Otherwise known as the episode with the ending that split the Who fanbase clean down the middle. Spoilers follow, obviously.
Episode four of Capaldi Who (as it shall henceforth be known) managed to be a better horror movie than most modern horror movies. The premise; that we are never truly alone, and that there’s always something hiding in the corner of your eye, is actually taken from a short Doctor Who story written by Moffat a few years back. Unlike that story however, the beastie of the week is left much more to our imagination (to the point that there very well may never have been a monster for the entire episode).
It’s this last reveal that will inevitably disappoint some. Many of us will no doubt have been on the edge of our seats waiting for the jump scare reveal of some ugly space nasty from the end of time, so it’s understandable that some may feel shortchanged by the final reel rug pull – that there was probably never anything there. Of course, no one ever explicitly said there was nothing there (after all, who moved The Doctor’s chalk?).
And naturally, we should get the big divisive “thing” out of the way first. The “thing” in question of course being the scene with a young (like, small kid young) Doctor. Fans who aren’t steeped in 50 years of Who lore might not know that this was in fact one of very, very few glimpses of The Doctor as a kid (possibly the second ever, but I could be wrong).
For some, this spoils the mystery of The Doctor’s character somewhat. Personally, I thought it was done subtly enough, and was a nice tough. It also seems a few people were ruffled by the fact that once again, Clara turns out to have had a seismic impact on his life. It should however, be pointed out that she only told him not to be scared, whereas a lot of people are acting like she wrote “BE THE DOCTOR” in neon lights over his bed. Like I said, it’s a divisive moment. At the end of the day, we got to see a glimpse of a young William Hartnell Doctor, and that’s awesome.
The first thirty minutes or so are terrifying enough to make most parents seriously consider showing it to their kids. The scene in Pink’s bedroom is properly unsettling, and one can’t help but wonder if Moffat decided at the last minute to write in that there was never anything there, just because he realised he might have gone a little too far.
For the most part however, there was a lot to like about this episode. It was brilliantly directed, it was suitably creepy, and it all looked amazing. I probably don’t need to tell you that Peter Capaldi continues to find ways to impress as The Doctor, be he comforting a small child or stealing coffee, he exudes a kind of rude charm. Jenna Coleman also continues to enjoy the transformation of Clara from Plot Device to actual character, and she’s all the better for it.
The date scenes helped elevate the episodes more somber moments, and showed us a little more of Danny (or Rupert) Pink (who is still brilliant). Although, the number of companions the Doctor has accidentally met when they were children is now getting slightly ridiculous. Evidently, Steven Moffat reaaaaallly likes that idea.
This is perhaps, the first episode of Capaldi Who where the 12th Doctor has felt right at home. Dark, brooding, and very scary, with enough laughs to keep us happy. This is the kind of Doctor Who most of us have been expecting from the trailers, and this is the kind of Doctor Who that I for one, want much, much more of.
Don’t look in that mirror, it’s furious.
There’s one question that needs to be gotten out of the way first of all, and it’s a question no one should ever have actually asked. Is Peter Capaldi any good as the 12th Doctor? Of course he is. He’s Peter f***king Capaldi. Let’s move on.
Actually, let’s not. That wouldn’t make for a very detailed review. Let’s talk about how he handles the lighter, funny moments with a wide eyed charm that puts Tom Baker and David Tennant to shame. Let’s talk about how when you’re watching him ride through foggy London town on a horse in his nightgown, you forget that he’s a man in his mid 50s, and absolutely believe he was Matt Smith a few hours ago. Let’s talk about how Capaldi, with his attack eyebrows and frown lines has created a Doctor who has the potential to be the darkest and most unsettling yet, going by the unclear way things ended in this episode.
