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29 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 849: Dark Water

Dear diary,

As finales go, this one doesn’t pull any punches, does it? When a semi-regular character, who’s played quite a prominent role over the last three months, is killed off before the opening credits have even rolled, you know that they’re not messing around. Things are about to get very serious, very quickly. When you then move from that to the companion taking the Doctor and threatening to separate him from the TARDIs forever unless he does as she commands… well, it’s the kind of thing that a hundred fan theories talk about every year, but I never thought they’d be bold enough to actually do it on screen. Oh, it’s exciting.

That said, once we’re past all that initial excitement, things do rather slow down a notch. I still can’t help but feel that Dark Water is really a great big 45 minute prequel for the main event in the next episode. This one really is just about moving all the pieces into position, and getting everyone up-to-speed with what’s going on, so that the hour that follows it can simply get on with doing everything that it wants to.

That’s not to say that there’s not things to love about this episode, because there really are plenty. Those aforementioned opening scenes are wonderful (and bringing back Clara’s gran for the beef scene in her kitchen is the thing that suddenly makes Danny’s death hit home - it makes Clara’s world feel that little bit more real), and the payoff to them, with the Doctor and Clara alone in the TARDIS following her betrayal is simply breathtaking. It’s Capaldi and Coleman at their finest, and the same can be said of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, too. I simply have to quote the scene, because it’s so well done;

DOCTOR

You betrayed me. Betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I've ever stood for. You let me down! 

CLARA

Then why are you helping me?

DOCTOR

Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference? 

Everything they’ve been though this season has been leading up tho this moment, and it’s wonderful. A real highlight.

And then, throughout the rest of the episode, you’ve got Missy! Oh, wasn’t it a great reveal? I was fairly certain that she was going to be revealed as the master, but had to watch on transmission, because the preview copies we were sent at Doctor Who Online were censored! Great big black screens and silence in both the museum scene and the one out on the steps of St Paul’s - both of which then cut back to Peter Capaldi giving a look that’s a mixture of bafflement and horror. Everything around it seemed to so obviously point at Missy being the Master, but then there’s always the possibility that she might not be, and the the wool had been pulled over everyone’s eyes…

But actually discovering that we were right, and that it is the Master? Oh, that doesn’t make it any less brilliant. It helps that Michelle Gomez must be the best Master since the original. She’s so wonderful, and I’m ecstatic that we’re getting her back for another adventure next year. 

28 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 848: In the Forest of the Night

Dear diary,

Much like Kill the Moon a few weeks earlier, In the Forest of the Night came under a lot of fire for the science on display. And, once again, I simply wasn’t all that bothered about it! A forest grows overnight to protect us from extinction? Yeah, go on then, why not? However, I did have a few issues with this one, which are only more obvious on a second viewing.

I’ve two main problems - firstly, I simply don’t buy that this forest is in the middle of the city. There’s some lovely shots of phone boxes and busses stranded in the middle of the undergrowth, but there’s simply too much space for me to believe that we’re walking down streets. Lots of London streets are relatively narrow - certainly enough so that you’d be able to see the buildings through trees as dense as we’ve got here. For all the lovely direction of this one (which I’ll come to), it simply fails to convey the central idea of the script for me.

The second big issue I have is perhaps my main one, and the reason that this episode rates so low for me. I simply don’t buy that the forest is so empty. On the whole, we’ve got the Coal Hill field trip, the Doctor, the teams trying to destroy the trees, and Maebh’s mum and neighbour. That’s yer lot! I get that a great big forest growing in the centre of the city overnight is going to cause some traffic headaches when it comes to your morning commute, but it simply rings completely false to me. Tied in with the fact that there’s so few vehicles dotted around between the trees, and the whole plot seems to work on the assumption that the whole of London empties at night-time, and that hardly anyone was able to get back in the next morning. It just feels so off-base. I’d expect at least a few bemused citizens wandering around the foliage (and, actually, I’d imagine there’s quite a lot of fun to be had with that, too).

I think the reason it bothers me so much is simply because it would be so easy to overcome. All you need to do is insert a couple of brief sentences and I’d completely buy it. The trees are here to save us, right? Okay, so the same power that’s able to make them all grow overnight is also able to transport all the people away somewhere at the same time. Humans removed for safety, trees grow to protect the planet, then the humans are all brought back once the danger has passed. See? It seems so simple that I’m actually almost offended that it’s not done! Hm? What’s that? Why are all the people we do see still here, then? Oh, that’s simple! The Coal Hill group are there because they’re with Maebh at the sleepover when the event occurs. The Doctor is there because he’s an alien, so doesn’t get scooped out when the rest of the planet does (or he simply arrived after the fact. Time machine, and all that), and Maebh’s mum is still around because having lost one child, her fear at losing the other one is strong enough to overpower the removal. As for the teams trying to burn the forest… oh, well, I’m not giving you all the answers. Someone else can work out how they remain behind. Magic, possibly.

It’s really those two issues which simply stop me from being able to engage with this story in the way I’d like, and it’s a real pity because there’s some gorgeous work on display visually, and it’s a shame that it’s marred by the fact that it doesn’t really fit what the script is trying to give us. This is Sheree Folkson’s first stab at directing Doctor Who, and I really hope she gets another chance to bring us one of the Doctor’s adventures, because there’s some real promise on display here, but it feels like the various disparate departments simply haven’t all pulled together in the way they normally do so well.

27 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 847: Flatline

Dear diary,

I’ve said it before, but with less that a week to go until I reach the end of this marathon, I’ll probably not get a chance to say it again; One of my favourite things about Doctor Who is that we’ve all got such wonderfully diverse takes on it. I love, sometimes, being able to say to a friend ‘I really liked [x] story’, only for them to reveal that they can’t bear it, but they’re rather fond of story [z] (that’s just an example, by the way, not necessarily *The Gunfighters*, which I actually *do* rather like), when I may not be. That diversity is what helps to keep discussions about the programme interesting, even after all this time. And it’s also the thing which makes writing the previews of these episodes a little difficult, sometimes. I try to be as objective as I can when putting down the thoughts (while also trying to remain as spoiler-free as possible), but my own likes and dislikes in relation to the series are always going to inform how I rate something. Those opinions are also always going to be informed by outside elements, too, for better or for worse.

