As with the SFCrowsnest Forum in recent years and this time there and here on the SFCrowsnest.org.uk, my comments on the latest season of ‘Doctor Who’. These will mostly be impressions – here’s my Doctor one, still ‘Geronimo!’ – rather than intentional plot spoilers. If you’re living in a country that hasn’t seen these episodes yet, read with caution but with my comments I’m going to say too much on some things related to what plot there is. If you can watch it first, that’s even better.
After the last few episodes, it’s finally great to have a story with some flesh on the bones. It’s even better than Neil Cross’ first story, ‘The Rings Of Akhata’ this season. I wonder which one was written first but is understandable why he got two bites at the cherry. Oh, the name used in earlier ‘Doctor Who’ season ‘Radio Times’ summary as ‘Hide Me’ is wrong. No ‘Me’! He’s also not a novice as his IMDB profile lists him having written for ‘[Spooks]’, ‘The Fixer’ and ‘Luther’ so has some pedigree even if not in SF. Potentially, he could even be Moffat’s replacement a couple years down the line.
What starts off as a ghost story becomes essentially a rescue mission for the Doctor and Clara of a time traveller trying to get attention. Strictly speaking, that isn’t a spoiler as this isn’t exactly a new idea. Having them trapped in a pocket universe and being sensed by empaths puts some sense into it though.
I did wonder from the start why the Doctor chose to appear in 1974. After all his third and four regenerations were pretty active in this time period on Earth so why didn’t they sense it? Maybe the third regeneration did. There are a lot of references to ‘Planet Of The Spiders’ here, including using a Metabelis 3 blue crystal to enhance Emma Grayling’s ability. It would explain the third regeneration Doctor’s sudden interest in ESP only he wasn’t in the right place or time yet. There was also a little matter of him also being damaged, lost for three months and regenerating for the fourth time. Having his tenth regeneration on Earth in that time would explain why he couldn’t return on time. Makes me wonder if Neil Cross had thought of that even if he didn’t use that info in the story.
There are still many layers to this story and even the non-speaking ‘monster’ has a different agenda. The Doctor’s own purpose there wasn’t even to solve the mystery but get Emma Grayling’s empathic reaction from Clara to see what she was.
Spooky stories like this are a good argument for ‘Doctor Who’ to be shown in the late autumn as to the well lit spring when you’re less likely to be…er…spooked.
Neil Cross’ assessment of what empaths are being loners and reflect other people’s emotions shows some research on the subject. Mind you, I haven’t spotted any ghosts yet.
This doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t some pitfalls in this story. Small cast but little done to establish the characters to the viewer, not helped by not calling them by name in the dialogue because it just turns them into background fodder and wasting two known actors, Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine, that any lesser known actors could have fulfilled. The Doctor running and admitting he’s afraid or scared is also uncharacteristic. The Time Lord’s faced off Daleks and Cybermen for Illuminatii’s sake. Ghosts and monsters aren’t likely to scare him. He negotiates not jumps out of his skin. As to the time traveller? Obviously, there’s no requirement for her to go home but this Doctor doesn’t even ask if he can drop her off anywhere or why she was time travelling in the first place. She isn’t even a really significant player. Surely any time traveller has to have more to do with things if she was travelling in the first place.
Then there’s the cloister bell ringing from the TARDIS. That’s only happened a few times in the past. First heard with fourth regeneration (Tom Baker phase if you can’t count) and more recently in the Tennant regeneration and the vampires although this time the time is only to the TARDIS’ danger to itself which as demonstrated wasn’t really that much of a danger.
The TARDIS is also running on autopilot twice to a place where it admits that it can only do so for a few seconds. Yes, this is a reference to the Neil Gaiman story ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ but it’s giving it abilities akin to the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver which really ought to be kerbed before it becomes a get out of time free card.
As I said, a vast improvement on the other stories in this season but not perfect.