Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 42m) ∗∗∗½ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Charles Palmer; w. Rona Munro; ph. Mark Waters; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, Rebecca Benson, Daniel Kerr, Brian Vernel, Rohan Nedd, Ben Hunter, Sam Adewunmi, Billy Matthews, Aaron Phagura, Jocelyn Brassington, Lewis McGowan. A long time ago, the ninth legion of the Roman army vanished into the mists of Scotland. Bill has a theory about what happened, and the Doctor has a time machine. But when they arrive in ancient Aberdeenshire, what they find is a far greater threat than any army. In a cairn, on a hillside, is a doorway leading to the end of the world. Another variant on the ‘monster of the week’ theme, working slightly better than EMPRESS OF MARS thanks to a more polished script from Munro (the only writer from the original series to pen a story since the 2005 relaunch – 1989’s SURVIVAL, the last broadcast story of the original run. What lets the episode down is the variable performances given by the young guest cast, contrasting with the confident ones from the regulars, some dodgy CGI and an overly neat ending. Its familiarity actually makes a welcome break from Moffat’s high concept episodes and is a diverting enough tale. 
Doctor Who: (1) Extremis/(2) The Pyramid at the End of the World/(3) The Lie of the Land (TV) (2017; UK; Colour; 140m) ∗∗∗½ pr. Peter Bennett (1 & 2), Nikki Wilson (3); d. Daniel Nettheim (1 & 2), Wayne Che Yip (3); w. Steven Moffat (1 & 2), Peter Harness (2), Toby Whithouse (3); ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas , Michelle Gomez, Jennifer Hennessy, Corrado Invernizzi, Joseph Long, Jamie Hill, Togo Igawa, Nigel Hastings, Eben Young, Rachel Denning, Tony Gardner, Andrew Byron, Daphne Cheung, Rosie Jane. (1) In the Haereticum – the Vatican’s secret library of blasphemy – there is an ancient book known only as The Veritas. Throughout history, anyone who has ever read it has immediately taken their own life. Now a new translation is online, and the danger is spreading. The Vatican appeals to the Doctor. Will he read The Veritas? But can even the Doctor survive the ultimate truth? (2) A 5,000 year-old Pyramid stands at the centre of a war zone, where the Chinese, Russian and American armies are about to clash. There are many problems with that, but the one that intrigues the Doctor is this: there wasn’t a pyramid there yesterday. The Doctor, Bill and Nardole face an alien invasion unlike any other, and before conquest can begin, these aliens need the consent of the human race… (3) The world is gripped by a mass delusion and only Bill Potts can see the truth. When even the Doctor is fighting on the wrong side, it’s up to Bill to convince the Time Lord that humanity is in deadly danger. And if she can’t do that, she may just have to kill her best friend. Frustratingly close to being a superb example of the series at its best, but let down by a weak resolution. The second segment is the strongest with the tension building to a superb cliffhanger only to be undone by a confused and rushed finale. 
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]
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.
THE ZYGON INVASION / THE ZYGON INVERSION
2 episodes / 93m / 31 October & 7 November 2015
Writer: Peter Harness & Steven Moffat
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Jaye Griffiths (Jac), Nicholas Asbury (Etoine), Cleopatra Dickens (Claudette), Sasha Dickens (Jemima), Rebecca Front (Colonel Walsh), Abhishek Singh (Little Boy [Sandeep]), Samila Kularatne (Little Boy’s Mum), Todd Kramer (Hitchley), Jill Winternitz (Lisa [Drone Op]), Gretchen Egolf (Norlander), Karen Mann (Hitchley’s Mom), James Bailey (Walsh’s Son), Aidan Cook (Zygon), Tom Wilton (Zygon).
Plot: The Zygons, a race of shape-shifting aliens, have been living in secret amongst us on Earth, unknown and unseen – until now! When Osgood is kidnapped by a rogue gang of Zygons, the Doctor, Clara and UNIT must scatter across the world in a bid to set her free. But will they reach her in time, and can they stop an uprising before it is too late?
