Do You Know Any Sci-Fi?: A Quick(ish) Look at Series 10, Episodes 1-5. [CONTAINS SPOILERS]

I went into Series 10 with a sizeable amount of trepidation. Knowing in advance that my Doctor is regenerating at the end of it automatically puts me on edge because that means there’s only a handful of stories left to tick off everything on my bucket list.

I was also–as you may have noticed–a great fan of Clara Oswald. I realize this is a very controversial thing, but I can’t help it. And because of that, I was hesitant to open my heart to any new companions. Not unlike the Doctor, these companions have a tendency to break my heart and it’s hard to want to continually put myself through that. And I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

Oh, and after his first two appearances in the The Husbands of River Song and The Return of Doctor Mysterio*, I loathe Nardole so far. So there’s that.

So I’ve had a full mixture of  anxiety, grief, and anger that had been brewing since the end of 2015 on full boil. That’s how I felt going into Series 10.

And here are my thoughts:

doctorwho

THE PILOT

  • The first few moments of this story are going to be etched into my brain forever. As soon as the music (which I love) started and Bill walked in, I felt all of that toxic mixture instantly just melt away. Pearl Mackie is EVERYTHING, even before she says a single word. Her reactions, her facial expressions, her body language, her choice of words, the way she and the Doctor fall into instant banter…I could go on. The point is, it’s all just beautiful and perfect and felt right.
  • In case you didn’t get it from the last point, I LOVE BILL. Now, I feel slightly guilty about this out of a sense of loyalty to Clara. But if you don’t instantly fall in love with Bill Potts, your heart needs examining. In just one story, she demonstrates that she’s clever, brave, kind, fun, and basically everything you could ever ask for in a companion. I already can’t wait to see more of her with the Doctor. And you know what? She’s already been good for HIM. Time And Relative Dimension In Space–it means LOOK HOW HAPPY HE IS RIGHT NOW.
  • And, oh yes, the sentient space engine oil. Moffat continues in his endless quest to make everyday things scary. And though this certainly doesn’t have the same effect as the Weeping Angels, I bet you’ll still be examining your shower drain a little more closely for a couple of days. Or avoiding puddles. TRY TO DENY IT.
  • No one will ever find a more accurate or entertaining way to describe the way Peter Capaldi runs. It’s true in Doctor Who. It was true in The Thick of It/In the Loop. It was true way back in Local Hero. “Like penguin with its arse on fire.” YES.
  • I liked Heather even though we didn’t really get to know her. And okay maybe the ‘goodbye’ between her and Bill was a little cheesy, but I still shipped them pretty hard by the end. And let’s not forget the nod to William Hartnell and his wife here. Her name was Heather. Bill and Heather. It’s sweet and no one will convince me otherwise.
  • And speaking of references, let’s talk about the Doctor’s office at the university. The jar of sonic screwdrivers, the raven on the desk, the framed photos of Susan and River, the ‘Out of Order’ sign on the TARDIS (from The War Machines), and about a hundred more little easter eggs in there to be had. They’re so great! And let’s not forget the fact that the Doctor has now been there for a ridiculously long time and no one seems to question it. I know I couldn’t have been the only one out there watching and and shouting “SHADA!” at the television. Okay I probably was, but I do know I wasn’t the only one who caught the reference. If you don’t know what Shada is, look it up and then either check out the recorded bits with linking narration OR get the Eighth Doctor audio version from Big Finish.

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  • DID YOU SEE THE MOVELLANS?!?! They’re barely in it but gosh do they still look fab! If you don’t get this reference, go watch Destiny of the Daleks. Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and disco androids–it’s good stuff, people.
  • Nardole didn’t annoy me as much as I’d expected him to. He actually almost made me laugh a few times, so I’m choosing to be optimistic here.
  • And then there’s the Doctor. Capaldi is just sublime. Can we all agree on that? And I don’t doubt that his lectures would be insanely entertaining, but I think the fear that he might call on me to answer a question would definitely keep me from registering for that class. In fact he would probably be the professor you pray to every deity ever NOT to get. But he has that room not only enthralled, but it’s the university’s hottest ticket–as demonstrated by the fact that Bill is taking the class despite not having registered for it or even applied to the school. And when he finally gets around to doing the more usual Doctor-ish stuff, he’s brilliant. He is the Doctor. The Genuine Article.
  • Moffat addressed how horrible it is to wipe someone’s memory! This has been bothering me for YEARS. It feels like such a cop-out way to end someone’s story, for one thing. But to violate someone in that way is just despicable. It was evil when the Time Lords did it to Jamie and Zoe, but to then have the Doctor himself do it to Donna–no matter the reason–is just horrifying. And then Hell Bent happened and it was sort of nice to see the tables turned a bit, but overall still very upsetting. So when it came up yet again in this story, I was ready to grab a bat and go all Ace McShane on my television. But then Bill said THE THING and there was THAT MUSIC and my heart felt a little bit vindicated just then.
  • And then the Doctor, because how could he resist, invites her back into the TARDIS and it’s beautiful. All in all, a brilliant series opener.

