The Empire on Mars


Review of Empress of Mars
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I heard a lot of positive chatter about The Empress of Mars online even before I had the chance to watch it myself. "Gatiss's best episode ever!" "Another great episode—S10's going to be hard to beat!" "The writing has been so good this year!" That always makes me nervous, because then there are certain expectations going in that can be difficult for an episode to live up to.

As someone who's not a big fan of either Gatiss or the Ice Warriors, I didn't have very high hopes to begin with. I was therefore not so much disappointed as resigned. The more I watched, though, the angrier I got.

Now I want to be clear that I don't dislike either creatures or writer. I liked Cold War well enough, and I loved the Easter egg references to The Curse of Peladon here. But setting a story on Mars and then adding in some Victorian soldiers ended up muddying things so much that I was constantly cringing.

One of the things I've always appreciated about Doctor Who is the way that—when it's at its best—it challenges us to stretch outside our usual point of view and consider other ways of looking at even mundane situations. That is, in fact, one of the things I like best about The Unquiet Dead. Unfortunately, although it's clear Gatiss is trying to do more of that here, he falls horribly short.


Even the Kitchen Sink


Review of The Lie of the Land
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

For an episode that wrapped up a three-part arc, The Lie of the Land was awfully short on denouement. In fact, the first time I watched I was shocked by the "resolution." In barely longer than two minutes, the Monks bailed, we cut to the Doctor and Bill on campus cheerfully slipping in back into their tutor/student roles, then to a weeping Missy, and BAM!—it's the "Next Time" trailer. My head spun.

It's not just that it was quick, either. While my internal narrative timer was sent waaaay off kilter by the wrap-up pacing, I also got startled by its onset. I suppose we can put a tick in the positive column as I was clearly involved enough to have lost track of time, such that the conclusion seemed to arrive all of a sudden. However, the fact that I didn't feel like I'd been led to a natural endpoint and was instead quite confused that there wasn't any more to it doesn't strike me as a win for either the writing or the execution.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that the rushed ending really put me off an episode that already had me giving it a bit of side-eye. It's kind of a shame, really, as there were some really nice elements, too—but they suffer by association.

As usual, I have nothing but praise for Pearl Mackie's Bill. Her expressions and reactions to the various extremes of emotion throughout were perfection. My only complaint—which was actually a problem with the writing/editing rather than with either the actor or character—was that after threatening to "beat the sh—" out of Nardole, she let go of that well-deserved anger and sense of betrayal too readily.


The Story at the Beginning of the Arc


Review of The Pyramid at the End of the World
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I would be really interested in knowing how the writing work was split between Peter Harness and Stephen Moffat on The Pyramid at the End of the World (TPatEotW), because while it didn't feel completely Moffat-y, there were some distinctly Moffat qualities to the episode. Specifically, on first viewing, we get to the end and feel like we've been on a heckuva ride, but it's not until we step back and reflect that we realize there were things that didn't make sense along the way.

This is one of the features of Moffat's writing that has consistently frustrated me. It's wonderful on an immediate, gut level; the audience is easily swept up in the breadth of emotion as the story barrels along. Yet it is only that rapid-fire inevitability of plot development that keeps us from saying, "Hang on—that makes no sense." We have no time to process the bits that don't quite jibe, and thus they get swept away in the current of the story and we forget about them until we have clambered back out of the river and notice them swirling in an eddy downstream. Then they keep bobbing around, catching our eyes in a way we simply can't ignore them any longer.

There were two issues that I specifically felt detracted from the episode in that I-can-ignore-the-niggling-feeling-until-after-the-fact manner. The first was the safety protocols at Agrofuel Research Operations. While I loved watching events at the lab unfold, knowing as I watched that they were what was going to "end" the world (even if I didn't know for much of the episode precisely how), there were also several moments that left me shaking my head in disbelief.

For example, the instant Douglas removed part of his clean suit, I knew he was a dead man. Even putting aside the narrative convention that practically guarantees such an outcome, in what setting where one is required to wear a suit protective suit of that nature would it ever be deemed no big deal to breach it? He removes the helmet and Erica's reaction is a nonchalant, "What're you doing?" She's barely even concerned!


In Veritas, Cavum


Review of Extremis
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

When Extremis came on my screen, I had no way to know what kind of a roller coaster ride I was in for—though probably not in the way you would assume upon reading that sentence.

Both on the micro and macro scales, my experience of the episode was full of shifting reactions. Outside of the content, I came in with a high level of excitement because for the first time ever, I was watching new Doctor Who fresh out of the box *with my daughters*.

It's only in the last couple of weeks that I've convinced them to give the show a try. They've seen it on the screen as I watched, alone or with the Ladies, in years past, but with the exception of a few minutes of (I believe) a Tom Baker serial, neither of them has ever sat down to watch with me. It had been summarily dismissed as "too scary."

Given that a number of years has passed since then, and that they have both read and watched plenty of scary content in the meantime, they finally agreed to give it a go with me. After The Pilot, they were champing at the proverbial bit for more. (We've also watched some of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and there are summer plans for further consumption of both pre- and post-Hiatus episodes.) So when they'd caught up and had the chance to watch the story unfold in "real time" with me, all three of us were excited.

By the time the episode ended, though, we all sat on the couch bemused.


Zombies on a Spaceship


Review of Oxygen
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

You can't get much better for an American fan of my ilk than starting a Doctor Who episode with Star Trek's opening words. Unless, of course, you follow up with a clarification that space is "final" because it wants to kill us.

Oxygen combines some classic body horror with a commentary on the dangers of capitalism in an episode that looks like its sole story note from Moffat was "zombies in space," much like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship or Mummy on the Orient Express. Despite that dubious origin, in writer Jamie Mathieson's capable hands, we end up with a relatively strong story.

Among the facets that made this episode notable is the first full inclusion of Nardole as part of the TARDIS team. I've previously been less than complimentary to the Doctor's latest robot Companion (see also: K-9, Kamelion), but taking a reader's comments to heart, I've tried to set aside my pre-conceived notions about him (something in Husbands really set my teeth on edge) and look at him afresh. Judging purely on his appearances in Series Ten, then, I have to say I almost like him.

As a matter of fact, seeing Nardole in action for real—and most especially at the end of the episode when he confronts the Doctor with some actual fire in him—I've come around to what might even be considered fondness for the character. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that he got to be the bearer of an Easter egg for fans of the pre-Hiatus era or that he got to deliver the "as you know, Bob" dialog explaining to the audience why our heroes couldn't reach the TARDIS anymore.



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