Which brings us to Flatline. I can’t remember the specifics, but the day I sat down to watch this one had been pretty hectic. I’d been running from place to place trying to get things done, and was looking forward to getting home to a brand new episode of Doctor Who to brighten the evening. The only downside was that Flatline had been the least-appealing episode to me when I read the brief previews that Steven Moffat had written for the Radio Times right back at the start of the series. I’d already decided - several weeks earlier, that this would be the episode I liked the least from the Series Eight run. Couple that mad day with that lack of enthusiasm, and I was never going to be that enamoured with this one. Still, if doing The 50 Year Diary had taught me anything, it’s that sometimes stories you’re not expecting to find much merit in can be the greatest gems of all.

But not this one. I watched the episode play out and just felt… flat. That’s not me trying to be funny, it’s just genuinely how it left me. I’d liked the concept well enough, I suppose, and there was a lot of nice exploration of the way the Doctor operates, but overall I wasn’t keen. In the end, I summed this one up by saying;

”A vital episode for the narrative of Series 8, a chance for the regulars to shine (as always), a simple concept twisted into interesting new directions… but perhaps an episode which is less than the sum of its parts.”

And thankfully, I didn’t seem to be alone. I messaged another reviewer to say how little I’d cared for Flatline, and they replied to agree that it was by far the weakest of the season for them. Still, having been enjoying the run more than I could remember enjoying a season in ages, it was always going to have one episode that let me down. But then Saturday night rolled around, and I suddenly realised that Twitter was ablaze with posts about how that night’s Doctor Who had been the best episode of the programme in years. I briefly wondered if I’d been sent the wrong tape and had gotten the order of the episodes wrong in my head, but a quick check confirmed that, nope, it was Flatline on telly that night, and that everyone else in the world loved it. Even my friend, who’d written a luke-warm preview on their own site was singing its praises! I was baffled. For a brief half-hour, I even contemplated watching it again just to see if I’d been in a worse mood that day than I’d realised, but simply didn’t want to see it again until I had to for this marathon.

So here we are today. Three friends have text today to say ‘You’ve got Flatline tonight! Great episode!’ (or words to those effects), and i have to admit that I’ve been a little caught up in the hype. I’ve spent the afternoon genuinely looking forward to watching this episode, and reevaluating my earlier thoughts on it. But then I actually say and watched it, and I’m sorry, but it’s rubbish. 

Well, no. Actually, that’s not at all fair. It’s not rubbish, by any stretch of the imagination. I’d happily choose this episode over several of the other stories I’ve encountered over the course of this project, but I simply cannot understand the love for it. It’s merely alright Doctor Who to my mind - not spectacular, but perfectly serviceable.

For me, the highlight is still in the examination of the way the Doctor operates. It’s a thread that’s been tugged at over the last few stories, but Flatline is where it’s moved centre stage - and expertly so, by moving the Doctor off to the sidelines. As ‘Doctor-lite’ stories go, this one is well handled (you certainly never feel like Capaldi is missing from the action, even if his hair does seem to go off on little breaks of its own from time to time), and it really makes the most of not having the Doctor there by placing his actions in the spotlight through Clara. She really does make an excellent Doctor, and I love the suggestion that you don’t have to be a good person to be a good Doctor - it’s very much in keeping with this incarnation’s attitude, and yet there’s something equally interesting about looking back at some of the earlier incarnations and thinking about the way they act, but with a false smile on the top of it all.

The other area that this episode is very strong at is the visuals. I can’t even begin to imagine how you go about planning to make an episode like this one, and it has to be said that the team do a great job of it. The Boneless themselves are especially well realised, and completely unlike any other Doctor Who monster we’ve ever had. 

And yet, for all that, it simply doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I’ll admit that I’ve perhaps gotten a little more in to it today that I did on that previous viewing, but not by a massive amount, and I’m afraid that it’s going to be ending up with a score lower than a lot of people would bestow upon it…

26 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 846: Mummy on the Orient Express

Dear diary,

My relationship with Doctor Who has changed over the years. When I first stumbled into it around 2003, it was simply some old television show with a premise that hooked my interest. When it returned to TV screens in a blaze of glory two years later, I made the transition into a fully-fledged, card-carrying fan of the programme. In 2006, I wandered into online fandom and got to know other fans. By 2010 I had the opportunity to read scripts to the episodes before they made their way to TV, and within a few years of that I was actively living in Cardiff, with Doctor Who filming happening all around me. 2014, though, was when things finally tipped over to a whole new level, because someone I’d worked with on a few occasions was actually in Doctor Who. Better than that, they were in Doctor Who as a monster, and one of the scariest creations we’d had in the series for quite some time! It still amuses me when I run into Jamie that I’m actually talking to a fully-fledged Doctor Who monster.

I’m also pleased that knowing who was under all those bandages didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the episode one bit. I’d worried that I’d spend the whole thing watching slightly differently, more distracted by production quibbles than actually getting caught up in the adventure itself, so it’s good that this is one which really caught the imagination. It just combines several elements that I’m a fan of, and does enough with them to keep me interested, without allowing any one of them to get too far. It’s a murder mystery, but not in the traditional sense. It’s filled with 1920s trappings - which the BBC are always going to do well - but even they get stripped away when the time is right, and the whole feel of the episode shifts to something new. You’ve even got a completely different dynamic between the Doctor and the Companion than we’ve had in a long time - these two simply don’t know what to make of each other here, and are busy trying to pussyfoot around each other as well as diving in to the adventure like they usually would.

And it doesn’t hurt that - as I’ve said - the monster at the heart of this story is one of the scariest creations we’ve had in the programme for a long time. I’m struggling to think of any other creature in the 21st century version that has been as effectively terrifying as this… is there one? I’ve seen people single out the likes of the Beast from Series Two, but I don’t think that ever really worked for me in the same way as this one - maybe because it didn’t get to interact in the way the Foretold does? I have one or two issues with the tone the programme took in 2014 (I can’t help feeling that it rather lost sight of the younger end of the audience), but this has to be the crowning glory of the programme heading towards a slightly more grown-up place, because I love that we can have a creation like this one.

Yet somehow, the mummy doesn’t even get to be the star of the episode - because that accolade surely has to go to Frank Skinner, who simply shines his way through the story. Maybe it’s helped by the fact that I’m well aware of how much he loves the show (he tells a great anecdote on an episode of the Graham Norton show, in which he asks his agent if he can play a rock in some episode somewhere), but he really comes across as such a great character… I rather hope that he becomes the Craig for the Twelfth Doctor - a character who can pop up from time to time and share an adventure with our hero. His dry wit works so well with Peter Capaldi here, and I have to admit that I was a little gutted when he didn’t take up the offer of remming in the TARDIS at the end (I’m betting Skinner was, too)!

