Monday, 29 May 2017

Earth faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with the Monks, or chaos with the Doctor...

After Extremis saw the Monks run a simulation to analyse all Earth’s weaknesses, it turns out that the human race was about to wipe itself out the very next week. Which is an outrageous coincidence but a neat link into ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat’ – a title card as extensive as the episode’s ambitions.

Harness seems to have become the guy brought on board when Who wants to do a political thriller with contemporary relevance, and for good reason – his Zygon two-parter was my highlight of Series 9. Pyramid returns to the same approach, and indeed the same fictional Middle Eastern country – in an area of Turmezistan where the US, Chinese, and Russian armies are facing off, a mysterious pyramid appears, and the Monks give humanity a warning that the world will end unless they accept the aliens’ help... and invasion.

Ah, but there’s a twist! The end of the world comes not, as it seems, from war between superpowers, but from Brian off of My Parents Are Aliens being hungover and accidentally creating an evil biotoxin. Oh, Brian! It’s a very clever plot structure to maximise stakes in what could easily be an overly talky episode – we know exactly where both storylines are heading, even before the Doctor does, and the outcomes are scarily apocalyptic, so the tension is in whether the Doctor will work it out, and whether he’ll be able to stop it.

So does he? Well, yeah, pretty easily. He goes straight from figuring out that the armies are a diversion to concluding that it can only be a biological accident. Sure, there was a line cut from this scene about terrorism being another option, due to the recent attacks in Manchester, but even with that in, it feels like a big jump to the correct answer. Maybe some clues to what caused the apocalypse should have been planted in the images they saw of the destroyed world?

And that’s not the only thing that didn’t quite work for me in this episode. The Monks are still failing to convince as villains. I watched all of the original Star Trek series last year and they’re reminding me of a villain trope from that which my flatmate and I came to call the ‘omnipotent pretentious space twat’ – arbitrary and ill-defined godlike powers, lack of any characterisation other than their perceived superiority, daft robes. 

They also fulfil the very Steven Moffat trope of villains defined less by their own personalities and more by their effect on people; they’re clearly here to allow the episode to tell a story about humanity, but their own unbelievability, in contrast to Series 9’s very well characterised Zygons, weakens that story. Just look at the plan from their perspective – why do they need consent, exactly, and why does it need to be motivated by love? Why does Bill’s motivation for giving consent mean that the whole human race is going to be fine with them? It makes no sense at all. 

That human story they allow is actually an interesting one, or at least a very relevant one. It’s about why people would choose to be ruled by those who promise to keep them safe – those who promise strong and stable leadership, maybe – without really looking into how that’s going to play out for themselves, or without fully considering how else society’s problems could be solved through less easy but ultimately better options. It’s a bold theme to explore in Saturday night sci-fi, and the script has some interesting things to say on the issue. It offers up more questions than it does answers, being more of an exploratory political piece than something like Thin Ice’s strongly polemical ‘racism is bad’ message.

But again, it doesn’t nail it. The military leaders lack characterisation, and so plot developments feel like going through the motions rather than human-led drama. That guy failed the test because of fear, these guys because of strategy – that’s those ticked off the list of points to make. We never get a real sense of the Secretary General's fear, or of what protecting the Earth at any cost means to the other leaders. Even the moment when they supposedly solve world peace feels limp because there never seemed to be much conflict between them. And is it me, or is the actor playing the American guy really quite bland?

Then there’s the other story – the Doctor’s blindness. It’s still a nice twist to have him struggling with this disability, but it doesn’t really go anywhere until the final sequence. And then, when he finally reveals his secret to Bill, it’s almost immediately fixed. Because the Monks can do that, apparently, despite needing to hack UNIT’s CCTV to even see into the lab. There’s that magical elixir of sight I predicted, then. It’s such a cop-out, and there was so much more potential in this blindness storyline that’s gone wasted. Perhaps the episode would have worked better had the Doctor revealed the blindness to Bill earlier on in Turmezistan – it would have avoided the repetition of the secrecy beats, and would have given Bill, underused again in this episode, some actual drama in how she reacts to this, making her final decision more relevant to what came before it.

