We’ve come so far, that it feels like a lifetime ago that I sat down to watch the first episode of Doctor Who‘s ninth series, with that familiar mixture of excitement and trepidation; hoping against hope, but expecting to be disappointed.
Actually, that familiar disappointment hasn’t come. There haven’t been any out-and-out bad episodes, or even any mediocre ones. The odd one or two which hasn’t worked has been a noble failure, in that I could see what it was trying to get at, and it’s failure was not any real disgrace to the series, simply experiments that did not quite pay off.
And along the way, we have had a few episodes which weregenuine greats, up there with the likes of “Midnight”, “Blink” and even old greats like “The Genesis of the Daleks”.
The question now is whether the season finale can finish on that high note, or whether the dying chord will let the whole thing down.
My favourite Doctor has always been the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee.
Partly this is because he was the Doctor I grew up watching, on Saturday morning re-runs of old serials. Partly it’s because I have a soft spot for the slightly cantankerous old git in the role (See also: Patrick Troughton -Ed).
The reason that I bring this up is that Peter Capaldi is giving dear old Jon a serious run for his money.
I was delighted when he was chosen for the role — even if he was not my first choice — because he makes such a contrast with the recent run. And with series 9 it feels like the writers have actually used him to his potential.
But anyway, this is meant to be a review, not a hagiography…
When the next series of Doctor Who rolls around, somebody please remind me to stop making predictions about series structure? Clearly I just wind up embarrassing myself.
Despite what I said in my review of the last episode, “Face the Raven” is not another standalone episode. It is, in fact, in the same vein as the third series’ “Utopia”, the first part of a climactic trilogy.
Which, naturally, means that we are now approaching the endgame of the series. A series which has gone blisteringly quickly, and mostly without missed notes. I’ve been banging on about this in basically every review so far, so it can’t be a surprise to anybody really, but I‘ve been very impressed with the quality of the storytelling this series. Like, really impressed.
But as everyone must surely get bored of me saying, the most important part of anything is how it finishes. That’s what you take away, that’s what sticks with you. Disappointment there can be fatal.
So it looks like not every episode this series is going to be in the two part mould. “Sleep No More” — and necessarily its…counterpart, I guess? — seems to be a standalone.
Actually, I was having a conversation a few weeks back, about how what this series really needed to make it was a “Midnight” or a “Blink” (It should be noted that despite popular opinion, “Midnight” is the superior episode to “Blink” -Ed), a stripped down and story-focused offering without the bells and whistles of most offerings. These invariably turn out to be some of the best episodes (Though we won’t dwell on “Love and Monsters”, eh? -Ed).
So coming on the coattails of last episode’s, frankly, excellence, could “Sleep No More” be the elusive jigsaw piece so far missing from series 9?
I won’t say just yet whether that’s a good thing or not, save that me putting off my review for this long either means a very good episode or a very bad episode.
And I want it so badly to be the former. I have loved this series so far, even at its lowest ebbs. It has finally seemed to grow into the promise that the role has always had waiting in the wings. An irascible but loveable Doctor, with some meaty writing to get his teeth into, and even the ever annoying presence of Clara hasn’t been able to keep it from greatness.
So is this the crowning glory, or the long-feared stumbling block?
There are a number of classic Who villains of whom I have never seen what the fuss was about. The Cybermen are one. Given how clunky the buggers are, you’d think you could escape them by simply walking at a brisk pace. Or failing that, by sprinkling some water over them and waiting for them to rust.
The Zygons are in a similar camp for me. I get that shapeshifting aliens are scary, but it sort of spoils it when they have to keep the person alive in order to remain them. Or maybe I was spoiled by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Anyway, series nine has been on a bit of a roll so far, so let’s see if they can repeat it with the Zygons, shall we?
It occurs to me, setting out to write this review, that although both Peter Capaldi and David Tennant are Scottish, only the former has been allowed to keep his accent in the role of the Doctor. I am astonished that this has yet to feature in an angry press release from the SNP, actually.
So hiting the midway point, where are we? Surprisingly, with an unusually good series, so far. That might not be everyone’s view, and granted I am a fan, but I haven’t written any episodes off yet, and usually by this point I would have expected at least one review to consist mostly of sighs. But that hasn’t happened yet.
Of course, my very stating that in the preface of a review has doubtless jinxed it. But here goes (Allons-y! -Ed)
I realise I seem like a continual prophet of doom on this subject, but Fox have cut the series order from 13 to 10 episodes. That, generally speaking, is not the sort of thing you do when you think you have a runaway hit on your hands.
Is it fair? Well, I don’t know. Part of me still sees the vast potential of what a Minority Report TV series could explore, the places it could go and the ideas upon which it could expound. That part of me wants this to be a piece of extreme over-caution on Fox’s part.
There’s another part of me, though, which I suspect is the bigger part, that knows that Minority Report has not punched as hard as either it could or needs to. And TV is not a game where you can afford to pull your punches. New series fall by the wayside often enough that their corpses should be road signs for the up-and-comers.
I hate to say it, but Minority Report has not won me yet.
That isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying it. I haven’t outright hated any of the episodes so far, and there are clearly a lot of worthwhile ideas being proposed here. What I can’t shake, though, is that it lacks a little bit of something holding it together as a series and giving it a spark.
Really, we’ve reached the point where we need to be going beyond pure worldbuilding — which the series has done very well so far — and into building some significance into the narative web and the characters. I like the world, I even like the people we are following around it. But, at the moment, I don’t care if everything goes to hell for them.
One thing that the new two-part episode format is doing for Doctor Who is making the series go faster. Or maybe that’s just my perception. Anyway, we are creeping towards the halfway point, and the impossible has happened.
It has almost entirely been good.
More than that, we’re working to a coherent song-sheet as to the theme running through the series, around how the Doctor shapes those who travel with him. It’s not a new theme, and worryingly it was very well done in the series four finale “Journey’s End”. Can it be improved on? I doubt we’ll really know until the series is done, but Capaldi is a very different actor to Tennant.