Timestamp #266: The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died
Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived
(2 episodes, s09e05-06, 2015)

Timestamp 266 Girl Who Died Woman Who Lived

Who really wants to live forever?

The Girl Who Died

Clara is floating in space. She is stranded while the Doctor deals with an attack by the Velosians and something is crawling around in her spacesuit. The Doctor asks her to focus on particular stars until he can materialize the TARDIS around her.

Once the crisis is resolved, the TARDIS lands on Earth, and the travelers are abducted by Vikings. Never a moment’s rest. They even snap the sonic sunglasses in half. Two days later, the travelers and their captors arrive at the Viking village. The Doctor has been lying to Clara about a plan for the duration. He also has a premonition – perhaps a vision of his past? – about a girl he sees.

The Doctor frees himself and poses as Odin with a yo-yo, but his bluff is called when an image appears in the sky and proclaims itself to be that particular god. Several armored aliens appear and start taking the strongest warriors to Valhalla, and Clara uses the distraction to free herself with the broken sonic sunglasses and the girl’s help. The sonic signature draws the aliens to her and the women are taken.

In what is presumably a ship, the Vikings are vaporized in a trap but Clara and the girl escape. While the Doctor formulates a plan in the village, the women explore the ship. They encounter the being posing as Odin and watch as he consumes the adrenaline and testosterone extracted from the men he killed. Clara puts on her best Doctor face as she confronts Odin but her new friend, Ashildr, declares that she will have revenge for the fallen. Odin agrees, promising that ten warriors will attack on the next day, and returns the women to the planet.

The Doctor informs Clara that the attackers are the Mire, one of the deadliest warrior races in the galaxy. They then consult with the remaining villagers on a solution. All of the warriors are gone, but the farmers and fishermen are resolved to defend their homes. The Doctor refuses to help at first, but the cries of a baby convince him to stay and offer basic defense lessons. He is concerned, however, that if the villagers defeat the Mire, it will only embolden the warriors of the universe to attack in greater numbers.

The training does not go well. The demoralized villagers gather for dinner as the Doctor watches the sunset with Clara. The sound of thunder – the booms of the Mire weapon forges – accompanies a discussion on Vikings and death. The Doctor wants to run and keep Clara safe, but she tells him to look for a solution. Meanwhile, Ashildr has started training with a handmade puppet of Odin. The Doctor finds her and asks for her opinion but it is dire. He says that she could leave, but this is her home. Ashildr says that she’s always been the different one in her community, but at least she’s loved here.

Her father overhears and consoles Ashildr as a Viking the Doctor nicknamed Lofty takes the baby to the boathouse. The baby loves the fish and the “fire in the water,” which the Doctor realizes is their key to winning. After all, the fire in the water is electric eels.

The Doctor develops a plan that includes the eels and a “monstrosity” built by Ashildr. The plan becomes action as Odin and his soldiers arrive to find the villagers partying. The party includes a ring toss that connects the soldiers to the electric eels and creates a magnet to steal the Mire’s helmets. With a helmet, Ashildr is able to show the warriors a giant serpent, a vision that disguises a giant handmade wooden horse puppet. The Mire retreat, leaving Odin behind as the Doctor and Clara confront him with video evidence of the Mire’s cowardice.

Odin vows vengeance as the Doctor sends him away. The Mire ship breaks orbit, but the village’s celebrations are cut short when they find that Ashildr has died. The Doctor is distraught and heads to the boathouse. Clara tries to console him but he takes the blame since the helmet drained her like a battery. The Doctor is sick of losing people, admitting that he’s always running from the pain of death and loss.

It’s at this point that he has a revelation. He realizes why he has this face, a question he’s asked since his regeneration. His face is a reminder of a time when Donna Noble encouraged him to always try to save someone, even at a fixed point in time. It was a time when he saved Lobus Caecilius and his family at Pompeii.

It’s a reminder to hold to the mark. To save people.

The Doctor returns to Ashildr’s side and rigs a Mire battlefield medical kit for human DNA. He places the device on her forehead and it sinks into her skin. It repairs her damage and she returns to life, and the Doctor scurries away as he gives Ashildr a second device. It is for her to give to whomever she wants.

The catch is that the medical device will never stop repairing her. It has made her immortal, and the second device is for her to find a companion on this never-ending journey.

As the travelers return to the TARDIS, the Doctor wonders aloud if he has made a terrible mistake. After all, he has just created a hybrid.

The days pass, and Ashildr’s innocent smile slowly changes to a grim stare. She is truly alone in the world.

The Woman Who Lived

It is now 17th-century London and a highwayman known as the Knightmare robs a stagecoach belonging to the Fanshawes. The Knightmare has an accomplice, the glowing eyes of a “demon” in the woods, and frightens the Fanshawes into surrendering their valuables when the Doctor arrives with a gadget.

The Doctor is traveling alone as Clara is taking her students on a field trip. The stagecoach escapes and the rogue reveals himself… or rather, herself, as Ashildr.

