Timestamp: Series Eight Summary

Doctor Who Series Eight Summary

Timestamp Logo Twelfth

Peter Capaldi’s freshman series was a mixed bag.

The Twelfth Doctor marked a significant shift in the franchise, re-introducing the alien quality and emotional distance to the main character that existed in the classic era and the Ninth Doctor’s single season. We were also treated to another attempt at the “regeneration gone wrong” story trope, which played with variable results in Logopolis and The Twin Dilemma.

The Doctor questions himself, Clara questions herself, and the relationship between them is stressed as it faces growth or breakage. In the totality of this series, it has done both.

This version of the Doctor pondered if he was a good man. He’s on the heels of (presumably) saving Gallifrey – an act that is tossed in his face by Missy as she pokes at his weaknesses – and has often looked down upon humanity until he realized just who he truly was in the final moments of Death in Heaven. The Doctor grows into his new skin, realizing that he is nothing more than an idiot with a magic box and a screwdriver who passes through, helps out, and learns. The Doctor grew well over the course of this series.

Clara, on the other hand, experienced negative growth in this go-round. She pushed her limits in stories like Flatline, but also lied (a lot!) and manipulated people, effectively becoming a reflection of the Doctor with very selfish motivations. She lied to the man she loved to keep traveling with the Doctor, and she intended to extort and betray the Doctor in an attempt to save Danny’s life by way of a temporal paradox.

To that end, Clara’s arc represents lost potential centered around what Davros and Rory have both pointed out in the past: Traveling with the Doctor can turn companions into worse people. Tegan knew it too. This series could have explored these waters, either culminating in a tearful goodbye for the relationship in Last Christmas or subverting the idea by having Clara evolve into a markedly better person. Instead, we got something more indecisive.

That’s a pretty good marker for this series, in fact, with the constant recycling of tropes and murky character motivations leading into rather disappointing stories at the end.  Yes, that includes both times that this series exercised the Black Dude Dies First trope, the latter of which was coupled with the Stuffed into the Fridge trope.

As an aside, someone on Facebook wondered if I was racist by pointing this out. That answer is no. The trope stems from the history of cinema where black actors purposely kept clear of leading roles. As times changed and more actors of color were cast in bigger roles, they were treated as token actors and their characters were often killed off first. It has been used less and less over time but has also given rise to the equally reprehensible Bury Your Gays trope.

The overall muddled path for the series translates into the scoring. Series Eight earned a 3.6 average. That is far from spectacular, leaving this set of stories at twenty-second out of thirty-six effective seasons since the Timestamps Project started. That’s more than halfway down the list.

It’s a shame since I do love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. The stories that he has been handed are not doing him any favors, and neither is the treatment of his companion. I still stand by the opinion that Clara’s conclusion should have been Last Christmas.

Deep Breath – 5
Into the Dalek – 4
Robot of Sherwood – 2
Listen – 4
Time Heist – 4
The Caretaker – 3
Kill the Moon – 2
Mummy on the Orient Express – 4
Flatline – 5
In the Forest of the Night – 4
Dark Water & Death in Heaven – 3
Last Christmas – 3

Series Eight Average Rating: 3.6/5

Next up, the Timestamps Project tackles the ninth series of Doctor Who, followed by the single series of Class and then Series Ten. Series Nine will be a shorter set of analyses since most of the stories are two-parters.

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice and Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar

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 #263: Last Christmas

Doctor Who: Last Christmas
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2014)

Timestamp 263 Last Christmas

And to all a rushed denouement.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. On the roof, however, the sound of a crashing sleigh and untethered reindeer awaken Clara Oswald. She looks upon the unlikely sight of Santa Claus and his elves, Ian and Wolf, trying to recover from the accident. Clara tries to dismiss the reality of Santa Claus, but the trio dismisses her instead. Even Santa challenges her belief in fairy tales as the Doctor arrives.

The Time Lord ushers Clara inside the TARDIS, prompting her to comment on how much she missed it. The Doctor asks if she truly believes in Santa, and she replies that she does. After all, the Doctor has returned at Christmastime.