So Capaldi is the tits. We knew that though. The episode itself is pretty great too, with echoes of Robot, Tom Bakers first outing as the Doctor. To help ease us in to perhaps the most radical change in time lords yet, we’re given the ever reliable Jenny, Vastra and Strax to fall back on for comfort. They seem to show up at the times when we’re wondering if this is really The Doctor, to remind us that yes, it is. They’re also immensely entertaining and likeable, as always, with Strax knocking Clara out with a copy of the Times being a highlight (I really want a spinoff).
The story begins as it means to go on, with a T Rex spitting out the TARDIS. These deranged, yet beautiful visuals continue, as the same dinosaur lights up London as she spontaneously combusts, half faced men lurk in the lamplight, and restaurants take flight over the city as balloons pop out of the roof. It’s like a steampunk UP, with more human skin and organ harvesting, and less rubber balloons and talking dogs.
The monster of the week in fact, is probably this episodes only weak link. It’s basically cut and paste from a previous Tennant story, and vague allusions from The Doctor to the fact that he swears he’s seen all this somewhere before doesn’t excuse the fact Moffat’s basically just self plagiarised.
Probably the highlight of the entire episode, maybe more so than The Doctor himself, is Jenna Coleman’s Clara. Here, she gets more character development in one hour than she had in a year. The fact Clara was a companion for half a season and two specials, and we’ve only just now seen her angry, is a testament to the woeful character development she suffered in season 7. The scene in the restaurant with her and The Doctor (their first proper scene alone together where no one’s fainting or crashing) is a joy to watch. This could be the best Doctor/companion pairing since Ten and Rose, and we can only hope the rumours of Coleman’s departure are untrue, because she could be one of the greats.
So that’s that… Deep Breath has begun easing us in to what looks to be a much slower, considered, and meatier Doctor Who than what we’ve had for the past few years. With a brilliant, angry, (Scottish!) new Doctor and a fantastic companion rife with unexplored potential at the helm, it’s safe to assume it’s gonna be a whopper.
Dig those new titles too. Very timey. Such wimey.
Spoiler alert, but at the end of the Time of the Doctor Matt Smith actually regenerates into Peter Capaldi. I know, they kept that one quiet.
It was a well acted, heart destroying scene that managed to draw on elements from The 11th Doctor’s entire run but never felt drawn out or overplayed in a way that David Tennant’s final moments were (controversial).
It got me thinking about The Doctor’s other regeneration scenes, since thanks to Day of the Doctor, we’ve now got ’em all. There have been some dodgy ones, and some pretty disappointing ones. As you may have guessed from the title though, these are what I reckon are his best ones.
Peter Davison to Colin Baker (Caves of Androzani)
Okay, so it may have heralded in the beginning of Doctor Who’s decline into not very goodness (through no fault of Colin Baker) but this is a strong, emotional scene that tops off one of classic Who’s best stories.
While it has it’s problems, such as Davison’s great death bed acting being somewhat overshadowed by Nicola Byrant’s cleavage (or is that a problem? Depends who you ask) or the kind of cheesy spectral return of his past companions (God, who does that these days?), Davison and Byrant still deliver an incredibly strong, quite unsettling scene.
It gets even better when you realise that The Doctor was actually holding off his regeneration for pretty much the entire story, just so he could get shit done. Say what you will about The 5th Doctor, but he was a stone cold badass.
William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton (The Tenth Planet)
Granted, The Doctor doesn’t bow out for the most heroic of reasons (old age) but the first regeneration of the series deserves a spot on this list because the ingenious idea of The Doctor being able to change his face has ensured that Doctor Who can still be going strong fifty years on.
It’s done remarkably well for the time too, with Hartnell glowing a milky white and seamlessly becoming Troughton. You seriously barely notice it happen. You’ve got to wonder what the hell viewers thought was going on at the time.
Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant (The Parting of the Ways)
The first regeneration of New Who must have been as much of a shock to younger viewers as The Tenth Planet was for everyone else.
Eccleston delivers a brilliant speech while Rose looks on, absolutely terrified. Here, regeneration is clearly quite sad, but still cause for optimism, as it should be since no one is actually dying.