smile02

SMILE

  • So, if I’m being I can barely remember the last time I was so excited for the next adventure in a series. I didn’t even feel that way back in Series 9, when I felt like the TARDIS team was my TARDIS team, because we already knew the end was waiting just round the corner for Clara.
  • And also because (nearly) every story that series was a two-parter. And while I like those sometimes, it’s also nice to have ones that aren’t.**
  • This story looks absolutely GORGEOUS. Full marks for design here.
  • I use emojis. Not excessively, but more than I used to. Do I think they’re stupid? Yes, mostly. But I’m 1000% in love with these adorable little robots. The interface ones–not the flying ones. If they weren’t trying to kill me, I’d definitely want one.
  • I was (very briefly) delighted to see Mina Anwar back in the Doctor Who universe again. If you didn’t watch the Sarah Jane Adventures, Anwar played the mother of Rani,*** one of Sarah Jane’s world-saving teenage companions. So needless to say I was a bit disappointed when she died pretty much immediately.
  • The gardeners becoming food for the garden. How delightfully macabre!
  • I go back and forth a lot about whether or not the whole technology gone awry thing is overdone. When it’s done well, it’s fantastic. When it’s not…well, it gets jumbled and confused and messy and sometimes it’s tough to write your way out of it. This sort of feels like that by about half way through. Like the robots themselves, it’s all gone wrong.
  • The terrifying need to keep smiling reminds me of The Happiness Patrol. I don’t know if I would’ve immediately picked up on that if I hadn’t just watched that again recently, but even so, it made me–haha–smile.
  • SCOTLAND IN SPACE. I LOVE IT.
  • This story desperately wants to be an Ark in Space sequel (sort of) but–Med Tech aside–it doesn’t really work. It’s just too messy.
  • The thing that DOES save it, however, is how beautifully Bill and the Doctor are written here, and the fact that it’s 99% just the two of them. Capaldi and Mackie are brilliant together and I can’t wait to see more.
  • Scary handsome genius from space, indeed.

thinice

THIN ICE

  • Is it too late to put Sarah Dollard’s name in for show runner? I mean, Chibnall will be great, I’m sure, but Dollard is so good.
  • Right off the bat, we’re given that exact thing that Gareth Roberts/RTD skirted around with Martha and the Tenth Doctor in The Shakespeare Code (and also Human Nature/Family of Blood, which I have VERY strong feelings about, but I won’t get into that right now). Only Dollard gets it 100% RIGHT.
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  • It’s time to get real, people. Addressing this issue properly is SO HORRENDOUSLY OVERDUE but thankfully Dollard was here to help. And the way Mackie and Capaldi played it was just ridiculously good. I may have actually applauded.
  • Look how pretty and well set up this all is. There has not been a disappointing set yet this series. It all looks fantastic.
  • And look at the Doctor and Bill together here! They could be Seven and Ace!
  • The giant fish monster below the Thames feels like The Beast Below, but in all the right ways. Bravo.
  • Bill’s concern over the Butterfly Effect is hilarious, maybe even more so than Martha’s was (which is all down to writing, I grant you). But the Doctor’s reaction is–again–even better. YOUR WHOLE LIFE IS LIKE THAT EVEN WITHOUT TIME TRAVEL SO STOP WORRYING.
  • I’m still in shock that they actually killed off a child. Tough to watch as a parent, but the scene was necessary and worked so well.
  • The Doctor and Bill are so good together I can hardly stand it. They don’t even need to speak. I’m already quite sad we won’t get another series of them together. And then we get hit in the face with THAT CONVERSATION, and what I think may be one of the best scenes in all of Doctor Who. The way Bill reacts to those particularly painful truths about the Doctor does everything it needs to and the Doctor doesn’t dismiss her. Mackie and Capaldi play off one another so well that the tension is almost unbearable but in the best possible way. This scene will be iconic in the history of the show, I’m sure of it.
  • I love how the Doctor can go from that conversation to basically being a magician and pulling pies out of a hat and reading books to small children. Amazing.
  • The Doctor using his “class” to get information (or whatever) from people is nothing new. Jon Pertwee did it ALL THE TIME. So it didn’t really surprise me to see the Doctor do it again here in order to find out who was in charge of this disgusting operation.
  • The Doctor tells Bill to let him do the talking, which is so typical of most of the Classic Doctors. Usually the Doctor holds his temper reasonably well (for a while, anyway) and it’s the more passionate companion that tends to get into trouble by saying the wrong thing.
  • And then, of course, this happened:thinicepunch
  • I cheered so loud that I think I may have frightened my neighbors. #SorryNotSorry
  • The Doctor punches racists now. EXCELLENT. And the racists are actually called racists. And Bill’s look of disgusted horror says it all.
  • Also, if you have an issue with the Doctor punching people, it’s nothing new. Get over it. I mean, have you even seen the Tom Baker era?
  • Sutcliffe is so slimy that I don’t care that he gets almost no development whatsoever. He’s a horrible person. He has to be stopped. End of.
  • “Human progress isn’t measured by industry, it’s measured by the value you place on a life.” I’m getting definite Troughton vibes here, and I’m extremely happy about that.
  • The Doctor’s distress at Bill screaming for help is hilarious.
  • More throwbacks to The Beast Below and now Kill the Moon, but again, in good ways so I’m fine with it. Well played and well written.
  • The adorable orphans inherit everything. And Peregrine is an excellent name.
  • SPECIALLY CHOSEN TEA CLOTHES. Also, if the Doctor decided to keep the Mr. Darcy look for the rest of time, I’d be fine with it. Capaldi rocks it. Just saying.
  • Let’s see, the thing in the vault is KNOCKING. I’ve always assumed it’s Missy in the Vault, but that seems too easy and would, frankly, be quite a let down.**** But then supposedly Missy isn’t the only incarnation of the Master we’re supposed to be getting back this year, is she?
  • Overall, a very enjoyable romp. Brilliantly written and beautifully played. Massive amounts of character development but still managed to be fun and engaging. Sarah Dollard is now only one of two women to pen two Doctor Who stories SOLO. Sad that the number is still so low, but this is an improvement and will hopefully help open the door to more female contribution to Doctor Who in terms of writing, directing, etc.