The Doctor has been keeping tabs on her throughout history, but he has arrived at this point in her life to track down an alien artifact. Ashildr reveals that she has forgotten where she came from and now goes by the name Me. All of her other names died with those who knew her. She now rides through life alone.

Me takes the Doctor back to her rather large home to help her pack. She asks about the Doctor’s mission and explains that she robs for the mere adventure. She’s seen a lot of adventures over the last 800 years, including being a medieval queen, fighting in the Battle of Agincourt, curing an entire village of scarlet fever and being persecuted as a witch, and surviving the Black Plague.

The Doctor warns her of another bout of the plague and the great fire caused by the Tereleptils. Me keeps journals to remind her of her experiences, and while she discusses her life, she admits that time is what runs out around her. She asks the Doctor to take her away in his ship, but he deflects so Me offers to help with his quest instead.

As Me prepares and consults her glowing-eyed accomplice, the Doctor reviews her journals. They are full of loneliness and heartbreak, including sections that are torn out because they are far too painful. The Doctor tries to help her with her emotional detachment but she rejects him. She also continues to mention parts of the Doctor’s life that she shouldn’t know.

Together they break into the Fanshawe estate and retrieve the Eyes of Hades, a glowing purple jewel. During the adventure, Me shows the Doctor that she has never chosen someone for the second Mire device. They also narrowly escape from Mr. Fanshawe, during which Me pokes at the Doctor’s previous companions, particularly those who left in tragic conditions.

On the road home, Me and the Doctor are ambushed by competing brigands. After a brief tussle with Me’s rival, Sam Swift the Quick, the brigands flee despite Me’s anger at not being allowed to kill them. They return to Me’s home where they discuss the Eyes of Hades and Me’s desire to travel with the Doctor. When the Doctor refuses to let her join him, he is confronted by the glowing-eyed accomplice. His name is Leandro, a fire-breathing alien from Delta Leonis. The alien amulet was Leandro’s means of travel, lost when he crashed on Earth.

Me wants to escape the doldrums of her life and Leandro has offered to travel with her. The downside is that the amulet only works upon someone’s death. Me restrains the Doctor in a closet – the Doctor expresses sorrow at saving her life and for not understanding that immortality would rust her heart – and turns the Doctor over to the local constabulary as an accomplice to Sam Swift. She then leaves to take Sam Swift’s life since the man is about to be hanged for highway robbery.

Meanwhile, the Doctor exchanges Me’s ill-gotten treasure for his life and a horse. He races to the gallows and offers a pardon on the psychic paper. Unfortunately, Me is able to kill Sam Swift and open a portal. Leandro reveals himself and double-crosses Me as an invasion fleet from his homeworld attacks the planet. She then joins forces with the Doctor to stop the threat.

Me deduces that reversing Sam’s death with close the portal, so she gives him the second Mire device. Leandro is vaporized by his people for his failure as the portal closes and the humans cheer. Sometime later, Sam, Me, and the Doctor gather in the pub for drinks. The Doctor asks Me to keep an eye on Sam, just in case the brigand ends up as an immortal as well, and offers his reasoning for rejecting her. She cannot travel with him because she’s too similar to him – just like Jack Harkness – and he needs someone who sees the universe differently.

The Doctor takes his leave with the promise to keep an eye on Me. She offers to keep an eye on those he leaves behind, protecting the world from him. Not as an enemy, but as a friend. Upon returning to the TARDIS, he plays the guitar as he thinks. Clara arrives with a selfie from a student that he helped, and standing in the background is Me.

The travelers plot their next adventure as they express their affection for one another. Clara promises that she’s not going anywhere but the Doctor is not so sure.

This story is dark but I love it for the simple allegory of immortality. As humans, we’re known to chase youth and try so many different things to extend our lives. We defiantly demand – or even ask, if we’re religious – for a little more time. Just a little more time.

But what are the consequences of living longer? What is that magic threshold between just enough and one day too many?

Immortality has a cost. We saw parts of this story played out with Jack Harkness, and we see it here in excruciating detail. It’s well crafted by writers Jamie Mathieson, Catherine Tregenna, and (yes) Steven Moffat. We last saw Jamie Mathieson with Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline, and Catherine Tregenna comes from Torchwood (Out of Time, Captain Jack Harkness, Meat, and Adam). That explains the darker moralistic tones, doesn’t it?

Notably, Catherine Tregenna was the first woman to write for Doctor Who since Helen Raynor penned The Sontaran Strategem & The Poison Sky in Series Four.

I also really enjoyed seeing the balance between the Doctor’s hubris and its consequences. He plugs Ashildr into the Mire helmet to win the battle, but it literally drains her of life. He fixes that problem by creating a larger one. Thankfully, he recognizes his errors and has to live with them. Ashildr, now called Me, calls him on the carpet: Does the Doctor ever give a thought to the various worlds and times he leaves behind… or even the possible consequences his actions could have?

There’s another allegory to tease out in the hybrid’s story, and that is one of identity. Ashildr chooses a new identity for herself and repeatedly corrects the Doctor when he misnames her. Cast against the ever-widening spectrum of gender and identity in our world, Me’s story carries particular representation in the Doctor Who universe.