25 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 845: Kill the Moon

Dear diary,

When Kill the Moon went out, there was a lot (and I mean a lot) of discussion online about how bad the science was. People happy enough to accept a programme about a 2,000 year old face changing alien who travels through time and space in a phone box bigger on the inside were absolutely up in arms about the idea that the Moon could be an egg. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that the Moon being an egg is an absolutely ridiculous and silly notion… but heck, it makes for a good hook in a Doctor Who episode, doesn’t it? I’m genuinely interested, so please do comment below, what is it about this particular bit of science that pushes it over the mark more than any other absolute nonsense we’ve had from this programme over the years? If nothing else, I’m fairly certain that the science in this one is more accurate than half of what David Whitaker learnt at school. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t have my own problems with this episode, which I’ll come to shortly, but I simply can’t wrap my head around why this particular concept was the one that crossed the line for so many people.

Still, all the ‘Moon is an egg’ stuff is merely window dressing, because this story is really hooked on the idea of what happens when the Doctor isn’t there to save to day. So often, he’s able to just wave the Sonic Screwdriver and send the enemy scrambling, so what happens when there’s a different kind of dilemma - one which isn’t so black and white as ‘Daleks = Evil’ - and the Doctor just swans off in the TARDIS and leaves us humans to get on with it? It’s such a great hook, and one which really works with this new incarnation of the Doctor. I can imagine any of the recent Doctor’s playing the role of the Doctor in this particular story - but I don’t know if I’d believe it from the others the way I do with Capaldi. The thing that sells it to me the most is his complete bafflement at the end as to why Clara is cross with him for the way he’s behaved here - it’s really that ‘alien’ side of the character coming back to the fore, and Capaldi sells it all so well.

Now, I’ve already said that I do have issues with this episode, and it’s largely to do with the way that Clara comes to make the decisions she does. I’m fairly sure that we’re told it’s lucky they can even get a signal from ‘mission control’ because of one lone satellite being in orbit… so how is it that everyone appears to have been tuning in to the broadcast that Clara makes only a fe minutes later? And even then, it’s a decision that can only be made by the bit of the planet that a) Clara can see and b) is shrouded in enough darkness for their votes to register. Call me crazy, but I can’t see them adopting a similar strategy for next week’s election…

I also can’t help but think that perhaps this is where Clara should have parted ways with the Doctor, at least for the time being. I won’t even get started on all the ridiculous complaints of there being ‘too much’ Clara throughout Series Eight, but I can at least understand why people grew tired of her leaving scenes. We get one here, then again in a few stories time, then again at Christmas… it just means that there’s going to need to be a really good reason for her to go when the time finally does come. For what it’s worth, I’m hoping she falls in love with a Gallifreyan guard she’s spent hardly any screen time with. It’s just that this would have been such a powerful way for a companion to leave, and a real moment in the evolution of the Twelfth Doctor’s character. You could have her show up again at the end of the series or some time next year and remark on how much he’s changed since this story… it just feels like it might have been a bit of a wasted opportunity.

24 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 844: The Caretaker

Dear diary,

I’ve not found a chance yet to say how much I love the idea that after a half a century, the Doctor has come full circle to find himself travelling with teachers from Coal Hill school again. I have some issues with the fact that Clara suddenly has a job there in the 50th anniversary having shown no particular desire to teach before that point (there’s some lines about her ‘new job’, but it would have been nice if she’d been studying for her qualifications throughout Series Seven), but that’s not enough to dampen the idea that we’ve found ourselves back here once more. Add to that the Doctor’s comment in this episode that the school has seen enough artron energy over the years… yeah, love it. Here’s hoping that we’ll be headed back again come the 75th anniversary - it’s certainly something that comes along every 25 years, it seems…

There’s also something rather wonderful about throwing the Doctor into this world and watching him try to fit in around the story of Clara and Danny. Their relationship is one of the things I’m enjoying the most about Series Eight: there’s something appealing about watching something so very… normal unfold while Clara tries to balance her two lives. The Caretaker highlights this perhaps more than any other story, and the little vignettes at the start are rather lovely, giving us more glimpses into the adventures the Doctor and Clara share (including a brief cameo appearance for the Doctor Who Experience, and what seems to be a private screening of The Underwater Menace. Nuffink in ze vorld can schtop me nao, etc.

They also get to share quite a fun adventure around the corridors of a school - always a great location for a Doctor Who episode - with a frankly rather brilliant little robot creature. I’ve taken pictures of the Scovox Blitzer for products here in Cardiff, and I have to say that it’s a great design up close - really detailed, and it’s hard to remember that the Moxx of Balloon is tucked away inside there! I’m not quite sure I buy it as being one of the deadliest creatures to have ever existed, but it acts as a nice distraction throughout the story.

For all the running around chasing a speedy little killing machine, there’s something terribly real at the heart of this episode, and that’s where it’s most successful. Watching Clara as she tries to juggle everything and spin her web of lies faster than ever is really rather gripping, and just when you think she might have managed to iron things out with Danny - at least temporarily, while she plans out what to say next - the Doctor steps in to voice his disappointment in her.

That’s the other thing that this episode does particularly well - capturing the new Doctor’s character. I think this episode and Robots of Sherwood are, for me, the two stories that capture this incarnation the way I picture him to be. Vastra said in Deep Breath that this latest regeneration had ‘lifted the veil’ of the Doctor, and brought his true self closer to the fore, and that’s so beautifully demonstrated here when he demands that Clara explain her choice of Danny. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors would have mocked him, I’m sure, but then they would have sulked off and kept a lot of these emotions bottled away 0 whereas the Twelfth is simply blunter about the situation - He’s not impressed, and he wants you to know that.

 

23 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 843: Time Heist

Dear diary,

Because I tend to watch ‘new’ Doctor Who episodes on preview tape for Doctor Who Online, I don’t usually bother to watch again when the programme airs on a Saturday night. During 2014 especially, it lead to several occasions of texting people only to be greeted with a request to go away because they were trying to watch the show - I dimply forgot when it was on. The week Time Heist aired, though, I was back home visiting friends, and assumed that I’d be sitting through this one again - something I really didn’t mind. I was therefore surprised to find that they weren't’ planning to watch it because they’d really not been enjoying the series so far. Now, in fairness, on this re-watch, Series Eight isn’t scoring anywhere near as highly with me as it did first time around, but I’d been really enjoying it at that point, and insisted that we sit and watch this one as it went out. We did. I still really liked it. They still really didn’t. 

