‘This may qualify as the worst miscalculation since life crawled out of the seas on this sad planet.’ The new series of Doctor Who begins here, with an episode that opens like it was written by Steven Moffat or Chris Chibnall. It jumps between global locations and times like The Pandorica Opens or Once, Upon Time as we’re introduced in quick succession to De Flores in 1988 South America, Lady Peinforte in 1638 Windsor, and the Doctor and Ace enjoying the jazz stylings of Courtney Pine. As it unfolds, the Doctor nips between locations like he’s walking between rooms – something that’s previously only really happened in City of Death. It’s dizzying, relentlessly bombarding us with images like the Doctor with a fez and mop, a meteor crash-landing in a post-industrial wasteland, Walkman-wearing assassins taking pot-shots, and Queen Elizabeth II taking the dogs for a walk.
What any of it means is hard to fathom at this stage, but that’s almost beside the point – this is meant to hook the viewers on the day of the silver anniversary. To an extent, it succeeded: 6.1 million viewers saw it – the most since Revelation of the Daleks back in 1985, and the appreciation index for the whole serial is the highest of any McCoy. Joe Public enjoyed this, and so do I.
It’s very broad (De Flores’ henchman is listening to Wagner under a portrait of Hitler; the Queen has corgis), and some of it is very silly (Lady Peinforte and Richard arriving in a tea shoppe to only the mild bemusement of the clientele), but it never gives the impression that this isn’t knowing. And I love some of the little touches – Ace asking for an autograph; the way De Flores and Lady Peinforte are connected across time by the motif of them aiming an arrow at a bird; the Doctor using the spectacle trick he learned from the War Lords to bamboozle royal security. If you’re trying to seriously follow the plot then the exposition is very rushed, crammed into scenes with a lot of other incidental details. But for most viewers, it doesn’t assume any prior knowledge, it’s summery (a bit too summery for a British November), fast-paced, and enormous fun.
Next episode: Silver Nemesis – Part Two