And no longer does The Doctor konk out on the floor in a slightly feeble manner. For the first time, he throws his arms up and explodes with energy, which is much, much cooler (and also allows for Matt Smith to destroy an entire fleet of Daleks).
Paul McGann to John Hurt (Night of The Doctor)
YES. Just because we thought we’d never see the day, this regeneration gets a place on the list. What does this regeneration scene get done?
Well, it lets McGann showcase his fantastic range as The Doctor (rage, acceptance, flippancy), it gives us more time with PAUL MCGAN AS THE DOCTOR and perhaps most importantly of all, it makes his Big Finish audio adventures unarguably canon.
Paul McGann though guys, amiright?
Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker (Planet of the Spiders)
So even though the regeneration effect itself is a little rubbish, and the hovering monk man of exposition land always terrified me on a personal level, this scene has Lis Sladen and Jon Pertwee absolutely acting their hearts out (while The Brigadier watches on vaguely bored by the proceedings).
Fun fact; this is the first time the process is actually called Regeneration. There, we’ve all learnt something and I can’t think of anything else to say.
Well, a big shout out to Steven Moffat for turning me into a crippled emotional husk on Christmas day. As a longtime fan, I’ve always loved regeneration stories. I know the show is all about change (how else would it have made it to 50 years?) and I’m pretty much always ready to see a new Doctor take over and move things forward.
Matt Smith was The Doctor. Without a doubt, from the moment his head popped out of the TARDIS asking a young girl for an apple he has continued to absolutely own the role without faltering. Kind, funny, great dress sense, a pro at physical comedy (he could make walking through a door fascinating viewing) and above all, he had a great rapport with kids.
He was definitely the kids’ Doctor, and please don’t read into that as a dig or a downgrade, because kids are the hardest buggers to please. Capaldi is going to have a serious job winning the nippers over after Matt’s big brother act.
The episode itself tied up issues that have been plaguing me since the end of series 5. Seriously, I thought we’d never find out who blew up the TARDIS. And it turns out Gallifrey is knocking around behind the crack in the wall, back in 2010 I’d never had guessed that. Sadly, a lot of the exposition felt a little rushed and The Christmas element really did feel shoehorned in. Just be bold and ignore the fact it’s Christmas day. No one will care, because Doctor Who is on an that’s enough.
Still, the scenes with Clara’s family were sweet (and no sign of those bloody kids) and watching The Doctor pretend to be her boyfriend really made me realise how much unused potential the pair have.
There were, fittingly for 11’s last stand, a horde of aliens and nasties from all over. Some of them didn’t get much to do (like The Weeping Angels) and anytime The Daleks are involved it’s pretty much a given that they’re coming out on top. But it wasn’t about them, it was about Smith and all they needed to do was provide a fitting backdrop to his swansong.
The idea of The Doctor sticking around for centuries to protect a small town is nice. I’m glad the TARDIS was out of the equation for the first few centuries though, or I’d never believe in a million years that he would’ve stayed. 11 essentially got to enjoy some kind of retirement, even if he did have to fight off the odd wooden cyberman every now and then.
And then the end. Bloody hell. A rule that has been hampering Doctor Who is finally bloody gone. The Doctor can now regenerate another 13 times, so every Tabloid writer or smug so and so that comes up to me gleefully informing me that “Doctor Who has to end soon” can go into hibernation for at least another half century.
Matt Smith doesn’t go lying down, or in a self referential drawn out mess of goodbyes (cough, Tennant, cough). He explodes with energy, taking out as many Daleks with him as he can (and it’s a lot).
While it would have been nice for Clara to come running into the TARDIS, only to find a new man, it’s only fitting that Matt gets a proper goodybe. Young, as we remember him. What a doozy it is too, anyone that wasn’t a blubbering husk by the time the bow tie is on the floor, or by the time that cameo came about is a cold hearted fiend.
