I love it when elements of Classic Who and New Who are combined to tell a whole new story. With a history this vast Doctor Who is a franchise that’s perfect for such a mashup of the old and new. Especially given how much of a mixture of old and new this current era is – what with its female Doctor and its throwback to a three-companion TARDIS team. So, when the news broke that Sophie Alfred, the actress who played Ace (companion of the 7th Doctor and the prototype for the modern DoctorWho companion as we know them), would be writing a book detailing an adventure where Ace meets the current Doctor and her companions, I was totally on board. And, I gotta tell you, it’s a really good book. In fact, it’s so good that I wish it could be adapted into an episode or two of the show itself. (Mild spoilers follow.)
Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End (by Sophie Aldred, with Steve Cole and Mike Tucker)
Once, a girl called Ace travelled the universe with the Doctor – until, in the wake of a terrible tragedy they parted company. Decades later, she is known as Dorothy McShane, the reclusive millionaire philanthropist who heads global organisation A Charitable Earth. And Dorothy is haunted by terrible nightmares, vivid dreams that begin just as scores of young runaways are vanishing from the dark alleyways of London. Could the disappearances be linked to sightings of sinister creatures lurking in the city shadows? Why has an alien satellite entered a secret orbit around the Moon?
Investigating the satellite with Ryan, Graham and Yaz, the Doctor is thrown together with Ace once more. Together they must unravel a malevolent plot that will cost thousands of lives. But can the Doctor atone for her past incarnation’s behaviour – and how much must Ace sacrifice to win victory not only for herself, but for the Earth?
Mary Shelley + The Doctor + Gothic Ghost Story = genius idea. I mean, what else could you want? It’s such a good idea that it’s genuinely surprising the show has never done something like this before. To be fair, Big Finish Productions have done some audio adventures featuring Mary Shelley teaming up with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, but never has the show itself taken us on a trip to this particular part of history. And what better night for a Doctor Who story to take place on than the night Mary Shelley purportedly came up with the idea for her classic, Frankenstein. So, this would all seem like a pretty good set up for a great episode of Doctor Who. And, to be fair, it is – but not for the reasons you’d think. At the end of the day, it’s kind of a Frankenstein of an episode – pun intended – in the best possible way. (Spoilers ahead!)
Season 12 Episode 8, The Haunting of Villa Diodati (written by Maxine Alderton, directed by Emma Sullivan)
‘Nobody mention Frankenstein. Nobody interfere. Nobody snog Byron (Jacob Collins-Levy).’ Should be easy, right?
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her gang (Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill) arrive at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva in 1816 on the night that inspired Mary Shelley’s (Lilli Miller) Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats, but the ghosts are all too real, and the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: short stories are a great medium for Doctor Who tales. They provide authors with a nice ability to tell the kinds of stories that maybe wouldn’t quite work as an episode of the show and are too short to support an entire novel. Some of the most creative Doctor Who adventures have come from these collections of short stories (see the recently published Target Collection for examples) and I always look forward to them when they come out. Star Tales is no exception, especially as it finally unveils some of the stories behind the Doctor’s frequently referenced encounters with celebrities. This go ’round, we get our first collection of stories that primarily focuses on the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions – Ryan, Yaz, and Graham – save for one story, early on. How are the stories in this collection? They’re pretty good and definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of this era of the show. (Mild spoilers for the stories within Star Tales.)
Doctor Who: Star Tales (by Steve Cole, Paul Magrs, Jenny T. Colgan, Jo Cotterill, Trevor Baxendale, and Mike Tucker)
The Doctor is many things – curious, funny, brave, protective of her friends…and a shameless namedropper. While she and her companions battled aliens and travelled across the universe, the Doctor hinted at a host of previous, untold adventures with the great and the good: we discovered she got her sunglasses from Pythagoras (or was it Audrey Hepburn?); lent a mobile phone to Elvis; had an encounter with Amelia Earhart where she discovered that a pencil-thick spider web can stop a plane; had a ‘wet weekend’ with Harry Houdini, learning how to escape from chains underwater; and more. In this collection of new stories, Star Tales takes you on a rip-roaring ride through history, from 500BC to the swinging 60s, going deeper into the Doctor’s notorious name-dropping and revealing the truth behind these anecdotes.
This week’s episode of Doctor Who was another one of those episodes where I had no idea what to expect before watching it. The BBC’s promotional efforts for the episode played things very close to the chest, revealing only that it would be a fairly creepy episode and the villain, Zellin (Ian Gelder), would be doing something involving dreams and nightmares. Aside from that, it was super unclear what to expect from the episode. And, frankly, I think it really worked out in this instance because Can You Hear Me? is one of those episodes that has to be seen to be truly appreciated and understood. So, did I like the episode? For sure, though I think it could have benefitted from being a two-part story. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 7: Can You Hear Me? (written by Charlene James and Chris Chibnall, directed by Emma Sullivan)
From ancient Syria to present day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her friends. As Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) return home to see friends and family, they find themselves haunted by very different experiences. Who is the figure calling from beyond the stars for help, and why? And what are the fearsome Chagaskas terrorising Aleppo in 1380? To find the answers, Team Tardis embark on a mission that forces them to face their darkest fears.
This episode was a weird one for me because, unlike last week’s, I had exactly no excitement for it. I knew there was no way the episode would actually be continuing any of the overarching plot threads introduced in Fugitive of the Judoon, and after an episode as explosive as that one, it was really hard to be excited for an episode that would just be bog-standard Doctor Who. Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with regular, old stand-alone episodes of the show, but after something as exciting and groundbreaking as last week’s episode, it’s difficult to really get excited for “another random adventure!”. With that said, though, Praxeus is an excellent example of how great a stand-alone episode of Doctor Who can be. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 6 – Praxeus (written by Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone)
What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer who washes up on a Madagascan beach? The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) investigate.
