Doctor Who: Oxygen (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 45m) ∗∗∗∗ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Charles Palmer; w. Jamie Mathieson; ph. Mark Waters; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Kieran Bew, Justin Salinger, Peter Caulfield, Mimi Ndiweni, Katie Brayben. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole answer a distress call in deep space, and find themselves trapped on board space station Chasm Forge. All but four of the crew have been murdered – and the dead are still walking! Tense episode benefits from a strong script and Capaldi at his best. The plot is a thinly diguised allegory for corporate greed with its cast of zombified workers having been exploited by the “suits”. The visual effects are very impressive and there is a cliffhanger ending that adds a twist. 
Doctor Who: Knock Knock (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 45m) ∗∗∗∗ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Bill Anderson; w. Mike Bartlett; ph. Damian Bromley; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, David Suchet, Mariah Gale, Mandeep Dhillon, Colin Ryan, Ben Presley, Alice Hewkin, Bart Suavek, Sam Benjamin. Bill is moving in with some friends and they’ve found the perfect house – so what if it’s strangely cheap to rent, and the landlord is a little creepy? The wind blows, the floorboards creak, and the Doctor thinks something is very wrong. What lurks in the strange tower at the heart of the building – and why can’t they find any way to enter it? This effective variation on the haunted house plot is a perfectly paced and creepy episode with Suchet excellent as the mysterious Landlord. Capaldi and Mackie are making a great team with their interplay and banter. Great visual effects and make-up. 
Doctor Who: Thin Ice (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 44m) ∗∗∗ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Bill Anderson; w. Sarah Dollard; ph. Damian Bromley; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Nicholas Burns, Asiatu Koroma, Simon Ludders, Tomi May, Guillaume Rivaud, Ellie Shenker, Peter Singh, Badger Skelton, Austin Taylor, Kishaina Thiruselvan. London, 1814. The entire city has turned out for the biggest Frost Fair in decades. But beneath the frozen Thames, revellers are disappearing, snatched through the ice and pulled into the depths where a terrifying monster lurks. Will the Doctor and Bill stop the slaughter before they too are dragged into the icy waters? Fun episode with superb production values capturing London in the early 19th century. The story is no great shakes and lacks any real tension, but there is nice interplay between the leads and enough spirit to make it entertaining. [PG]
Doctor Who: Smile (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 46m) ∗∗½ pr. Peter Bennett; d. Lawrence Gough; w. Frank Cottrell-Boyce; ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold; ed. William Oswald. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, Kiran L Dadlani, Mina Anwar, Ralf Little, Kalungi Ssebandeke, Kiran Shah, Craig Garner. In the far future, at the edge of the galaxy, there is a gleaming, perfect city. This brand new human settlement is said to hold the secret of human happiness – but the only smiles the Doctor and Bill can find are on a pile of grinning skulls. Something is alive in the walls, and the emojibots are watching from the shadows, as the Doctor and Bill trying to unravel a terrifying mystery. Beautfully shot with great use of the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias), in Valencia, Spain as an alien location. Unfortunately the story does little to engage either as a whimsical take on subversion of language or as a tale of technology gone wrong. The interplay between Capaldi and Mackie is good, but they mainly interact with the cute, but bland, emojibots. The threat factor is largely diminished by these robots’ clunkiness. When a human cast eventually emerges from slumber late in the proceedings the story has already moved toward a swift wrap-up, leaving no time for any further development. There is a direct lead in to the next episode THIN ICE at the conclusion, echoing the approach taken during the Hartnell years. [PG]
Doctor Who: The Pilot (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 50m) ∗∗∗½ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Lawrence Gough; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold; ed. William Oswald. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie, Jennifer Hennessy, Stephanie Hyam, Nicholas Briggs (voice). A chance encounter with a girl with a star in her eye leads to a terrifying chase across time and space. Bill’s mind is opened to a Universe that is bigger and more exciting than she could possibly have imagined – but who is the Doctor, and what is his secret mission with Nardole on Earth? This is a confident season opener that re-establishes the concept of the series through the eyes of new companion Bill Potts (Mackie). Mackie has lots of charm and her chemistry with Capaldi promises much for the series ahead. The plot shares common themes with WATERS OF MARS, which may or may not be a significant point. [PG]
Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Season: X15 Story: 1 (107) | 1 x 60m | Production Code: 10.1
Broadcast: 25 December 2016
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Ed Bazalgette
Executive Producer: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin
Producer: Peter Bennett
Script Editor: Nick Lambon; Director of Photography: Ashley Rowe; Music: Murray Gold; Production Designer: Michael Pickwoad; Editor: Adam Green; Costumes: Hayle Nebauer; Visual Effects: MILK; Special Effects: Real SFX; Prosthetics: Millennium FX
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Justin Chatwin (Grant), Charity Wakefield (Lucy), Tomiwa Edun (Mr Brock), Aleksandar Jovanovic (Doctor Sim), Logan Huffman (Young Grant), Daniel Lorente (Teen Grant), Sandra Tees (Reporter), Tanroh Ishida (Operator), Vaughn Johseph (U.N.I.T. Soldier).