...huh. As I’ve written this review, I’ve realised I’m being very negative, perhaps unfairly so. I admire what this episode tries to do. It has some really bold ideas, and is a real change in approach for this kind of story. But in too many ways, it just isn’t quite there. Still, particularly when it comes to Doctor Who, ambitious failures can be more fun than boring successes.

The next episode is the third part of this Monk trilogy, and looks a lot like Last of the Time Lords...

  1. Oxygen
  2. Thin Ice
  3. Extremis
  4. The Pilot
  5. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  6. Knock Knock
  7. Smile

Sunday, 28 May 2017

On 28.5.17 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

Alice Lowe plays Ruth, a woman left isolated after a tragic incident has taken the life of her partner. She’s not entirely alone, though; she’s pregnant, and hears her foetus talking to her. The unborn daughter encourages Ruth to track down and murder the six people involved in daddy’s death, even though some of them are ordinary people who really aren’t to blame. Ruth feels she has no choice but to comply.

Prevenge follows Ruth as she works through this kill list, and we get a series of very different, yet all entertaining, murder sequences. The victims are sharply written characters who demand different tactics from Ruth, though the highlight is Tom Davis’ performance as DJ Dan, a misogynist oaf with a high opinion of his own masculinity and a horribly cheesy afro wig. 

It’s all very deadpan in style, reminiscent of Sightseers, a similarly murderous comedy that Lowe co-wrote and starred in with Steve Oram. Scripting and directing this one alone, Lowe’s dialogue is just as darkly, subversively hilarious; murder has never been so fun.

However, the fact that, talking foetus aside, Ruth is on her own throughout the story does mean that it doesn’t reach the same heights as Sightseers; it hasn't got as strong a central dynamic and large parts of the plot feel like ticking targets off a list without much character development. Closer to the end, though, the inner conflict between Ruth’s human nature and the psychotic foetus supposedly controlling her does allow for some intriguing developments. 
On 28.5.17 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

Though Christopher Eccleston is still refusing to return to the role, but Big Finish have pushed ahead with some Ninth Doctor stories anyway, in the style of their Companion Chronicles range and narrated by Nicholas Briggs. Briggs is a talented raconteur, for sure, but his impressions of Eccleston and Piper are far from a match for the real thing; in fact, his Ninth Doctor sounds frustratingly dopey. 

As to the actual stories... the set starts strongly with The Bleeding Heart by Cavan Scott, which sees the Doctor travelling alone and teaming up with a reporter to investigate strange events at peace talks between two alien races. It’s a sad story that touches on the scars left on the Doctor by the Time War. 

Next is Una McCormack’s The Window on the Moor, in which the Doctor and Rose visit a fairytale-esque world embroiled in a power struggle, and also meet Emily Brontë. It’s the weakest story, with the fairytale elements being gratingly twee and the historical figure underused.

The Other Side, by Scott Handcock, is set immediately after the TV episode Dalek and sees the Doctor try to return Adam Mitchell home, only for the three travellers to end up in a cinema ravaged by time distortion. The plot’s overly reminiscent of various stories we’ve seen before, but does develop the awkward relationship between Rose and Adam. 

Finally, James Goss’ Retail Therapy is the best of the bunch. Jackie Tyler has become a success selling Glubby Glubs – not just a fad, these strange objects help people sleep well and feel healthy. Of course, the Doctor has questions. Though ostensibly a comedic story, this takes a turn for the emotional.

On 28.5.17 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

After last month’s Fifth Doctor double bill, Big Finish’s main range of Doctor Who audios brings us another pair of hour-long stories, this time featuring Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor alongside his companion Flip.