The callbacks are plentiful, from the previously mentioned Tereleptils and Velosians to Clark’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced form of technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We see the Doctor trying to pass himself off as a god (as he did in The Myth Makers) and reading a diary of his exploits (as he did in The Tomb of the Cybermen and the television movie). We also get the callback to Remembrance of the Daleks when the Doctor reminds his companion and the audience that “Time will tell. It always does.”

Overall, there is a lot to unpack in this two-parter. It is brilliant science fiction that turns a mirror on the face of humanity and asks us to think deeply about where we are and where we want to go as a people.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion and Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.


Timestamp #265: Under the Lake & Before the Flood

Doctor Who: Under the Lake
Doctor Who: Before the Flood
(2 episodes, s09e03-04, 2015)

Timestamp 265 Under the Lake Before the Flood

A creepy twisty time travel tale.

Under the Lake

In the year 2119, Captain Jonathan Moran records a private journal entry. He is the leader of an underwater mining facility in Caithness, Scotland known as the Drum. The team has discovered a strange craft and has brought it aboard to investigate. The team – Cass, her sign language interpreter Lunn, and Bennett, Pritchard, and O’Donnell – discuss the vessel as they are stalked by a shadow. When a fire breaks out, it consumes Moran as the team runs to safety. Moments later, they are confronted by the ghost of Moran and another figure.

Three days later, the TARDIS arrives in the middle of the abandoned complex. The Doctor notes that the TARDIS is unhappy and wonders why it brought them here, but Clara is excited about the adventure. They investigate the nearby mess hall, noting the signs of a fight that happened mere hours before. The travelers find the ghosts of Moran and the mystery man and follow them to the mysterious craft. The Doctor recognizes it as alien but cannot decipher the writing within. He’s also concerned that the TARDIS hasn’t translated the language.

The ghosts reappear and arm themselves before attacking the travelers. A chase ensues and the Doctor and Clara eventually find themselves in a chamber with the human survivors. Posing as members of UNIT courtesy of the psychic paper, they begin to unravel the mystery.

The Doctor also has a terrible moment here when he claims to understand sign language but doesn’t.

The room is a Faraday cage designed as a shelter in case of an accident with the base’s nuclear reactor. While Cass claims to be in charge of the people, Pritchard steps in as the representative of Vector Petroleum. Since it’s the company’s site, he takes responsibility. When morning comes, the group ventures into the base.

Apparently, the ghosts recognize the artificial day/night cycles of a base housed deep underwater.

The Doctor recognizes the second ghost as a Tivolian, a species known for their cowardice, and questions where the power cell and suspended animation chamber have been moved. The humans claim to have no idea, so the Doctor begins thinking out loud.

The Doctor comes to the conclusion that these beings are indeed ghosts and is overjoyed until the survivors explain that Moran was their friend. Clara reminds him to take out his cue cards, a stack of reminders with kind and apologetic things written on them. Clara takes out the correct one and the Doctor reads it, promising to solve Moran’s murder. With that done, the Doctor resumes being excited about wrestling a ghost and exploring the states of existence.

His musings are interrupted as the base shifts itself back into night mode.

The TARDIS sounds the Cloister Bell and the travelers return to the time capsule. The TARDIS wants to get away but the Doctor locks the ship in place. The Doctor then tells Clara not to “go native” and start acting like him. He doesn’t want her to get hurt.

Pritchard has gone out looking for the missing power cell. When he returns, the Moran ghost ambushes him in the airlock, mouths something, and then floods the lock. He later appears in the galley where Clara and Bennett are gathering supplies. They notice Pritchard’s body floating outside the base and that their new visitor is a ghost. Pritchard attempts to attack but O’Donnell shifts the base back to day mode, forcing the ghost to vanish.

Back in the control room, the Doctor asks Cass what they should do. Cass’s priority is to abandon the base and protect her crew, but the Doctor is eager to investigate. The crew is stymied when they get word that a rescue submarine is en route, and the Doctor uses his UNIT credentials to cancel the rescue and prevent the ghosts from escaping.

They then start determining why night mode is so important to the ghosts. He asks O’Donnell to place the base back in night mode so they can capture a ghost. Lunn, Bennett, and Clara lure the ghosts toward the Faraday cage as the Doctor, Cass, and O’Donnell coordinate from the control room. The plan goes well until the ghosts split up.

Lunn ends up cornered by Pritchard but the ghost doesn’t kill him. Pritchard rejoins the other ghosts as Bennett corners them in the Faraday cage with a hologram of Clara. The Doctor begins to investigate, eventually joining the ghosts in the cage to get a better look with the sonic sunglasses. Cass recognizes the lip movements. They are repeating the same four words: “The dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple.”

The Doctor recognizes that these must be coordinates leading to the flooded town outside the base. He can’t figure out if the message is a call for help or a signal for invasion, but he notes that the temple is an old church. Something there must be commanding the ghosts and waiting for something to happen.

