Less an episode than a trailer for some still unannounced finale, which is less of a problem than it should be. In many ways it benefits, not so much from the diminished expectations of the Chibnall era as from the specific pathologies the era has led us to expect. Sure, it can only narrowly be described as having a plot or being about anything, but that’s practically every episode these days. This one at least filled the vast chasms of space between it and a point with a lot of quality what the fuckery.
Well. It filled the space with a lot of fan-trolling continuity porn. There’s a definite “what on Earth did the normies think of this,” feeling here. That said, Chibnall (who was surely behind the big picture decisions here) made reasonably savvy choices in that regard—a character who, while he hasn’t been seen in a decade, anchored a hit TV show in his own right and a reveal that’s long on implications for the series’ history, but that also plays as Big News in is own right even if you’re not the sort of person who goes “is this another Morbius Doctor or some sort of Season 6c thing?” The only thing actually likely to be normie-puzzling are the Judoon themselves, who were offered as the announced premise with plenty of time for Googling.
Which leaves the spectacle of continuity shit. Your mileage may vary, but you’re reading Doctor Who reviews on a site that did a story-by-story blog of the entire freaking show, novels and all, so presumably this hits you in the same lizard-brain recesses that have a favorite opening sentence to a Terrence Dicks novelization and an unjustifiable fondness for The Five Doctors. Whether or not this is a particularly worthwhile pleasure is largely beside the point: it’s a concrete pleasure—a sense of there being a thing the show is for—in a way that the Chibnall era has previously not really had. That it’s an emptier masturbation with continuity than anything the Moffat era ever did is ultimately besides the point.
Of course, saying much more than that is also difficult. A secret past Doctor, Cybermen, the Timeless Child, the Master, Captain Jack, and the re-destruction of Gallifrey are all just bibs and bobs of a premise right now that we haven’t seen stitched into an actual story yet. It’s like if you reduced The Day of the Doctor to “a secret past Doctor, Zygons, David Tennant, Billie Piper, a barn, and the Time War,” or The Two Doctors to “Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Sontarans, location filming in Spain, and a fish called the gumblejack.” And while you can argue that both of those stories really do basically reduce down to those lists, at the end of the day the gulf in quality between them makes it clear that there’s a lot of ways this can turn out. Of course, in the end it’s being done by the writer of The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos, so cause for actual hope remains thin on the ground.
But that’s another review, or more likely two of them. For now we have a story where the Doctor spends most of it outsmarting villainous cops, where a middle-aged black woman gets to be the Doctor, where we get to see Whittaker’s Doctor on the back foot in a justified way instead of because she’s mysteriously unwilling to actually stand up for anything, and where all the plot beats feel basically earned. I’ll take it.
- I’ve mostly left Captain Jack alone here, haven’t I? Part of it is a pretty severe disdain for John Barrowman at this point, between the transphobic jokes and the blatant lying about Moffat’s supposed grudge against him. But it’s also just… does a very middle aged John Barrowman doing a party piece rendition of a fifteen year old episode actually bring much to the table? I made a The Five Doctors comparison before, and nowhere is it more apt than here, with John Barrowman cast in essentially the same narrative role as Jon Pertwee. Except that Pertwee’s Doctor would actually be an effective source of Ominous Phrases, whereas Captain Jack is an odd choice for the role of, let’s be blunt here, River Song.
- So what are our bets for how the Ruth Doctor fits in? Several things make having her be pre-Hartnell a continuity mess of epic and frustrating proportions, so I’m going with Season 6c personally.
- Martin’s performance is interesting though. In many ways a more convincing iteration of the dark and dangerous Doctor than John Hurt, who was generally a bit too kindly grampa to really sell “I am the Doctor who spent his life doing terrible things.”
- I wonder what this episode would have felt like if the Judoon and Captain Jack were absent, giving the Jo Martin reveal room to breathe instead of being one of several explosions of continuity in a single fifty minute span. Probably a better episode, though less populistly thrilling
- Relatedly, I wonder what bits were Chibnall. (My money is on him writing the Captain Jack material.)
- It’s been pointed out to me that Bradley Walsh is taking around a week off every production block to do other things, a revelation that adds a fun game to watching Doctor Who. This time, note how he’s not required for anything save TARDIS and John Barrowman scenes, save for one very brief bit in the cafe—most blatantly, he’s not there when Ryan and Yaz meet back up with the Doctor, requiring a hard cut to the TARDIS interior to add him to the scene.
- Next week’s review will be delayed a few days because of travel as well—probably around as delayed as this one, if not a day longer.
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
- Fugitive of the Judoon
- Orphan 55