The first of these two stories, Vortex Ice by Jonathan Morris, starts out with the two travellers arriving in a mine underneath Mexico, tracking a signal from alien particles. They team up with the miners and find a cyborg creature trapped in a strange crystal. So far, so classic Who. But then there’s a very time-twisting, well, twist, which adds a whole new level of originality to the story.

And then there’s Cortex Fire by Ian Potter, set in an alien city full of towers and flying cars that reach high into the sky. All is not well here – people have been losing the will to live and then spontaneously combusting, causing chaos across the city. It’s another strong story and one with an appropriately human edge to it, as we get to know some of the characters who inhabit this city. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Well, a lot happened there.

Series 10 so far has felt like a deliberate shift away from the arc-driven, continuity-heavy excesses of previous Steven Moffat series, but Extremis brings us well back into that style, with not only the start of a multi-episode invasion arc but a parallel story involving both Missy and, via Nardole, River Song. We’re back to Moffat’s tendency of coming up with a load of ideas that could individually work for a whole episode and then powering through them in a couple of minutes each, a tendency that has always resulted in episodes which can frustrate as much as they thrill, but have never been boring...

The A-story, if it’s worth applying structural terms to this episode, is that of the Doctor being summoned by the Catholic Church to investigate the Veritas. Here we’re in religious thriller territory – Doctor Who does The Da Vinci Code. If I were being harsh, I’d say that The Da Vinci Code is a good fit for Doctor Who, as like several of Moffat’s lesser episodes, it’s a really dumb story pretending to be a really clever one. If I were being generous, I’d still say that The Da Vinci Code is a good fit for Doctor Who, but because Who is, at its best, really good at mind-bending, high-stakes mystery with a little action. And also because it’s a genre that Who has never done before, which is something of a rarity.

And, you know what? I’m feeling generous. Using this format of an exciting and pacey globe-trotting adventure, Moffat manages to turn complex ideas such as the simulation hypothesis into palatable Saturday night entertainment. The use of both the Vatican and CERN neatly parallels the religious and scientific searches for creation truths, making it seem more hopeless when both sides are defeated by the big twist that reality isn’t, well, real. In fact, I’d have liked to go deeper into this, and to get to know both Cardinal Angelo and the CERN physicists better – outside of the big number-shouting set pieces, they might have had some interesting things to say about the episode’s themes. I'd have also liked an answer as to where the Veritas came from – this world was apparently an exact replica of Earth, but surely the Veritas didn't exist in that 'real' world?

But how could Extremis have spared time for all that? Perhaps by ditching the Missy flashbacks. The constant return to the execution scene feels, to me, a bit too much, and the flippancy of chucking it in alongside everything else that’s going on causes a few niggling problems... 

The executioners are under-explained (and probably will stay that way). The use of the trope where the Doctor asks his enemies to look him up and then they all run off feels like such an awkward bodge to get them out of the way. And bringing in both Missy and the references to River without Bill present goes against the initial mission statement of Series 10, which was to introduce new viewers to the Doctor Who universe alongside Bill.

It's all very jarring and, though your mileage may vary on this, I suspect Extremis would be better off without the flashbacks. On the other hand, I do like that the inhabitant of the vault has been revealed at the series' midpoint. Repeating the same tease for five more episodes would’ve got pretty tedious, and revealing it now should allow for some nice interactions between prisoner and prison guard as the series continues. But perhaps the reveal could have been more efficient – could we not have seen Missy inside the vault as the Doctor talks to her, and saved the backstory for later?

Anyway, as if that weren’t enough, there’s more going on in this episode. Let’s talk about the Doctor’s blindness. I quite liked how this was worked into the story. One other review I read criticised it for being merely used for gags, and sure, those are there (Nardole's “oh look, it’s a mysterious light shining around a corner approximately ten feet away” is particularly funny), but there's more to it than the comedy, as the blindness gives the Doctor extra challenges to overcome – not being able to detect the threats in the library, not being able to read the Veritas (hooray for audio books!). Hopefully as this arc progresses, we’ll see more ways in which the Doctor learns to use his other senses to overcome his new disability.

