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 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…

Doctor Who Series 9: The Return to Gallifrey and Chekov’s Hybrid

Doctor Who Hell Bent Rassilon
At least there wasn’t a parallel universe…

And so Doctor Who Series Nine found the doctor where no one thought possible, back on his home planet of Gallifrey. But true to form, the culmination of years of seeding and two sublimely produced episodes wasn’t really about the Doctor’s homecoming at all. As the audience might have expected, it was more about the companion and the return to a mysterious one word story arc…

Travelling to end of time itself, inspired by Hell Bent.

“Tell them I know what they did. And I’m on my way”

WITH THE INNOVATIONS AND MODERNISING OF DOCTOR WHO’S NEW SERIES CAME THE ARRIVAL OF THE ‘FINALE’. That just didn’t happen in the old days, when seasons of serials gave you a denouement-full of finale every four to six weeks on average, mostly once a month. It was almost coincidence when a season closed with a classic story – but then, no production team aimed for a sub-standard story, let alone one to end the year. But with the show’s return in 2015, the wise call to adapt the show to the recognised series format meant an inexorable rise to a finale from the start. It was unavoidable, even if it’s seldom presented itself in the same way over the past decade. But in becoming a series, following the standardised particularly developed by American networks, the emphasis, weight and propulsion simply had to fall towards the story that closed each year. This essay series has already looked at the structure and peaks that developed from reconstructing the show around a series format, and how Face the Raven broke expectation. But in a series of predominantly multiple part stories, that episode commenced a three-part finale. And once again, as the integral difference that marks a series out from a soap, they don’t come much heavier than the finale.

Building up

“At the end of everything, one must expect the company of immortals”

But yes, that build-up throughout each series’ 12 or 13 episodes has come in different forms. Since the show’s return, the emphasis has moved from slow series-long build-ups to full and even half-series finales. Under showrunner Russell T Davies, viewers could expect a resolution that pinned less on an arc than hanging references, strung through the series’ seemingly unconnected episodes like jigsaw pieces of missing bees and big, bad wolves, all stemming from light and romping season openers. Under his successor, Steven Moffat, the show’s seen the introduction of high concept first episodes and mid-series finales. Ever more pressure was piled on each year’s conclusion through arcs and interlinked stories of increasing complexity. Although that looked to have reached its peak during the show’s sixth series, that left heavy expectations for the series that followed. And unfortunately, pressure isn’t always the show’s greatest companion.

Sombre times

“Hope is a terrible thing on a scaffold”

There was a shift after the Eleventh Doctor’s second year in charge of the TARDIS key. After the complexity of the sixth series, series finales were more identifiable by their higher concepts and lower keys. Almost as though the glut of The Impossible Astronaut, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song during Series Six and had worn the format thin. In Series Seven, the half-series finale that bade farewell to the Ponds found a sombre piece in The Angels take Manhattan, despite its showbiz name. A half-series later, The Name of the Doctor stole the drooping crown of sober finales. During the build-up to the show’s 50th anniversary spectacular, audiences might not have expected a crawl through a huge graveyard and overgrown TARDIS tomb, hollow serial killers ruining séances, the Great Stupidity or the Eleventh Doctor weeping at his impending doom in suburbia.

And that approach didn’t fall on the Fields of Trenzalore. A year on and it was more of the same in the two-part conclusion of Series Eight. While Dark Water opened with the sudden and rather inexplicable death of Clara’s beau Danny Pink, it followed the Doctor and Clara pursuit to a maybe afterlife, before delving heavily into dark speculation about death and cremation. The extended finale that followed, the joyfully titled, Death in Heaven, wasn’t only miserable in name; a considerable portion of it was spent in a graveyard. It was a far cry from the bombast of previous series finales. While they were always tinged with tragedy and danger (and so they should be, with their frequent wrap parties for major characters) their gloom had never been so overwhelming.  Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: Influences leave a Score to Settle

Doctor Who Series 9 Heaven Sent
Something tells me Rachel Talalay’s directing this one…

 

Heaven Sent broke many rules of rule-defying Doctor Who as it paved the way for the huge series finale of Gallifrey’s return. But was it such a great departure? It drew liberally from the show’s heritage, the considerable creative talent involved and the rich canvas of science fiction. Most importantly, amid the wealth of influences, it was as much a showpiece for the show’s music as it was the Doctor himself.

Trapped in a revolving door, inspired by Heaven Sent.

WHETHER IT’S THE MIDDLE PART OF A THREE PART FINALE OR A SINGLE SLICE OF ANTHOLOGY, HEAVEN SENT WILL BE LONG REMEMBERED. And apart from the evident format breaking, immediately following the departure of one of the New Series’ longest serving regulars, many strands of influences were evident in the penultimate episode of Series Nine. What’s not in doubt is that Heaven Sent is an immaculately produced piece of television thanks to those influences. And rising to the top is the mighty Murray Gold once again. In his tenth year as the show’s music director he’s once again seamlessly provided something so perfect that it’s easily overlooked. But as much as this Heaven Sent is held up as a one-hander for the Doctor, the music was with him every second of eternity.

Influences

Inherent horror

“Every 100 years a little bird comes”

The influences that comprise Heaven Sent run thick and thin. It’s a welcome return for director Rachel Talalay. Her entrance to the Who universe with the show’s first two-parter since 2011, Dark Water and Death in Heaven, made for an iconic and memorable finale in the rather downbeat Series Eight.

Heaven Sent is another adventure steeped in horror, just as Talalay’s previous episodes were. Although this time, the action moves away from crypts, the undead and body horror to a haunted house and corridors fit for a stalking veiled slasher. Heaven Sent is slasher horror in many senses of the genre. It’s strange to think of the Doctor’s nightmare as a palace of mystery with a corridor lurking monster, when it may very well have resembled a large, ornate garden in need of tending- as he takes a moment to dismiss early on.

Talalay’s worked extensively on genre television in recent years, but high on her resume is prolonged involvement in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Production duties led to her directing debut, helming 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare. That was the deep-end: not only the closing chapter and heightened meta entry of the series but filmed in 3d.

“I’m in a fully automated haunted house, a mechanical maze”

The Veil carries the hallmarks of the slasher genre in Heaven Sent. Haunting the corridors, sticking with a never changing speed akin to Michael Myers, an unknown origin like Jason Voorhees and the product of a dream world like Krueger himself. All that was missing was the slashing, but when that arrived it did so in sizzling and quite graphic quantity. Billions of years of it. Like those single-minded icons of slasher horror, the Veil was part of a code. There was no hidden morality, but its purpose was dictated by the singular aim of unlocking the Doctor’s confession. Unlike most slasher icons, this clockwork fiend never had the capacity to rise to anti-hero.

And of course, this might well have been Dracula’s Castle. It was steeped in the gothic tradition, the bizarre camera point of view that heralded the Veil’s Ghost of Christmas Future march – an update of mirrors that catch a vampire’s likeness. Or a keen reference to ScroogedRead more…

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