The team decides to solve the mystery and use a remote submersible to explore the church. The missing stasis chamber lies within. They bring it aboard but the Doctor cannot open it with his sonic device, so the Doctor starts retracing his steps. The ghosts didn’t try to kill anyone until they read the symbols on the spacecraft wall.

He asks Cass about them. With her help, he deduces that the writing acts like a magnet. They were not surprised by the message because it was already in their heads, like a song that gets stuck on repeat in your head. The words act as a beacon as each new ghost is generated, waiting for the being in the stasis chamber to awaken.

Alarms sound throughout the base. O’Donnell explains that messing with the day mode so often has caused the system to malfunction and assume that the reactor is about to go (super)critical. As the computer system floods the base to cool the reactor, the team is split up. Clara remains with Cass and Lunn as the Doctor, Bennett, and O’Donnell end up at the TARDIS. The Doctor takes them back to the time before the flood.

As the TARDIS dematerializes, Clara’s group returns to the galley where they are shocked to find another ghost. This time, it is the Doctor.

Before the Flood

The episode starts not where the story left off, but with a break of the fourth wall. The Doctor literally addresses the audience and explains the bootstrap paradox. An unspecified time traveler wanted to meet his favorite musician, Ludwig van Beethoven, but when he arrived in 18th-century Germany, the man literally did not exist. The time traveler panicked but recalled that he brought a piece of sheet music for Beethoven to autograph. Thus, he copies out the music, gets it published, and becomes Ludwig van Beethoven, keeping history on track without ruffling a feather.

However, one question remains: Who really composed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?

With that, the Doctor plays the symphony’s opening bars on his electric guitar, and Peter Capaldi plays the Doctor Who theme to open the episode.

Returning to the story, the TARDIS materializes in 1980. While Bennett throws up from the trip, the Doctor and O’Donnell exit the TARDIS to look around. O’Donnell explains her fandom of the Time Lord: She was once military intelligence but was demoted. As Bennett joins them, she has her “bigger on the inside” moment as the Doctor walks away.

The team finds the ship, which the Doctor identifies as a hearse, and they note that the body, stasis chamber, and power cell are still on board. They are greeted by Albar Prentis, the Tivolian who will become the ghost and identifies the body as the Fisher King. The Fisher King ruled over the Tivolians for a decade before the Arcateenians liberated them.

When the Doctor can’t determine who sent the signal to the future, his team returns to the TARDIS to contact Clara. Back at the base, Clara, Cass, and Lunn note that the Doctor’s ghost is not hostile. Cass also sees that it’s saying something different. “Moran, Pritchard, Prentis, O’Donnell, Clara, Bennett, Doctor, Cass.”

Clara takes the Doctor’s call and is shaken by the knowledge that he will die. He talks to Clara privately about this supposed fixed point in time, and Clara convinces him to try. The Doctor analyzes his ghost as it moves into the base and opens the Faraday cage. The ghost’s message changes to “The chamber will open tonight,” prompting the Doctor to instruct the survivors to take shelter in the cage but to leave the phone outside to monitor the ghosts.

Meanwhile, the Fisher King has risen from the dead and has engraved the words on the wall. When Prentis reads them, the Fisher King kills him, giving rise to the first ghost. The Doctor, O’Donnell, and Bennett return to the ship to stop the chain of events. They determine that the Fisher King faked his death to escape the Arcateenians, and after hearing the Fisher King roar, decide to return to the TARDIS.

Unfortunately, they get cut off and spilt up. O’Donnell is soon killed by the Fisher King. O’Donnell’s ghost appears in the base and takes Clara’s phone.

The Ghost Doctor’s names are the order in which everyone will die. The Doctor and Bennett move to save Clara, the next person on the list, but the TARDIS will not travel to the future. Instead, it takes them 30 minutes back in time, locking the Doctor in his own time stream. While trying to avoid their past selves, they see that Prentis is still alive, but the Doctor stops Bennett from trying to change history: “If you save them, then somebody that was supposed to be dead is alive. Then you really are seeing ghosts.”

In the future, Clara figures out that the Pritchard ghost didn’t hurt Lunn because he wasn’t exposed to the signal. Clara notes that Lunn can retrieve the phone, though Cass objects while questioning if traveling with the Doctor has changed Clara. Lunn proceeds on his mission, leaving Clara and an angry Cass behind.

In the past, the Doctor orders Bennett back to the TARDIS and goes to confront the Fisher King. As they talk, the stasis chamber in the future engages. The Fisher Kind knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord, and he knows that the Time Lords battled in a war so great that the entire universe felt the effects. The Fisher King sees that he can make a strong transmitter out of the Doctor, and once enough Ghosts are created, the signal will reach the Fisher King’s people. They will bring an armada to conquer Earth.

The Doctor notes that the plan could work, but he erased the words on the ship. The Fisher King calls his bluff, but the Doctor points out that any change that prevents the Fisher King from conquering the planet is a good one. The Fisher King races to his ship but finds the words intact, realizing that he has made a critical error.