Watching it again today… I’m happy to say that I still rather like it! Time Heist is never going to be considered a classic in the same way that stories like Genesis of the Daleks or The Tomb of the Cybermen are, but it’s a solid episode of Doctor Who that I think I’d be quite happy to watch again as a good example of the programme. It’s the kind of episode that you don’t have to work at watching - you can quite happily stick it on, point your attention towards it, and soak up. There’s enough ‘timey wimey’ to the plot to be interesting, and plenty of humour to be found, along with some really rather good special effects (including a lovely shot of the team approaching the bank of Karabraxos which has been filmed in Cardiff Bay and then digitally altered so much you really wonder if it would’t have been easier (and cheaper) simply to film it against a green screen in the studio.

The absolute start of the show, though, has to be the Teller. We’ve had some great creatures in Doctor Who over the years, but the Teller has to be one of the best examples of every department involved really pulling together to create something really rather special. The design itself, with the eyes out on stalks like that, isn’t especially unique (indeed, I’d say it’s familiar enough to simply suggest ‘alien’ in a science fiction film context), but there’s a reason that it works - because it’s effective. And then there’s the actual construction of the costume… oh, it’s a little bit stunning, isn’t it? I’ve had the privilege of seeing it ‘up close’ and in action with an actor inside, and it really is convincing. Remember that age-old story that Jon pertwee used to tell about chatting to an actor in full Draconian make up and forgetting he wasn’t a real alien? Well, I could totally believe that with this creature. It really is one of the best we’ve ever had, and I feel fairly safe in declaring it one of the greatest creature constructions that the 21st century version of programme has ever given us.

22 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 842: Listen

Dear diary,

When previewing this episode for Doctor Who Online last year, I commented;

”Since 2005, Steven Moffat has been the king of ‘scary’…In many ways, Listen feels like a return to Moffat trying to scare us, and it’s safe to say that he succeeds.”

I was watching it in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon first time around, and found it suitably creepy. This time around, I’ve been watching it after dark, and there was a moment, when pausing it to go and grab a drink, where the empty house really did start to make the hairs on the back of my neck creep up. The atmosphere and tension in Listen is extremely well crafted, and there’s something brilliant about Moffat being able to go back to writing this type of story, after a few seasons where he’s been confined to the great, big, story arc moments.

A lot of the atmosphere is generated simply from Peter Capaldi being, as Clara says, a big grey stick insect. Yesterday I was full of praise for the way that he was able to make me smile and laugh, being the Doctor with a twinkle in his eye and a great line in humour. Today I could rave about the way he can equally do ‘darker’ performances like the ones we get here. I’ve spoken in recent months about both David Tennant and Matt Smith’s ability to do darker sides to their Doctor, and how well they can do that, but there’s something different about Peter Capaldi’s darker side - there’s something genuinely scary about the Doctor himself, and it’s not just the eyebrows. That opening TARDIS scene, in which the Doctor sets out the premise of the adventure really puts you in the right frame of mind to keep on edge for the next 45 minutes.

The episode itself, while creepy, goes to great lengths to make sure that there’s always an alternate explanation for everything we’re seeing. It could be that the Doctor himself wrote ‘listen’ on the board in a moment of absent-mindedness (if this were a William Hartnell story, we’d be able to assume that was exactly the case and the adventure would be over in five minutes). The coffee mug disappears and the telly turns off… because the Doctor stole the mug and the telly has been faulty for ages. No one could have entered the room without Clara and Rupert noticing… but then the Doctor managed it, and maybe it’s just another child hiding under the blanket trying to scare his friend? For me, this is where Listen is most successful - in leaving you to make up your own mind about the events. As far as I’m concerned, I think I’d always go with these alternate explanations. but then… well, you never know.

And yet… I don’t know, I’m just not feeling it today, The only word I can find to describe my experience of watching this one again is ‘slog’. It’s hitting all the right beats, and managing to be creepy and thought provoking, and features some great character moments… but I’m simply not enjoying it as much as I did the first time around, and not as much as I was expecting to this time around. I don’t know if it’s a problem with me, or if the story just doesn’t hold up so well once that initial thrill has been experienced, but I’m afraid today’s score is going to end up being a little lower than it probably deserves to be…

21 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 841: Robot of Sherwood

Dear diary,

It’s strange, watching this one today, because I’ve never seen this episode in its broadcast form. The preview copy that Doctor Who Online received to review last year arrived before the decision to edit events from the end of the episode in which the Sheriff gets beheaded. There was a lot of complaints around when the announcement of the cut was made, but it’s perhaps notable that watching today, I couldn’t even tell you exactly where the minute or so was removed from. I mean, I know generally where it was, but I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment, and the loss of it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story at all. The only slight issue it causes is that there’s later mention of the Sheriff having an engine for a body, which feels somewhat odd now we’ve lost the reveal that he himself is a robot, but even that isn’t the end of the world!

Oh, but I rather love this episode. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Twelfth Doctor being so rude and dismissive (what people on the internet insist on calling ‘dark’) over the last couple of episodes, this is the first story of his era to really capture the right balance of this incarnation’s personality. He is still incredibly rude at times, and arrogant, and short tempered, and stubborn, and all of those things… but he does it with a real twinkle in the eye that can’t help but evoke the Doctor Billy Hartnell was playing before the end of his time. The man Peter Capaldi plays in this episode is far closer to the Doctor that I’ve known and loved from all his previous selves than he’s been allowed to explore so far.

And it means that I’m really enjoying the company of the Doctor in this one, and frequently finding myself laughing at more-or-less everything he says. There was a huge guffaw (and that really is the only word) when he counters Clara’s suggestion that they visit Robin Hood in exactly the way she’d predicted, much smiling as the Doctor and Robin then proceed to bicker and argue their way through the next half an hour, and I couldn’t even help but laugh at how angry the Doctor’s face gets when the button is cut from his coat. Those eyebrows really could cut you in half from twenty paces.

