Doctor Who: Flux and Eve of the Daleks

The plan had been to rewatch each episode of “Flux” – without BBC America’s ads if possible – and give each one their own post, but the kid and Marie were less than enthusiastic about the idea. I liked chunks of it – the first four episodes had some fine moments, and as much as I’d have liked a TARDIS without any men in it for a while, I think John Bishop’s Dan is great fun – but there was more grumbling around this parish than cheering. Then, in the way that most things Who go, it all fell completely apart at the end. Parts five and six were terrible. I mean, yay that we may be getting Lungbarrow on television, but that’s about it.

When it was good, though… “War of the Sontarans” was smashing, despite a weak ending, and “Village of the Angels” was the best thing done with those villains since series three. One day, someone’s going to get to do a deep dive into this season’s production, and unearth where these stories might have fit before COVID screwed with Chris Chibnall’s plans. Fitting these stories into the larger scale of “Flux” was awkward, and showed how the overall theme was a disappointment. That’s despite a couple of very interesting new villains in Swarm and Azure. I don’t think that they lived up to their promise. Events moved too weirdly and clumsily for that.

The biggest flaw is that “Flux” had quite enough villains already with Swarm and Azure, the Sontaran master plan, and Tecteun. Using the Angels as a side distraction worked to a point, but crowding the narrative with the Grand Serpent and UNIT just wrecked the flimsy premise. Suddenly, nothing in “Flux” had room to breathe, because some other random diabolical mastermind needed space. These were screen minutes that badly needed to be given over to make Tecteun a believable character with motives something other than what I’d expect from the Marvel movies, but instead we spend forever watching this guy set up a Sontaran invasion over the course of decades.

(Even worse, none of his material makes any sense, and I’m not talking about Chibnall’s frankly idiotic assertion that Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart was ever a corporal. The Sontaran invasion of 2021 requires Earth to not have a UNIT, so this guy goes back to the 1950s and builds one, to ensure that it is disassembled and scattered sixty-odd years later? The only thing about which we can agree is that we can thank God this fellow didn’t turn out to be the Master, which he probably was in an earlier draft of this balderdash.)

I guess the biggest disappointment is that the biggest Who story since “Trial” does the biggest job ever in ignoring what just happened in it. Okay, so Doctor Who always ignores the amazing consequences of the story it just told. That’s nothing new. “Logopolis” wiped out huge chunks of the universe and it hasn’t mattered once in the next forty years of storytelling. The British PM murdered the president and Anglo-American relations have not been shown to suffer. But the flaw, historically, has been that the show moves on and never acknowledges these wild dramatic change in future stories; the individual story that we are watching does feel the impact of the drama. This time, we seem to see two Sontaran invasions inside a week, along with the planet’s whole population rescued by single-person-and-dog spaceships, along with an alternate history where there never was a Russia, and a universe-snuffing extinction event, and at the end of it, that awesome museum in Liverpool is back open with business as usual instead of staying closed during the planet-wide “what the hell just happened” societal meltdown that this sort of thing surely should have prompted.

So I suppose there was another reset button of some kind along with the Flux destroying – slash – not destroying everything? It would help explain “Eve of the Daleks,” which we all enjoyed much more, because literally one year ago, a different British PM was exterminated on live TV by some Daleks, and the guest stars in this story act like they’ve never seen their like before. “Eve of the Daleks” was very entertaining for a lower-budget studio adventure, although, as time loops go, it was certainly no “Window of Opportunity”. I really liked the quiet stuff in this story: the mother who thinks cell phone lines will be busy at midnight, the storage units full of useless junk, Dan as the women’s wingman. I think it’s one of Chris Chibnall’s very best stories, and “Village of the Angels” right behind it.

But I am so glad that he’s going.

I think it might be Tecteun that’s been the final nail for me. I don’t believe there was really that much promise or possibility in the Division / Timeless Child idea, because it all still seems so incredibly unnecessary and complicated. It did give us the potential mileage of villains that the Doctor does not remember, but Swarm and Azure are gone already. They had promise, and “Flux” squandered it.

And Tecteun could have had a really unique perspective and point of view – and, in Barbara Flynn, they found a fantastic actress for her – but her motives didn’t make sense to me and her revelations of a multiverse just felt like jumping onto Marvel’s coattails. How much more interesting could this have been if the extremely rare parallel worlds in Who – “Inferno,” “The Age of Steel” – remained extremely rare and something that our players couldn’t put on a map and chart evacuation plans into?