He has left the Doctor alone with the stasis chamber. One of the power cells is missing and is attached to the dam. When it explodes, the town is flooded and the Fisher King is killed. Meanwhile, the TARDIS activates Security Protocol 712 with Bennett trapped inside.

Lunn finds the phone in the galley, but it ends up being a trap. Clara and Cass decide to go after him but end up separated. After Cass narrowly avoids death, she, Clara, and Lunn regroup in the hangar. As the stasis chamber pops open, the Doctor leaps out and connects his sonic sunglasses to the base’s speaker system. It projects the call of the Fisher King, luring all of the ghosts to the Faraday cage where the Doctor ghost awaits.

As a hologram. As it has been all along, courtesy of the Doctor being in the chamber.

The Doctor uses the sonic sunglasses to erase the signal from everyone’s minds. He also tells them that UNIT will cut the cage free of the base and eject it into space. The lack of a magnetic field will kill the ghosts. Bennett asks Lunn to translate a message for Cass: Lunn complies, finally admitting his love her Cass, and they kiss.

As the Doctor and Clara leave in the TARDIS, he explains that the order of deaths after O’Donnell was entirely fictional. He placed Clara’s name where he did to motivate himself into action. Clara asks the Doctor how he knew what to make his ghost’s hologram say. He only knew what he had to do because he found out through future knowledge of what had been done.

Which leaves the question: Who composed Beethoven’s Fifth?

It was a really fun idea to play with paradoxes and the crossing of time streams again. This story also had some great special effects and costume work, especially with the creepy Fisher King.

The Doctor continues his detached attitude toward humanity and the universe at large. His first impression upon meeting Cass was terrible, but his respect for her throughout the rest of the episode is great. He talks to her, not her translator, and admires her perspective of the world. The visual twist is that he correctly signs “you’re beautiful” to her when he attempts to communicate, even though he thinks that he’s saying “go ahead”.

The theme carries forward with the apology cue cards. I got a laugh out of “It was my fault, I should have known you didn’t live in Aberdeen” and its callbacks to The Hand of Fear and School Reunion. Is he expecting to run into Sarah Jane again?

Speaking of, take note of the Arcateenians. They are original to Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, so this marks the second time in this series that spinoffs get a nod in the main show. Another spinoff gets a tip of the hat as well with O’Donnell’s musings about 1980. She noted that they were in a period before Harold Saxon and the Moon exploding, both of which the Doctor was aware, but she also mentioned the Minister of War. This was explored in a Third Doctor audio adventure called The Same Face.

I loved the quiet point of view for Cass being stalked by Moran. I also noted the minimal and more deliberate use of sonic technology. This was the first episode since The Unicorn and the Wasp not to feature the sonic screwdriver, but it does feature the sonic sunglasses.

Finally, let’s talk once again about nuclear reactors. One of my biggest pet peeves in science fiction is when a reactor “goes critical” because it’s just not accurate. In general, nuclear reactors have three basic states in relation to criticality – subcritical, critical, and supercritical – which is just the measure of the chain reaction within the fuel. The reality is that a reactor “going critical” is good. It means that the chain reaction is self-sustaining and controlled, which is where a reactor is happy and doing its job. In fact, most reactors in the world today naturally tend toward subcriticality. Given enough time and lack of operator action, they are designed to shut themselves down for safety.

What most science fiction writers mean to say is that the reactor is uncontrollably supercritical, which would imply that the chain reaction is growing too fast and cannot be stopped. The writer in me understands the shortcut. I know what they mean to say. But the scientist, engineer, and fan in me all scream that we are smarter than the writers are willing to give credit. It’s okay to say supercritical (or even prompt critical) if you really mean it.

I won’t hold that against the overall score because it’s not Doctor Who‘s fault. It’s just another opportunity to beg writers to be better.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died and Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #264: The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar

Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice
Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar
(2 episodes, s09e01-02, 2015)

Timestamp 264 Magicians Apprentice Witchs Familiar

Courting death with Daleks.


The Doctor arrives at Karn and discusses the nature of friends and enemies with Ohila, the leader of the Sisterhood. The Doctor has an invitation to meet with an unnamed individual, an adversary who he has known for a long time.

He eventually gives Ohila a confession dial with the vague instruction that she knows who to give it to. He then suggests that he’ll go meditate somewhere.

The Doctor’s Meditation

The Doctor’s next stop is a castle in Essex, 1138. There he meditates, periodically interrupted by a man named Bors who has pledged his life to the Time Lord for removing a splinter. The Doctor muses about his future task with Bors but first decides that the denizens of the castle need a well for proper water.

The Doctor ends up burning time by engineering a well and various extensions to the castle. Bors eventually calls him on his procrastination. The Doctor concedes that Bors is not the idiot he originally thought him to be.

Four days later, the Doctor enters his final meditation but stalls because he can’t face the man he’s destined to face. Bors stands his ground, demanding an answer or he will not leave the room, intending to force the Doctor to tell him his story. The Time Lord states that he recently let someone down. He found a battlefield, and although he had come across many before, this one would be his last.

