So, episode 2 of the new series is called ‘The Ghost Monument’ and sees the Doctor and her companions stranded on a dead and deadly planet called Desolation. They’re also caught up in an intergalactic rally-race – they need to reach a place called The Ghost Monument to win the big prize, facing all sorts of perils along the way. At the same time, the Doctor is intent on solving the mystery of what (or who) killed the planet and its inhabitants in the first place.
Unlike the great opening episode of this series, the second episode doesn’t have that much in terms of a realistic sense of jeopardy. Also, there isn’t much of a moral dilemma to proceedings, so we are not as engaged as we might be – and the episode isn’t as compelling as it should be. Don’t get me wrong – there are enough decent scifi ideas to keep everything watchable, but the various obstacles really don’t challenge either the viewer or the Doctor when it comes to problem-solving. Indeed, the fact that the Doctor’s companion Ryan is scared of heights and ladders seems to be more of an issue than anything else – and then he just shrugs and climbs the ladder anyway.
The second episode also suffers from a fair bit of characters sitting around and navel-gazing. We get into a debate about whether its a cruel universe in which you have to look out for yourself or whether we’re all stronger together (even when there are refugees involved). Yes, it’s all a bit preachy and a not very subtle comment on Brexit. Then there’s a preachy bit when the Doctor goes all anti-guns, etc.
Is it worth it all? Yes. Mainly because of the new-look Tardis – which gets a thumbs up from me (even though I don’t like the redone title music). Oh, and there are more references to the evil Stenza (the baddies from the first episode) – so it seems they will be the main threat in the larger story arc. Thankfully, there is a ‘larger story’ going on – so that should keep us going even through the odd place-holder episode like this one. Episode 2 scores just a 6 out of 10 from me, but I’m looking forward to the rest of the series – as Jodie Whittaker is doing a very good job and Bradley Walsh is an absolute revelation! Onwards!
I counted at least four deaths in ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’, the one-hour opener of the new Doctor Who series. These deaths ‘worked’: in that they increased the sense of jeopardy, none of them was gratuitous and the baddie was made to seem properly bad. This series certainly feels more mature and serious than previous ones: the evil aliens (‘The Stenza’) have come to Earth to conduct ‘a hunt’ in the Predator-style, and Predator is much more horror-driven and adult as a franchise than Doctor Who. The increased ‘jeopardy’ stopped anything seeming silly, puerile and throwaway – indeed, the action was compelling and engaging.
What about Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor, you scream? Well, Jodie was excellent. She was totally unaffected (unlike some previous actors in the role), you see. The humour was therefore natural, unforced and more nuanced. That’s half the battle of playing the Doctor, actually. Hats off to her. And the script seemed stronger than in previous series – although it could simply have been Jodie doing so well with the material. I particularly enjoyed the rebooted ‘sonic screwdriver’ being ‘a Swiss army knife, without the knife’, and the new costume selection in the charity shop. But that’s just me. I score the opener an optimistic 8.5 out of 10. Onwards!
Episode 1 got 4.6m UK viewers, episode 2 got 4.2m and episode 3 got a dismal 3.8m. If the trend continues, series 10 will be the least ever watched Doctor Who. What’s going on? Yes, it’s Peter Capaldi’s last series, but the ‘end’ of a Doctor often increases the interest in a series. Should we conclude then that there is something lacking in the quality of the episodes? With such a fall-off in viewers, quite possibly. Should we celebrate that it’s Steven Moffat’s last year in charge of the story-lines? Definitely, if you want my twopenneth’s worth (although the licence fee is a fair bit more than that these days).
So what’s wrong with the current writing/story-lines? Well, episode 1 (The Pilot) introduced a sassy new assistant and a monster that ‘couldn’t let go’ of a failed relationship (just about a metaphor about the Doctor needing to let go of all that he’s lost). It was far from a brilliant episode: some highly offensive fat jokes and misogyny, lacking in larger themes and with no evidence of a larger story arc. However, it was coherent, sweet and pleasingly resolved. I was happy to tune into episode 2 (Smile) – which was a hard scifi episode. Again, it was coherent and well resolved. BUT it really didn’t have any sort of ‘message’, which is a particular problem if you’re writing hard scifi. Why? Well, hard scifi is just silly and pointless if there isn’t something with a larger implication going on. Episode 2, therefore was either written by someone who just doesn’t understand hard scifi or by someone who’s just lazy (perhaps both)…
Bringing us to episode 3 (entitled Thin Ice!). Yes, this episode really was on thin ice. It’s about a monster chained up in the Thames during the Victorian era. The Doctor freed the monster. The end. Hmm. What was the point? Well, in the process, he saved a bunch of orphans (Asian kids and black kids straight out of RADA) who were being exploited by the evil white upper classes. Apparently, England was always far more multi-cultural than we like to think (yes, the term ‘whitewashed’ was used) – and the British Empire was only so successful/strong because of its ethnic diversity. Anyway, the Doctor makes sure the orphans grow up to inherit the house and wealth of the corrupt noble. The whole thing was a tad bizarre. Moffat seemed to be expressing anti-Brexit sentiment through the plot/Doctor. Sadly, the whole piece lacked a certain coherence and was a confused departure from reality really (the reality of the Victorian era).