Put another way, did anything about the Division that was revealed in this story surprise anybody watching this, or were we all able to understand the situation precisely because every other comic book and sci-fi media franchise has done stories so similar that this just seemed like business as usual?

I am so glad that Chibnall’s going, but I hope he does something really wild and completely unexpected before he goes.

Doctor Who: Galaxy 4 (parts three and four)

That was a very pleasant surprise. I never thought that I’d dislike “Galaxy 4,” but based on what I remember from reading the novelization many years ago, and occasionally skimming through other people’s reviews, it never seemed like it was anybody’s idea of a winner. (I only ever skim reviews of missing stories, preferring to know as little as possible when I get the chance to see them. Works out really well for me that way.) But this was a perfectly charming and engaging little adventure. It’s simple, and simplistic, certainly, but it was done extremely well given its limitations. The surviving third part reminded me – of all things – of the much later “Terminus”, what with all the sounds of things in the studio bumping into bits of the awkwardly-built sets, and actors moving without a great deal of speed in situations that demand them, because the space where they are acting is too small for running.

Switching back to animation for part four, I was amused by the script’s decision for the Doctor to charge one of the alien ships by running a very long extension cord between it and the TARDIS. I paused to remind our son that this was made in 1965. The idea of channeling energy through the air was still a little alien to TV viewers of the day. I reminded him of The Avengers installment “The Cybernauts”, which introduced the then-radical idea of broadcasting power to transistors*. “The Cybernauts” was actually shown in the UK for the first time just two weeks after this serial. Elsewhere, they discuss starting both ships’ “motors.” It may be science fiction, but it’s so very much a product of its time.

Most happily, our son says that he really enjoyed this one. I like that it could have been blunt and obvious and stupid about it – gee, the nice-looking women are the villains and the beasts are the goodies – but it’s subtle and pretty smart instead. The Rills are hesitant to reveal themselves because they are certain the Doctor and his friends will be repulsed by them, but they dismiss their fears, because they judge based on character, not appearances. I could imagine one of the modern Doctors telling the chief Rill how beautiful he is. In 1965, they didn’t go quite that overboard. So the kid got a good reminder of not letting prejudices get in the way, and being willing to cooperate, and enjoyed a well-made piece of 57 year-old TV and its well-made contemporary animation. Bring on those Snowmen, BBC Studios!

Doctor Who: Galaxy 4 (parts one and two)

And now back to 1965, for the debut serial of the third season of Doctor Who. “Galaxy 4” was written by William Emms and was among the last stories overseen by the program’s original producer, Verity Lambert. William Hartnell is our cantankerous time-travelling anti-hero, accompanied in this story by Maureen O’Brien as Vicki and Peter Purves as Steven. Even two years and eighty-odd episodes in, the show is still in its early exploratory phase. Much of the business about landing on alien planets is about learning what science concept of the day is going to be important. There’s very little action, but there are odd little robots, a very weird gang of women called Drahvins, and a cliffhanger revelation of a hideous sucker-eyed thing who lives in an ammonia-filled room.

Doctor Who was, then, very much for ten year-olds who couldn’t conceive of the incredibly fast-paced and action-packed world of entertainment to come. But while this story’s reputation is such that its new release didn’t excite me too much, it turns out that must have been a thunderous cliffhanger for the kids of the day. Even with all of modern film and TV at his disposal, our son enjoyed that episode ending very much.

“Galaxy 4” was junked by the BBC in the mid-seventies after they figured there was no further profit to be made in keeping it. The serial is the latest to have been animated and reconstructed by a freelance team, and was released in November with a fine edition that includes both color and black and white versions of the four episodes, the surviving third part, a six-minute fragment from the first, two documentaries, and several commentaries. An American release is said to be coming in March. I have the same minor complaints about the animation as I’ve expressed in these pages before – too few angles and cuts, gangly anatomy – but I appreciate the very hard work that the small team puts into these. “Galaxy 4” is hardly William Hartnell’s most exciting 100 minutes as the Doctor, but I’m glad to have the chance to see it.

Doctor Who 12.11 – Revolution of the Daleks

I was talking about Yetis on the loo in Tooting Bec? This might just be one of the very best examples in all of Doctor Who. “Revolution of the Daleks” is good, despite a few very large problems with its premise, but this little bit might just be the best part. Our son absolutely loves it. It is among his favorite of all Who stories.