Speaking of that battlefield, the sound of gunfire and shouts of soldiers penetrate the mist of a world far away.

The Magician’s Apprentice

On that misty battlefield, soldiers with bows and arrows run from laser-wielding airplanes. A single child runs into the mist as soldiers give chase. The boy admits that he is lost but has no idea that he ran into a minefield. In particular, the ground is littered with handmines, one of which has grabbed a soldier and pulled him beneath the ground. As more hands – each sporting an eye – pop up, the boy yells for help.

His request is answered by a man who tosses a sonic screwdriver onto the ground at the boy’s feet. The boy picks it up and spots the Doctor. The sonic screwdriver has opened an acoustic corridor between the two and the Doctor tells the boy that he has one chance in a thousand to survive. When asked his name, the Doctor is shocked to hear it.

The boy’s name is Davros.

Elsewhen, an envoy of Davros arrives at the Maldovarium. His name is Colony Sarff and he is looking for the Doctor, but no one will tell him. He next travels to the Shadow Proclamation, but the Shadow Architect also refuses to reveal the location. Finally, Sarff travels to Karn and tells Ohila that Davros is dying and is anticipating his final meeting with the Time Lord. He leaves a message with Ohila for the Doctor, unaware that his target is hiding in the rocks behind him.

Colony Sarff returns to Davros. The creator of the Daleks is weakened but cradles the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. He suggests that if Sarff cannot find the Doctor, then he must target the Doctor’s friends.

At Coal Hill School, Clara Oswald is teaching a lesson on Jane Austen when she notices that an airplane is frozen in the sky above. It appears to be a worldwide phenomenon, and UNIT reaches out to Clara, forcing the woman to leave school and rendezvous with Kate Stewart at headquarters. Clara deduces that the thousands of planes suspended in mid-air are not an invasion because they are a spectacle. At that moment, a message is sent to UNIT via the dedicated channel for the Doctor.

The messenger is Missy, she’s responsible for the planes, and she requests a meeting with Clara. The meeting goes forward, complete with UNIT snipers, and Missy demonstrates her ability to suspend the planes through a simple Time Lord trick. She reveals the confession dial – the last will and testament of a Time Lord – and explains that she cannot find the Doctor either. Since it was given to Missy, Clara literally cannot touch it.

Clara wonders if Missy has turned good, and the Time Lady responds by vaporizing UNIT agents. She only cares about her best friend being in danger, and Clara demands that Missy make her believe it. Missy releases the planes, then muses about where the Doctor would go while facing his demise. Clara knows that his chosen place is Earth, and based on the amount of noise he likes to make, she narrows it down to a party. Missy uses a vortex manipulator to travel with Clara to the Doctor’s location…

…where the Doctor enters a one-on-one battle riding a tank and shredding an electric guitar.

After all, Bors wanted an axe fight.

The Doctor’s jokes fall flat, but his rendition of Pretty Woman when he spots Missy and Clara makes the crowd cheer. The Doctor celebrates the good he’s done and the anachronisms he has introduced before admitting that he has to leave tonight. He introduces Clara and uncharacteristically hugs her. Missy joins the party as Bors falls to the ground. A snake slithers back to Colony Sarff, who has followed Clara and Missy to the Doctor’s side. Sarff reveals his serpentine form but the Doctor forces him to back down. No one will die this night.

The Doctor demands to know what his archenemy wants – much to Missy’s chagrin – and Sarff replies that Davros remembers with a toss of the sonic screwdriver at the Doctor’s feet. Missy is amused at the Doctor’s shame and Clara wonders what he did.

It turns out that the Doctor abandoned Davros in the handmine field.

The Doctor attempts to say goodbye and travel with Sarff, but Clara and Missy compel Sarff to take them as well (against the Doctor’s wishes). After they leave, Bors locates the TARDIS and reveals himself as a Dalek spy, signaling his find to Dalek High Command.

En route, the Doctor tells Clara about Davros’s history. They arrive at a space hospital and are escorted to a cell. Sarff eventually retrieves the Doctor, but Clara confronts him about knowing that Missy was alive and able to receive the confession dial. Missy reveals that she and the Doctor knew about the local gravity, particularly how it is natural rather than artificially generated. Missy decides to open the airlock to test the theory.

The Doctor is escorted to Davros’s side. They talk about their conflicts and how they were fueled by a single disagreement: Was Davros right to create the Daleks or was his lack of compassion wrong? He plays recordings of their previous meetings and the Doctor’s struggles with morality.

Missy and Clara step through the airlock only to find that they are on a planet. The planet is initially hidden but is soon revealed to be Skaro, the planet of the Daleks, and the women are taken before the Supreme Dalek. A large weapon is pointed at the TARDIS, which the Daleks procured, and Missy tries to reason with them. She tells them that they can use it to go anywhere and kill anyone, and she offers to pilot it for them. The Supreme Dalek is unimpressed and orders her extermination. Missy is seemingly vaporized in the blast.

