A two-parter where both episodes are equally good and even feel like they belong together? It’s like the mess of the past few seasons never happened. Capaldi has hit his stride, Coleman is on top form as the New Clara — brittle, bold and still bossy — and the supporting cast doesn’t have a weak link among them (unless you count the gloriously submissive Prentiss).
Rock Star Doctor
Like the agelessly cool college professor, the Doctor can give a lecture on anything and the audience is rapt. Who cares if this episode’s exposition comes to us in what’s basically an infomercial? The Doctor is talking to us. It’s like our own personal TED talk, complete with guitar solo. And speaking of the guitar, it’s something of a theme this season. This might get old, like Matt Smith’s fez addiction and David Tennant’s, well, everything, but the thing about Capaldi is that he carries it well. Of course the Doctor can riff with the best of them, AND of course he hangs out with Beethoven — and frankly, he probably did write the Fifth Symphony, or at least takes some of the credit. His foray into wearable technology might have horrified some hardcore fans, but the sonic sunglasses are, frankly, just damn cool.
Friends With Benefits
For all his taut plotlines and crackling dialogue, Toby Whithouse is at his best when he’s writing the companion dynamic. He explored it in Season 2’s “School Reunion,” with a pitch perfect Rose Tyler realizing that she wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last, and a Sarah Jane Smith weary, nostalgic but still fighting.
Clara is all pep and enthusiasm this season – out-UNITing UNIT, dragging people down corridors and saving the day with a little help from her Time Lord sidekick. Grief has built up Clara’s emotional calluses and right now, she’s like a shark — if she stops moving, she’ll die. At some point, she’ll have to — she’ll have to stop and confront what Danny’s death has meant, and how she wants to live her life post-Doctor. And when things come crashing down, it’s probably going to be messy; Coleman has promised us an “emotional” farewell.
O’Donnell gets the one thing every Whovian wants — a trip in the TARDIS. She’s so happy to discover that it is, in fact, bigger on the inside, and every excited bounce is a reminder of her impending death. RIP O’Donnell. You were so much less irritating than Osgood.
Fifty Shades of Weird
It all gets a bit kinky with the Tivoli, a race who, it turns out, keep getting invaded because they kind of like it. Prentiss the alien undertaker’s suggestion that the Doctor “oppress” him isn’t even subtle in its S&M undertones — it’s just a shame he looks like a cross between an old Victorian man and a squirrel. (If he’d lasted a bit longer, though, he could have had a lot of fun with Missy…)
Villain of the Week
If there’s a flaw in what is a thoroughly satisfying end to this two-parter, it’s in the introduction of the Fisher King, who enters the story too late to feel like a real threat. Looking like the bastard spawn of the alien from “Alien” and something out of “Game of Thrones,” he promises to take over the Earth and keep humans in chains for reasons unspecified. At least Corey Taylor only provides the voice for the screaming, otherwise it could all have gotten a little nu-metal.
Questions (Which Aren’t “The Oldest Question”)
Can we have the electric guitar theme tune every week?
The Harold Saxon shout-out was an interesting one — is this a hint that Missy is going to try and reclaim her old position on Earth? And who — or what — is the Minister of War? O’Donnell knows about it, but the Doctor doesn’t, so place your bets on that coming up later this season now.
Did Scotland really make a fake Soviet Russia in the 1980s? Insert joke here about how they could have just gone to Glasgow.
Did everyone pause the show and Google “bootstrap paradox” like the Doctor told us to? Or was it just me?
Who wrote Beethoven’s Fifth? It was probably Beethoven, but maybe he let the Doctor throw in a few notes here and there…