At a base near the North Pole, a group of scientists are tracking a woman named Shona as she enters an infirmary. The scientists tell her not to worry about “them” and focus on something else, and when she enters the infirmary, she begins to dance to Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody. She’s warned to not look at the beings in the room and the music helps her do that. When she reaches the end of the room, she finds the Doctor and Clara, and their presence brings her mind back to the beings.

Those creatures begin to move, homing in on the constant image of themselves in the victim’s memory. The Doctor tries to distract Clara from the threat by invoking the memory of Danny Pink, and Clara slaps him, finally revealing that Danny is dead.

As the scientists rush into the room, a mass of crab-like creatures descends from the ceiling. The attack is presumably stopped by the arrival of Santa, the elves, and an army of toys. Santa orders the victims back to bed, then introduces himself to the collective humans. He also shows the threat to the Doctor, revealing that Kantrofarri – “dream-crabs” – have invaded Earth.

The group retires to a different room to discuss the threat. The dream-crabs are likely killing everyone as they blur the lines between dream and reality. In fact, reality and fantasy are difficult to tell apart because both are ridiculous. The Doctor and Clara both admit that they lied about the circumstances around their previous parting in an attempt to help each other move on.

The Doctor and Clara find Shona, who is interrogating Santa and the elves, and review the CCTV footage with Ashley of the four crew members who discovered the Kantrofarri. The same beings who are currently in the infirmary. The dream-crabs only wake up when someone thinks about them, and scientist Albert compares them to facehuggers from Alien. Humorously, the Doctor is beside himself that a horror movie was made about extra-terrestrials.

Notably, the polar expedition team refuses to explain its mission.

Clara goes to check on the captured crab and soon finds herself face to “face” with it. She awakens in her room with Danny in a Santa suit to surprise her for Christmas Day. Clara is enthused, but also sees notes on a blackboard similar to the Doctor’s warning her that she’s trapped in a dream. Outside of the dream state, the Doctor and the expedition team discuss how to save Clara from the dream-crab. The only way they know of is to kill Clara, which the Doctor refuses outright. The Doctor turns to Santa, who seems immune to the Kantofarri, and asks for a dream-crab so he can enter Clara’s dream.

The Doctor arrives as Clara and Danny snuggle near the Christmas tree. The Doctor tries to convince Clara that everything she sees is a fantasy. He tells her that the Kantofarri is literally liquefying her brain and Danny encourages her to move on from her grief. She can still mourn, but she can limit it to five minutes.

With tears in her eyes, Clara accepts the truth and wakes up. The Doctor wakes up next to her and the dream-crabs disintegrate from the stress. As the team investigates the remains, they all remark that they still have the “ice cream” pain in their heads. The Doctor leads them to the conclusion that they’re all still dreaming and have been since the first meeting in the infirmary. The rescue by Santa Claus was a dream. The Doctor uses the manuals in the base, which should all be identical, as proof that the humans are still trapped in the dream state. With help from Santa and the elves, manifestations of their brains acting as warning signs, the team wakes up in the infirmary.

The team narrowly avoids the original four team members and seals the infirmary. The Doctor and Clara take their leave with the knowledge that if the expedition team doesn’t free the Kantofarri, they’ll be fine. Clara asks why Santa was on her roof, prompting the Doctor to rush back into the base and question the number of people inside. There are four manuals but eight people in total, and everyone is still in a dream state. This is confirmed by another test with the manuals. As the beings in the infirmary rise, aware of the approaching endgame, the dream morphs into a nightmare that kills Albert.

The team runs for the TARDIS, but it too is a construct. The dream-crabs multiply and the Doctor suggests that they all dream themselves home. Santa Claus and his sleigh materialize above them as an escape pod. When the Doctor asks, Clara admits that she’s always believed in Santa, but he’s always looked different to her. With that, she gives the Time Lord a hug. After that, the Doctor takes the reins and flies them around London in a fun-filled fantasy.