I know that I should be saying that the character growth is the best part of the hour, because it’s clearly where Chris Chibnall’s heart is, but it’s not. I really like that in the ten months since her fam last saw the Doctor, Ryan has accepted that she is either dead or gone, and he has moved on. Yaz hasn’t. There’s a reason that “Thasmin” shippers are so loyal. So it feels weird that the TARDIS needs to take an uncharacteristic four minutes to fly from London to Osaka in order for the Doctor and Ryan to have a hearts-to-heart about something the story has already shown us, while Yaz has a chat with guest star John Barrowman about what it’s like to stop travelling with the Doctor. Flip the companions around and you’ve got a much stronger emotional story: let the men underscore what Ryan has decided, and let Yaz tell the Doctor how hard the last ten months were.

But where I just can’t get on board with this story is the really weird theft of the dead Dalek from 2019’s “Resolution”. I can buy that the scheming Jack Robertson, played again by Chris Noth, would want to get his hands on that tech within six hours of the Doctor and friends blowing it up, and television being television, I can even buy that his team has an agent in place at some random food truck on some bypass somewhere just in case the salvage driver wants to refill his tumbler with fresh tea, so they can poison him.

What I can’t buy is that since the dead Reconnaissance Dalek had virtually no alien tech inside its shell – it pilfered its laser gun from storage after some previous Dalek invasion and built the rest from scrap and salvage – it is actually necessary for Jack’s plans. He has teamed up with the woman who is about to become prime minister, played by Harriet Walter from the 1987 Lord Peter Wimsey series, to build an army of AIs in 3D-printed shells that look like the dead Dalek that attacked GCHQ in 2019. But why do they need to look like that when, stripped of their laser gun and armed instead with gas and a water cannon, they could look like anything?

Obviously, they “need” to look like that because they get a bunch of cloned, slimy, mutated Daleks teleported inside of their shells, and they get to have a big showdown with some proper Daleks. The Doctor called them to Earth, correctly guessing the proper ones wouldn’t stand to have inferior mutations rolling around. I guess it’s the cracks in the universe from series five again, because this really underlines that the events of series four’s “Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” didn’t happen here. And I guess I’m disappointed that we see another massive, planet-changing event – the PM is exterminated on live television – without any consequences ever being mentioned. I think there’s such a good story someone could tell, should tell, about the ramifications of these things.

With all that grumbling, I’m almost surprised that I do like this story after all. It may try to do too much on an unsteady platform, but it does it pretty well, and much better than the previous two hours. It has many clever and intelligent moments – the Doctor’s spare TARDIS resolution is terrific – and I enjoyed all the actors. Ryan and Graham’s departure seems a little long, but it’s entertaining. If the Daleks outside Downing Street is my favorite moment, Yaz shoving the Doctor is my second. It’s an hour that gives audiences a lot to chew on, even if the more you chew, the more you realize it doesn’t make the most sense in the world.

Also, it is way past time for the Doctor to start cleaning up all the alien tech left behind when an invasion goes south. Humans simply can’t be trusted with any of it, especially if Jack Robertson is among them, and she really, really should know that after all these years.

Doctor Who 12.10 – The Timeless Children

The thing about being a fan since the eighties and reading lots of fic, professional and not, and lots of theories, ridiculous and not, is that the revelations of “The Timeless Children” are not remotely shocking. What is shocking is how badly they are told. Telling me that there are pre-Hartnell Doctors and that our hero had a long life she cannot remember has been done before. In novels, Lance Parkin hinted at it, Marc Platt insisted upon it. In interviews, Andrew Cartmel winked at it. Onscreen, Lady Peinforte dropped tantalizing clues. Weirdly, the Cybermen were in that story as well.

The first problem is that Chris Chibnall decided to embrace this fan origin silliness within the confines of another chunk of action-adventure tedium, all cliché and no heart. Does the Doctor say something like “I started this and I’ll finish this… alone” before going out on a suicide mission that a random supporting character will complete for her, sacrificing himself so the hero can have more adventures? Of course she does. This would have been approximately a million times better if the Doctor had said “The Master’s expecting one of those ‘one last confrontation’ showdowns that we keep having, and I’m not giving it to him,” and thrown the ultimate hand grenade out the TARDIS door, impact button first, to thump against the far wall and detonate. Maybe the audience might have protested that they were robbed of a big climax, but it’s the same big climax that they have already seen in everything else that looks or sounds like this. Besides, the Master assuredly had the same transmat / teleport / trap door that every other writer has already used. We’ll have another “one last confrontation” showdown same time next year.