knockknock

KNOCK, KNOCK

  • This story–at least at first–is properly dark and creepy. Like, Hinchcliffe era Gothic and creepy. And I LOVE IT.
  • I remember hunting for housing as a student. It’s miserable, which seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. Can’t decide if that makes me feel any better or not. But I completely understand Bill’s predicament.
  • Why would you ever think to trust the random creepy old man–or, you know, Poirot–that “conveniently” pops up right outside the estate agent’s office?? At least Bill has the sense to be wary of the situation.
  • The fate of the first roommate is at first unsurprising, but then made better by being pretty horrific, the way he’s sort of melded into the wall but you can still see his open eyes, and not knowing whether or not he can think or feel. The haunting sound of the skipping violin recording just makes it more so.
  • Please don’t even mention regenerating yet! I’M NOT READY, OKAY?
  • The Doctor using the TARDIS to help Bill move her stuff is both hilarious and adorable. The fact that she explains his presence by telling her housemates that he’s her granddad–and the Doctor’s reaction to it–is even better.
  • I like this group of house mates. The way they played the generally pleasant atmosphere mixed with a slight awkwardness with each other really struck me because it felt so real. It took me back to my days at university living in a house with a bunch of people I didn’t know very well because I had one friend who lived there. The idea that Harry was apparently supposed to be the grandson of Fourth Doctor companion Harry Sullivan was so cute and I wish they’d actually SAID IT. I love Harry Sullivan almost as much as that giant clam did.
  • Did I mention that this story is just creepy? The creepy old house, the disappearing house mates, the creepy landlord, the build up to discovering what turned out to be the Doctor…it’s all really well done. I love when Doctor Who actually scares me a little. It doesn’t happen often enough. So thanks to Mike Bartlett for that. Please write for Doctor Who again soon!
  • Did anyone else LOL at Harriet Jones’ name being rattled off with other PMs?
  • Bill is amazing in this story. I love the way she interacts with her house mates, particularly the Scottish guy. I love that she gets to sort of be the Doctor (a little) and that her friend becomes the companion. And I love that she and the Doctor solve the puzzle together but also separately without having to ever dumb down either one of them at any point to make it work.
  • Eliza looks FANTASTIC. That is some gorgeous makeup/CGI work.
  • Maybe I should have, but I did not see that parent/child twist coming! The end for Eliza and her son is beautiful and horrible at the same time. Again, speaking as a parent, it breaks your heart. First that he’s spent his entire life trying to keep his mother alive because he didn’t want to let her go when he was just a little boy. And then both her realization of what’s happened and what’s been sacrificed to keep her alive–and the way she chooses to sacrifice both herself and her son to save everyone–is about as beautifully tragic as it can get. If I’m being really honest, I may have cried a little and hugged my daughter extra tight afterwards. But I’m not sorry. Storytelling is really only doing its job when it makes you feel things that strongly.
  • Capaldi gave me major Hartnell vibes (with maybe a hint of Tom Baker) in this pretty much throughout. This is a good thing. WHY IS HE LEAVING??
  • Of course the Doctor brings take out to the vault. Of course he does. And based on the response from within, it almost has to be Missy in there. But it’s so unsurprising that I really don’t want it to be!
  • I really hope they bring Mike Bartlett back to write for the show again. This story was dark, scary, funny, and deeply emotional all at the same time. What more could you want?

