Ricky Young escapes from his ultimately-pointless vault to look at series ten of Doctor Who.
If this article starts off brilliantly, filled with verve and wit and fun (and perhaps a tiny bit of self-congratulatory smugness – will you look at that title!) and then kinda tails off and gets a bit bogged down in the second half and runs out of steam and then – a few good bits aside – ultimately relies on stuff we’ve done quite a few times before to vividly diminishing returns, well, we’ll say with a rather high-handed contempt: “Fuck You – we’ll do what we like”.
After all, as an approach, we learned it from the master.
If you transport your minds back to earlier this year, we quite liked the ‘The Pilot’, Steven Moffat’s series 10 opener. Seemingly freed from his earlier tics and obsessions, it felt fresher and more open than Doctor Who had been for a few years, and we looked forward to more from a showrunner perhaps perked up by a blast of valedictory energy.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. If rumours are true, then this was one series more than Mr. Moffat had originally planned to take on, and as the weeks went by it became clearer and clearer that any bolts Steven had carried into his middle-age had been shot either previously or elsewhere.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before we end up on our hands and knees in the snow, cold and alone and railing desperately at a world that’s forcing us to change, let’s take the traditional MostlyFilm bouquets’n’brickbats stroll through this last series, before we have to deal with getting picked up by some old creep in a fur hat and a cape.
Bouquets first – pretty much top-drawer pretending from everyone on screen. Who know Peter Capaldi’s moment when he *actually* became the Doctor would be right at the end when featured eating some crisps? Although, to be strictly fair, he’s been a joy all series, transcending the Kinda Nasty Alien from his first set of episodes and the excruciating Yer Da’s Got A New Girlfriend shit from series nine.
Pearl Mackie turned nearly everything she was given into some form of gold as well, even if Bill Potts never really gelled into the fully-rounded character her intro promised. What with quirks, enthusiasms and personality traits coming and going to fit what the story required at the time, this latter-day outbreak of Tribbiani Syndrome was probably forced on poor old Bill by failures we’ll get into later, and will remain a damn shame.
Tell you what, though, as a weirdly effective backbone to series ten, Nardole turned out to be pretty decent – as each story went by, Matt Lucas’ work edged more and more away from being a doughy K9 and towards a quietly- effective, steely-edged badass. Matt Lucas as a steely-edged badass! I know!
Right, well, our thoughts on ‘The Pilot’ are here. Episode two was ‘Smile’, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who’s ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ from series eight was so awful we underwent elective brain-surgery to make sure we forgot everything about it. And so, expecting literally nothing, we were quite taken with ‘Smile’, even though it didn’t trouble our missing synapses overly.
FCB seemed to be handed the one-trip-abroad-per-series gift of an amazing location (The City Of Arts And Sciences in Valencia) and an instruction to have the Doctor and Bill riff off each other to a pleasing degree, and as a character piece it was deft and amusing – even if the emoji-based story beats felt a bit like they were filtered through a man in his late fifties who’d been told about emoji without ever understanding them. Anyway:
The charm continued into Sarah Dolland’s ‘Thin Ice’, set in Georgian London and doubling-down on the getting-to-know-you vibe between the two leads. And while we’re not going to so churlish as to point out that Evil Humans Enslaving Innocent Aliens For Gain Or Profit might not be completely original in the Whoniverse, this is the only one in which Doctor Who punches Nathan Barley right in the god-damn face, so it wins by default.
Also, it was at this point where the ongoing mystery of the series i.e. what’s in the Doctor’s vault, and why is he in charge of it? – a damn good set-up by anyone’s business – reached the point where it had to begin to deliver on what it was promising. We’ll leave you to ponder where that one went.
This series really liked to dump the Doctor and Bill into a gaggle of trapped ciphers who were dealing badly with A Thing, and of the three (3!) of them, Mike Bartlett’s ‘Knock Knock’ was the standout. A spookily effective haunted-house mystery (the same house from at the start of ‘Blink’, fact-fans!), the slowly-tightening atmosphere and unsurprisingly creepy performance from David Suchet ramped up the tension until it collapsed in on itself with a final five minutes of What The Fuck? involving evil woodlice, a strange wooden lady and Suchet being eaten by one or both of them. Or something – none of it has stuck, which is a shame, because the rest of it was a lot of fun.
Capaldi-era script-hero Jamie Matheson was next with ‘Oxygen’, which split opinion amongst us MostlyFilm-ers. Some just can’t get on with spaceship stories – all the grey corridors, parping alarms and highly-strung peril (We’re looking at you, ‘Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS’ and pretty much everything by Peter Harness), but a lot of us really liked this one. If a fresh take on zombies is a thing one can conceive of, well this was it, with great production design, solid performances, and even a kiddie-friendly punch to the balls of Capitalist Values, to boot. Say, maybe this series and the whole standalone-story thing might be working out real good! Whaddaya say, Steve-O?
And then we hit the skids, which is apt given the amount of retreading we’re about to do.
