Monday, 14 December 2015

Series Nine Guest Round-up - Part Two

Continuing with the guest submissions, fellow tweeter and nascent blogger, Owen Conway, aka "The Cypher" shares his thoughts on Series 9. If you haven't already read part one of your submissions, you can find it HERE - Enjoy!

This image perfectly describes Series 9 - No interference, just running through the universe

It feels like merely yesterday that we were gathering around the television set, ready to watch the premier of Series 9 "The Magician's Apprentice" and already, the series has come to a close. 2015 has been an incredible year for Doctor Who. It is, of course, the 10th Anniversary of the New Series of Doctor Who – and as such, BBC Wales have put one hell of a series together. I'm going to be writing a brief paragraph or two on each episode this year, bearing in mind I've only re-watched a couple (Not because they're bad episodes, I just can't watch something immediately after it's aired).

We began Series 9 with the first part of a two-parter "The Magician's Apprentice", which featured the return of The Master, Davros and the Daleks. I really liked this episode. A common complaint is that not a lot happens in the episode, which is true, really. The Master brings Clara to The Doctor's performance in Essex during the Middle Ages. Colony Sarff somehow time travels to them, and brings them Back to the Future™, and to a medical facility in space. The Doctor is then taken to see Davros, who is apparently dying. This episode touches on a lot of dark themes, such as killing a child (specifically, Davros). One of my hopes for Series 9 was that it would be a lot darker, and it certainly delivers on that aspect. It then turns out they've actually been taken to Skaro , and the Dalek City set is made to pay homage to the first Dalek story, The Daleks (1963). The episode ends on a cliffhanger, involving the extermination of The Master and Clara, and The Doctor going back in time to kill Davros as a child.

The following week, we had the second part "The Witch's Familiar", which involved The Master explaining to Clara how they managed to survive being exterminated (by using the energy of the weapon in question to charge the vortex manipulator and teleport away). This episode involves some intense dialogue between The Doctor and Davros. It is, of course, all part of Davros' plan to purge regeneration energy from The Doctor. The Master eventually comes to the rescue, and The Doctor explains how Davros has given energy to all Daleks, including the ones down in the Dalek sewer. They become angry, and destroy the Daleks above, along with the whole city.

The second part definitely felt better and more energetic. It got straight to the point, which is what I liked. A common feature of this series is that you'll find one part is better than the other, as it was with Dark Water/Death in Heaven last year (the former of that story being better, in my opinion). Overall, a good story – despite the fact it wasn't explained how all the Daleks were on Skaro or how Davros survived the destruction of The Crucible in the Series 4 episode "Journey's End".

Capaldi: “What? They’re ghosts? Actual ghosts?”

After that, we had the first of yet another two-parter entitled "Under the Lake", which was definitely a strong story. Paying homage to the classic "base-under-siege" setup, The Doctor and Clara found themselves on an undersea base known as The Drum, where there were real ghosts out for blood that only came out at night. During these 45 minutes, there was extremely good storytelling, great acting and fantastic representation of deaf people in the form of Cass – who was portrayed as a feisty and independent woman – moving away from the stereotypical deaf person. The story ended on the bombshell that The Doctor had become a ghost. The second part of this story, "Before the Flood", was a bit flat. It felt drastically different to that which came before it, and was less of an adrenaline rush. While it did tie up the plot threads quite nicely, the main foe here, the Fisher King, was drastically underused, which was a major disappointment. Overall though, another good story here. Toby Whithouse did a really good job, and I hope to see more from him in Series 10.

My real disappointment began with what I like to consider a two-parter, when "The Girl Who Died" aired the following week. The BBC really put all their effort into advertising this episode, due to the fact this big Game of Thrones actress, Maisie Williams, was in it. Despite the fact it was a co-write between Jamie Mathieson (who gave us two great episodes the previous year) and Steven Moffat, I went into this episode with low expectations – and I'm glad I did. It was proof that the BBC only advertised this story due to Maisie Williams – because it was just a tad crap. The Doctor and Clara landed in a Viking village, where they were taken to see Odin (who was actually part of an alien race called the Mire). Clara negotiated Odin's departure from the planet, however, Ashildr (played by Maisie Williams) decided to be a bit of an idiot and declare war on the Mire. Odin accepted Ashildr's challenge and The Doctor had to try and train the people of the village in combat, to no avail. He then hatched a plan to use electric eels, an awful CGI dragon and a video recording to force Odin to leave.

