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)
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.
At this point in a series of Doctor Who, I’m usually feeling a little reticent, wavering on the hit-and-miss quality that it always seems to oscillate around. Not this time around though. Three episodes in, and all have struck the right notes for me.
I do wonder if what is essentially a family show is perhaps at risk of becoming too dark. Some of the worst episodes of new Who, in my opinion, have been those which go too absurd, too flat out silly. But given that that’s where the series has gone more often than it has gone the darker and more serious route. It feels like we’re onto new ground, and it’s rather an exciting move.
So the new series of Doctor Who has gotten off to a bang with the opening two episodes, which in this blogger’s opinion managed to do the impossible by making the Daleks feel, if not shiny and new, then at least not groan-worthily stale.
It’s more than that, though. It finally feels like Peter Capaldi has found his version of the Doctor. Grouchy, but all heart under a tough exterior. And it works, even if part of me will always want to see the Doctor via Malcolm Tucker.
We also seemed to have come into a different style of episode format. The two-part episodes are an innovation that I am very much behind, expanding the storytelling ability. It felt, with the first two episodes of the series, to have slowed down the often frenetic pace. Which makes a nice change. It’s like the series, as well as the Doctor, is growing up.