Category: Episode by Episode

Doctor Who episode 780: The Hungry Earth (22/5/2010)

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‘Onwards and downwards.’ Linking to the unfolding story of Series Five, this begins with Amy and Rory spotting their future selves – a slightly odd scene that initially seems there to reinforce the outcome of Amy’s Choice, but whose true purpose becomes clearer at the end of the next episode. For the rest, it’s Frontios done as an episode of Torchwood, with the hungry earth swallowing up its victims and transporting them for dissection in an underground colony.

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Doctor Who episode 779: Amy’s Choice (15/5/2010)

A personal note: I am running the 2022 London Marathon on 2nd October, raising money for Terence Higgins Trust to support people living with HIV, and to help end HIV in future. I would really appreciate any sponsorship: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Matthew-Michael22

‘Which one of these men would you really choose? Look at them. You ran away with a handsome hero. Would you really give him up for a bumbling country doctor who thinks the only thing he needs to be interesting is a ponytail?’ Everyone knows how Moffat carefully constructs his episodes, with Post-It notes and whatnot. But this entire series is just as carefully structured.

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Doctor Who episode 778: The Vampires of Venice (8/5/2010)

A personal note: I am running the 2022 London Marathon on 2nd October, raising money for Terence Higgins Trust to support people living with HIV, and to help end HIV in future. I would really appreciate any sponsorship: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Matthew-Michael22

‘Blimey, fish from space have never been so buxom.’ This is probably the best Doctor Who has ever looked. The location work in Croatia is superb; the monster design – giant crayfish things – is convincingly glistening; the costumes are beautiful. Helen McCrory and Lucian Msamati are great. Only the finale, as the Doctor scales a bell tower to disperse the storm-clouds over Venice, looks like it’s stretching the budget. This could pass as a prestige streaming series.

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Doctor Who episode 777: Flesh and Stone (1/5/2010)

‘Time can be unwritten.’ I don’t think it’s quite as strong as the first episode, but it’s still great, full of vivid, scary moments, and beautiful bits of cleverness. These include treeborgs – cyborg trees that convert starlight to oxygen; Angels illuminated by gunfire as they pursue the survivors through the crashed Byzantium; Amy’s countdown, and the Doctor’s final, triumphant gambit which loops right back to the start of the episode to tie the story up in a neat bow.

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Doctor Who episode 775: Victory of the Daleks (17/4/2010)

‘If Hitler invaded hell, I would give a favourable reference to the Devil.’ The biggest problem with Victory of the Daleks is that it’s an introduction for a New Dalek Paradigm that nearly everybody hated, and is tainted by association. The script makes such a big thing of the new Paradigm, giving them each a unique power and vaunting their superiority over the Time War models (which are summarily exterminated, and wiped from the collective consciousness by the cracks), that it’s hard to see past the failure of the new props. It’s the first crack (if you’ll pardon the pun) in Moffat’s revamp, the first decision rapidly backtracked on.

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Doctor Who episode 774: The Beast Below (10/4/2010)

‘Once every five years, everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.’ At the time, I watched this one, with friends, in polite silence, then we all went to the pub and talked about anything else. Coming off the back of The Eleventh Hour, and with Moffat’s reputation for clever and intricate plotting, this looked shoddy and lacked his trademark wit. No-one was expecting a 21st Century Paradise Towers (with its own slang, ‘vators’ for elevators) made to look like it was set in the post-war age of austerity.

12 years later, it still has problems. If the Smilers are there to protect the state’s secret and gather unproductive citizens to feed the whale, there’s no reason (except it helps Amy reach the answer) for them to keep going after children that the whale spits out. The scorpion tails are hard to square with the views of the whale we get – are they supposed to be growing out of its brain? The Beast Below nursery rhyme is meant to be creepy, but it isn’t because it’s hard to understand the delivery and it’s not repeated, as it would have been in a 1970s kids’ TV show. In a reverse from the weaker stories of the RTD era, this falls down in the details.

But the overall thrust of the story, and the scenes directly concerned with the central mystery, are very good. Amy was almost incidental to The Eleventh Hour, and this necessarily refocuses on her, giving Karen Gillan a chance to do more than be furious or baffled. Although it’s set up for a joke, I really enjoy her contemplating whether she’ll be able to stay detached when there are children in danger – planting the seed for her ultimate realisation of the space whale’s own feelings. Moffat very cleverly seeds a trail through the story, as the Doctor is shown to be unable to practice what he preaches, and will always help a crying child, and later admits to Amy he’s the last of the Time Lords – points we’re later reminded of as Amy reviews her Mind Palace: the Sherlock approach applied to Doctor Who.

Beast Below

So this, and the mysteries of the water glasses and “Liz 10”, are nicely done. The satirical elements (the Scots ‘wanted their own ship’, the people prefer to forget than stare at the shabby trade-offs their leaders must make) are hardly subtle, but they are funny. Importantly, the ending is excellent, telling us something about Amy and the Doctor, and working as well as the equivalent scenes between the ninth Doctor and Rose in the similarly-positioned The End of the World. Its problems are largely aesthetic. I should have watched more generously.

Next Time: Victory of the Daleks

Doctor Who episode 773: The Eleventh Hour (3/4/2010)

‘Hello, I’m the Doctor, and basically, run.’ The first thing to say about this is Matt Smith is phenomenal. No previous Doctor has had to carry so much of their first episode. Tennant spent most of his asleep. Eccleston kept dropping into Rose’s world. Even McGann got to be introduced through the eyes of Grace and Chang Lee. But here, the Doctor is our viewpoint character: we experience Amy’s strange world of scary cracks and empty duck ponds through him. More widely, this signals that Moffat’s version of the show is going to be increasingly concerned with its eponymous character (a fact sign-posted by his scripts for RTD).

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Doctor Who episode 772: The End of Time – Part Two (1/1/2010)

‘I don’t wanna go.’ The theme of avoiding fate continues as Rassilon declares, ‘I will not die!’ and plots to bring about the end of the universe, to escape Time War and be ‘free of time, and cause and effect.’ Essentially, he wants to escape the consequences of his actions (which include causing the Master’s lifelong madness and, indirectly, countless deaths and the destruction of a fair chunk of the universe in Logopolis), the ultimate shirking of responsibility. This is all leading up to the key scene of Tennant’s finale: the Doctor, raging against the unfairness of the destiny he’s now trapped in, ultimately accepting he’s ‘lived too long’ and choosing to save Wilf before taking responsibility for checking in on all of those whose lives he’s affected – saving Mickey, Martha and Luke, giving Donna and Jack some joy, and seeing whether Joan Redfern’s life turned out well.

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Doctor Who episode 771: The End of Time – Part One (25/12/2009)

‘Events that have happened are happening now.’ This is, again, all about trying to avoid destiny, escaping the consequences of your choices, cheating death. No-one, in the end, wants to go. Certainly not Joshua Naismith, who’s written a book called Fighting the Future and gone to great lengths to secure immortality for his daughter. But he’s not the only one fighting the future: since Mars, the Doctor has been shirking his responsibilities, instead going on a grand tour of the universe. The Master has never accepted the consequences of his actions, so it’s hardly surprising he’s turned up again. But the final twist, that everything we’ve seen is just prologue to the Time Lords returning from the grave, is tremendous – an attack on the whole basis of the 21st Century series.

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