Ashildr died by using a Mire helmet and The Doctor realized he had taken on the face of Lobus Caecilius from the Series 4 episode "The Fires of Pompeii" (Lobus was played by Peter Capaldi, and was his first appearance in Doctor Who). The Doctor realized the face was to remind him to save anyone he could, regardless of how right or wrong it was. The Doctor then took a Mire immortality chip thingy, and placed it on Ashildr's forehead, where it sunk in and made her immortal. It's safe to say I consider this episode the worst of Series 9. It’s just bloody awful.

This story was continued the following week, with "The Woman Who Lived". This episode is just slightly better than "The Girl Who Died" - due to its exploration of the themes around immortality. I'd say it goes into more depth than that of Captain Jack Harkness' immortality story (which we saw in the Torchwood episode "Fragments"). Moreover, Clara doesn't feature for most of this episode (which is a good thing), and features only The Doctor and Ashildr, now calling herself "Me". This episode is set in London, 1651 – and features Me as a Highway Woman. She's on a mission to help this big cat person (who, in turn, betrays her). This episode was a lot better than the previous one, and rounds off the Me arc quite nicely. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple – as you'll find out later in this review.

Following this, we had a Zygon two-parter, starting with "The Zygon Invasion". This episode featured the return of UNIT, Kate Stewart, Osgood and the Zygons. It is a sequel to 2013's 50th Anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor" - and features a break down in the Human-Zygon alliance. It also involves some political themes (such as ISIS) being translated into Doctor Who. A rogue Zygon fraction who are sick of disguising themselves as humans threaten to tear the world apart. However, the vast majority of Zygons disagree with them, and merely wants to live in peace. A large portion of UNIT is taken over, including Clara. The lead Zygon "Bonnie" takes down Zygon High Command and disguises herself as Clara. This episode poses some interesting questions, such as "Is Osgood Human or Zygon?" (Which we never get a definitive answer to). The episode ends on a cliffhanger, involving Bonnie shooting a rocket, which blows up The Doctor's presidential plane, along with him and Osgood, presumably. The second part of the story, oddly named “The Zygon Inversion”, is quite a blur to me. I can hardly remember what actually happens – because, my memory is dominated by that fabulous speech by Peter Capaldi about the Time War. I’ll try and puzzle it together as best I can.

So, they somehow survive the explosion and parachute down back down to Earth, where it’s now The Doctor and Osgood vs. the rest of the world. They then get into a car, drive around London? (While something which suspiciously sounds like the James Bond theme plays in the background). They then arrive at the Black Archive, where there are two Osgood boxes. The Doctor then does his absolutely fabulous speech about the Time War. I have to say, this has to be one of Capaldi’s best performances as The Doctor – if not his best. It then turns out neither box has anything in them, and everyone leave happily ever after. The Human-Zygon alliance resumes once more.

 The Doctor: “Clara…I don’t think they like you.”

After this, we had Sleep No More. Everyone seems to hate this episode through and through, comparing it with the likes of Love & Monsters and Fear Her. I don’t think it is actually as bad as people make out. Most people complain about the found footage camera technique, which I actually rather like (having watched Cloverfield about a year ago). Professor Rassmussen created a machine which allows a person to go without sleep for long periods of time. However, the machine has a dangerous side effect – as regular users turn into something called “Sandmen”, an unofficial term for them as they are made of sleep dust that gathers in human eyes. Obviously, due to the camera techniques used in the episode, we get a mix of helmet mounted cameras and CCTV. Funnily enough, I noticed upon first broadcast that the characters didn’t have cameras attached to them. I thought it was a mistake, however it turns out it was part of the Morpheus process – and I was pleased that I had noticed the lack of cameras. Murray Gold provides an amazing soundtrack with a synth feel to it – reminding me of films like Blade Runner. Overall, an interesting episode – but certainly not the worst! (Looking at you, The Girl Who Died).

ACTION REPLAY: For your viewing pleasure, here is Clara – dying
Sleep No More was the calm before the storm, as after this we got Face The Raven – the first of a three-parter. We haven’t had a three-parter since Series 3 (2007), so I was intrigued and excited by this prospect. I think everyone is aware of my dislike for Clara Oswald, so (thanks to the BBC for spoiling her death) I was hyped for her departure. Face the Raven would have been a fantastic episode, even without her death. Unfortunately, it featured the return of the bloody awful actress Maisie Williams, again playing Me. It appears she’s been contacted by the Time Lords to transport The Doctor into his confession dial. However, things don’t go according to plan, as Clara attempts to be The Doctor, however in doing so, she gets herself killed. One so loves fireworks, as afterwards, the hashtag #ClaraDeathParty was trending on Twitter. I actually got a Twix and a drink to celebrate Clara’s painful demise. The Doctor, however, seemed unwilling to accept Clara was just a complete idiot, instead blaming Me for her death. After such a momentous occasion, we then got another great episode the following week.