So, series 10 leaves me (and a good number of other viewers) thinking ‘What the?’ There’s a serious lack of a series arc to hold the episodes together. (There’s a door that someone knocks but Matt Lucas refuses to open it: that does NOT constitute a series arc, however.) Time for Mr Moffat to move on, methinks. Time for someone with a fresh and grander vision to have a go. Time to bring back the Timelords.
A straightforward storyline this one, which is no bad thing at all. It had pace, moments of character empathy, tension, peril and insight. Maisie Williams (Arya Stark in Game of Thrones) puts in a brilliant turn as a Viking lass who ultimately develops into some alien-human hybrid. The Doctor changes her in looking to save her, you see. He then begins to worry that he’s made a huge mistake: ‘Ah well, Time will judge.’ There are some great lines in this episode, and Odin puts in a turn too! Tell you what, Marvel could learn a lot from watching this episode. And Clara is good too – new nuances to her relationship with the Doctor are delivered, and all very credibly. Entirely refreshing. (There was an odd plot moment, in that clearly the electric eels should have been used to restart the Viking girl’s heart, but something must have changed during editing.) Well done to all involved.
Davros is dying! The Doctor is summoned to meet his old nemesis, to bid him an unfond farewell. Turns out Davros now remembers his youth, when the Doctor apparently betrayed Davros to a grisly end, but fled the scene before seeing it happen. Was it actually the Doctor’s original betrayal that turned Davros into the monster he became? Oo. The Doctor experiences guilt and shame, and is then rendered powerless to prevent the deaths of both Missy (aka The Master) and Clara. Divine/poetic justice is visited on the Doctor in precisely the way he has acted as moral arbiter and visited judgement on others for eons.
Plotwise, then, this is a GOOD episode and opening to series 9. But there’s a thing. I need to tell you about the thing. It’s been gnawing at me for a few years now. And I think it’s been gnawing at the wider (dwindling) audience too. Let’s face it, people have been switching off or over for a good while now. So here’s the thing: the individual scenes and much of the dialogue is terribly childish, petty and peevish. It’s corny (to use one of my Dad’s old words). It’s simply BAD writing. It lacks maturity. It shows a complete misjudgement of 1. audience age range and 2. audience intelligence (irrespective of age). Beyond that, the dialogue just ain’t credible for a being like the Doctor. There. I’ve said the thing. I feel better now… I just hope it can make Doctor Who better one day.
So, this 1hr25min special was broadcast simultaneously in 90 countries (and on several different worlds, probably) last night. But was it any good? On balance, it probably was. It tied up the (Bad Wolf) story arc of something like 5 different series all in one go – which is one helluva feat. It had John Hurt – always good. It had gags galore (we’ll forgive that they were slightly self-indulgent). It had neat special FX and ideas (a painting that is a frozen slice of time, like suspended animation – was cool!). It had UNIT. It had the new doctor. It had a lovely cameo from Tom Baker. But best of all – it brought back Gallifrey. Hurrah! Let’s hope the new series of Doctor Who will be more political than previous ones. Well done BBC and all those involved.
Well, the Weeping Angels don’t take the real Manhattan. The story starts in a Raymond Chandler type novel – a detective is employed by a mob boss to go investigate the angels. The detective sees himself die of old age in a bed in this building which is like a battery that feeds the angels. It’s never quite clear why the mob boss is interested in the angels – maybe it’s explained, but I must have missed it. We then cut to the Doctor reading the self-same novel. Amy, Rory and the Doctor then end up in the novel – not sure why, but they do – something to do with the fact that River Song wrote the book and if you read what happens it can’t be changed. Why the angels are in a novel, I’m not sure, but maybe it’s a way to trap them. The Doctor and his crew go to the battery building and see Rory as an old man. To create a time-paradox, Rory and Amy commit suicide – so he can’t die of old age, see. And that ‘pings’ everything back to how it was. Except there’s now an angel outside of the novel and it zings Rory and Amy back in time so that they die of old age. The end. The Doctor doesn’t like endings, we are told, but it is the end, apparently. It’s not clear to me why the Doctor can’t go back in time to pick up Amy and Rory again, but it’s something to do with it having been ‘written’ on a gravestone. Hmm. Go over why real life events have to follow those of a fictional book characters again?
So, we have a strange conceit with the novel, the ‘death’ of the Ponds, the Weeping Angels and a River Song subplot all going on in 45mins. Too much. It can never remain coherent. Plot holes all over the shop. And explain to me why the Doctor can’t just push the angel statues down the stairs and have them break into bits. For me, this episode should never have been allowed to be a single episode. As it is, the entire series is now finished and only five episodes made. What’s going on? They need to go back to basics: give me a monster that makes me hide behind the sofa, give me the Doctor in genuine jeopardy, give me the Doctor doing something clever to get out of a seemingly impossible situation, and then give me a joke to reassure me that all is well with the universe. Stop with the DIY psychoanalysis of what makes the Doctor tick, stop with time dwelt on sappy assistants, stop with the whole ‘domestic’ Doctor vibe. Get back to the core of the Doctor Who experience, please. Thank you. This is the end.