Warning: This article contains spoilers.
…right. That was certainly an episode, wasn’t it?
This week marks the fourth adventure for Doctor Number Twelve (or Thirteen, or maybe Fourteen now because Steven Moffat messed with the continuity, which we’ll come back to later). Reviews thus far have been decidedly mixed – it’s either a masterpiece up there with the best of Doctor Who that personally saved six dogs from a burning building, or it’s a haphazard mess where the best part was when it ended, and it couldn’t even do that right.
Counting the stars up there should give you a pretty good idea of which one I agree with.
Steven Moffat’s always been a fan of dumping nightmares on people like some ungodly Ice Bucket Challenge, and so horror’s the soul of the plot – the Doctor has a theory that something’s been lurking alongside the human race throughout all of history, something invisible and intangible that could hide at a moment’s notice. So begins a journey to track it down, taking the Doctor and Clara from a creepy Gloucestershire orphanage to the end of the universe, all in pursuit of the one nightmare that, sooner or later, everyone has…
The creature follows what’s beginning to look like a template for a scary Doctor Who monster – get something that everybody sees or does (statues, darkness, Wi-Fi, breathing), put a lethal twist on it and tack a nursery rhyme on there if you have time. It seems to have worked – the internet reports an appropriately-sized crop of scared children. Though it’s nowhere near the scariest episodes (‘Blink’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Night Terrors’) there’s at least one moment of genuine dread, when the TARDIS lands at an unknown location with the Doctor incapacitated.
Meanwhile, the plot jumps around a lot – from the 1980s to the end of the universe, with several stop offs at Clara’s date with Danny Pink along the way. It’s a show about time-travel, granted, but the whole thing felt disjointed and somewhat aimless, especially since the enemy they were pursuing was purposely meant to be ambiguous and nebulous.
Holding the whole thing together, aside from the monster, was the message that “fear makes you strong enough to overcome it”, which is a nice message to send out to kids (though once the episode begins its third big speech about it any sense of subtlety quietly crawls away to die). That, and Capaldi’s performance. Thus far, he’s been a great Doctor, and the most consistently good thing about this series.
And then there’s the ending. Surprise! There was no monster! It’s all in the Doctor’s head, he’s just afraid! Except something was under the sheet on the bed, with a big grey head and inhuman speed, and something had to knock on the door at the end of the universe and set off the cloister bell. But, er, never mind, the Doctor’s busy. Maybe he’s off to meet Robin Hood again or something.
And it turns out Clara was able to get the TARDIS to Gallifrey to meet the Doctor as a child (somehow), and gave him the spark that’d push him into heroism in the first place. So, this is actually the second episode where Clara’s retroactively been responsible for every victory the Doctor’s ever had, which is exactly two more than there should have been.
So, once again the four most polarizing words in the Doctor Who fandom are “written by Steven Moffat”. Personally, I thought the episode had some good ideas at its core, but it seemed to favour introspection and ambiguity over actually telling an engaging story. Next week – the Doctor robs a bank, in SPACE. We’ll see you then!