oxygen

OXYGEN

  • AKA the story that had my five-year-old walking around with her arms stretched out and her head tilted to the side to creep me out for an entire week.
  • I haven’t decided if it’s funny or worrying when Doctor Who starts toying around with other famous sci-fi franchises. At the moment I’m choosing to find it funny, but please don’t do it again.
  • This will be an unpopular take on this relationship, I’m sure, but the first bit between the Doctor and Nardole feels almost Blackadder-ish to me. Nardole is just a cleverer and vaguely more useful version of Baldrick. Nardole gets better after that, I’m both surprised and slightly alarmed to admit. But it’s still there. I’m finding it more difficult to hate him now, which is annoying.
  • OH LOOK, ANOTHER BASE-UNDER-SIEGE STORY. THIS IS MY JAM, PEOPLE. No really, it is. Call it overused as much as you want, I love the Troughton era and so this trope holds a very special place in my heart. Fight me.
  • This is also really just another case of technology gone wrong, much in the same way as Smile. Only this time, you can’t outrun the technology at all because you’re trapped inside it. And it’s been given orders to kill you (seriously, the phrase “delete your organic component” is terrifying) by faceless corporate idiots. Death by capitalism. Lovely. HOW FRIGHTENINGLY RELEVANT.
  • I tried SO HARD not to laugh at the Velma thing. Damn you, Nardole.
  • Bill repeatedly losing control over her suit is terrifying–even more so than the suit that was functioning completely on its own while empty. It’s also impressive just how many ways the suit can kill you, frankly.
  • The Doctor actually has to face a genuine personal consequence to his actions. I was genuinely shocked by this–even more when he revealed at the end that no, actually he wasn’t all better after getting back to the TARDIS.
  • Bill calling for her mum when she thought she was going to die just completely broke my heart.
  • “You know what’s wrong with this universe? Believe me, I’ve looked into it. Everyone says it’s not their fault. Well, yes, it is. All of it. It’s all your fault. So what are you going to do about it?” That phrase followed by his making them more expensive dead than alive should’ve been enough. No matter how amazing Capaldi is–and he is–the overly dramatic speeches (no matter how well written) come up all too frequently. The “I Am The Doctor” moments are so good but after ten years, they’ve come up SO MANY TIMES that it gets annoying even to me.
  • The music in this story is KILLING ME. It’s so good and so perfect. Particularly when they first show us the corpses walking on the outside of the space station. It reminded me a lot of the music that plays when the Cybermen are waking up in Tomb of the Cybermen (which, okay, I know that music was used in MANY other stories, but this is probably its most iconic moment). Also the direction in that shot is STUNNINGLY GOOD.
  • Oh, and I really liked the Doctor’s lecture about space in the beginning (not the Star Trek bit, but the rest of it).
  • I can’t wait to see what horrible mistake the human race makes after the end of capitalism!
  • This story is PROPERLY EXCELLENT. 12/12 would watch again (and again).

* It might be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the past two Christmas specials. Which is why I chose not to write about them in this space after they aired. We like to try (sometimes VERY HARD) to keep things fairly positive around here!

** This seems sort of counter intuitive for me because if given the choice, I tend to prefer Classic Who over New Who. But for whatever reason, that doesn’t work as an all-the-time format for New Who—not for me, at least. I feel like multi-part stories need to be reserved for something really special nowadays. I’ve often felt that the writing tends to suffer in New Who multi-part stories. Not always, but often. One part tends to dwarf another quite substantially. Take The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, for example. It’s got a fantastically good setup, but a complete omnishambles of a conclusion.

*** Rani Chandra, that is. Not THE Rani.

**** Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Michelle Gomez. I really do. But it just seems way too obvious. There’s no element of shock or surprise there and it’s very unlike Moffat to not have something up his sleeve.

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