But even a million times better, this would still be a disappointing mess of infodumping and mansplaining. All the business with the Cybermen is utterly unimportant because the core of this story is a man telling a woman, at incredible length, who she is. This is triply unfortunate because the most entertaining thing in the episode is the Master’s conversation with the Lone Cyberman, and Sacha Dhawan is great. “Oh, you mean robots. You’ll be robots.” I enjoyed that a lot. The kid liked the whole hour, of course. Oh, and it has the best flashback scene that the program’s ever done, accompanied, wonderfully, by the theme tune.

“The Timeless Children” wants very, very badly to be “The Deadly Assassin”. It evokes that earlier story in the dialogue, just to make sure viewers recognize the recreation of its set. “Assassin” has a lot that annoys and disappoints me as well, mainly in part four, but all of its wild revelations and retcons are not its problem. Instead, there’s a totally effortless feel to “Assassin,” as all that we learn about Time Lord society and regenerations and Borusa and politics come naturally. Extremely little is fed to viewers there. Its writer, Robert Holmes, was among the very best writers to ever work on Who, and let viewers and characters learn things together in a natural and interesting way. This is just clumsy, and very, very boring exposition. I respect that Chibnall is in charge and can make whatever decisions he wants about the hero’s past, present, and future. I just wish that he had chosen a better and more entertaining way to let us see them unfold.

Doctor Who 12.9 – Ascension of the Cybermen

Last time, our son reminded us that he really did not like the creepy Cyber-ghost story of “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” but that he was looking forward to seeing this one again. After telling us, in that perfectly ten year-old way, that he remembered 64% of it, he was again very satisfied. This is definitely a crowd-pleaser for younger viewers who want some big, stomping Cybermen action and lots of explosions. I’m a little less taken with it.

One of my complaints is that this is a very, very ordinary action-adventure runaround, with just about none of the spark, life, imagination, or silliness that makes for great Doctor Who. It’s extremely well-made for ordinary action-adventure – the opening location filming is as good as or better than anything anybody is making in any medium and it has a great guest star in Julie Graham – but after several minutes of this, I was ready for some farting aliens or some Kandymen. That Doctor Who is presently capable of looking like the most competently-made show on television is certainly very nice, but great Doctor Who should look and sound like nothing else. This is so ordinary that the Doctor throws a grenade at the Lone Cyberman. That she does this in front of Ryan, who, last season, she chastised for using a rifle to shoot robots, shows where this one is.

That said, I do like that this is a very interesting look at the Cybermen that the show hasn’t really done before. This one is set very, very far in the future, and probably in another galaxy. Here, the Cybermen have just about won. There are fewer than a dozen humans left. What’s curious about this is that up to about 2006, the Cybermen may have been very popular with fans and audiences, and they racked up a big body count on and offscreen, but there was always the understanding that while they could be huge and formidable threats, their time on the galactic stage was very limited. In “Earthshock”, which this story resembles in many ways, they’re on the brink of a big interplanetary war that will destroy their growing empire. By the time of “Revenge of the Cybermen”, set in the 29th Century, they are only “a pathetic bunch of tin soldiers skulking about the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.” The Daleks, in “Doomsday”, don’t think of them as rivals on the universal stage; they’re just pests to them.

I think what this story does is take a cue from “Nightmare in Silver” and move the story very, very far out and very far away. “Silver” mentioned that an entire galaxy had to be destroyed to stop the Cybermen some time before the events of that episode. That’s a scale far greater than anything the show had previously done; the Cybermen of most of Doctor Who hid in sewers and poisoned sugar and fired pathetic little laser bolts which didn’t bother Daleks no matter how many times they shouted “upgrade” first. Obliterating galaxies is overkill for Cybermen, unless these are very different Cybermen fighting very different wars, with very few survivors. So yes, the teenage fanboy in me is thrilled with this one’s scope. He probably would have liked the action-adventure feel to this one, too.

The other thing I don’t like about this one is that there’s a side story which is not explained at all – and even then not fully – until the next episode. It’s about a policeman named Brendan in a small Irish village full of people who don’t age. I think it’s sort of bold storytelling, to say it kindly, to have an entire B-plot running through your hour of television without a single connection point between the two, not even at the cliffhanger. Normally I bristle when people commenting on TV they don’t enjoy rely on the old chestnut “Why should I care about these characters,” because if you have elected to watch their story, you have elected to care. But I didn’t elect to watch Brendan’s story. If it’s part of the Doctor’s story, then the hour needs to show me how, even if right at the very end. Not next week!

