My enthusiasm for this series of Doctor Who has decidedly dropped, hence why I’m reviewing the last three episodes at once. I’ll cover the finale episodes individually because there will doubtlessly be more to talk about in them.
The Lie of the Land by Toby Whitehouse
Oh dear. The Monk trilogy was going so well.
It’s not that this episode is bad exactly, its just deeply unsatisfying as the final part of a trilogy (sounds familiar). Wasting 20 minutes of the episode on a throwaway plot which ended with a fake regeneration (presumably only included to put some cool shots in the series trailer) really did not help matters. Nor did the Monks, who’ve been meticulous in their plans, being defeated so easily (by the power of love overcoming technology/brainwashing… groan – this plot device should never be allowed in Who again – its fucking annoying how overused it is!!! – Think Fear Her, Victory of the Daleks, Night Terrors, Rings of Akhaten etc… only reset buttons are worse or more bloody frequent). Rant over, Mackie, Lucas and Capaldi are all good (Capaldi’s fake turn to the dark side is very, very well acted, and if this episode had been in his first series it might have even been believable), but that’s not enough to save this episode. If it wasn’t for Missy’s scene stealing turn in the vault, it wouldn’t get nearly as high a rating.
If the Doctor had really been brainwashed by the Monks in serving them and Bill managed to break their hold on him, before the Monks attack on mass in response maybe we’d have got a decent conclusion from this story. In many ways it reminded me of Last of the Time Lords from Series 3: an occupied earth, a captive Doctor, a companion who is everyone’s only hope and a nonsensical climax which combine to provide a decent episode but an uttering unsatisfying conclusion to what had been a promising 3-parter.
Overall ‘the Lie of the Land’ is an entertaining enough episode, but a sorely disappointing climax to the Monks trilogy. The acting and dialogue is good, but the plot is bland and the direction flat.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Empress of Mars by Mark Gatiss
Mark Gatiss has a VERY mixed record on Doctor Who (rather like his mixed contributions to Sherlock) – while most of his stories fall safely into the average category (think The Idiot’s Lantern, Victory of the Daleks or Cold War) at other times he’s utterly predictable, churning out dull crap like Night Terrors or Sleep No More, or occasional triumphs like The Unquiet Dead and The Crimson Horror.
This episode combines two of Gatiss’ favourite Who tropes: Ice Warriors (as mentioned he scripted their modern return in series 7’s Cold War) and a Victorian setting (which he used in Unquiet Dead and Crimson Horror, as well as the Sherlock Xmas special). I preferred the Ice Warriors in this story to the one in Cold War, least because the Ice Warriors are slightly more nuanced this time. They’re ruthless, loyal, merciful and honourable, all in the same 45 minutes, rather than a monster running amok on a submarine and then being merciful in a completely out-of-character way.
If Cold War was the Ice Warrior version of Alien, Empress of Mars is Aliens with far more action and Ice Warriors than the previous entry. The Ice Warrior weapons are a bit odd (why they didn’t stick with their weapons from the classic series/Cold War is slightly baffling) but I’m just glad we got some action after what has been for the most part a pedestrian and rather uneventful series. Pity the Victorian soldiers were so forgettable. They are well acted (Ser Meryn Trant off Game of Thrones made an appearance) but very thinly drawn by Gatiss and downright clichéd in some places. Only the Ice Warrior Friday really leaves a lasting impression.
Overall, like Smile earlier in the season, it’s an entertaining filler episode that never really does anything revolutionary. It’s workmanlike yet enjoyable with an alien threat in the Victorian era and is standard Gatiss fare – but if this is his last Who episode, maybe that’s for the best.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Eaters of Light by Rona Munro
This is something notable. An episode written by not just one of the writers from the classic series, but the one who wrote the very last story of that run (Survival) in 1989 (it’s a decent but unremarkable 3-parter featuring the Master, appropriately enough). She’s the first classic-who writer to return for the modern series, but did she make the most of it?
Answer: Sort of. The Eaters of Light is one of the better episodes of the series, but given its consistent mediocrity that doesn’t say an awful lot. Like Empress of Mars it’s a very simplistic episode but fortunately has slightly better characters. The monster is more menacing than some we’ve had this series, but in the end its defeated rather easily (see also Smile, Lie of the Land etc.). Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi give their best as always, while the younger supporting cast is likeable. It’s probably the best material Matt Lucas has got from a writer other than Moffat too. Equally its the best soundtrack from Murray Gold in a while, but I still think it might be time for him to go; the music has generally been background noise this season (for series 1-9 it was something closer to an art form).
The Missy scene is kind of awkwardly fixed on, but Capaldi and Gomez make up for it. The Vault plotline really did go nowhere didn’t it? Rule for showrunners: never make the question more interesting than the answer (something season 2 and 3 of The Flash can’t stop bloody doing, but I had hoped Who was above that cheap viewer-bait).
Overall, a good script makes this one of the better entries in Series 10, but a forgettable monster and predictable climax means it doesn’t soar as high as it could have. Rona Munro can definitely come back next season though.
Rating: 4 out of 5
10 episodes. I’ve given five 4/5 ratings, two 3.5/5 ratings and three 3/5 ratings. This is currently the lowest scoring run of who episodes (according to me anyway) in all 10 seasons. No other series got this far in without getting a 4.5/5 or a 5/5. Moffat’s 3 episodes were all good but only 2 of the support writers really nailed their entries. Whatever happens in the last 2 episodes it’ll still probably be my least favourite (modern) series of Who. Unless the finale REALLY steps things up a gear. Fingers crossed. Speaking of which…
Next Time: Missy’s rehabilitation is put to the test on a ship stuck near a black hole, while her predecessor and some very old-style Cybermen…