Comment: A somewhat heavy-handed political allegory enlivened by some atmospheric visuals and a towering performance from Capaldi, who has really grown into the role of the Doctor. Jenna Coleman is also excellent in her dual-role as Clara and Zygon duplicate and Ingrid Oliver is again appealing as Osgood. The Zygons are an effective classic monster and the plot concerning a faction group looking to break the peace treaty brokered at the close of Day of the Doctor is involving. The story occasionally suffers from some over elaborate ideas, which lack follow-through such as the UNIT jet being shot down and no-one seemingly blinking an eyelid. I’m also not sure I still get the whole dual-Osgood scenario, but it did set up a splendid finale which gave Capaldi the opportunity to deliver one of the most passionate speeches in the series’ history. Capaldi’s performance is reminiscent of Tom Baker at this best as The Doctor argues ethics and values with the Zygons and Jemma Redgrave’s UNIT commander in an attempt to restore the treaty. Stirring stuff then in a story that ultimately satisfies despite its none-too-subtle political messaging.
THE GIRL WHO DIED / THE WOMAN WHO LIVED
2 episodes / 92m / 17 & 24 October 2015
Writer: (1) Jamie Mathieson, Steven Moffat & (2) Catherine Tregenna
Director: Ed Bazalgette
Cast: (1 & 2) Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Maisie Williams (Ashildr/The Knightmare). (1) David Schofield (Odin), Simon Lipkin (Nollarr), Ian Conningham (Chuckles), Tom Stourton (Lofty), Alastair Parker (Limpy), Murray McArthur (Hasten), Barnaby Kay (Heidi). (2) Rufus Hound (Sam Swift), Gareth Berliner (Coachman), Elisabeth Hopper (Lucie Fanshawe), John Voce (Mr Fanshawe), Struan Rodger (Clayton), Gruffudd Glyn (Pikeman Lloyd Llewelyn), Reuben Johnson (Pikeman William Stout), Ariyon Bakare (Leandro), Ariyon Bakare (Leandro), Daniel Fearn (Crowd 1), Karen Seacombe (Crowd 2), John Hales (Hangman).
Plot: (1) Captured by Vikings, the Doctor and Clara must help protect their village from space warriors from the future, the Mire. Outnumbered and outgunned, their fate seems inevitable. So why is the Doctor preoccupied with a single Viking girl? (2) England, 1651. Deadly highwayman ‘the Knightmare’ and his sidekick stalk the dark streets of London. But when they find loot that is not of this world, they come face to face with the Doctor. Who is theKnightmare in league with? And can the Doctor avoid the hangman’s noose and protect the Earth from a devilish betrayal?
Comment: A two-parter with each episode having distinct plots but an overarching theme concerning Williams’ Ashildr and how the Doctor impacts her life. Both stories are historical based with fantasy/alien elements incorporated and both are entertaining if slight. The Viking story is the more enjoyable of the two with a simpler plot, but occasionally it descends into childish humour. The highway bandit story is a more serious affair dealing with the aftermath of the Doctor’s decision from the first story. Clara is absent for most of the episode leaving the story to delve deeper into the cause and effect of the Doctor’s decision – notably its impact on Williams’ character. The resolution is a little disappointing for a series steeped in plot twists and unexpected turns, but may potentially be evidence that Moffat has scaled back on the big concept shock tactics and opted for more concise character-based stories – not necessarily a bad thing.
A fantastic new trailer has been released today announcing the show’s return for its 9th (or 35th, depending on how you are counting) season and second starring Peter Capaldi on 19 September. The trailer looks fantastic.
THE EMPTY CHILD / THE DOCTOR DANCES
2 episodes / 85m / 21 & 28 May 2005
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: James Hawes
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Kate Harvey (Nightclub Singer), Albert Valentine (The Child) Florence Hoath (Nancy), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs Lloyd) Damian Samuels (Mr Lloyd), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness), Robert Hands (Algy), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Brandon Miller (Alf), Richard Wilson (Dr Constantine) Noah Johnson (Voice of the Empty Child), Dian Perry (Computer Voice).
Plot: London, 1941, at the height of the Blitz. A mysterious cylinder is being guarded by the army, while homeless children, living on the bomb sites, are being terrorised by an unearthly child.
Comment: Atmospheric, funny, frightening and terrifically entertaining this remains one of the series’ all-time classics. The haunting “Are you my mummy?” plea of the gas-mask faced child is unforgettable. The story was shot entirely at night and set during the London Blitz. The visual effects work is impressive, notably during the scenes where Rose is hanging from a barrage balloon rope. Barrowman makes his debut as Captain Jack Harkness and immediately strikes up an excellent chemistry with the two leads. Eccleston was right when in the finale he claimed he was “on fire”. His performance here hits just the right mix of gravity and humour and his “Everybody lives” speech is the most uplifting moment in the series’ history. Full of witty one-liners, scary moments and one of the best cliffhanger resolutions, this is a story that lives long in the memory.