The episode is further strengthened by the simply gorgeous direction. Paul Murphy makes his Doctor Who debut here (though he’ll be back again shortly for The Caretaker), and he chooses to do some really lovely work with the programme, giving us a palette that I don’t think we’ve ever really seen before. The Doctor comments that everything is ‘too green’ and ‘too sunny’ ,and that comes across beautifully on screen - this really is Doctor Who shot as though it were part of the Robin Hood legend, and there’s not a lot else you’d want. I’m also particularly keen on the way that Murphy shoots the TARDIS scenes - finding a new way of approaching a set in danger of becoming familiar. More from this director in the next series, please!

In many ways, this episode reminds me of The Shakespeare Code - probably the historical that has appealed most to me from the 21st century run of Who. It’s got that same vivid sense of colour that presents history as bold and exciting, and a central historical guest star who’s a little bit cocksure, but completely endearing at the same time. I have a feeling that Robot of Sherwood is likely to become the episode I watch when I really want to experience this era at its best… 

20 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 840: Into the Dalek

Dear diary,

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with new incarnations of the Doctor facing off against the Daleks too soon. It somehow seems fine to me when they do it with Patrick Troughton (perhaps because it’s simply the first time they do any of that ‘new Doctor’ stuff, or perhaps because at that point in the programme’s history, you really need the Daleks to ensure that the audience can go along with it), but when Matt Smith encountered the pepper pots in his third episode, it just seemed too soon for my liking. I preferred it with David Tennant - for example - where we had almost a whole series before they show up. Or even most of the other Doctors, where there’s a fair chunk of time before the ultimate foes show up. Imagine my displeasure, then, when it was announced that Peter Capaldi would be facing off with the Daleks in his second episode.

It’s entirely a personal issue, so it’s not really fair for me to let this hang-up affect my enjoyment of the stories at all, but even watching Into the Dalek again today, I simply feel odd, almost, watching the Twelfth Doctor, who’s only been in his iconic outfit for about five minutes, coming face-to-face with his mortal enemy. I can’t even explain it - I’m certainly making a bad job of trying to, here - but it just doesn’t sit right with me for some reason.

And it’s not helped that I simply can’t get a handle on this episode in itself. In many ways, the idea of shrinking down the Doctor and his companion and sending them inside a Dalek is so obvious that I’m astounded it took them 51 years to actually do it. We even had the Doctor cloned and put inside his own head after only 14 years! But once they’re actually inside the Dalek… it just doesn’t feel like a lot happens. They encounter a couple of perils, but it doesn’t seem to take them long to get to the problem that’s turning this Dalek ‘good’, and fix it. Or, rather, not fix it, but make the Dalek back into, well, a Dalek again, at least temporarily. We then get lots of action and battles to fill up the remainder of the episode, which leaves all the ‘inside the Dalek’ stuff feeling a bit pointless beyond creating an evocative title.

All those battles and fights that we get, especially towards the end, are for me the very best bits of the episode, and I can’t help but thinking I’d have liked 45 minutes later in the season which would simply have the Doctor and Clara getting caught up in this big asteroid-belt battle with the Daleks, and having to rub up alongside soldiers to fight the mutual threat. It perhaps wouldn’t be as big and brassy as this episode tries to be, but judging by the simply fantastic shots of Daleks exploding left, right, and centre as the episode draws to a close, I think I’d have enjoyed watching more of that than what we’ve actually got here… 

19 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 839: Deep Breath

Dear diary,

Oh, the excitement was high for this one. New Doctors are always something to look forward to, but somehow it felt different this time. I think because there was less time before the announcement that Matt Smith would be leaving and him actually vacating the TARDIS (with David Tennant, we had getting on for eighteen months, whereas with Smith we only had around six or so), it was all caught up in a kind of whirlwind of change. And what a busy six months they’d been! We’d seen the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration! And been introduced to a whole incarnation we’d never even known about! We dived into the Time War and came out fighting, with Gallifrey safe and sound, and the Doctor pocketing a whole new run of regenerations. Oh, it was exciting. And then… well, nothing, sort of. Christmas passed us by, the Eleventh Doctor became the Twelfth, and then we were back into one of those long waits for any more adventures.

I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of Deep Breath in Cardiff in early August of last year, and by the time that day rolled around, I don’t think I could have been more excited for the return of the show. Frankly, they could have shown an hour of Peter Capaldi licking the screen and I would have thought it was the best thing ever. The whole atmosphere of the event was electric - I had friends visiting the city for the premiere, so got to catch up with them and show them round, and then soak up all the joy from the red carpet, and the real buzz of the day. There’s also something just so fun about watching an episode in a large hall like that - everyone laughing at the same time and really getting caught up in the narrative. By the time the episode finished, I thought it was probably one of the best we’d had in a long time, and that Capaldi was rather good (if different, we’ll come back to that in a moment), and the Q&A that followed the screening left me certain that the future of Doctor Who was in very safe hands.

When the episode aired on telly a few weeks later, I watched it again. Of course I did, I’d enjoyed it that much! It didn’t quite have the same pull for me second time around, but then it wouldn’t, would it? I wasn't watching it in a big excitable group, and I already knew all of the twists and turns to come. Still lots to enjoy, and I still came away terribly excited for the rest of the run. Watching it back today, a rare third viewing for a Doctor Who story… Well…

It’s not that I don’t like this one. Of course I like it. It’s generally a very good story, which does a good job of introducing the new Doctor alongside familiar elements (but still finding a way to keep those elements fresh), and looks visually stunning. It’s just a bit of a drag, isn’t it? The Day of the Doctor runs to about the same length as this one, give or take a couple of minutes, but whereas that one ran that long because that’s how long the story felt like it needed, Deep Breath feels like the plot of perhaps an hour expanded out to fill the longer time slot. In some cases, having the extended running time gives the story room to breathe, and we get to have lots of nice, still, quiet moments that you wouldn’t otherwise get, but I found myself four or five times looking at the clock and wondering how there was still that much time left to go. I can’t help feeling that the extended running time would have been better spent on The Time of the Doctor, while this would have worked better as a nice, hour-long opener for the new Doctor.

Oh, but that new Doctor is the real joy of this episode. I came away from the premiere screening thinking that Peter Capaldi was absolutely brilliant casting for the Doctor. My friend Nick, who came along with me offered a slightly more cautious view, but one that I can’t help think is absolutely what they’ve aimed for (and gotten) with this incarnation; “I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor… but I don’t know if I like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor…”. In some ways, the Twelfth Doctor feels entirely familiar - the somewhat brash personality he displays here is reminiscent of several previous incarnations, notably the First, Fourth, and Sixth Doctors. In others, he’s new and unpredictable, and after two incarnations that - as Vastra says - were playing at being the companion’s boyfriend, wearing the faces of young men to fit in, there’s something really exciting about the programme taking this new direction, and it’s not one I thought they’d embrace so whole-heartedly as they have.