(And as I’m currently working through The Next Generation, I appreciate Moffat’s shamelessness in acknowledging that the simulations are sort of like the holodeck but hoping no one notices how the Doctor now has LaForge’s visor.)

Even more than last episode, Nardole really comes into his own here, earning his place on the TARDIS as much more than a comedy character – he has his own reasons to be there, has responsibilities to the Doctor, and can even be badass, in his own way. There’s less focus on Bill than any of the previous episodes this series, but hey, she’s had five episodes in the limelight, I’m happy for Nardole to get his chance.

The only real Bill-focused sequence here is her date, and while the Pope’s interruption is a very funny moment, I have to express discomfort at the way her relationship with foster mum Moira is being portrayed. Moira seems entirely defined by a homophobia so strong it reaches the point of delusion, which isn’t the healthiest relationship for Bill, and yet which Moffat has written in entirely for cheap laughs. Come on now. Doctor Who can do better.

And then we have the Monks, the new villains who’ll be terrorising the Earth over the next two weeks. There’s surely more about them to be revealed, but... I’m not convinced yet. Their design is creepy but unoriginal, reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii’s stone priestess, and they lack any sort of physical threat – when the Doctor’s trying urgently to get away from them, we don’t really know why. Are they going to stroke him with their uncomfortably textured hands? I really want to see someone get into a punch-up with one.

Still, maybe that’ll happen in episodes to come, as Extremis is part one of a loose three-parter. And so given that it is a part one, it’s particularly remarkable just how much it packs in – perhaps more than it needs to. Still, even if this 'Da Vinci Code meets Matrix meets Next Generation meets Coupling meets Doctor Who from a few years ago' rollercoaster never fully explores any one of its many ideas, it’s a hell of a ride, and I’m eager to see what happens when the Monks invade for real.

  1. Oxygen
  2. Thin Ice
  3. Extremis
  4. The Pilot
  5. Knock Knock
  6. Smile

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On 16.5.17 by KieronMoore in    No comments

I'm a massive, unashamed fan of Sense8 and the second season of this gorgeous, audacious show was basically what I did all weekend. Once my initial reaction to Hernando's rainbow beard had toned down, I composed myself and wrote a lot of words about season two over on Starburst.

Monday, 15 May 2017

“Space – the final frontier.” Well, any episode that begins with the Doctor doing the Star Trek opening has my attention. That quote sums up Oxygen well, though not because the episode is anything like Trek; in fact, quite the opposite. Perhaps Captain Kirk’s full, optimistic monologue would have been suitable three episodes ago, but here the Doctor goes on to lower the mood, talking about how space has a tendency to kill you. So this is full-on space horror, despite the Doctor Who cheekiness.

We’re past this series’ opening light-hearted tour of the Who universe, then, and so it’s appropriate that this episode was written by Jamie Mathieson, who’s come to be a vital part of the more boundary-pushing side of the Peter Capaldi era. Undoubtedly, Mathieson’s very competent when it comes to robust plotting, efficient characterisation, and giving everyone something to do (as seen here, unlike episodes two and four of this series), but what really stands out about all his Who work is his concepts. He has an ability to find a new setting and twist within the traditional structures of Doctor Who, to come up with an episode that shines with originality not by being as experimental as the likes of Heaven Sent but by begging the question: “What haven’t they done this before?”

And ‘The Walking Dead in space’ is exactly that. Spacesuits that kill their occupants and stomp around finishing off any survivors is the kind of nasty and genre-mashing idea that would be good enough for a big sci-fi horror movie, but that can be made very effectively on a BBC budget. The technological and body horror elements fit together very well to create the chilling image of the survivors’ dead friends and lovers being inhumanly dragged around by their own suits; it’s an image that makes you wonder if this is really suitable for a Saturday teatime and then remember that, if you're thinking that, the episode must be doing its job.

