Well! That was Matt Smith’s The Time of the Doctor done right! That was the multi Master story I never knew I wanted! With the exception of the weird deux ex machina at story’s end, that was a near perfect Who finale! Heck! That was…
Review disclaimer: A friend of mine commented on my low score for the previous Gatiss penned episode. By way of explanation, it’s pretty tough to rate Who episodes out of 10 from week to week anyway given the wide range of genres and scenarios the writers have the freedom to explore, but even when an episode is above average, it might not get get much above 6/10 from me because it’s fine in terms of plot, characters and story of the week, but it’s not memorable beyond that stand alone story. In other words the episode is adequate, yet not very memorable in terms of a wider series arc or when compared to the many, many episodes New Who has given us over the years. I am thinking of moving my score system to a number out of 5 just to make review score clearer for those reading
This week’s The Eaters of Light was penned by classic Who writer Rona Munro, she of Survival fame. I’m one of those people who really dug McCoy Doctor and especially his time with Ace and the often surreal, gothic and multi-layered stories that came about towards Seven and the show’s demise, so I was already pretty keen for this episode. I also love Celtic Britain and stories of that lost world of nature meeting the supernatural.
The Doctor, Bill and Nardole find themselves splitting up early in this episode to find the missing ninth legion. Of course, Bill finds them first. Meanwhile, The Doctor and Nardole discover a Pict tribe with a portal to a bizarre parallel world where a kind of light eating alien colony resides (how Stranger Things!)To defend themselves from the invading army, the Pict leader, Kar, releases one eater of light into our world. The Doctor is horrified and the episode essentially retreads the same ground as the previous week’s The Empress of Mars in forcing two opposing sides to find middle ground for the middle ground. I believe it probably just comes down to personal preference to decide which episode you prefer, though I do agree with other review sites who point out how similar the two episodes themes are to choose to play them back to back in the series run.
One of the most fun aspects of Bill is that she’s just an ordinary university student with a chip making job on the side and so for her the universe is so full of wonder and discovery. I loved Bill’s slow realisation that the TARDIS was helping her and the centurion she finds to understand each other. I also loved the discussion of fluid sexuality between her and the centurions and that, surprisingly, the Romans are unfazed by her sexuality.
Finally, at episode’s end she serves as The Doctor’s hubris reminder (God I love that Moffat companions do this) when she tells him, no, no he cannot simply enter the portal as a protector for all eternity and assume he is the only person capable of sacrifice. The Doctor’s companions should do many things in my opinion to be deemed successful. They must find the universe wonderful, a place of discovery, to remind the Doctor just how wondrous his lot in life is. They must help The Doctor to remain kind. And they must remind The Doctor not to presume he must solve everything, to be the solution to every problem, to consider himself as the most important person in the room. I think Bill does all of these things for Twelve and this is one of the reasons she is so good as the current main companion.
Matt Lucas has definitely grown on me as time has gone on. His performance has grown subtler with each episode of series 10. Still, I am not sure that he is actually needed here or elsewhere this series. He provides light comic relief and is an interesting mixture of cowardice and strength, but I am not convinced he plays any important role in any of these stories (and certainly not when compared to the role companions like Rory played in overall main companion arcs). I did enjoy him in a dressing gown Arthur Dent style (Who has an obsession with HHGTTG references) and the difference between him and The Doctor when it comes to meeting new people. Nardole tries to assimilate, to befriend, to be a part of the community. The Doctor feels he needs to hold himself aloof, so he can better assess the problem he faces and to prevent himself from growing too attached. There must be a way to reduce the hurt he feels when he fails to save people.
I don’t feel that this series has had all that much to say about The Doctor when compared to other series with Capaldi. Eight had a strong theme about what makes a good man whilst series nine had stories about The Doctor’s aloneness and his way of dealing with companion grief. When Missy isn’t present in the story, I’ve felt that this series is more interested in Bill and Nardole and what travelling with The Doctor says about them, rather than what The Doctor’s approach to the problem of the week says about him. This isn’t a bad thing by the way. It’s just an observation.
I didn’t like Twelve much this episode. He is a bit of a dick when he criticises Kar’s decision to release an eater of light into the forest to stop the Roman invasion.
The Doctor: So, you thought the Eater of Light could destroy a whole Roman army.
Kar: It did!
The Doctor: And a whole Roman army could weaken or kill the beast.
The Doctor: Well, it didn’t work! You got a whole Roman legion slaughtered, and you made the deadliest creature on this planet very, very cross indeed. To protect a muddy little hillside, you doomed your whole world.
Kar couldn’t have known this. She and her tribe were frightened and desperate. Their world hangs on a knife edge. Why shouldn’t they use any weapon at their disposal? I understand that it is the fear of the Romans and the Scots which prevents them from finding a way forward in peace and that this is one of the points the episode is making, but I still was annoyed with The Doctor in this moment and quite pleased that Bill brings him down a notch or two five minutes later.