So, away from the crows, and the atmosphere, and the red carpet, Deep Breath is perhaps a bit bloated and in need of some trimming down. It feels like a bit of a bulky way to start the bold new era. But equally, it still has all the makings of a grand new step, and once again, I’m excited to dive into the rest of Series Eight… 

18 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 838: The Time of the Doctor

Dear diary,

To me, The Time of the Doctor is just a little bit… frustrating. It has the burden of not only writing out the Eleventh Doctor, but also tying up strands of story which have been angling since as far back as The Eleventh Hour. On top of all that, there’s no ‘extended-length two-parter’ treatment here like the Tenth Doctor had for his swan song - this one has to do it all in an hour. That’s a tall order.

It’s also one which, sadly, I don’t think it quite manages to pull off. The Time of the Doctor is peppered with lots of nice little moments which shine light on earlier events, but I can’t help but come away from thins thinking that it wasn't supposed to end this way. It’s as though, after all that lovely long build up, we’ve suddenly had the last quarter of the story crammed into a single hour when it should have played out across at least a few episodes. Maybe a series of specials like the ones David Tennant went out on? One which is just the Doctor and Clara travelling together - he’s got a renewed energy following the events of the 50th Anniversary. Then he finds himself drawn to Trenzalore, where the siege plays out, and he slowly finds himself trapped and drawing to the end of his long life. Somehow, if simply doesn’t ring true with me that all of this should pass us by in such a short space of time - the Doctor’s age almost doubles in the course of this episode! I really think that this episode is a rushed alternative to the original plan, and that’s a shame.

Still, in a nice mirroring of the Doctor’s comments to Amy during Vincent and the Doctor, the bad bits of this story don’t necessarily spoil all of the good bits! For starters, there’s Handles. Frankly, you shouldn’t get emotional at the death of a Cyberman head who’s only been in the programme for about twenty minutes, but somehow, it’s genuinely moving when he misses his final sunset. Then there’s finally getting to see all the things that do come into play as a final summing up of the era. The battle of Trenzalore. The Papal Mainframe. More information about Madame Kovarian, and her plans throughout Series Six. It’s not bad… but it’s not quite what I’d be hoping for after so long. It felt like a bit of a let down on first viewing, but I can feel the blow that little bit more now because I’ve watched the entire arc in such quick succession.

If there’s one bit about tying up the arc which really does work for me (although I do sort of wish that they’d made more of it), it’s the fact that Clara saves her Doctor one last time. We learnt only a few episodes ago that jumping into the Doctor’s time stream meant that Clara would be there to save him in every moment of his life - including the adventures that were still to come. Of course, those adventures were supposed to end with this story - he was on his final incarnation, and he was supposed to die here on Trenzalore - we saw the grave. But then Clara steps in for his ‘final’ two adventures and puts things right - first by helping him to realise he can save Gallifrey, and because of that, then convincing the Time Lords to grant him a whole new regeneration cycle. Oh, Impossible Girl, you did it again.

If nothing else, then the final scene, with Matt Smith taking his final bow in the TARDIS, with a final goodbye to his Amy Pond, is lovely. It’s a really nice way for him to depart the series, managing to pack all the emotion of the Tenth Doctor’s farewell, but do it in a way that feels both familiar and completely new. That’s very Doctor Who. And then, of course, the Twelfth Doctor bursts into life in the blink of an eye! I seem to recall people hating that online, but I thought it was brilliant! No warning, just bang!

And with a crashing TARDIS and a confused Doctor, I’m off onto my final run of adventures before my own story comes to an end… 

17 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 837: The Day of the Doctor

Dear diary,

Oh, d’you know, as the TARDIS was hauled across London and David Tennant’s name flashed up on the screen, I felt really excited for this one. I’ve been excited by several episodes through the course of this marathon - one’s I’d never seen before, ones that have been recently recovered, ones that I’d recalled liking a lot on first run through… but this was somehow different. There’s something in the air about this 50th anniversary episode that even eighteen months on still makes it something really special. A chance for the programme to stop and congratulate itself for being something so brilliant for so long. Steven Moffat is right when he says you couldn’t do a story like this every week, because the series would drown in self congratulation, but let’s be honest, when you reach the golden anniversary, it’s only fitting that the show should get something so good.

I think there’s also an extra thrill because this episode is very special in terms of The 50 Year Diary - because it was supposed to be the final entry! The 50 Year Diary. The clue is in the name, really. The plan devised way back in the dying days of 2012 was to start the marathon with An Unearthly Child on January 1st, and then watch every episode in order, one a day, until I hit the 50th anniversary story. The first 50 years of the programme neatly summed up. Only then Matt Smith went and threw a spanner in the works by announcing that he’d be leaving in the episode immediately after the 50th. Right, okay. Not an issue, I’d go the the 50th and then finish the marathon off with his final story. Done. Easy. Oh, but those decisions were made way back when, and now I’m here… well, as someone pointed out when I raised the question with you lot, it would be a shame to end here, only a handful of episodes short of doing them all in this format, so you’re stuck with me for another two weeks yet.

So. The Day of the Doctor had a pretty unenviable task, didn’t it? Work as a standalone episode celebrating the first 50 years of the programme for an audience that would no doubt be significantly higher than usual, while at the same time provide the kind of fitting multi-Doctor extravaganza that we fans are always so keen on, just like they did for the 20th, 30th, and 40th anniversaries. I can remember watching the Tennant era and thinking ahead to the 50th anniversary which felt like just a million miles away. As things always tend it, it came round rather fast and I think it did the best possible job of being everything it needed to - I still see people complain that it’s an ‘8th anniversary special’ as opposed to a ‘50th anniversary’, but frankly they always come off as stubborn for the sake of it. Did they miss the frankly brilliant ending in which all the Doctors turn up to save Gallifrey?