The Doctor pleads with Davros to spare Clara but Davros reveals that he doesn’t control the Daleks. The Daleks wait for Clara to run, and when she does, they exterminate her in the same way that they did Missy. Davros demands that the Doctor declare compassion wrong as the Daleks open fire on the TARDIS, supposedly destroying it.

Back on the battlefield, a young Davros pleads with the Doctor to help him. The Doctor appears behind him, claiming to be from the future, and proclaims that he’s come from the future to save his friend in the only way he can. He raises a severed Dalek gunstick and points it at Davros with a word: “Exterminate!”

The Witch’s Familiar

Clara awakens upside down dangling from a rope. She and Missy are on the outskirts of the Dalek city and Missy is musing about the time when the Doctor faced 40 assassin robots without his TARDIS. Clara determines how the Doctor escaped from the assassins and links it to Missy’s survival.

Missy frees Clara as they discuss the Doctor’s current predicament. Together, they decide to help him.

Inside the city, the Doctor searches the infirmary and comes up with a Dalek gunstick. He threatens Davros with it and then demands that he leave the chair. The Daleks respond as Davros calls for help, and as the chair approaches the room where the Daleks have been congregating, the Doctor is revealed in the chair. When the Daleks attempt to exterminate the Doctor, they fail due to the chair’s shielding which was installed due to Davros’s paranoia.

As Missy and Clara try to enter the city through the sewers, the Doctor continues his standoff with the Daleks. The relationship between the women is contentious, and Clara is disgusted to learn that the sewer is actually a Dalek graveyard, constructed from decaying members of their race. Daleks, after all, are too stubborn to die of old age so they just waste away. They listen as the Doctor rants about Clara, demanding to know if she is truly dead. The Doctor is soon overcome by Sarff’s serpents.

Missy uses Clara to trip an intruder alert, then uses her as bait to trap and kill a Dalek. Missy uses a brooch made from dark star alloy to breach the Dalek’s shell, after which the dying Daleks flood the shell and destroy the Dalek from within. Missy then tells Clara to climb into the dalekanium shell.

The Doctor awakens in the infirmary with Davros back in his chair. The Doctor finds out that Davros is playing vampire, leeching life force from the Daleks to stay alive. This is because Davros is taking advantage of the Daleks’ respect for the one who gave them life. The cables making all of this possible also contain Colony Sarff.

Davros offers the same power to the Doctor but the Time Lord refuses. He explains that he came back to Davros not because of shame but rather compassion. Davros scoffs at this notion before asking about Gallifrey. He also returns the confession dial and the Doctor’s sunglasses, the latter of which the Doctor seems to prize more.

Missy connects Clara to the Dalek shell’s telepathic circuits and then seals her inside. Clara finds out the hard way that Daleks have no sense of individuality, fire their guns through emotion, and translate positive emotions into negative ones. They then return to the upper levels with Missy as Clara’s prisoner.

The Doctor pushes Davros’s buttons by revealing that Gallifrey has been saved. He and Davros also discuss the return of Skaro, which was made so by both Davros and the Daleks longing for a home. Davros claims that he is happy for the Doctor and the restoration of Gallifrey, asking to see the Doctor up close with his own eyes to advise the protection of the Time Lords. After all, he failed to save the Kaleds and questions if he is a good man.

Since the Doctor doubted the fact that Davros was dying, they both share a laugh about the Time Lord being a terrible doctor. Davros expresses a desire to see the sun once more with his own eyes.

As Missy and Clara return to the Supreme Dalek, Missy declares that she wants to see Davros and offers Clara in exchange for a means to control the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor expresses sympathy for Davros by channeling part of his own regeneration energy into the life support system. Davros laughs as he begins to siphon more and more of it, regaining his strength and feeding it to the Daleks.

The regeneration energy forces the shutdown of the Supreme Dalek and its associates, forcing Missy to panic and go in search of the Doctor. Meanwhile, Davros asks if the Doctor truly fled Gallifrey because of a prophecy about a “hybrid creature” built from two great warrior races that overshadowed both. Davros assumes that this hybrid is part Dalek and part Time Lord.

The energy transfer is interrupted as Missy enters the room and blasts the cabling with a gunstick. Sarff is destroyed but the Daleks are awakened. The Doctor retrieves his confession dial and begins a countdown that ends with the city quaking around them. He knew what Davros wanted, understanding that the regeneration energy would be transmitted to every Dalek on Skaro, including the ones in the sewers.

As the Doctor runs he is confronted by Clara in the Dalek shell. Missy attempts to convince the Doctor that the Dalek before them killed Clara, pushing him to shoot this one in retaliation. He stops when the Dalek asks for mercy, then instructs Clara on how to open the casing. The Doctor tells Missy to run for her life as he frees Clara.

The Doctor and Clara end up before the Supreme Dalek as the city collapses. They stand on the spot where the TARDIS was destroyed, and the Doctor declares that the Hostile Action Displacement System only needs a buzz from the sonic to reassemble the time capsule. When Clara points out that the Doctor no longer has a sonic screwdriver, he reveals that his sunglasses are now wearable technology. The TARDIS reassembles and the duo escapes.