Synopsis: The Doctor spends Christmas in New York, but this time he is not the only hero in town. A deadly alien menace is poised to attack the city, and the Time Lord will need all the help he can get to stop it. Fortunately, Manhattan has its own protector in the form of a mysterious masked superhero.
Comment: Moffat riffs on the current saturation of comic book heroes in our multiplexes with middling results. The positives are Capaldi’s increasing comfort in the title role – his charisma and energy light up the screen – and the surprisingly effective Lucas as his companion. The alien invasion plot, however, is a little weak as is Chatwin as Grant/The Ghost. Some nice in-jokes for comic book fans help make this an entertaining, if slight episode.
THE HUSBANDS OF RIVER SONG
1 episode / 56m / 25 December 2015
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Alex Kingston (River Song), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Greg Davies (King Hydroflax), Rowan Polonski (Flemming), Robert Curtis (Scratch), Chris Lew Kum Hoi (Alphonse), Phillip Rhys (Ramone), Anthony Cozens (Concierge), Nicolle Smartt (Receptionist), Liam Cook (King Hydroflax’s body), Nonso Anozie (Voice of Hydroflax).
Plot: It’s Christmas Day on a remote human colony and the Doctor is hiding from Christmas Carols and Comedy Antlers. But when a crashed spaceship calls upon the Doctor for help, he finds himself recruited into River Song’s squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy. King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is furious, and his giant Robot bodyguard is out of control and coming for them all! Will Nardole (Matt Lucas) survive? And when will River Song work out who the Doctor is? All will be revealed on a starliner full of galactic super-villains and a destination the Doctor has been avoiding for a very long time.
Comment: Christmas specials have been a hit-and-miss affairs over the years and this particular episode demonstrates the inconsistency perfectly. Obviously written as a fun romp with a seasonal theme it is often amusing, but seldom challenging. That is probably the point. Who wants heavy drama on Christmas Day other than fans of Eastenders? This episode, therefore, is not meant to be a serious addition to the series, merely an entertaining diversion. As such it provides contrast when compared with the majority of series 9 through the lightness of its approach. Capaldi demonstrates his true range by being as adept at comedy as he is at drama. The plot really isn’t worth scrutinising and the whole episode is merely contrived to re-introduce Alex Kingston’s River Song. Her return is welcome, but her seeming inability to recognise the new Doctor even when presented with his TARDIS seems inappropriately dim. Their scenes together, however, demonstrate a strong chemistry given the high level of association the character has with the Matt Smith era. In all this is an enjoyable, if light, addition to the annual Christmas Day outings.
HEAVEN SENT / HELL BENT
2 episodes / 119m / 28 November & 5 December 2015
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jeanna Coleman (Clara), Donald Sumpter (The President [Rassilon]), Ken Bones (The General), Maisy Williams (Ashildr [Me]), T’Nia Miller (Female General), Malachi Kirby (Gastron), Clare Higgins (Ohila), Linda Broughton (The Woman), Martin T Sherman (Man), Jami Reid-Quarrel (Wraith), Nick Ash (Wraith), Ross Mullen (Wraith), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Dalek), Jami Reid-Quarrell (The Veil).