Heaven Sent – I mean, come on; who can deny 55 minutes of Peter Capaldi being a total boss? He absolutely owned the episode. It did feature a manifestation of Clara, but it wasn’t actually her, so I can let that off. It showed, in detail, the thought processes of The Doctor in his attempts to avoid a being known as The Veil, who follows him through the castle.

The Doctor could see exactly where The Veil was by looking at the screens placed throughout the castle. The Doctor eventually discovered the room “12”, with a diamond wall in the way. It took him trillions of years to break through it, but when he did, he found himself on Gallifrey. I would have been shocked by this cliffhanger; however, the BBC spoiled it. Someone I follow on Twitter noted that because The Doctor burnt up his mind to create a new version of himself, the original Doctor is dead. I find that quite sad. Plus, can we just have a moment of appreciation for Murray Gold and his 80’s synth about 8 minutes into the episode as The Doctor examines that painting of Clara. Did that remind anyone else of 80’s Doctor Who?

I bloody love this image. So much so, I made it my desktop background!

Upon viewing the Next Time trailer for Hell Bent, I was so excited by the prospect of Gallifrey’s long-awaited return. I imagined a Doctor vs. Rassilon battle in The Doctor’s search to discover what The Hybrid is. Instead, we got something very different. The first 30 minutes of this 1 hour episode were a true work of art. The Doctor returns to the barn on Gallifrey, where someone (who is implied to be his mother) finds him. Rassilon then sends guards, high council members, but The Doctor doesn’t care. Rassilon himself then goes to the barn, and The Doctor expresses his disgust with Rassilon, blaming him for the travesties of the Time War. The chancellery guards, including The General, then join The Doctor, and he orders Rassilon to be deposed and exiled from Gallifrey. I honestly didn’t see this coming, but I didn’t mind. The Doctor then takes on the role of Lord President and talks to The General. The Doctor then does what he came back to Gallifrey to do – and this is where the episode takes an unfortunate turn. He goes to an extraction chamber and orders Clara to be pulled from her time zone, just before the moment of her death. In an unexpected turn of events, The Doctor punches The General, takes his gun, then shoots him – forcing him to regenerate.

This was just fucking pointless, if you do excuse my French. What was the point? It was just a “let’s make Ken Bones regenerate just so we can make him turn into a black woman” – it wasn’t even handled well, and the actress who portrayed the 11th incarnation of The General was a bit shit, frankly. Very poor form. I thought the Cloisters were going to be an adversary, but they turned out to be a bit pathetic too. The Doctor then nicks a TARDIS, and we were introduced to the Classic 1963 TARDIS interior, which was a nice nod to the past. A lot of people say the rest of the episode beyond the Gallifrey escape isn’t on Gallifrey. That is incorrect. The Doctor explicitly states he moves the TARDIS forward in time, but not in space. They materialize exactly where they were, and The Doctor goes out to meet Maisie Williams. Seriously, she hangs around like an old fart. We are then told The Hybrid, destined to stand in the ruins of Gallifrey, who will break a thousand hearts to heal his own, is just The Doctor and Clara. The Doctor and The Master. The Doctor as a half human. We never get a definitive answer, and I doubt we ever will. The Hybrid turns out to be a bit flimsy. The Doctor then wipes his memory of Clara for some reason, Me disguises her TARDIS as an American diner, and her and Clara go flying off into the universe. What? Are you serious? Clara lives but is technically dead? Come on now Moffat, you’re just making excuses.

That final scene as The Doctor enters the TARDIS is just majestic. He walks in, puts his red velvet jacket on and receives a new Sonic Screwdriver (here’s hoping it isn’t as abused as the last one). With a snap of his fingers, the TARDIS door closes. He departs, and zooms through space – crossing paths with the American diner TARDIS. Series 9, I feel, has been about tying up threads, ready for a clean slate in Series 10. New companion, and (here’s hoping) a certain TARDIS interior from 1963?
Overall, Series 9 has been one heck of a series. I’m going to attempt to rate the stories, best at the top and worst at the bottom.

Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent
The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion
Under the Lake/Before the Flood
The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar
Sleep No More
The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived


Thank you for reading!

You can follow Owen on Twitter @The__Cypher and check out his blog HERE, and my thanks go to him for taking the time to share his thoughts!

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