‘There’s been a confusion in time.’ One of the show’s densest episodes, this has the slightly disjointed feel of a McCoy. Unlike the previous Davison two-parters, it’s not gentle period whimsy but full-on PJ Hammond style folk horror, immediately throwing the audience into the action mixing between thundering hooves from a BBC costume drama and a woman in modern dress trying to make her escape. From this beginning, which is exactly the kind of strange juxtaposition the show used to excel at, the story emerges as a sort of inversion of The Visitation, with visitors from the past suddenly thrust into the present day and a village in the grip of collective madness.
If there’s a criticism of this approach it’s that we never see normality in Little Hodcombe – but that just makes the insanity in the village even more unsettling. This community, like The Wicker Man‘s Summerisle, is entirely strange – for once, the TARDIS crew (and Jane Hampden) are the most ordinary people here. Tegan was expecting a nice day with her grandfather (is he Vanessa’s dad?) not hideous phantoms, bag snatchers, enforced fancy dress and ritual sacrifice. No wonder she’s verging on hysteria: it’s taking organised fun too far.
I think this is all great fun. I like that the Doctor gets to be the smartest man in the village, deducing the origin of the Malus from a lump of metal, and taking it all in his stride as he insouciantly confronts Sir George, coaxes Will Chandler into joining him, and half convinces Jane that his stories of alien psychics are true. His new costume (love the orange trousers) comes along with a sort of facetious confidence which marks out the Season 21 fifth Doctor.
I love the summery location filming – folk horror works brilliantly in bright sunshine, and it contrasts well with the (inexplicably) ruined church. The script includes some nice creepy dialogue (‘The tradition must continue. Something is coming to our village. Something very wonderful and strange’). Moffat must have been taking notes about vanishing relatives and a strange crack in the wall that something’s peering through. True, Turlough gets nothing to do, but that’s par for the course at this point. So far, so good. But can it break the curse of Davison two-parters?
Next episode: The Awakening – Part Two