Each person beings to remember their real life outside of the dream. One by one they awaken, each in their proper time and place. The Doctor awakens on a volcanic planet and rushes to Clara’s side as she decides to remain in the dream state. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to free Clara of the dream-crab, but finds that it has been 62 years since they said goodbye in the coffee shop. Clara is now 89 years old.

They sit together in the living room and share Christmas hats. She admits that there were plenty of admirers, but only one man besides Danny ever measured up. Sadly, he was impossible. They open a Christmas cracker together and the Doctor apologizes for not returning sooner. His wish is made a reality when Santa enters the room and whispers “wakey-wakey”.

The Doctor awakens one last time, rushes to Clara’s side, and removes her from the dream. She hasn’t aged a day, and the Doctor invites – rather, begs – her to travel with him once again.

As they dematerialize together, a Christmas tangerine sits on the window sill as sleigh bells ring.

What we have here is a fun mind-bending adventure marred by a terrible ending. Jenna Coleman was planning to leave the series with this story but changed her mind at the last minute thanks to Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. Since the decision was made so late in the process, the script was revised at the eleventh hour, resulting in this rushed and hackneyed conclusion.

Before that decision was made, Shona was intended to be the next companion. I adore Jenna Coleman, but this should have been her exit based on everything that transpired over the last series of episodes. She got her chance to say goodbye to Danny and to the Doctor, and Clara’s departure here would even make this episode’s title make sense. After all, it is the last Christmas.

It’s yet another stumble by Steven Moffat.

Otherwise, we get the usual Christmas episode fare mixed with elements of Alien, The Thing from Another World, and even Miracle on 34th Street. Coincidentally, these are all of the films that Shona had intended to watch on Christmas Day.

Just like Amy’s Choice, this adventure was mostly a dream. We also get nods to The Time of the Doctor with the Christmas cracker and The Claws of Axos with Clara doing multiplication tables to avoid thinking about the threat. It was also quite fun to see Dan Starkey outside of his normal Sontaran garb as the elf Ian. We also see the first on-screen appearance of Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton and brother of David Troughton (The Enemy of the World, The War Games, The Curse of Peladon, and Midnight). Notably, both younger Troughtons would take on their father’s role in audio stories.

All of this spooky fun is spoiled by that ending. It just drags the whole thing down. The dream-crabs were such a fascinating and scary idea, and this twisted holiday story would have been so much stronger as Clara’s swan song with a bittersweet goodbye over Christmas.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Series Eight Summary


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 #262: Dark Water & Death in Heaven

Doctor Who: Dark Water
Doctor Who: Death in Heaven
(2 episodes, s08e11-12, 2014)

Timestamp 262 Dark Water Death in Heaven

A long-lost friend returns.

Dark Water

Clara is ready to confess her travels with the Doctor to Danny. She’s left Post-It notes around to remind her of everything she wants to say, but she starts with “I love you.” She continues with how he’s the last person she’ll ever say that to, but the line goes silent.

A woman picks up the line and tearfully apologizes.

Danny Pink was hit by a car. He died in the accident.

Clara mourns. She’s numb from the experience. She’s visited by her grandmother, but consolation does nothing. She claims that Danny was ordinary and boring, though she obviously doesn’t believe it. She claims that the universe owes her better. So she calls the Doctor.

The Doctor picks her up and she asks him to take her to an active volcano. While she asks, she gathers all seven of the TARDIS keys and hits the Doctor with a sleep patch before navigating the TARDIS to a volcano. She remembered when the Doctor explained what could destroy a TARDIS key and systematically throws them in the lava while demanding that the Doctor fixes Danny’s death.

The Doctor refuses to create the paradox, and after Clara throws the final key into the lava, the enormity of what she has done hits her. The Doctor asks her to look at her hand, revealing that he reversed the patch in order to see how far she would go. The pair are still in the console room. The Doctor gathers the keys as Clara asks about the state of their friendship. He suggests that she should go to Hell, and when she takes that as the end of their relationship, he clarifies that he meant it literally. He’s going to take them to the afterlife to find Danny and bring him home. Almost every culture in the universe has a concept of the afterlife. The Doctor sees the extremity of her desire to see Danny and, despite his fury at her betrayal, he agrees to do everything he can. The generosity of forgiveness is overwhelming.