We’re not going to go too heavily into ‘The Monks Trilogy’, which consisted of ‘Extremis’ (Moffat), ‘The Pyramid At The End Of The World’ (Moffat and Harness) and ‘The Lie Of The Land’ by Toby Whithouse, because it’s the most skippable couple of hours of telly since that time Nick Knowles tromboned a vicar on the Lottery Quiz.
Fill a blender with any number of Moffat tropes and flick the on-switch – this is what you’ll get. Space-monks, history-altering, a bunch of endless fucking jaw-jaw about free will, planet-affecting decisions being handed to the companion, standing around in dark rooms talking down the running time – nothing that hadn’t been leant on heavily in the past and, oh, lordy it was all a chore. ‘Extremis’ was perky enough, mind you, until you got to the end and realised it was servicing a story a LOT more boring than itself, which is a good trick if you’re that way minded.
Talking of tired, lazy hacks, which we were, with what do you associate Mark Gatiss’ Who stories? Victoriana, right? Genre pastiche? Music hall references? Boy’s Own derring-do, with some Jules Verne-y twist? An underwhelming sense of ennui? Well, phew, did ‘Empress of Mars’ have all of that and more.
So, there are these British soldiers on Mars, see, and they’re there with an Ice Warrior who’s helping them do something (in a story essentially exactly the same as ‘Victory Of The Daleks’ by Mr. Mark Gatiss), and that awakens something and there’s a big gun or something and oh for the love of god, Chris Chibnall, if you do ONE THING when you take over, just don’t return Gatiss’ calls, okay? It’s not as if he needs the work. Just sack his ass.
Rona Munro, the only person to write for old and nuWho to date, then gave us ‘The Eaters Of Light’, which wasn’t bad in and of itself, but suffered from being right after a story that hit a lot of the same beats – for the third time this series, Bill and the Doc get stuck with a low-rent crew of squabblers, forced to deal with a Horrible Thingy lurking nearby. It was in this and the previous ep where Bill’s sudden enthusiasms – films in the Mars one, Romans here – really smacked of not caring that much whether she came across as a real person. Who on earth needs script-editing these days, eh?
Still, the bit about the crows was good.
Thus we arrive at the two-part finale, consisting of Mr. Moffat’s ‘World Enough And Time’ followed by ‘The Doctor Falls’. Not gonna lie, the former of the two is a really great episode of telly. The team (plus an on-her-best-behaviour Missy) arrive at a colony ship and are immediately thrust into a cracking timey-wimey adventure with a rock-solid and imaginative setup, wonderful direction (Thanks, Rachel Talalay!) and performances to die for, all culminating in a BIG TWIST OF A CLIFFHANGER! – that was given away for no reason by Steven Moffat months in advance.
As for ‘The Doctor Falls’, one of MostlyFilm’s contributors put it so well on our forum that we’re just going quote it – MarvMarsh: “As usual he sets something up but can’t deliver which means the setup is devalued as well. So not only was this episode an inevitable turd sandwich, when we bit into it like the fools we are some of the filling squirted out and landed on last week’s episode.”
For all John Simm and Michelle Gomez have brought to the table, their game stab at what turned out to be a big old mess of pointless noticeably lacked energy, and the Achilles’ Heel of all nuWho – there’s almost never been a time when we’re not counting down until the next regeneration – can never be turned into an advantage even if you really, really try, like here. He doesn’t want to die now, all of a sudden? Where did that come from? It’s not earned in the slightest! Why is it suddenly so important, for this Doctor? How can he stop it, is this a new thing? Are you sacrificing the 12th Doctor’s personality just so you can parallel it with something from 1966 due to being so afraid of endings that a vague attempt at poetry might look enough like you’re tying things up in the hope that nobody will care that NOTHING IN YOUR FINALE MAKES SENSE IN THE SLIGHTEST?
Oh, somebody else can moan about the conclusion to Bill’s story being exactly the same as Clara’s – we can’t be fucked even STARTING on that. And if anyone mentions the absurdly insulting fake-out regeneration in ‘The Lie Of The Land’ which existed as trailer-fodder and literally nothing else – possibly the laziest, hackiest, let’s-fuck-with-them moment of 21st century culture so far, we’ll spontaneously explode.
Wait, let’s regroup here.
And with that, MostlyFilm’s epic dance with Steven William Moffat OBE draws very nearly to a close. There’s one episode left, one hundred and sixty-four days from now and we’ll be there to grab its hand for one last spin, if we’re spared.
We’ve had our ups and downs, you and us – we’ll forget that time you called us ‘net geeks’ on Twitter to our faces, if you’ll forget that time we broke into your house and filmed you sleeping. What can we say? Watching it back calms us in times of stress.
We’ve liked a whole bunch of your Doctor Who, we’ve hated a whole bunch of your Doctor Who, and we’ve been violently lukewarm towards a vast amount of your Doctor Who. But by god, you grabbed it and made it yours, eh? Throttled it so closely that Doctor Who meant Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who and nothing else. You even shoved another Doctor in there, because nobody could say no to you, meaning it’ll always be yours, in perpetuity, in your mind.
Oh, we don’t think we’d have missed your Doctor Who for the world. We just think it might be a lot more fun when it’s everybody’s again.
Ricky posts on The Tweeter.