You might have noticed that I’ve not really got a particular focus today, because it’s tricky to do that with an episode quite as expansive as this one, so I think I’m going to have to resort to simply going through things in brief as I think of them. Bear with me…

First of all, that multi-Doctor thing. I think we all assumed that it would be happening because that really is the template. I think we also had a fairly good inkling that Christopher Eccleston wouldn’t fancy popping back to Cardiff for a bit. What we didn’t expect, I feel pretty confident in saying, was a whole new incarnation of the Doctor that we’d never even known about before. Oh, but it’s clever done, isn’t it? John Hurt (also, while I’m on the point: John bleedin’ Hurt!) doesn’t just get dropped into the programme and left for us to accept as a whole new Doctor - they went to the trouble of getting Paul McGann to come in for a regeneration scene! Oh, all those years where his regeneration only took place across a million YouTube videos! Hints and suggestions that we’d be getting such a scene were fairly thick in the air, but it didn’t stop it from being any less amazing when a friend text me at work to say that the scene had arrived on the website, and I found an excuse to leave my customer for ten minutes while I went and watched the birth of the War Doctor. And he’s good, isn’t he? I mean, obviously, when you canst John Hurt as the Doctor, you’re bound to get something a little bit special, but I mean he’s really very good. A world weary soldier who still can’t quite shake off that twinkle that the Doctor always had in his eyes. He plays so well opposite Tennant and Smith, and really is a fantastic edition to the world of Doctor Who.

As for the story itself, I rather like that, too. I remember coming out from the cinema screening of this (which I’d told myself I wouldn’t go to until about eleven pm on November 22nd, when I realised that of course I would), and wondering what happened with the whole Zygons plot. Not even a cursory line to the effect of things being resolved. And yet, watching it again today, I realise that you don’t need that line. That’s part of the point - the Zygons adventure is something the Doctor would usually be all over (and indeed is with queen Elizabeth), but not today, because before the adventure can even get started, he’s been whisked off to meet his former selves and start devising a plan to end the Time War without killing them all. As stories go, it’s a pretty perfect idea for the 50th - it’s an excuse to pick up on all these elements of the programme’s mythology, and to bring back lots of Doctors, while also taking something the show has been for the past few years and shaking it up again, setting up the next stage of its long history. Well played, Steven Moffat.

And then there’s that moment at the end - ‘you know, I really think you might…’. Oh, the chills that caused. A whole ripple of emotion across the entire cinema screening (and, if it doesn’t sound too hokey, right across the world), because of course Tom had to be in there somewhere himself. Even after all these years, he still very much is Doctor Who. I remember people being incredibly impressed because he’d never come back to the programme before (which is wrong, he came back for Dimensions in Time, too, which is surely a career highlight), but I was just impressed that they’d managed to slip such a wonderful moment in right at the very end - the final treat in this great big box of chocolates. Had this ended up being my final entry in the Diary, I think I’d have been pretty pleased with it. 

16 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 836: The Name of the Doctor

Dear diary,

In the run up to The Name of the Doctor, Doctor Who Online was sent a list of stories from which clips would be taken for use in this episode. The likes of Dragonfire, Arc of Infinity, and The Invasion of Time… well, the list was obviously a fake, because despite the relative merits of those stories, if this was to be some kind of ‘classic’ Doctor Who love in, then those wouldn’t be the episodes they chose to represent each of those Doctors! But, as you’ll obviously know, they are the episodes from which clips are taken! Among others, of course, but they’re some of the most prominent ones. Oh, it somehow makes it even more brilliant that these lesser-loved bits of Doctor Who’s past have resurfaced for the 50th anniversary. Can you imagine watching that Dragonfire cliffhanger in 1987 - head in your hands - and thinking that during the celebration’s for the programme’s golden anniversary, almost eight million people would be watching it on prime time BBC One?! Hah!

Oh, but how exciting is this? In many ways, this is the Steven Moffat equivalent of Journey’s End; the current Doctor’s last season finale, with the return of several key characters from across the previous three years, all teaming up against an acclaimed enemy returning from the ‘classic’ run. River, and the Paternoster Gang… I’m really surprised they didn’t find a way to work the Ponds in somewhere. Probably for the best, though, because this episode is filled to bursting with things around the main event of Clara scattering herself down the Doctor’s time stream. Of course, just when you think it’s all over, another mysterious figure turns around, and it’s a whole incarnation of the Doctor we never even knew about! As cliff-hangers go, that’s got to be right up there…

There’s lots of other things that I could pick up on to discuss today, but I sort of set out my stall for this entry two years ago, with The Abominable Snowmen

For ages, I’d always found the idea of the Great Intelligence somewhat confusing. The version of the creature seen in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear didn’t really synch up in my head with the version that appeared in Downtime, and then when he made a return to Doctor Who in The Snowmen, The Bells of Saint John, and The Name of the Doctor, it didn’t seem to quite match up between those three stories, let alone any of the earlier ones! To that end, I put together an imagined ‘timeline’ for the being that tried to make sense of everything. That was two years ago during the Patrick Troughton stages of this marathon. Now I’ve been through these recent adventures once more, I’ve boiled everything down, simplified it, and think I’ve worked it all out…

1) A shapeless, formless being, the Great Intelligence lives in the Astral Plane. It’s immensely clever, but longs for a true physical form. Over the centuries alone on the Plane, the Intelligence devises many plans for creating a physical body for itself. Eventually, Padmasambhava manages to make contact with the creature, and it possesses the man’s mind. The human brain is too small to hold all the knowledge of the Intelligence, so Padmasambhava is set to work creating a vessel to hold the being.

2) But, as we’ve seen, the Intelligence is clever. It doesn’t want to put all its eggs in the one monk-y basket, so it places some of itself in snow, which is then directed towards London - the heart of the British Empire. There, it meets a lonely little boy, and whispers in his ear over the next half century, slowly formulating a plan to populate the Earth with Ice People. Now, you’ll have to excuse a leap of assumption here as I say that the Intelligence’s ultimate plan is to distribute itself across a world of living ice people because… for some reason that works. Possibly. The Doctor gets a lot wrong in this episode, largely because he never quite realises who the Intelligence is, but based on what we’re told and what we know of the creature from other appearances, it would seem to make sense. Anyway, point is, the Doctor stops the Intelligence’s plan here and all the snow melts, which forces the Intelligence held inside it back out onto the Astral Plane.

3) Which is fine, because he’s still in contact with good old Padmasambhava in Tibet, and so decides to just carry on with that plan for the time being. The work continues for the next thirty-or-so years, including the construction of Robot Yeti to keep inquisitive minds at bay. Just as they approach the end-game, though, after two centuries of whispering in the Monk’s ear, another ‘Doctor’ arrives on the scene and manages to thwart the plan again.