He wires Clara into the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits and she pilots the craft to Danny. Meanwhile, Danny wakes up in the Nethersphere. Seb offers him a cup of coffee as Danny realizes that he is dead.

The TARDIS takes Clara and the Doctor to the 3W Institute. The place is dark and filled with tanks of water. Each tank contains a skeleton seated in a chair, placed in tombs after death. They are eventually greeted by Missy who pretends to be a Mobile Intelligence Systems Interface as she kisses the Doctor. The Doctor is displeased. The Doctor is also mildly surprised when Missy takes his hand and presses it to her chest to feel her heart.

The subtext in this meeting is amazing. It’s also foreshadowing that is easy to miss if the viewer isn’t paying attention.

Missy calls for Doctor Chang. Chang continues the tour as Missy smirks and the skeletons look on. Meanwhile, in the Nethersphere, Seb introduces the afterlife to Danny while asking if he has ever killed anyone. This is due to Danny’s time in the army which forces him to relive the “bad day” when he killed a child. This child has apparently requested to meet Danny and appears before him. The kid runs away when Danny tries to reach out.

Chang takes the Doctor and Clara to learn about Dark Water. Only organic matter can be seen through the substance, and each skeleton is encased in a protective shell. (More foreshadowing!) The Doctor poses as a government inspector and interrogates Chang.

Together in separate places, Danny, the Doctor, and Clara learn that 3W’s founder, Dr. Skarosa, found telepathic communications from the dead in white radio noise. The dead are conscious and aware of everything happening to their bodies. Danny feels cold because his body is being stored in a cold place while his soul is in the Nethersphere.

While the Doctor mocks this idea, Chang establishes a connection between Danny and Clara. The Doctor tells her to ask questions to which only Danny would know the answer.

Meanwhile, Missy activates the tanks. The skeletons all stand.

Chang takes the Doctor to investigate the skeletons. Missy reveals that she was pretending to be an android and then kills Chang. The Doctor is shocked as the tanks drain to reveal an army of Cybermen, and he’s more shocked to see the Nethersphere floating in the air near him and Missy.

The Nethersphere is a Matrix data slice, a Gallifreyan hard drive, and it holds the minds of the dead while they are transferred into upgraded bodies. Missy reveals that she is a Time Lord – Time Lady, please – who the Doctor left for dead. The Doctor runs out of the building, which is really St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Clara is unconvinced that she’s talking to Danny, and he tells her that she needs to move on. That she cannot find him where he is now. He forces her to disconnect the call, and Seb offers him a chance to delete himself to avoid feeling the immense sorrow of leaving Clara behind.

In 3W, Clara looks behind her to see a Cyberman in a tank. She tries to run, but the door is locked. Outside, the tanks all open and the Cybermen march. The Doctor tries to scare the onlookers away, but Missy only mocks him. The Doctor demands to know who she is, and she tells him that she’s Missy. Short for Mistress.

She couldn’t keep calling herself the Master, after all.

In the Nethersphere, Danny almost presses the delete button. Then he sees the kid he killed in the screen’s reflection.

Death in Heaven

Clara takes refuge behind a desk until a Cyberman finds her. To save her own life, she poses as the Doctor. Outside the cathedral, the Doctor is astounded to see the people of London posing with the Cyberman as if they were a carnival attraction. When Kate Stewart and Osgood show up, the bystanders are revealed as UNIT operatives. They take Missy into custody, but the Cybermen open up the cathedral dome and the cyborg army lifts off into the sky.

The same repeats around the world, leaving one Cyberman per major metropolitan area. Each of those Cybermen explodes and pollinates the air. Inside the Nethersphere, Danny and the kid look on as the lights start going out and the dead are transplanted into new bodies. The Doctor is unable to get the answers he needs when both he and Missy are shot with tranquilizer darts and taken away. Before the Doctor succumbs, he tells Osgood to focus on the graveyards.