Then, without warning, or a glow of light, 11 is gone. It’s as if Matt sneezed himself into Capaldi. In thirty seconds I was already convinced by him, although conflicted. Because, to paraphrase the eleventh Doctor’s final words; I will always remember when The Doctor was Matt Smith.
50 years ago, William Hartnell, Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman and others perhaps unknowingly unleashed so much more than just a television program. They let loose a cultural icon, a legend, a modern fairy tale that has spanned decades and captured the hearts and minds of many generations of fans.
Day of the Doctor is a piece of television that has been fifty years in the making, make no mistake. Possibly the most anticipated and hyped piece of television ever, the all important question is, did it deliver?
Thankfully, God yes. Day of the Doctor was thrilling, funny, heartbreaking, scary and exciting. It was nostalgic without dwelling on the past and forward thinking without alienating the long time fans. If anyone else could come up with a better story for the 50th, I’d genuinely like to see it.
The story was a fairly typical Steven Moffat timey wimey affair. The three Doctors all had their own separate adventures which tied in together beautifully.
Matt Smith’s started with a fantastic reference to Totters Lane and Coal Hill, two key locations in Who lore and quickly delved into an adventure with mysterious paintings and UNIT. It was only right to reference such an important group in the 50th and The Brigadiers daughter afforded the next best thing to the great Nick Courtney himself. She’s also a fantastic character in her own right, which helps.
David Tennant’s return was a thing of absolute joy as we finally saw what happened with Queen Liz and got a mini adventure with The Zygons (who looked fantastic). Seeing Ten interact with Eleven was hilarious, as The Tenth Doctor, with all his swagger looks disdainfully at the flappy awkward clumsiness of The Eleventh.
And then there’s John Hurt, who finishes off the trinity of Doctors for this episode. His war Doctor was played artfully, a vague menace lurking underneath those tired eyes and a weariness, yet still with that mad Doctor spark. Finally seeing The Time War playing out was a dream. Daleks killing and exploding all over the shop in such excess and on such scale was brilliant.
Throwing Hurt into the mix with Tennant and Smith made for some fantastic scenes. Hurt obviously representing the old guard as he questioned much of what the two young Doctors did. Hurt disgustedly asking, “Timey Wimey?” to Tennant’s sly “I don’t know where he got that from” was a particular highlight.
Then we had the game changing ending, a fanboy baiting sequence in which twelve (or was it thirteen?) TARDISes blitzed through a Dalek fleet to save Gallifrey. See? The classic Doctors were in there after all (kind of). And Gallifrey falls no more? A brilliant move. Seeing the Doctor finally find a way to move on with the whole Last of the Time lords schtick is refreshing and should make for an interesting ark in the next series.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to end this review without mentioning (but not in detail) two masterfully subtle cameo appearances. One of which looks firmly and excitingly to the future while the other was a beautifully done nod to the past.
After 50 years, The Doctor has finally stopped running and is genuinely out there to find something. Day of the Doctor was nothing short of a perfectly balanced, thrilling adventure that seamlessly sets up the future of the show while paying tribute to the past. Here’s to another 50.
Paul McGann though guys. Am I right? AMIRIGHT? I am. Sadly this ill fated feature length pilot was the 8th Doctors only proper TV outing and it was unfortunately, not very good.
McGann is fantastic in this, make no mistake. He was flirty and funny and mad and had all the makings of a great Doctor. He was also forced to work with what someone who never watched Doctor Who thought a Doctor should look like. The result was a step up from the question marks and bright colors of the 80s costumes, but still a little silly for 1996.
A lot of the problems people had with it at the time are admittedly, not real an issue with the hindsight of the modern series. Kissing a companion? He does that every other episode these days. Riding a motorbike? The Doctor rode one up a building just last series.
This doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s riddled with problems though. In an odd attempt to make it gritty we have The Doctor being gunned down by a street gang and The Master breaking a woman’s neck. Needlessly violent, quite frankly. The way The Master is handled is another issue.