Plot: Trapped in a world unlike any other he has seen, the Doctor faces the greatest challenge of his many lives. One final test. And he must face it alone. Pursued by the fearsome creature known only as the Veil, he must attempt the impossible. If he makes it through, Gallifrey is waiting… Returning to Gallifrey, the Doctor faces the Time Lords in a struggle that will take him to the end of time itself. Who is the Hybrid? And what is the Doctor’s confession?Comment: Heaven Sent is an experimental episode in that it is practically a single-hander for Capaldi set in a Matrix-like world from which he is looking for an escape. The most impressive aspect of this story is that Capaldi holds the attention throughout with a tour-de-force performance and the direction and photography conjure up nightmarish visuals. When, in Hell Bent, we finally move to Gallifrey, the scale increases and the focus turns toward the Doctor’s attempts to rescue Clara from her fate in Face the Raven. In doing so he also tries to unravel the mystery of the Hybrid. Many options are touted for the identity of the latter and this is left pretty much open-ended. There are some moments that will have long-term fans cheering and others that will have them fuming. This closing two-parter is nothing if not challenging. On the whole it delivers a conclusion that should satisfy most. Series 9 has been a strong one, but one in which Moffat’s high level concepts and sometimes confusing narrative may have left some of the show’s broader audience cold. I for one would like to see the balance tip back toward simpler, plot-led sci-fi mysteries with the occasional high concept story next year.
FACE THE RAVEN
1 episode / 47m / 21 November 2015
Writer: Sarah Dollard
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Jovian Wade (Rigsy), Maisie Williams (Me [Ashildr]), Simon Manyonda (Kabel), Simon Paisley Day (Rump), Letitia Wright (Anahson), Robin Soans (Chronolock Guy), Angela Clerkin (Alien Woman), Caroline Boulton (Habrian Woman), Jenny Lee (Elderly Woman).
Plot: The Doctor and Clara are reunited with Rigsy, the `pudding brained’ grafitti artist who gained the Time Lord’s respect by helping him face off an invasion by inter-dimensional beings known as the Boneless in Bristol. Together the trio investigate a strange alien world hidden on a street in the heart of London. They soon discover this unusual road is sheltering some of the most fearsome creatures in the universe – including the immortal Viking Ashildr, who the Time Lord last encountered in the 17th century in the guise of noblewoman-turned-brigand `Lady Me’.
Comment: Well-paced and intriguing episode with its primary purpose being to set up the exit of Clara and lead into the two-part season finale. The hidden street in the centre of London is a neat idea and eerily gothic with the tension kept high through atmospheric camera work and the idea of a countdown tattoo. Capaldi is again in top form and he and Jenna Coleman play Clara’s exit scene with nice understatement. Williams makes her third appearance of the series and it is likely we will see more of her before the two-parter finale is done as the episode ends on a cliffhanger with the Doctor being teleported out to who knows where.
SLEEP NO MORE
1 episode / 45m / 14 November 2015
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Reece Shearsmith (Gagan Rassmussen), Elaine Tan (Nagata), Neet Mohan (Chopra), Bethany Black (474), Paul Courtenay Hyu (Deep-Ando), Zina Badran (Morpheus Presenter), Natasha Patel (Hologram Singer), Elizabeth Chong (Hologram Singer), Nikkita Chadha (Hologram Singer), Gracie Lai (Hologram Singer).
Plot: Video recovered from the wreckage of Le Verrier Space Station details how the Doctor and Clara became entangled in a rescue mission. As the footage plays out, a horrifying secret is uncovered, one that might threaten the life, sanity and species of anyone who watches. Comment: Experimental episode using the popular found-footage horror genre as the basis for a confusing monster takes over space station story where the viewer is never sure if what they are seeing is real, fabricated or imagined. The sandmen are a creepy design and the inter-cutting between shifting viewpoints helps keep the tension high. Capaldi is looking increasingly at home as the Doctor now, having settled down his characterisation. I’m not really sure I got the whole thing and will probably need to re-watch to dig out some of the subtexts, but I did enjoy this episode for its willingness to bring a new twist to a more traditional Who plot, which it executed pretty well..