Missy is cornered by the Daleks but her fate is left for another day as the Doctor and Clara watch the city collapse from a safe distance. The Doctor wonders how the concept of mercy got into the Dalek DNA, then rushes off with his gunstick. He travels back to the moment where he left child Davros and uses the gunstick to eliminate the handmines. Davros asks if he is an enemy Thal but the Doctor tells him that it doesn’t matter so long as they have mercy. The Doctor then returns the boy home.

This was a rocking adventure full of intrigue and suspense that played with so many elements of the Daleks, from the opening moments with the handmines – a beautiful extension of the body horror that has accompanied the Daleks in the revival era – to the continuation of what happens to the hateful pepperpots as they enter their twilight years.

The Dalek congregation on Skaro included a wide swath of models from the show’s history, including the original silver and blues (seen from The Daleks to The Space Museum), the second version of the silver and blues (seen from The Space Museum to The War Games), the Emperor Dalek’s personal guard from The Evil of the Daleks, the grey and blacks (seen from Day of the Daleks to Remembrance of the Daleks), the Special Weapons Dalek from Remembrance of the Daleks, a Dalek Sec model (seen from Army of Ghosts to Evolution of the Daleks), the Supreme Dalek version from The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, and (finally) the bronze standard that we’ve seen since Dalek.

Of course, Davros plays a long game with his latest gambit, introducing the concept of mixing Time Lord biology with one of the Doctor’s enemies. This was apparently first introduced in the comics, particularly a spoof strip called Regeneration of a Dalek. Davros also gives us glances back at his history in Doctor Who with footage from Genesis of the Daleks, Resurrection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks, and The Stolen Earth. Davros also had a flashback of his own with a gun to his head, à la Resurrection of the Daleks. (Missy also gave us a few glances at previous faces with the First and Fourth Doctors in her flashback story.)

The use of regeneration energy here brings up some questions – the Doctor previously offered it to River Song in The Angels Take Manhattan, an act that may have either returned what she gave him in Let’s Kill Hitler or expended what little he had left in the tank before The Time of the Doctor – but we have no idea how many regenerations the Twelfth Doctor is starting with (or if he even has a limit at this point). We don’t know how many lives he may have lost in this story.

The regeneration plot is where this story stumbles for me. Once again, we get the Steven Moffat trope of the Doctor holding a magic piece of information to play, and I find it implausible that he would know that Davros would try to steal regeneration energy or that he would know that someone would break Davros’s grasp on him.

Another interesting point to consider in light of future events in the series is Missy’s statement about her friendship with the Doctor. She refers to the Cloister Wars, the Doctor stealing the moon and the President’s wife, and the Doctor being a little girl, but adds the caveat that one of those was a lie. That caveat (as well as regeneration energy for enemies) will be fun to look upon in a few seasons.

This story again puts that Doctor on the precipice of destroying all the Daleks, an opportunity he has held and rejected multiple times (Genesis of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Parting of the Ways,  and The Day of the Doctor). We also get some connective tissue linking the Doctor’s famous moment in Genesis of the Daleks with the start of the Last Great Time War.

Perhaps one of the greatest elements in this story answers the question of what happens to Daleks in old age. The Fourth Doctor came across Dalek mutants that had been liquified (Destiny of the Daleks) and the Cult of Skaro had abandoned their non-viable mutant embryos to die in the New York City sewers (Daleks in Manhattan), but I don’t think that I have ever considered Daleks in their twilight years. It makes sense that they are too stubborn and too angry to die, allowing themselves to decay away instead of surrendering to death.

A few last Dalek notes: The design of the Dalek city and the sliding doors pays homage to the set The Daleks; Missy’s offer to teach the Daleks how to fly the TARDIS harkens back to the First Doctor bargaining for Susan’s life in The Daleks; Davros’s views on compassion echo the Daleks in Victory of the Daleks; and heroes inside Dalek casings played parts in both The Daleks and The Space Museum.

The tension surrounding Clara in the Dalek casing, especially with Missy’s mean trick at the end, was fantastic.

Missy’s mysterious resurrection calls back to the classic series, specifically, the “Tremas” Master (introduced in The Keeper of Traken) who escaped certain death with no explanation for his return (Castrovalva, Planet of Fire, and Survival). It’s almost like Skaro’s new lease on life in light of its destruction in Remembrance of the Daleks and the return in the TV movie and Asylum of the Daleks.

This story credits the creators of the Kahler, Skullions, Hath, Blowfish, Ood, and Sycorax. These aliens were all present when Colony Sarff was searching for the Doctor, and all of them have previously appeared in Doctor Who proper except for the Skullions, who originated in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

UNIT provides a fun travelogue of the Doctor’s adventures, including San Martino, Troy, multiple visits to New York City, and three possible versions of Atlantis.

Finally, this is the first purely historical story since 1982’s Black Orchid.

It’s a welcome return featuring two of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, a lot of wealth from deep mythology, and a ton of fun adventure. It’s also a great start to the new series.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Under the Lake and Doctor Who: Before the Flood


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.