Why is he able to turn into a living pile of goo? We may never know. Why do The Daleks of all things, accept requests all of a sudden? No idea. Why, why, for the love of God why is The Doctor half human? We’re probably better off not knowing.
Thankfully, Paul McGann has been afforded a chance to prove himself with a superb range of audio stories and more recently with his surprise appearance in The Night of the Doctor. Still, it just makes one wonder… what might have been if the 8th Doctor got his own series and Doctor Who stormed the 90s?
It’s hard to remain objective when writing about your all time favorite Doctor. However, I’ll try to exercise some restraint. McCoy is the first Doctor I can really, properly remember watching. My dad started us on a watch through the entire show when I was quite young, but towards the end of that first go through Who, I have so many distinctive memories of the McCoy era (mostly being scared shitless by the Curse of Fenric and Ghost Light).
So Remembrance is really my first Dalek story (growing up a Who fan in the 90s was tough). I still absolutely adore everything about it, from the fifties setting to Daleks blowing each other up, even more so now. My added knowledge appreciates the subtle references to the very first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Chld.
But removing my rose tinted shades, is it actually any good? Well, yeah. This was the time when Doctor Who was finally starting to get back on its feet and get really good again. The trouble was, most people had stopped bothering with a show they thought was about dodgy sets and grown men in stupid costumes acting silly.
McCoy is on form here, his seventh Doctor had moved away from the clownish berk that he was in his first series and has begun to develop into a thoughtful, brooding, slightly menacing Doctor. His companion Ace is also the first companion to show real signs of developing and a result is a well rounded, likeable character. A refreshing change of pace from Bonnie Langford.
The story itself is slightly confusing, with two separate Dalek factions battling it out over some ancient Gallifreyan artefact but it does’t matter. The kid in you will always leap at the chance to see Daleks blowing the shit out of each other. It’s also the first episode to show the world that they can indeed go up stairs, silencing all those smart arsed little pricks.
We also have a brilliant last episode reveal of Davros, who over time has become so batshit mental that he’s now convinced he is in fact a Dalek, and his confrontation with The Doctor is still a fantastic moment. It’s easy to see why The Daleks become scared of The Doctor, here, he coolly faces down their emperor and tricks them into blowing up their home planet. McCoy. Rocking the Dark Doctor decades before it was cool.
No one knew that this would be the last Dalek story of the classic series, but really, it was the perfect way for The Doctors most popular enemies to bow out. Also, one last time, Daleks. Blowing each other up. That’s worth the ticket price alone guys.
Well you’ve gotta feel bad for anyone who’s expected to play an authoritative, centuries old time lord while wearing a clown costume, haven’t you?
To the casual observer, Colin Baker was the start of the end for Doctor Who. Not so. Baker himself did a fantastic job (you need any more proof, listen to his Big Finish audio plays where he has some classic stories). Doctor Who fell apart for a number of reasons but Baker was most definitely not one of them.
Mark of the Rani is an example of some of the strange choices made by the writers at the time. Why did The Rani have a device that could turn people into trees? Why did the Rani’s TARDIS look like a tantric sex dungeon? Why was The Master standing in a field dressed as a scarecrow all day on the off chance that in all of time and space the Doctor would go past there and then? We may never know.
Colin Baker makes an interesting Doctor. Not as young as Davison but still younger than the rest, and yet the closest Doctor we’ve had to Hartnell since Hartnell himself. His grumpy, unpredictable and brash nature had all the makings of a truly great Doctor, if only he’d had some better stories and a more sensible outfit.
There isn’t an awful lot I can say about Mark of the Rani mostly because I’m doing these reviews for the 50th so I want to be kind.
It’s a decent enough romp, even if it really doesn’t make that much sense. Honestly though, if you want a classic sixth Doctor story, go check out his Big Finish stuff. It’s really, really good. Seriously.
