Sunday, 3 February 2019

Things I Didn't Blog About In 2018 Part Two: Doctor Who Catch-up

Sorry, 2018  -  I'm not done with you yet. In a suitably time-warped kind of way I'm still dredging you back up from the temporal vortex to try and atone for my pitiful attempts at blogging during your titular twelve months. And this, er, time I'm looking at the last six episodes of Doctor Who, starting with:

Demons Of The Punjab ( by Vinay Patel )

After the tedious Tsuranga Conundrum had driven me to distraction the previous week I was really hoping for something with some more substance. Well, any substance really. Luckily this story set during the Partition of India delivered that, and how. The Doctor and her friends travel back in time to 1947 so Yaz can meet her beloved grandmother as a young woman. Unfortunately they land right in the middle of a cataclysmic event as India is being partitioned and Pakistan created with dire and violent consequences.
This episode was one of the highlights of the series for me  -  very well scripted and acted, with a sweet love story at its heart and some suitably gorgeous visuals. Although Rosa earlier in the series had also tackled the dangers of messing with history, this story was sufficiently different to get a pass from me for that slight redundancy.

Kerblam! ( by Pete McTighe )

An episode which could very well have been titled "Kerblamazon!", this was Who-style social satire, much in the vein of Seventh Doctor stories like The Happiness Patrol or Paradise Towers. And, like those stories, it was only partly successful. The concept of dodgy goings-on in a space-based delivery company was fine, with its skewering of modern day businesses who exploit their workers and don't pay their taxes, but the execution was mostly toothless. I think it could have been much darker and sharper but it ended up being just about average, demonstrating again that the new regime are more comfortable with Earth-focused stories than with intergalactic escapades.

The Witchfinders ( by Joy Wilkinson )

Another trip into the past, in this case to 17th century Lancashire, and a village in the midst of a witch frenzy. This was a terrific episode, Doctor Who tackling tea-time Folk Horror, with some bleak, wintry vistas and a suitably chilling alien menace. It also featured two of the best guest performances of the series from Siobhan Finneran and Alan Cumming as, respectively, a witch-obsessed landowner and a very camp King James. So far in its short run the Chibnall era has seemed very squeamish in terms of horror in the subject matter but this episode went a long way to redressing the balance.

It Takes You Away ( by Ed Hime )

A very strange episode, this, which may have benefited from being a two-parter, as the story changed narrative gears at least twice in its 50 minutes. ( I hope longer stories do return in future series so we at least see the return of the show's emblematic cliffhangers. ) The Doctor and friends went to the aid of a young, blind girl trapped in a cabin in a Scandinavian forest, surrounded by monsters. Although, that's how it seemed at first. The story turned out to share some ideas with Shyamalan's The Village before developing twists and turns involving a dimensional portal, Kevin Eldon in some very Star Trek-style "bumpy forehead alien" makeup, and a sentient universe in the form of a talking frog. It was that kind of a story. The mad concepts in this episode made it very divisive but I loved the audacity of it, giving us the kind of madness only Doctor Who would dare. And there was a brief return for Sharon D Clarke, in some lovely scenes with Bradley Walsh, which added a very poignant, er, dimension.

The Battle Of Anskoor Av Kolos ( by Chris Chibnall )

The series finale which didn't really feel like a finale. Nu Who fans have become used over the last 13 years or so to epic finales where the "arc plots", be they involving a Bad Wolf or a crack in time or a returning Time Lord / Lady, all come together and hopefully tie up dangling plot threads.
( Although, in Moffatt's case, some of these threads were never tied up. Just how did Rory escape from those Silence-infested tunnels? Huh, Steve? ) This year's was more of a stand-alone with the main "resolution" being that of Ryan and Graham's relationship issues.
But, saying that, this was still an enjoyable story which saw the return of Tim Shaw, some impressive glimpses of an alien planet, complete with spaceship graveyard, and a pleasing debate on the morality of executing ( or not ) genocidal alien monsters.

Resolution ( by Chris Chibnall )

The new Year's Day special gave us a return to Sheffield and a return of the show's quintessential villains, the Daleks. Only, this time it was a single Skarosian mutant which had been entombed on Earth for centuries and, after being awoken by some hapless archaeologists, went on the hunt for a new body. This was a cracking episode, very old-school, with plenty of action, stunts and special effects and some classic confrontation scenes between the Doctor and her oldest foe, this time in armour desperately cobbled together in a scrapyard. Daleks en masse and powerful can often be boring ( which is why Davros was created ) but a lone, vulnerable Dalek is always the scariest and most dangerous. Chibnall wisely realises this and pulled out all the stops for this thrilling story. Although it was disappointing that the 21st century Who tradition of a Christmas Day episode seemed to have come to an end, this New Year's Day special is hopefully the start of a new tradition.
Of course, the biggest disappointment is that we will have to wait until 2020 before we see the next series. Where's that Tardis?

I'll leave the final words to the Doctor herself:
"Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you. Constantly."

Soundtrack: Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder


Kid said...

I never watched any of the episodes, but I DID see a photo of the Dalek from the New Year Special. Its shape very much reminded me of the Cherilea 'Swoppit' Dalek sold only in Woolworth's in the '60s, and I wonder if this was deliberate. What do you think?

Steve W. said...

I did feel the second half of the season was noticeably better than the first half and it was nice to finally enjoy a dalek story again, after hating most of the dalek stories in the Moffat era.

cerebus660 said...

It may well have been deliberate as showrunner Chris Chibnall has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Who lore. I'd never seen those toys before so had to Google them and, yes, there's a definite resemblance.

I can see that the new regime didn't want to rely on old enemies but a lot of the antagonists in this last series were seriously lacking. It was nice to see a Dalek pop up and try to exterminate everything in sight. Bless 'em :-)


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