This effect is enhanced by how well the monsters suit (eyyy) the world of Oxygen. I much prefer the gritty, worn-down type of space seen in episodes like this to the CBBC-esque fairytale space we got in Smile (and if you agree with me on that, I recommend you check out The Expanse on Netflix). The details given about this station hint at a wider world – the need for oxygen credits, the ‘mythical’ union, the fact that society’s overcome one form of racism but found another – and make the world believable and tangible enough for us to care about the people who inhabit it.

Indeed, the core of the episode is those people and their need first for survival and then for revenge, making this the episode least focused on the Doctor/Bill relationship of the series so far. Yet that relationship is developed a lot anyway – another careful balancing act by Mathieson. They’re both put through the ringer, with Bill’s exposure to space being a very tensely directed sequence, in which it really feels like she could be killed, and the Doctor putting himself at great risk to save her.

If there’s any criticism of this, it’s that more could have been done to explore Bill’s feelings about having come close to death not once, but twice, though the end of the episode is perhaps right to put the emphasis on its cliffhanger. I’m intrigued to see where this blindness storyline goes... will it really last all the way up to the regeneration, or will there be some magic elixir of sight found in a few episodes time? Either way, it should mix up the dynamic a bit.

Speaking of mixing up the dynamic, Nardole gets a lot to do in this one. He’s clearly the comic relief, but Mathieson’s script and Matt Lucas’s performance are both careful not to overplay it. I know a lot of people are finding him annoying, which is fair enough, but for what it’s worth, I’m enjoying having him around. I do wonder how much of the negativity towards Nardole is due to the cultural baggage Lucas carries as a star of very crude sketch shows – look past that, and he is a genuinely good actor.

And after all, some comic relief is needed – this is Doctor Who. Even if this episode is one that feels like a proper space horror movie rather than a toned down, BBC budget ‘take’ on the genre. I’m glad they haven’t done this before, because they’ve done it brilliantly now.

  1. Oxygen
  2. Thin Ice
  3. The Pilot
  4. Knock Knock
  5. Smile

Monday, 8 May 2017

Modern day opening, trip to the future, trip to the past – all in the bag. Now it’s time for the return to the companion’s modern day life, as Series 10 continues to emulate Russell T Davies’ formula for beginning a Doctor Who series. That’s not a criticism – the formula works, in terms of showing new viewers what Who’s about and letting the show properly establish the companion and their life.

But whereas Davies would usually have this return to the contemporary take the form of an alien invasion story, Knock Knock uses a narrative type more typical of the Steven Moffat era – the haunted house. Now officially a student, after the Doctor has seemingly pulled some strings, Bill moves with her new mates into a suspiciously spacious and worryingly creaky old house.

Now, haunted houses have been done very well in Doctor Who before – Blink won a Hugo, and you should really check out The Chimes of Midnight, one of Big Finish’s best audio stories. They’ve also been done badly – please don’t remind me of Hide. This is definitely not one of the worst, as Mike Bartlett’s script builds up the menace while both direction and sound design give the old house a creepy atmosphere. 

But Doctor Who haunted houses can never be that scary, can they? The timeslot alone means the BBC wouldn’t get away with going full-on Paranormal Activity. So, to be effective, such an episode needs something special, something as creative and surprising as the ingenious Weeping Angels. What does Knock Knock have in that regard?

It has the student house angle, I suppose, with the potential of a Fresh Meat-esque sparky interplay between the gang. There’s the weirdly tall jock who unsubtly tries it on with Bill, the posh girl who’s scared of everything dusty and can’t live without phone coverage – OK, yeah, recognisable archetypes, that’s a start. And then there’s, err, the other ones. We know they're young and fun because they shout the titles of reality TV shows during moments of crisis, but other than that, not a lot of effort is put into character detail, and consequently the episode often feels flat. Not a classic yet, then.

The more interesting character is the landlord, played by David Suchet. Possibly the biggest guest star of the series, his performance veers engagingly from the charming to the sinister, elevating all the scenes he’s in. This is perhaps at odds with the direction, which wants to play his performance up to the level of parody – the “How do you get into the tower?” “You don’t” moment made me laugh instead of shiver. 