The Allegory of the Raven
I knew that the writer of Survival would go in for allegory, and with an episode set in Celtic times, it makes sense. Allegory is so important in the stories told by the Celts to connect to their world. The physical landscape and its creatures are symbols of gods and goddesses, gateways and keys to the supernatural, part of important magical rites.
It was therefore a nice touch to have the ‘caw caw’ of the crows as a throw back to Kar. Kar lives on in the calling of the crows. And they know her name because once upon a time, humanity could speak with animals. The mythic was reality.
Quote of the Episode
Ironically, not from the story of the week but from the Missy epilogue.
The Doctor: That’s the trouble with hope. It’s hard to resist.
The Eaters of Light: 7/10 inky stars (for a story that was well done but a little too similar to last week’s and with an oddly tacked on coda with Missy which felt a bit out of place)
This week is a Toby Whithouse oddity. I mostly enjoy his work on Who. I’ve enjoyed every episode he’s written with the exception of Under the Lake/Before the Flood, and even then I thought they were average Who episodes rather than terrible ones. I had…
Ah this episode was more like the old school Santa Moff penned script I know and love. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy The Pilot. I did, but I have always enjoyed the way Moffat does outlandish experimentation in directions you never expect on Doctor Who, and this is what happens again with Extremis.
Like the openers to series 6 and 9, this mid series episode felt like part one of a finale two parter. Aside from some jokes at the Catholic Church’s expense via Bill and her prospective girlfriend, Penny’s shock at the TARDIS materializing and bringing The Pope to say hi, the whole episode feels dark, foreboding and like the stakes are getting ramped up in a big way.
Missy and The Doctor
The episode opens sometime after The Husbands of River Song and the singing towers and The Doctor finding Bill we presume. We aren’t given a lot of background on why Missy is about to be executed (is it something to do with her escape with the daleks at the start of series 9? Will this story strand come up again in the s10 finale?), but the way Moffat weaves how The Doctor came to be minding the box at university actually works quite well alongside the second story strand of the episode, which is basically The Name of the Rose meets The Matrix alien invasion story.
I have always found the relationship between The Master and The Doctor to be interesting. They are both Time Lord renegades, and therefore, in some sense bound by mutual understanding of what it is to be alone, to be an outcast from kin. They are both brilliant geniuses, even if they choose to use that genius to different ends. They both play games with each other, to test that intellect, and to make sure both can still play the game.
Though Missy was understated in this episode, Michelle Gomez is as brilliant as ever, and I am heartbroken that she is set to leave alongside Capaldi. Though I still enjoyed Simm Master, he has nothing on the cold, intelligent, brutal mania of Missy. I couldn’t quite tell, as Missy knelt before her executioner, if she meant every word she said or she was just trying to save her own skin.
I have also often said in these recap reviews that Moffat has a way of verbalising via his scripts key qualities of The Doctor, the qualities which make him loved, respected and famed throughout the galaxy. This time Moff does this via Nardole, River Song and her blue TARDIS diary. If The Doctor killed Missy in cold blood, he would no longer be The Doctor (the name you choose. It’s like a promise you keep). He would take responsibility for her, he would watch over her for a thousand years because she is a Time Lord following horribly wrong paths, but he cannot kill her without destroying the part of himself that people love most. River’s diary quote felt like something out of a philosophy text rather than a TV episode, and it is no less beautiful for that.
River: Only in darkness are we revealed. […] Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.
In the most extreme of circumstances, The Doctor saves The Master in the hopes that someday she will make good on her word and pay The Doctor’s kindness back. By episode’s end, The Doctor must ask one of his oldest enemies for help. The question is, at what price does Missy’s aide come? Does she truly understand the meaning of calling someone friend? Her words as her doom sat high seem to indicate so:
Missy: Without hope. Without witness. Without reward. I am your friend.
I am still loving Bill, and this episode continued with building on her relationship with Nardole, which I am a fan of. I love that Nardole can be a ‘badass’ and then two seconds later reveal himself to be a real coward. He is a companion that grows on me more with each passing episode.
I am also enjoying the run of stories in series 10 which see The Doctor and his companions relying less on the sonic and magic Time Lord get out of jail free cards, and more focus on companions and The Doctor resorting to intellect to get out of sticky situations. This episode then is a mixed bag on this front; most of the episode is spent with characters figuring things out, yet The Doctor’s ability to email from the simulation to himself in the real world made no sense.
Extremis: 9/10 inky stars for being a chilling, yet oddly beautiful in parts episode, with some fine performances from everyone, but especially from Capaldi. His gravity when he explains to Bill that they are simulations is grave and sad.
PS: Will The Doctor’s attempt to read The Veritus affect his next regeneration? What price did Twelve pay for the brief use of his vision returned?
Wow, two episodes into the new series, and I’m already a blog post behind… AGAIN. This is what happens when I go to Conflux. Anyway, the follow up to The Magician’s Apprentice is even better than its first act. Who doesn’t love a Clara/Missy double…
This review is very delayed, largely because I thought this episode was the worst of the season by far and I was putting off having to re-watch and partly because my family and I recently discovered the excellent (if depressing) crime drama, Line of Duty. I couldn’t keep shirking forever though so here I am.
