I gave up weekly reviews a while back due to work commitments, but here’s a compilation of my thoughts on episodes 5-9. I’ll publish individual reviews for the last 2 episodes (I feel they’ll be momentous enough to need them after Face the Raven!)
First up the (sort of) two-parter featuring Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is a mixed bag, but Williams and Capaldi are on top form throughout.
The Girl Who Died by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat
Overall: A patchy first half hour saved by a brilliant last 15 minutes and some stellar performances from Capaldi, Coleman and Maisie Williams. The Viking supporting cast were very forgettable, and the ideas weren’t as classic as Mathieson’s two debut episodes last year. The final 15 minutes (where it felt clear Moffat had had more input) were something else though. I liked the throwback to Capaldi’s previous appearance in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ and the explanation that the Doctor chose his face as a reminder that ‘he can always save 1 person, even if he can’t save them all’. The monsters weren’t all that impressive – though the resolution to the episode felt a lot better than the built up. Set up ‘The Woman Who Lived’ well though.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
The Woman Who Lived by Catherine Tregenna
Overall: A great performance from Williams – the ideas and dialogue are top rate but like ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ it’s a bit lacking in action – and the villain is almost superfluous to events. Rufus Hound’s turn as Sam Swift ‘the Quick’ is amusing if inconsequential. Clara’s absence wasn’t a problem (mainly because of Williams’ fine turn). It was very similar to ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ in how it was built completely around the interaction of two characters. Also – I can’t remember an episode where I’ve been less on the Doctor’s side? Ashildr’s motivations and grievances felt perfectly natural in this episode, and I was worried that the Doctor’s refusal to help her leave Earth was creating another Missy. While she redeems herself at the end this, to me, was a stark reminder that the Doctor is falliable, and his choices aren’t always the right ones.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Next the Zygon two-parter, arguably the highlight of the series so far (until Face the Raven aired anyway). Also another belter (albeit a far less divisive one) from Peter Harness after Kill the Moon last year – at a time when we’re wondering who’ll succeed Moffat as showrunner, if he keeps this run up we might have to add another name to that list.
The Zygon Invasion by Peter Harness
Overall: This was my favourite episode of the series when it aired. The Zygons potential as enemies is fully realised after being teased in ‘Day of the Doctor’. There are some slight annoyances – the plot twists are obvious: I’d predicted Clara would end up being a Zygon before the episode even started and the American policewoman being one was easily guessable. It also annoyed me how the UNIT troops didn’t open fire when they were ambushed in London (lazy scripting). But these minor quibbles couldn’t detract from a fine episode that built up to a great cliffhanger. It was definitely the most action packed episode of the series (not a bad thing after several episodes that had been very character focused) and by far the most political – with messages on war, immigration, integration into society and extremists. Not that it was a bad thing – regardless of your stance on matters like fighting ISIS or Syrian refugees it doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the episode – and I’m never against Doctor Who taking moral stances on real world issues.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Zygon Inversion by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat
Has Capaldi ever been better? His anti-war speech at the end as he railed against both the humans and Zygons that would see each other destroyed was up their with Smith’s Pandorica and Akhaten speeches. The idea of the Osgood boxes was good, with the 50/50 chance of either Kate Stewart or Bonnie/Zygella (great nickname for Zygon Clara) destroying their own people showing the frank nature of warfare – and it only suited the Doctor’s character (particularly a post-time war Doctor) that the boxes where actually empty and the threat an illusion. If anyone out there is still denying Capaldi is a great Doctor, please do the rest of the fandom a favour and leave. This episode proved you wrong. Clara also got better material than she has for most of the series as she played both Clara and Bonnie (now we know Jenna C0leman can play villains!) and their interactions were the highlight of the episode before 12’s marvellous speech. I didn’t like it as much as Invasion – it slowed down slightly too much in the middle, but it recovered it’s momentum in the final third of the episode. Shame Osgood won’t be the next companion though.
Rating: 4 out of 5
And finally this year’s experimental episode: the found footage adventure that doesn’t quite spark.
Sleep No More by Mark Gatiss
Overall: Doctor Who’s first foray into found footage doesn’t quite work. The script is good, the direction isn’t bad either – but the rest doesn’t quite come together. I can get past ridiculous concepts in Doctor Who episodes. Hell I even liked Kill the Moon despite the ludicrous physics involved. But the monsters in this? Formed from mutated sleep dust from yours eyes? The sandmen just didn’t work for me as a concept. The supporting cast are pretty one-dimensional as well. Reece Shearsmith is okay (though Gatiss shoehorning his friend into his work is really starting to grate on me – Shearsmith isn’t an actor I rate that highly) but his interruptions to camera really detract from the tension – I’d have much preferred if his appearances were limited to the info-dump at the start and the surprise cliffhanger at the end (suggesting at a possible sequel to this episode?). It wasn’t a terrible episode and I’m sure some people liked it, but for me this was Gatiss weakest episode – it was just too average in a season where every other story has worked so well!
Rating: 3 out of 5
Now if you haven’t seen Face the Raven yet, go do so! If you have, please check out the review I posted yesterday.