Doctor Who 12.8 – The Haunting of Villa Diodati

“The Haunting of Villa Diodati” is definitely a story that divides opinion in our house. The grownups like it a lot – Marie noted that its scope is small but its perspective is wide, which strikes me as just right – but our son really dislikes it. There’s far too much creeping around in dark corridors for him. Funny, I thought that was the best part. It’s very Sapphire & Steel. The second best part is Lord Byron hitting on the Doctor.

Naturally, details like who Lord Byron and Mary Shelley are will escape a kid who was eight when he saw it and didn’t like it. I reminded him of the beginning of Bride of Frankenstein as we got started; that film also introduced us to this bunch. I like the fact that even though this is set a little more than two hundred years before the present, the historical characters are among the most creative and intelligent people of their day. This is a story that does not need to be bogged down with explanations; Mary Shelley knows what’s going on. There are also some really good callbacks to “Fugitive of the Judoon”, where we learned the Doctor would soon meet a Lone Cyberman and to not give it what it wants. We saw just that very thing last night on SG-1, where a green wire is foreshadowed.

Anyway, while the kid really doesn’t like it, I think it’s easily one of Whittaker’s finest stories. It was written by Maxine Alderton, who also wrote the best chapter of “Flux,” and I certainly hope that Russell T. Davies has her number. I enjoy the Lone Cyberman a lot. His name is Ashad, although I don’t think it matters too much, and he’ll feature in the next two stories. Great villain.

Doctor Who 12.7 – Can You Hear Me?

There are so many things about “Can You Hear Me?” that I find really interesting. I don’t know that I truly like it, but it has such a curious structure. The hour introduces threads for each of the companions, has a big conflict with an Eternal – apparently like the ones in “Enlightenment” – and once that’s finished, it spends a final six or seven minutes letting each character work through the situation they have been considering. In Graham’s case, it’s the fear that his cancer is not actually in remission.

I thought it was fairly in character for Whittaker’s often awkward Doctor to have no idea how to respond to Graham confiding in her. The scene actually drew several complaints to the BBC because she didn’t reassure him; that’s what TV heroes are supposed to do when a supporting or guest character brings up an issue of social concern. To be fair, you could certainly imagine Pertwee’s Doctor telling him to steady on, old chap, and we’ll give you the best possible medical treatment on Pulsar Seven, to be absolutely certain the cancer isn’t returning. But this is the same Doctor who immediately agrees that Yaz’s father must be a terrible cook. Of course she would not know what to say.

Like, to be clear, just about any of us.

I think you can make the argument that the unusual way that this episode is built doesn’t actually help the narrative much. One good example: our son, who told us that he didn’t like this one when it was first shown and he didn’t like it now. It’s a deliberately creepy story, but the creepiness and the conflict with the immortal baddie is not the episode’s point. It wants to be an hour about the companions: Ryan not being available when his buddies need a friend, Yaz hitting a very dark place three years previously and trying to forget it while also commemorating its anniversary with her sister, Graham beating cancer but afraid that he hasn’t. The villain of the piece gets in the way of the story that I believe that the writers, Charlene James and Chris Chibnall, were most interested in telling.

Doctor Who 12.6 – Praxeus

I think that “Praxeus” is a much, much better episode than Pete McTighe’s previous story, “Kerblam!”. This one is credited as a co-write with Chris Chibnall. It looks great, with very nice locations and photography. This was the second season in a row that Who visited South Africa to shoot two episodes. More importantly, the supporting characters get a lot of definition and life, and the story has an interesting mystery and a lot of modern-day technobabble as the Doctor needs to use contemporary equipment and techniques to analyze the situation.

I’m not sure why it turns out to be so unmemorable in the end. He remembered it after it had been on for a few minutes, but when I told our son this one was the next up, it didn’t ring a bell to him. And to be honest, there were a couple of big pieces of the plot that I didn’t recall as well. That’s strange and a shame, because while there’s a lot about this story that actually doesn’t work for me and about which I could really quibble – like, couldn’t Gabriela and Jamila have found someplace to pitch their tent other than in the middle of a massive trash dump?? – the desire to make the supporting cast so much more real and believable than so many other stories in this era is the sort of thing I’d rather remember and applaud. I like Gabriela and Jake and Adam, and I feel like I know them more than anybody in “Tsuranga” or “Orphan 55”, so points for that. It’s important to me.