To be honest, I’m actually not all that clear on what this episode was about. The first half follows Clara and Danny doing the obligatory zoo sleepover with their students, but with a twist. A giant forest comes to London and the children and teachers wander around aimlessly. Meanwhile, one student, Maeve, gets separated from the others and finds The Doctor (aside: strangely though the giant forest takes over London, there are surprisingly few people about for students to bump into). Then there’s something about people destroying trees and something about earth getting destroyed and something about the trees loving earth and saving it and pretty gold dust stuff and the power of the mentally ill to find lost things and… yeah… I don’t know… as I said… a big mess.
Companions who never were?
Child actors generally don’t bode well for companions of the week (see Nightmare in Silver and Courtney) but Maebh was quite good even if her storyline was rubbish. Her plaintive ‘everyone knew everything but me’ felt quite honest and I liked the way she thought differently to not just her teachers and fellow class mates, but also The Doctor. The most interesting scene for me in the whole episode was the one where Maebh told The Doctor that the trees were communicating silently and he didn’t believe her because he couldn’t hear them speak. I can’t find the exact quote online, but she basically pointed out to him that people communicate non-verbally all of the time and it was a pretty neat put down.
Clara and Danny
Urgh, these two are just no Amy/Rory no matter how hard this show tries to sell them to me as such. I genuinely don’t give a damn about Danny until Dark Water (which is pretty ironic as you’ll see in my write-up next week) and imo Clara is too good for him for the most part. The decision to have Danny constantly question Clara’s choice to travel with The Doctor, essentially forcing her to lie to him about still travelling in the TARDIS drives me insane every episode.
Danny: You said you haven’t seen him in months
Clara: Something like that
Clara, the fact you have to keep lying should be telling you something!
Danny brings out the worst in The Doctor too. When Maebh first meets The Doctor and tells her story he pettishly replies with, ‘Mr Pink was looking after you… that explains why you’re lost.’
Finally, Danny gets extra irritating this episode when he tells Clara why the TARDIS isn’t for him.
Danny: I don’t want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me.
Yes, I get that Danny was a soldier and saw and did awful things. The problem is, we’ve been told about it, not shown it and I simply don’t buy his comments. Who wouldn’t want to travel the TARDIS? Really? (Ok, so I know Rory didn’t want to, but he loved Amy so much he did it anyway and found hidden reserves inside himself he didn’t even know existed. I love Rory. Danny just stagnates)
Harsh Doctor is back in full force this week. Take when Maebh first turns up. His response to her unexpected appearance on his TARDIS doorstep is, ‘You need an appointment to see The Doctor.’ Callous, much? Though this Doctor does seem to have travel differentiating between adults and children and tends to lump all humans in terms of functionality in the same basket.
Capaldi is also given the opportunity this week to dig into his softer side in time for the finale and the Christmas special. He tells Clara he can use his TARDIS to save Clara from the destruction of earth.
Clara: I don’t want to be the last of my kind.
The Doctor: This is my world too.
The conviction and quiet delivery of the lines is quite beautiful. I think Capaldi is also very good when he says that the human super power is forgetting, sounding sad, thoughtful and relieved all at once.
Mental illness, fairy stories and un-earnt denouements
In general, the main problem for me with this episode is the lack of real conflict. However, where everything really started to go pear-shaped was when the script writer thought it would be a good idea to imply that mental illness equated to some kind of magical ability that could inexplicably bring back lost things. Wow, way to perpetrate stereotypes much! The fairy story tone didn’t actually give the writer a get out of jail free card as some episodes got in series 5 because tonally it didn’t match the rest of Capaldi’s run. I simply felt cheated when Annabelle turned up in a bush by Maebh’s house. Furthermore, Maebh’s imagination (depicted through her coloured drawings) felt too Fear Her for my liking and the reveal that she’d created the tree plague felt pretty random. When The Doctor says that the forest is mankind’s nightmare (hello Into The Woods), it’s actually Maebh’s nightmare (or deep desire), but none of these reveals really gel or feel earned. Look, maybe I’m just sensitive, but this whole concept felt like a hot mess.
Missy turning up, even if for a minute, is always welcome. This episode I just felt confused. Why was Missy surprised that the trees saved earth? Or was she actually implying that she was surprised at The Doctor’s choice to remain on an earth about to be destroyed? Why? Does anyone know what this scene was about? Please help.
On the plus side, next week is Missy in crystal clear abundance and one of the best episode’s of the season.
In The Forest of the Night: 2/10 inky stars
This is Jamie Mathieson’s second episode, and it is also enormously fun, adventurous and inventive. Flatline sees the TARDIS, with The Doctor trapped inside, shrink and Clara take up The Doctor mantle. There are some suitably nasty aliens, and one suitable nasty human, and some…