SPOILERY SPOILERS OF A SPOILING NATURE.
Well the score may be suffering from a slight bias because Paul motherf**cking McGann is finally back playing The Doctor on our screens. A moment I have waited for since 1996 personally.
While five minutes isn’t nearly enough for McGann (a web series will do nicely, thank you) he still manages to exude a charm and exuberance, now topped off with a massive dollop of cool because he isn’t stuck with a ridiculous costume or stupid wig.
Clearly tired and changed by whatever’s happened with the Time War so far, we’re afforded a nice insight into how awful things are. The Doctor’s would be companion claiming there’s no difference between Daleks and Time Lords anymore sums it up and justifies why The Doctor would essentially give up being The Doctor (a very unsettling moment).
There’s also a handful of nice references to McGann’s Big Finish adventures (rightly so) as he namedrops Charlie and Lucy, among other companions.
And of course we finally have an official name for Hurt’s Doctor; The War Doctor. The glimpse of him here shows him to be a much younger man. I imagine the implication is that he’s been in that incarnation for a long old time.
Night of The Doctor sets up the 50th anniversary bash in an intriguing way, but most importantly, it let the 8th Doctor have another hard earned crack at the whip. About time.
Watch it here, baby.
Like Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, this episode was burdened with perhaps an unfair level of expectation for two reasons. Firstly, the return of the Cybermen. But more importantly than that, the fact that Neil Gaiman was writing the episode.
Of course it didn’t do anything to numb my excitement that Coraline, Neverwhere, and Anansi Boys are some of my all time favorite reads. Factor in that Gaiman also wrote series 6’s sublime The Doctors Wife (probably the best episode of New Who) and watching the episode was more a case of “how shit you’re not” rather than “how good are you?”.
So get the most boring and unfair part out of the way before I review the episode on its own merits: Yes, I was expecting a lot more from Gaiman. Unfair, I know, but there it is. Moving on…
The main draw of the episode for me was the upgraded Cybermen. I was never a fan of the stompy Cybus variety, they looked too much like plain old robots and never really hammered home the point that Cybermen are supposed to be us.
These new chaps are much more muscular and humanlike. A welcome new look after the misfire that were the rainbow Daleks. The fan boy in me also adores the facial resemblance to the Tomb of the Cybermen model.
But besides a new look, it was the fact that they were a real threat again which delighted me. In my opinion the Cybermen haven’t been taken seriously since the Daleks laid a smack down on them all the way back in Doomsday.
Here are a race that can move at super speed, sneak up on you, turn their heads exorcist style and upgrade to overcome any weakness. I’d be interested to see the Daleks take on these Cybermen.
Sadly, the scariest thing about the episode were the child actors though. The girl in particular was such an infuriating little shit that I found it a struggle to care about her at all. Not good when they’re meant to be in peril. Thankfully, they didn’t take up too much screen time, or this episode could have been a hell of a lot worse.
Matt Smith nailed his internal struggle with the Cyber Planner (sadly not the most threatening name going). It’s always good to see a slightly darker side to Eleven, although I do think it could have been a little darker. Ah well, any internal battle which has a brief slideshow of all 11 Doctors does me just fine.
Warwick Davis was great, more of him please. The other soldiers were forgettable and ever so slightly annoying though it was cool to see Clara take charge of the situation. The way she knew it wasn’t the Doctor because he’d never admit how he felt was a nice moment too.
Overall, the Cybermen are scary again. If nothing else this episode achieved that, so that’s cool. It was a fun enough romp but I doubt it’ll stay in the memory for as long as something like… I dunno… The Doctor’s Wife? (sorry).
As a closing remark, I would just like to point out that the fantastic Jason Watkins was wasted as the eccentric park manager. He could have been a fantastic Master, or in my ideal world, The Doctor. Go ahead and watch him again with that in mind. I dare you to tell me I’m wrong.
It’s grim up North…
If anything, this episode of Doctor Who has left me with a slight feeling of sadness. Sadness that we might never get to see a spin off series of Penny Dreadful like adventures with Strax, Vastra and Jenny who absolutely made this episode and were the reason I had been looking forward to it for so long.
Of course, there’s something about Doctor Who that just works with the Victorian era. Talons, Tooth and Claw and The Snowmen all became instant favorites of mine. That the writer Mark Gatiss has a penchant for the macabre only added to the atmosphere.
The episode was stuffed with absurd moments, from an old woman letting a prehistoric leech suckle from her chest (That put me reet off me pie) to The Doctor as a wax zombie and his sonic screwdriver getting some kind of reaction to the sight of a leather clad Jenny. (Rightly so, I suppose).
But the good news is, it never descended into complete ridiculousness, by Who’s standards, anyway. For as much as it could, everything stayed grounded and real. Again, The Doctor’s newfound protective streak was on show for Clara and it was just as adorable as ever.
Ultimately, it was the small moments that made this episode the fun, throwaway slice of Saturday night entertainment it was meant to be. The sepia tinged flashback sequences, the (fantastic) reference to classic Who girl Tegan, the origins of the Tom Tom (genius) and above all, the potato dwarf who has a fondness for sherbert.
If this series has proved anything, it’s that Who is at it’s best when it isn’t trying too hard to be a blockbuster every week. At least for me, it’s always been at it’s best as a small scale, unassuming drama about a mad man in a box,