‘I always took you where you needed to go.’ This explores the show’s history in a very safe way, casting fresh light on events fans have known about for years by telling the story of the Doctor’s “borrowing” a TARDIS and fleeing Gallifrey from a different perspective. Making the TARDIS an active participant in the event (in her view, ‘I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord, and I ran away’) is lovely. Finally giving her a voice and an adventure side by side with her thief is beautiful. Suranne Jones is compellingly odd as the TARDIS, trying to work out how to be a human. Matt Smith responds with his best performance to date: his grief when the TARDIS is restored, and their adventure ends is heart-breaking.
‘I have my good days and my bad days.’ I took an intense dislike to this one the first time I saw it and hadn’t rewatched it since 2011. I don’t remember why: on a second viewing it’s poor, but inoffensive. Its main flaws are a plot that relies on the Doctor repeatedly guessing incorrectly to string out a thin story, and a sense that some explanations are missing.
‘So, this little girl. It’s all about her. Who was she? Or we could just go off and have some adventures.’ I don’t think this really follows from The Impossible Astronaut. The first part was about the Doctor investigating his own murder. This is about a revolution to overthrow the malign influence of the Silence. By the end, for inattentive viewers, it might not be entirely clear whether in foiling the Silence the Doctor has averted his future death (it’s not confirmed until Amy mentions it in The Doctor’s Wife). For me, this is the problem with this opener: it’s full of spectacle and clever moments, but the thrust of the story is weak and it lacks Moffat’s previous flair for neat, tie-it-all-together endings.
‘That most certainly is the Doctor. And he is most certainly dead.’ Beginning the series with Part One of a season finale is a power move, like not content with playing with the structure of episodes, Moffat is now turning our understanding of a modern series upside down. It almost works, in the same way that the first episode of classic serials usually work – it’s about setting up mysteries and inescapable cliffhangers rather than providing answers.
‘Pond, put some trousers on.’ A Doctor Who comedy about upskirting. So, that’s a thing. Six minutes objectifying Amy, as Rory explains how she flashed her way through passing her driving test before a quick glance at her naughty bits makes him drop something important leading into a sketch that’s one part Logopolis to two parts Meglos. As this sex-crazed crew act their way through a chronic hysteresis, Amy fancies herself and Rory imagines what two wives could do for him, before it all ends with the woman being told to dress appropriately around men. I know it’s a sketch, and it did some tangible good raising money for Comic Relief, but this is Time Crash with awful sexual politics. Avoid.
Next Time: The Impossible Astronaut
‘That never happened… but it did.’ Moffat raids his own material again, landing on the obscure New Adventures era short story Continuity Errors and mashing it together with Dickens (go on, guess which one). The result is certainly the best-looking Christmas special, and for my money the most satisfying, incorporating the festive themes more completely into the story than any by RTD. It’s the same difference in approach the two men take to “season arcs” – RTD would throw in a “Bad Wolf” here and there to superficially connect episodes, Moffat integrates his ongoing plots into the narratives of the season, so the cracks become crucial to the climax of Flesh and Stone and The Big Bang. When that works, as it does here, the results are wonderful.
‘This is where the adventure ends.’ While it still has inadvertently upsetting elements (particularly Sarah Jane’s farewell video), this largely focuses on Ruby executing her plan. Julie Graham is superb, oozing insincerity as she comforts Rani and condemns Clyde to a death in space. It’s the kind of existential crisis that demands the entire team come together – and sure enough, Luke and K9 return to help take down Ruby (Luke now rocking a cool Freshers hairdo and scarf). Even Gita gets a redemptive moment, as she shores up Rani’s belief in Sarah Jane at the crucial moment. If only they’d somehow found a way to crowbar in Kelsey (and I guess Maria), this would be The Sarah Jane Adventures’ own Stolen Earth.
‘I’m over, my story is finished. But this planet, it needs someone to protect it. Are you that person?’ Through no fault of the writers, this is a very hard watch indeed. Seeing Sarah Jane being told, ‘You are very ill indeed’ and watching her deteriorate, knowing what’s just around the corner, pushes this beyond the unsettling intent, and makes it upsetting. It’s even worse because Sladen performs a fading Sarah, losing her memories (even K9) and her sense of self, predictably well. Real life has made this all too real.
‘The sands of time have run out, Captain. They have failed in their missions, all is lost.’ The only downside of telling three stories in one is that each is necessarily slight on plot – but not on adventure or character. Rani foils the assassination attempt on Jane. Clyde confounds the Nazis. Sarah Jane and Emily work out a way to rescue the doomed children across the centuries. The last-minute complication of a missing piece of chronosteel is resolved by Emily’s granddaughter, and the Earth is saved.
‘I need your help to save the world. Time itself is under threat.’ This is different: the team scattered through time on their own mini-Key to Time quest. The Key, in this case, is a magic metal chronosteel but to all other intents and purposes, including being disguised as different objects and its power to re-shape destiny, it might as well be the crystal cube Tom and Mary had to put together in 1979. It even has its own version of the White Guardian, dressed like a genial shopkeeper.