4) This time, as the Intelligence is pushed back onto the Astral Plane, he doesn’t have any backup. His only remaining contact to the physical world is via the robot Yeti, and they’ve all been deactivated. From where he is now, though, he’s able to monitor the Doctors’ travels, and grows jealous of the Time Lord. By sheer chance, Professor Travers - one of the people who helped the Doctor in Tibet - reactivates a Yeti control sphere in London, 1967, which reminds the Intelligence of something the Doctor said during their first meeting; ‘A map of the London Underground, 1967. Key strategic weakness in metropolitan living, if you ask me, but then I have never liked a tunnel.’

5) A plan is formulated to trap the Doctor, and by this point, the Intelligence’s plans are starting to change. He’s no longer interested in simply gaining physical form - he want’s to drain the Doctor’s mind of all its experience. Using the Yeti as foot soldiers - simply because they’re there - he sets the plan in motion, but once again the Doctor manages to out smart the Intelligence. This time, he almost manages to destroy the Intelligence for good. By this point, as I’m sure you can imagine, the creature is starting to get a bit annoyed with the bloke.

6) From now on, for the Intelligence, it’s as much about - perhaps more about - gaining more knowledge as it is getting some kind of physical form. It can’t bear the thought that there’s a man in the universe more intelligent than it is. It’s in this guise that we find it in Downtime - utilising the early days of the internet to gather knowledge from the students, with the ultimate aim of manifesting itself on Earth in the long term. The Doctor’s friends are able to stop the creature this time, but it’s only a set back, because…

7) By the time we reach The Bells of Saint John, we’re still seeing this same plan, but in a far more advanced stage. The Intelligence is no longer possessing people via the internet, but having their minds uploaded directly to him. Much more elegant. Once more, though, the Doctor shows up and manages to put an end to it. In fact, this time, the Doctor never even needs to set foot in the building, he reprograms a foot soldier to do it for him. From here, the Intelligence’s motives change once again. It’s now all about revenge against the Doctor. It might take centuries - millenia - but eventually, the Intelligence acquires knowledge of the Doctor’s grave and the battle of Trenzalore, and he formulates a new plan to utterly defeat the Doctor.

7a) As an aside - in The Web of Fear, the Intelligence claims he doesn’t want revenge against the Doctor, as it’s a ‘very human emotion’, but by The Name of the Doctor, that’s clearly what he’s after. Either he’s simply changed him mind after so many successive defeats by the Doctor and his allies, or the emotion has somehow been uploaded to him as a side effect of absorbing so many human minds via the wi-fi. I rather like the idea of this latter explanation.

8) The Doctor is lured to Trenzalore and the Great Intelligence finds its way into his tomb. Once there, he throws himself into the Doctor’s time stream. It kills him, but in doing so he’s able to completely destroy the Doctor, too, shattering his every victory throughout the ages. What it doesn’t bank on is the fact that Clara will be so willing to jump in after him and put everything right again. A rather sad end for a bitter, twisted being consumed by lust for life, knowledge, and revenge. It’s actually quite a neat little story in the end… 

15 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 835: Nightmare in Silver

Dear diary,

During the promotion for Nightmare in Silver, Neil Gaiman commented;

“I thought, 'Let me see what I can do when I take the 1960s Cybermen and [incorporate] everything that's happened since'. So that's what I'm trying to do. I don't know if it will work.”

Indeed, a lot of the promotion for this episode saw both Gaiman and Steven Moffat talking about the way that this episode starts with the idea of taking the Cybermen right back to their 1960s roots, and trying to recapture some of the terror they embodied during that period. I think that, much as with the ‘Ever Dalek Ever’ claims at the start of the series, it’s simply a good line to feed to the press and get people interested in story, because I don’t think there’s much of a harking back to the 1960s in these new models at all, and even if it was the starting point, the journey has led them quite a way from there.

Where they have succeeded, though, is in making the Cybermen scary again - I think this might be the scariest they’ve ever been in the modern programme. I’ve always said that my favourite Cybermen story is the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip The Flood from 2005. For me it was (and still is, to some extents) the only story that has really captured the sheer terror in what the Cybermen are, and the way they think. Oh, I love that story. This episode, though, comes closest to making me think that there’s a completely different way of looking at these monsters - from a more technological point of view.

I can’t really describe how much I love the idea of Cybermen that can use the ‘upgrade’ catchphrase to mean - literally - upgrading themselves. The Cybermen in this story are very much presented as part of a computer system (again, I love the idea that the weaknesses to gold and cleaning fluids etc were down to flaws in the software, and that there’s still elements of that buried deep within them. It might not make a lot of sense when you really think about it, but in the moment of the story it’s an absolutely brilliant idea), and that’s a way that they’ve never really been seen before. It’s almost a pity that when they come back for the Series Eight finale, they’re not really presented in the same way (in fact, they’re little more than robot drones, there…).

And then there’s the design of the new Cybermen. I can’t deny, they do look rather a lot like Iron Man, but my word aren’t they beautiful? When the 2006 model of Cybermen were revealed, I wrote a letter to DWM being all pretentious and saying ‘I don’t know if I like them or not’. There was none of that with this design - I’ve loved it from the moment I saw it. There’s something so sleek and sexy about this particular look, and it fits so nicely with the idea that these are the most advanced Cybermen we’ve ever seen.

And they’re really unstoppable! That ability to constantly upgrade themselves to adapt to differing forms of attack makes these Cybermen a really powerful threat. I’d like to see this lot go up against the Daleks! The only problem this causes is that I worry their future appearances will see them slowly pared back in the same way the Daleks have been. I’ve already mentioned that they didn’t get a lot to do in Death in Heaven, but when the only way to defeat them in this story is to blow up an entire planet, it does make it a little trickier to actively fight them on a smaller scale…

One last thing I just wanted to mention - the children. I’ve seen so much hate directed at the idea of them being in this story over the last couple of years, but I think it rather works! Matt’s Doctor has always played well against children, and I rather like the idea of Clara getting ‘caught’ and blackmailed into a TARDIS trip (though, equally, I can imagine that if they had told their dad about it, as they threaten, he’d have told them to stop making up nonsense). It also has to be said that this particular pair of kids are written very believably - Angie in particular - which makes it all the more interesting as a sideline to the main Cyberman action.

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