Doctor Who 12.5 – Fugitive of the Judoon

Doctor Who does playful juxtaposition of weird space monsters with the mundane and the ordinary better than anything else. It always has done, it’s the “Yeti on your loo in Tooting Bec” thing that Jon Pertwee often found reason to mention in anecdotes and interviews. Even if this story, co-written by Chris Chibnall and Vinay Patel, didn’t have enough huge things to discuss and dissect on its own, I’d absolutely enjoy the Judoon stomping around Gloucester, invading the small cafe of a paranoid little jerk who compiles “dossiers” on the people he distrusts and dislikes. It’s a lovely evocation of the Sarah Jane Adventure “Prisoner of the Judoon” from a decade earlier. Fandom’s going to argue about the Fugitive Doctor for several more years before it finishes, but I’d argue that this particular episode’s only real flaw is not allowing us a good look at this silly man’s silly dossier.

All Doctor Who writers deal with the challenge of what to do with the lead character’s companions. This episode finds an incredibly neat way. John Barrowman returns for the first time in – wow, a decade again – as Captain Jack Harkness, and he teleports the companions out of the episode. Amusingly, for readers who know too well our son’s trouble with names and faces, “Fugitive” first aired in January 2020. We had only just shown our kid the Christopher Eccleston series shortly before, wrapping up with “The Parting of the Ways” in November. Did the kid recognize Barrowman that night in January? Did the name “Captain Jack Harkness” even mean anything then? Of course not.

There’s some gobbledygook talk about his tech having trouble getting a signal through the Judoon’s force field, but it’s really to isolate these characters from what the Doctor is doing. She is, of course, meeting a previously unknown incarnation, played by Jo Martin. It’s not necessarily the decision I’d have made if I was showrunning this program – into an immediate cancellation, probably – because I instantly thought how much fun this could have been if Martin was playing the Doctor’s next incarnation instead of somebody pre-Hartnell. I’m not deep in any fandom trenches, so it’s very likely that I’m missing something, but I’m not sure I’d agree that the development of the Division and the Timeless Child business has inspired “fun” so much as crankiness and hostility.

I like to be open-minded, let things play out, and if they don’t work in the end, shrug and move on. I’m not completely convinced that Chibnall’s going to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. After all, there’s still so much that does not make sense about this, and it’s not like Doctor Who in very many of its forms has a great track record in seeding an idea, letting it grow, and bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. It’s like how Capaldi’s Doctor was the first one to ever hear about the mythical “Hybrid,” about ten episodes before it would become important; why is Whittaker’s Doctor the first to run into a mention of a Timeless Child?

How are the Fugitive Doctor and Gat utterly unaware of what’s happened to Gallifrey? I guess I can’t wrap my brain around the timeline, how the Division “was” active when the Doctor was more than two thousand years younger but still “is” active in the character’s present while simultaneously being ignorant of galactic events. Jo Martin’s Doctor leaves on her own at the end of this episode. Eventually, at some point, she – or one of her later incarnations – will be released from Division, have her memory erased, and be given the first of a new cycle of 13 bodies as a young white boy who’ll spend much of a frightened childhood in an old Gallifrey barn, and eventually start looking like William Hartnell. Time travel stuff frequently induces headaches. This one sends me to a room with the lights out, a sleep mask, and a shot of good whiskey. I seriously hope it ends well!

Doctor Who 12.4 – Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

Can’t help but like this story. Mercifully, there are very, very few characters this time, so Nikola Tesla, his assistant Dorothy Skerritt, and his rival Thomas Edison feel like real people in a way that Who‘s writers and directors had been fumbling to deliver for the previous three episodes. I think this one gets overlooked because it’s right next to a massive gamechanger of a story, but I think it’s precisely what the breakneck speed series needed badly.

You could argue that it’s a bit Who by the numbers – an alien is menacing a historical celebrity, that’s nothing new – but every so often I think that Doctor Who needs to do what it does best. I like how Tesla is so naïve that not only can he not understand why his investors keep abandoning him, he can’t understand alien menaces. “With your level of technology, you must understand that there is no need for violence,” he says, and your heart breaks just a little. Brilliant men probably don’t have time to read silly things like Verne or Wells.

Our son really enjoyed the bits you’d predict he’d enjoy, like the giant scorpions crashing around the small Long Island town where Tesla has built his Wardenclyffe factory and tower, and the umpteenth “bigger on the inside” bit, which never gets old for him. The alien menace is played by Anjli Mohindra; twelve years previously, Bradley Walsh had been the guest in a Sarah Jane Adventure, where she had been one of the regulars, “The Day of the Clown”. Queen Skithra looks just a little like the Empress of the Racnoss from “The Runaway Bride”. Spiders, scorpions, one creepy-crawlie is as bad as the next, I say.