The Judoon are an interesting species but I, personally, have never understood the love for them. They’re rarely the actual antagonist of an episode, acting merely as a force for both the Doctor and the antagonist to face off against. So, while it’s cool they’re coming back in an episode more focused on them than those they’ve most recently appeared in, I can’t say that they were the big draw for me going into this episode. In fact, perhaps the most exciting thing about this episode, going into it, was the publicity hype it got beforehand. Throughout the last week, various official social media accounts tied to the BBC and Doctor Who have been teasing something that would be more shocking than the surprise reveal of the Master in the season premiere. Now that’s an exciting thing to tease before an episode airs. But, surely, they can’t actually deliver on that kind of monumental hype, can they? Short answer: YES. (This review features spoilers for Fugitive of the Judoon.)
Season 12, Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon (written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, directed by Nida Manzoor)
Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?
I love a good celebrity historical episode of Doctor Who. There’s just something that’s inherently fun about seeing the Doctor meet some famous person from history and have an adventure with them. Some of the best celebrity historicals are when Doctor Who answers some previously-unanswered question about that historical figure’s life – in The Unicorn and the Wasp, the show posits an answer to the question of why Agatha Christie went missing for a week, only to reappear with no memory of those days. So, when it was revealed that we’d be getting an episode about Nikola Tesla – who infamously claimed to have seen UFOs at one point in his life – it seemed like the show was setting us up for a really fun romp between the Doctor and Tesla that might answer the question of what, exactly, Tesla saw – which sounds really interesting. And with a title as bonkers as Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror, it seemed as though we’d be getting an episode every bit as fun as its premise would suggest. So, was the episode interesting and fun? Was it good? Answer: yes. It is an immensely fun episode. (This review contains spoilers for Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror.)
Season 12, Episode 4: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror (written by Nina Metivier, directed by Nida Manzoor)
It is 1903 and on the edge of Niagara Falls, something is wrong at Nikola Tesla’s (Goran Višnjić) generator plant, where someone – or something – is sabotaging the maverick inventor’s work. Has Tesla really received a message from Mars? And where does his great rival Thomas Edison (Robert Glenister) fit into these events? The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) must join forces with one of history’s greatest minds to save both him and planet Earth.
Ed Hime’s previous Doctor Who episode, It Takes You Away, was one of my favorite episodes of the previous season. I thought it had a perfect balance of character stuff and plot stuff and it was just a whole lot of fun to watch – especially with that whole bonkers idea of a sentient universe presenting itself as a talking frog. With that episode being as good as it was, I was definitely looking forward to what Hime would do in his second episode. I mean, there’s no realistic way it was gonna be quite as weird as his first, but I hoped it would be pretty fun. And, to be fair, it was very fun. Orphan 55 has a great premise, some great characters, a poignant message, and some truly scary monsters. It’s an extremely entertaining episode that’s let down a little bit by a very on the nose ending. (Spoilers follow!)
Season 12, Episode 3: Orphan 55 (written by Ed Hime, directed by director Lee Haven Jones)
Having decided that everyone could do with a holiday, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) takes Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill), and Ryan (Tosin Cole) to a luxury resort for a spot of rest and relaxation. However, they discover the place where they are having a break is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters that are attacking Tranquillity Spa?
I love a good two-parter, I really do. But I’ll also admit that it’s extremely hard to stick the landing on one. The best two-parters have pretty explosive (sometimes literally) cliffhangers that have to be satisfactorily dealt with before the rest of the episode can focus on actually concluding the greater story being told. This was something previous eras of Doctor Who had struggled with a bit; RTD tended to write himself into corners that required a deus ex machina solution while Moffat’s two-parters often were more spiritually connected than narratively. Both of them frequently struggled with figuring out a way to properly conclude the stories they were telling. With Spyfall being the first two-parter from the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, the hope would be that he’d find a good way to thread this needle. And, for the most part, he does a pretty good job, delivering an episode that’s most definitely a narrative continuation of the previous and providing some solid answers while setting up an intriguing throughline for the rest of the season. (This review will contain spoilers for Spyfall, Part 2. Proceed at your own risk.)
Season 12, Episode 2: Spyfall, Part 2 (written by Chris Chibnall, directed byLee Haven Jones)
In part two of this epic spy thriller, a terrifying plan to destroy humanity is about to reach fruition. Can the Doctor and her friends escape multiple traps and defeat a deadly alliance?
After a full year, Doctor Who has finally returned to our TV screens! While I may not have totally loved Chris Chibnall’s first season as showrunner, I did quite enjoy Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. She brought a lot of energy and commitment to the role and it was hard to dislike her as the character, even if I wish the writing of her episodes was stronger. The same was true for her friends, Ryan (Tosin Cole), Yaz (Mandip Gill), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) – all of whom brought such energy to their characters, but many of whom felt underdeveloped. Luckily, all four of these actors have returned for this sophomore outing for the 13th Doctor, and if this first episode is anything to go by, it looks like they’re in for quite the adventure. It’s always hard to judge a two-part story when you’ve only seen its first part, and that remains true for this story. That being said, Spyfall (Part 1) is certainly an excellent first half of a story, ticking every box you’d want ticked and perfectly setting up a pretty exciting second half. (Major spoilers for Spyfall, Part 1 follow!)
Season 12, Episode 1: Spyfall, Part 1 (written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Jamie Magnus Stone) Intelligence agents around the world are under attack from alien forces, so MI6 turn to the only people who can help: the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her friends, Ryan (Tosin Cole), Yaz (Mandip Gill), and Graham (Bradley Walsh). As they travel the globe looking for answers, attacks come from all sides. Earth’s security rests on the team’s shoulders, but where will this planet-threatening conspiracy lead them?