The fifth Doctor smacks of missed potential to me. It’s not that he ever had any really awful stories, they were all pretty solid. It’s just that he was plagued by an overcrowded TARDIS which meant none of the companions ever really had much to besides bitch and moan (and occasionally get possessed or try to kill The Doctor).
So what happens when we declutter the TARDIS and give Peter Davison just one companion to deal with? We get the best Doctor Who story ever. Fact. The downside? It’s Davison’s swansong. Typical.
The Doctor and Peri land on Androzani minor, take a poke around and then… well it’s all downhill for the pair from there. They’re both immediately poisoned and swept along by events beyond their control. In this episode they’re kidnapped, shot at, beaten, imprisoned… This is par for the course on Doctor Who but it never felt so urgent before.
A lot of this is down to the superb direction of Graeme Harper. Everything in this episode just felt so real, so gritty and surprisingly for an episode of Doctor Who in the 80s, actually well lit.
This story sums up Peter Davison’s Doctor as the fallible, human one of the bunch. He is completely helpless to control events for this entire story. He’s barely the hero of the piece (not that this story even has a hero) and scrapes through on luck.
Of course, he sacrifices himself in the end to save Peri and also has that badass moment where he commandeers a ship and crashes it back onto the planet to save his friend, all the while staving off a regeneration. So in that respect, we see Davison at two extremes. The vulnerable Doctor we’ve come to know and then this desperate, almost savage side of the fifth Doctor that we have never seen before.
I could talk about Caves for hours, but considering these are meant to be mini reviews, I’ll leave it here;
Caves of Androzani was the absolute peak of the classic series, which makes it all the more frustrating that it all went downhill from there (which had nothing to do with Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy, so shut up). An episode that still stands up even today, fast, dark, gritty and action packed, this was modern Doctor Who years before Chris Eccleston came on the scene.
As if it could really be any other story for Tom Baker. Of course this isn’t to say that Baker hasn’t had his fair share of classic tales (his era is still looked upon as the pinnacle of Who by many) but this is a defining story for both The Doctor and his greatest enemies, possibly the most iconic alien life forms in modern culture, The Daleks.
For the uninitiated, Genesis of the Daleks is basically an origin story for Skaro’s metal monsters. The Time Lords send the 4th Doctor, Sarah and Harry on a mission to destroy the Daleks before they’re properly created (fun fact: this move has since been referred to as the first shot of the Time War).
What follows is a stone cold classic adventure, apart from the giant clam (yes, really). This was early on in Tom Baker’s tenure as The Doctor and an encounter with The Daleks was a defining moment for a Doctor even back then. He’s on top form here, all wide eyes, mad grins and complaining to military officers about the lack of tea or coffee.
Harry and Sarah Jane are two fantastic companions that, with The Doctor form the strongest trio in the shows history, Ponds be damned. Unfortunately, Sarah spends the majority of this story apart from the others, climbing up missile silos and befriending mutants.
But what’s most important here is the brilliance in which we find out how Daleks became Daleks. Terrifyingly, they once looked human. Called Kaleds, (imaginative) they were locked in a devastating war and even before they jumped in pepperpots to destroy the galaxy, it’s clearly established that they were horrible nazi bastards.
Of course, this episode also introduces us to Dalek creator and king prawn lookalike, Davros. Pretty much an equal to The Doctor, the fact that he was batshit crazy and power mad was absolutely terrifying. Think Hitler crossed with a really angry Dalek and you come close to what Davros is.
Does the Doctor destroy the Daleks, like the Time Lords asked? Well, considering all subsequent Dalek tales you can guess not. In one of the most important scenes in Who history, The Doctor is given the chance to wipe them out forever and chooses not to. He reasons it will make him no better than a Dalek. Nearly four decades on and people still debate the Doctor’s choice in this episode.
A murky moral area, an unbeatable Doctor/Companion combo and a chilling origin story for Doctor Who’s most popular enemies makes this an absolutely iconic story. If you like Doctor Who, you need to watch Genesis.