Sure enough, that is where the new cyber-storms empty their rain, eventually flooding cemeteries and funeral homes with the contaminated water. In no time at all, the dead rise in upgraded Cyberman bodies. One of them is Danny Pink, who was previously laying in rest at the Chaplet Funeral Home.

The Doctor is awakened as the TARDIS is loaded into a UNIT plane. Kate has yet to find Clara, and explains that his cooperation is to be ensured since UNIT assumes that he won’t automatically do so. The Doctor has also been elected as the President of Earth, much to his chagrin.

Clara is still within St. John’s Cathedral and trying to negotiate with three Cybermen. They don’t buy her ruse, but it doesn’t need to last long since a single Cyberman approaches from behind. That unit concurs that Clara is an incredible liar, knocks her out, then destroys the three Cybermen holding her hostage.

Missy wakes up to see the Doctor hovering over her, asking why she’s still alive. Her presence is due to the Doctor saving Gallifrey, and Missy seems to know where Gallifrey is located. She refuses to tell the Doctor, and their discussion leads Osgood to deduce that Missy is the Master. As the Doctor is summoned to the conference room, Osgood tells him that the storm clouds have expanded to cover the landmasses. The Doctor offers her a spot as his companion, which pretty much seals her fate.

All around the world, the dead have risen as the new Cyberman army. Clara awakens in a graveyard as more start to rise, but these models wander aimlessly. On the UNIT plane, the Doctor realizes that the Cyber-pollen contains the data to convert the dead. The Cybermen are newborns, unable to attack since they haven’t yet linked to the Cyberiad.

Kate tells the Doctor that they were previously investigating 3W before getting a call from a Scottish woman. He presumes that the caller was Missy because the Master loves to show off his/her diabolical plans. Down in the cargo hold, Missy goads Osgood, revealing that she will kill the scientist soon. Missy distracts her with a countdown before displaying that she is free and vaporizing Osgood. Soon after, she summons the Cybermen to attack the plane. The Doctor returns to the cargo hold to find Missy.

In the graveyard, Clara confronts the Cyberman who saved her. After she refuses to admit where the Doctor is, the Cyberman removes its faceplate to reveal Danny Pink’s face. Danny asks for help, begging to have his emotion inhibitor turned on to eliminate his grief.

Missy admits that she’s been traveling up and down his timeline, salvaging the people who died saving him. When the TARDIS phone rings, she further reveals that she was the woman who gave the Doctor’s phone number to Clara. She was also the person who placed the newspaper ad in Deep Breath. When he picks up the phone, he hears Clara on the other end. She tells him about Danny’s fate and tells him to home in on her phone. He’ll either show up or he won’t, but Clara is set on helping Danny.

When Kate comes below, Missy blows out the hull before transmatting back to the Nethersphere, sending Kate into free fall. The Doctor plummets after Kate, falling into the TARDIS on the way. When Seb celebrates, Missy vaporizes him.

The TARDIS materializes in the graveyard and the Doctor warns Clara that if she removes Danny’s emotions, Danny will kill her. Danny denies it, but the Doctor tells him that pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict. The catch is that Danny cannot tell the Doctor what the plan is unless the emotions are removed.

The Doctor is left in a quandary. Clara relieves him of that by taking the sonic screwdriver and activating the inhibitor. Before she does, she says goodbye and apologizes to Danny for not being better. Danny reveals the plan to kill off humanity and resurrect the dead as Cybermen, thus eliminating the human race.

Missy transmats into the graveyard and offers to take away Clara’s pain by killing her. The Doctor swats the device away and Clara picks it up before returning to Danny. Missy activates the army with her bracelet, then offers command of the forces to the Doctor. With this army, the Doctor would have the final say in every great battle in the history of the universe. He can even save the people suffering in the Dalek camps. The universe would be at peace forever.

