One week from the grand finale, and a week after the best episode in the series, I was pretty convinced this episode might be a dud, even if it was written by Neil Gaiman. Sadly no human embodiment of the TARDIS in his latest story, instead, a return for the Cybermen and a decrepit theme park. More fantastic sets and great CGI, which made up for the slightly effeminate Cybermen. How on earth did the designers manage to make robots that sashay?
The centrepiece of the episode was a phenomenal solo piece from Matt Smith, playing our Dr and a Cyber Dr alternately. It was a truly extraordinary piece of character acting, easily up there with anything from David Tennant’s beloved incarnation. Smith’s later scene playing the two Drs while interacting with Clara was also excellent, this time thanks to some real spark and vigour from Jenna-Louise Coleman, who I must say I’m growing rather fond of. I also really liked having more of the kids in the show, and how central they were to the plot, rather than annoying appendages.
Less easy to understand was the type-casting and underuse of Tamzin Outhwaite as an army officer. There was nothing wrong with her performance but she was hardly central to the show. Again, a great scene with Coleman as they squared off for authority. I’d like to see Outhwaite come back again with a bigger part to play, think of Celia Imrie in the first episode, or Sarah Lancashire from several seasons ago. Also underused was Jason Watkins, a great British character actor, who I always feel has the potential to be the next Toby Jones. I think this must be a testament to how much actors want to be involved in Doctor Who, they will take any part, however small.
The best surprise of this episode, for me at least, was Warwick Davis. I’m sure everyone is much more informed than me, but I only know Davis as the inside of many an iconic sci-fi robot and as a collaborator with Ricky Gervais. Safe to say, I haven’t seen any of those collaborations. So to discover that Davis is a fantastic actor with great charm and authority was a delight. I hope his character, Porridge/the Emperor, comes back in a later episode, hopefully for his wedding. His proposal to Clara was an adorable moment, likewise the Dr’s slight cluelessness.
There have been several signifiers that this series is leading up to the 50th anniversary episode and Gaiman wrote in a couple of treats. Using the device of the Cyber Dr being in our Dr’s head with access to his memories, we had a lovely slideshow of the former Drs that I’m sure had lifelong fans sighing with pleasure. While I admit to being momentarily puzzled at the Cyber Dr suddenly speaking in a Northern accent, once he yelled Tennant-era catchphrase ‘Alonsi’ I caught on that Smith was doing a (terrible) impression of Christopher Ecclestone. Which is a good moment for me to say that I’ve always felt sorry for Ecclestone. His Dr was brilliant. It got me hooked on the show, and regenerated it from a creaking cult classic to the flagship it is today. Tennant came along and made the part his own, and while I cannot praise the 10th Dr enough (or the 11th for that matter) let’s take a moment to reflect on the genius of Ecclestone. And while we’re reflecting on that, let’s also consider these questions for next week:
- Clara is the Impossible Girl. But what is the key to her mystery? Doppleganger? Timelord? Daughter of a prominent former character?
- Will the return of the 10th Dr and Rose be a flashback cameo or integral to the plot?
- I know we know that River Song is dead, but still, why are we seeing her tombstone next week?
- What epic surprises does Moffatt have in store for us.
- Finally (and yes I know it’s cheesy but it is THE question) Doctor Who?
Contributed by Victoria Prior