The main technique the episode uses to differentiate itself from cinematic haunted house fare, however, is a very Doctor Who trope – the third-act twist into emotional story. The reveal that the landlord is in fact the son of the wood lady is well handled in terms of believably clicking plot elements into place, while the emotion of him being a kid who became too attached to his mother and couldn’t leave allows Suchet to shine again, and should fit nicely into the story of Bill moving out from home. But...

....hang on. What story about Bill moving out from home? Her foster mother, who we met in The Pilot, wasn’t in this episode at all. There’s such an obvious parallel between Bill confidently leaving her mother figure and the landlord failing to do the same that it feels like a spectacular failure that the episode doesn’t even attempt to make that connection, instead opting for a gag version of it with the Doctor being the parent who awkwardly hangs around. Which is funny, but we really needed to see Moira for the emotional counterpoint. If, as I said in the opening paragraph, the purpose of returning to the present day is to establish the companion’s continuing ‘normal’ life, then there seems to be very little continuity to that. 

Similarly, what are the chances we’ll ever see Bill’s friends again? If Shireen is her best friend, why could we not have seen her in The Pilot? This continues a recurring problem of Moffat era companions (Amy seemed to change career every few episodes, while Clara’s family were so incidental that her dad was recast without anyone noticing), in strong contrast to the care RTD put into this side of things. At least Bill remains more grounded in reality than either of her predecessors, though this discontinuity in her life is certainly holding her story arc back.

It’s the lack of any real original idea, however, that keeps Knock Knock a long way away from the standards of Blink and The Chimes of Midnight. Still, now that both new series and new companion have had time to establish themselves, it looks like the next few episodes may, as Capaldi series have tended to do around the midpoint, start to push the boat out and be a bit more experimental.

  1. Thin Ice
  2. The Pilot
  3. Knock Knock
  4. Smile

Saturday, 6 May 2017

On 6.5.17 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

There’s more to Torchwood than the small team operating out of Cardiff; The Dollhouse takes us to 1970s  Los Angeles, where an all-female team of operatives keeps an eye on extraterrestrial activity in one of Britain’s former colonies.

It’s a story featuring a lot of débuts – this is author Juno Dawson’s first time writing for anything Doctor Who-related, and the three main cast members are new to Big Finish, too. Thankfully, The Dollhouse assuages any fears in its first few minutes, setting up its premise and characters in a fantastically camp Charlie’s Angels-esque title sequence that promises us we’re in for a good ride.

We have Laila Pyne as scientist Marlow, Kelly-Anne Lyons as former burglar Charley, and Ajjaz Awad as thrill-seeking Gabi. Throughout the story, this trio are a delight; most viewers will be left wanting to spend more time with Torchwood LA, and there's certainly scope for development.

As the team investigate the disappearance of several young actresses, they're sent into a series of tense and exciting situations that show off their dynamic well. Dawson also, as is perhaps inevitable when dealing with an all-female team, makes good narrative use of the sexism of the time.
On 6.5.17 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

The Doctor and Romana land on a World War II era British submarine at the start of this latest Fourth Doctor Adventure, but it immediately becomes apparent that not everything is as you’d expect. For a start, it’s floating in space. Most of the crew are missing, and there are creatures flying around outside, trying to get in. And then there’s the talking chimpanzee.

This is, undoubtedly, a brilliant set-up – a Douglas Adams-esque mix of sci-fi and surrealism that fits in perfectly with Tom Baker’s run on the show, and which immediately conjures up images in the mind. For that, we can commend Adrian Poynton, a sitcom writer making his Doctor Who debut.

As the Doctor investigates all the questions thrown up by this odd situation, however, the answers he uncovers aren’t quite so imaginative. The second half of the story revolves largely around a scientist regretting having created what he’s come to see as a monstrosity, a Frankenstein-inspired trope which we’ve seen or heard in Doctor Who many times, while Sheila Ruskin’s villain Flague struggles to be much more than a war-hungry megalomaniac.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Perhaps to be remembered as the one where the Doctor gets in on this year’s in-thing of punching Nazis in the face. But we’ll get back to that.

