an epic eight part serial that finally elevated them to the level of sprawling adventure that the Daleks had grown accustomed to. So perhaps there’s little surprise that it concluded their golden age, retiring them off to infrequent nemeses presumably without so much as a gold watch. From the start the Cybermen had lurked in the background, and come their Invasion they relied on human accomplices to delay their appearance for four episodes. Before that, we and the TARDIS crew had already seen them hatch devious schemes to take control of Earth in the future, even discovered them in a last stand hibernation on their adopted planet of Telos. It’s an odd and fractured timeline eminently irresistible to science fiction fans. And within less than three year’s they’d made enough of a pest of themselves, and posed ironically wherever they could, to ensure they’d joined the top line of Doctor Who foes. In fact, so thick, fast and irresolute was their onslaught that they quite reasonably accelerated the rate they reached retirement rate even quicker than the Daleks.

And what an exit strategy. After skulking, tomb building and space walking, 1968 finally found them, taking on the military might of institution-in-waiting UNIT. But first, things were going to have to get a lot darker before that dawn.

The Tomb of the Cybermen (Season 5, 1967)

Golden age of Cybermen 2 - Tomb of the Cybermen“We will survive”

Tomb of the Cybermen is a inversion of the classic base under siege story seen in the metal militant’s previous two two. For once, we’re on the Cyber terrors’ territory, although they’re hardly at full strength. This four part serial really finds them on their back cyber boot for the first time, with the events of The Moonbase revealed to be part the cyber race’s long decline. It wasn’t simply their previous encounters with two Doctors, although those are mentioned– these Cybermen are once again familiar with him – but their other intergalactic conflicts and significant losses which drive them into hibernation. It’s proves an illogical move.

Fortunately, this base under siege story finds different dynamics at play. First the Cybermen have laid a delicate trap, one that adds terror to the early tension while providing a logical route to their reanimation. Secondly, it’s the human blend of archaeologists and logicians (and TARDIS crew) who are the invaders. It’s immediately obvious that the logicians aren’t seeking the lost Cyber races for an article in New Scientist and the human fascination with their master race cousins who quickly fell to myth would provide fodder for Cyber stories all the way up to Big Finish’s recent The Last of the Cybermen. Crucially that story featured companion Zoe Heriot, akin to a human calculator her entrance would be closely linked to the Cyberman, but that was for a future adventure. First there was the tomb that the BBC managed to banish to a tomb for many years…

Silver chic

“You belong to us. You shall be like us.”

These Cybermen are not nearly as modified as the last faction the Doctor encountered. Although they look slightly shabbier, that’s forgivable. Of two main differences to those encountered on the Moonbase, one is that they are repressed to the point of inert and secondly there is the emergence of an authority figure: The Cyber Controller. Noticeably different, he lacks the Cybermen’s typical handlebars, in their place an extended cranium to process and draw strategy from huge amounts of a data. A huge figure, happy to hibernate in a crouched position, he may be larger and have better squat control than a regular Cyberman, but he lacks their chest units. A rather striking and more mobile, athletic sort of figure, or possibly jumpsuit lanky, he seems to be an amalgamation of a Cyberman foot soldier and his race’s earlier Central Processing Machines. Cyber thinking had clearly become more mobile prior to their forced to retreat. Outside the television universe stories such as Marc Platt’s Spare parts would build central committees and controllers into the emergence of the Cyber race, but here the Controller appears to be a direct response to devastating and constant conflict with other races. And in their hives of sleep, his Cybermen swarm not around a Queen but a logician. And they’ve even brought little pets along to wake up to…
Read more…

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