After killing off Clara Oswald in 2015’s Face the Raven, writer Sarah Dollard returns for a second crack at Doctor Who. With no such major twist to dominate the discussion this time, Dollard gets the chance to write a more typical episode, one that’s very much an ‘episode three’ in the model Russell T Davies established for the series – the companion’s first trip into the past, with a mystery and a monster but nothing too extravagant plot-wise. 

By all objective standards, it’s a very good episode three – nice choice of setting, witty dialogue, a pacey but never rushed plot. The Doctor gets to use his detective skills while the companion’s empathy and humanity plays a major part in both conflict and resolution. Just what you need at this point, and all very ably structured. But on top of that, Thin Ice manages in several ways to be more than just a historical run-around.

There’s the development of Bill’s relationship with the Doctor. Going by that RTD formula, the new TARDIS team should be comfortable with each other by the opening of episode four, so this is the time for cracks to show and, for now at least, be repaired. Bill’s anger at the Doctor over his inability to remember how many he’s seen die and how many he’s killed shows off some subtle but very solid character development, a change to Moffat’s more heavy-handed style. And the conflict’s settled by the end of the episode, at which point Bill has made a clear decision to keep travelling with the Doctor and the Doctor’s made a clear decision to let Bill stick around. End of act one. Bill and the Doctor are a team, now we’re rolling.

Then there’s the very impressive world-building on show. Both episodes so far this series have felt very insular, with the plot having little visible effect on characters other than the Doctor and Bill; this is a common feature of Moffat episodes but felt particularly bad in Smile, where no other characters showed up for the first half hour. Thin Ice, refreshingly, depicts a bustling world with a real sense of community; within minutes, we have a sense of the lives of the dodgy dealers, loveable urchins and comedy drunks who inhabit it. The effect of setting up this very well realised slice of history is that we care when it’s threatened; Dollard displayed a similar skill with the Trap Street community in Face the Raven.

Dollard also very coherently handles her theme of oppression, of those who believe themselves superior to others, and of fighting back against them. Specifically with Bill, we have the worry of being a black woman travelling into Britain’s imperial past; these concerns were brushed over with Martha in The Shakespeare Code, but Thin Ice brings them front and centre, directly correlating Bill’s struggle with the sci-fi plot about the chained up serpent, with the same hapless aristocratic bigot antagonising them both. As you’d expect and want from a writer as outspokenly political as Dollard, these racial politics are key to the episode. Addressing issues like this is what Doctor Who at its best should be doing; any episode where you can immediately imagine the Daily Mail comments gets an easy thumbs-up from me.

Which brings us back to that punch, something that it’s impossible to imagine David Tennant or Matt Smith’s Doctors doing, but which feels oddly appropriate for Capaldi’s. Though he still has much more than violence in his arsenal, as he follows up with one of modern Doctor Who’s most eloquent speeches, I get the feeling the combination of punch and speech is going to be Capaldi’s stand-out moment of the series. The equivalent in series nine was his virulently anti-war speech. You could argue that going from that moment of anti-violence to this of violence jeopardises the pacifism of Doctor Who, but don't both actions work towards the same goal? What we have in the Twelfth Doctor is a character who’ll try his hardest to prevent meaningless conflict, who’ll argue vehemently for the importance of understanding and tolerance, but who can realise when some people just can’t be redeemed, and when intolerance can’t be tolerated.

More than anything, it’s worth celebrating that Doctor Who is willing to start these discussions, to show its characters addressing real-life prejudices, and to include that Jesus line, all while providing an undeniably fun adventure. Thin Ice is an expertly crafted episode three, and a powerfully challenging Doctor Who episode.

  1. Thin Ice
  2. The Pilot
  3. Smile