The Doctor rejects the notion, but Missy tells him that she needs her friend back. The Doctor ponders again if he is a good man but then has an epiphany. He declares that he is not a good man, nor a bad man, nor a hero, nor a president, nor an officer, as Danny had described him. He is an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out, learning. He has companions and knows that love is a promise, not an emotion.

This is why Danny won’t hurt Clara.

The Doctor passes the bracelet to Danny. The new commander of the Cyberman army orders all of the drones to lift off worldwide, destroying themselves in the clouds to burn away the threat.

Missy – the Master – is defeated. She recites the galactic coordinates of Gallifrey, claiming that the planet returned to its normal place. Clara considers killing Missy but relents at the Doctor’s bequest. The Doctor then tells Missy that she won before turning the device on her, but a blue blast comes from behind, seemingly disintegrating her.

The Doctor looks behind to see a single Cyberman. It gestures to Kate’s prone but alive form on the ground nearby. She was saved by this Cyberman, who in the Earth’s darkest hour still served the side of right. The Doctor offers the Brigadier a salute before he flies away.

Two weeks later, Clara is awakened by Danny’s voice. The bracelet that Missy used offers the chance to bring one person from the Nethersphere to the living world. Danny uses it to restore the kid he killed, asking Clara to find his parents and send him home. Later on, the Doctor finds Clara in a coffee shop and spots the bracelet. He wrongly assumes that Danny returned home, and further assumes that Clara will no longer be traveling with him. He also tells her that he found Gallifrey…

…except he didn’t. Space at those coordinates was empty. Missy lied, and the Doctor wept in rage and sorrow.

The Doctor tells Clara that he plans to go home, eager to reform Gallifrey into a good place. Clara continues the lie about Danny’s return and offers to say goodbye with a hug. The Doctor agrees, remarking that he doesn’t trust hugs because they are a way to hide your face.

The Doctor departs with a thank you from Clara. Traveling with him made her feel special, and he returns the thanks for the same reason. Clara walks away and doesn’t look back.

Later, the Doctor is brooding alone in his TARDIS when he hears someone knocking at the door. From behind the door, presumably in deep space, a voice says that the story cannot end like this because neither Clara nor the Doctor is okay. The voice belongs to Santa Claus, and in a swirl of snowflakes, he asks a puzzled Doctor what the Time Lord wants for Christmas.

Let’s take care of the elephant in the room. The first sin of this story is a typical sci-fi trope: They killed the only black main character.

The second sin: They fridged him.

Danny Pink’s death was an effort by Missy to engage Clara and the Doctor in her master plot. I cannot praise this story without first acknowledging how it played into two major tropes that exploit minorities, both of which Steven Moffat should have avoided in this story’s development. It also highlights the rather unhealthy relationship between the Doctor and Clara, particularly in the need for sneaking around and manipulating each other to get something done. Clara’s relationship with the Eleventh Doctor was far more healthy, and that one was based on his obsession with her.

A big mythological step from this story is the Missy revelation. While the show has previously acknowledged the concept of Time Lords changing genders – the examples are all from the revival era, specifically The End of TimeThe Doctor’s Wife, and The Night of the Doctor – this firmly establishes it with the regeneration of the Master (who we haven’t seen since The End of Time, which aired four years prior to this set). Notably, the term “Time Lady” has not been used in a revival-era televised story before this point. It was previously used in City of Death in reference to Romana.

The same holds for the term Prydonian, one of the most powerful chapters (think colleges or houses) on Gallifrey. It was introduced in The Deadly Assassin and explored in the novels.

Not counting the big gaps between Survival, the TV movie, and the 2005 revival, this hiatus for the Master is on par with the breaks between Frontier in Space, The Deadly Assassin, and The Keeper of Traken. The Master’s plan is diabolical – the planet Earth has no shortage of corpses given a worldwide death rate of 1.8 people per second – but also really, really squicky. It’s no wonder that the BBC had to release a statement defending the story’s points after receiving complaints from viewers.

Part of that unease comes from the “cameo” by the Brigadier at the end. I’ll defend the Master’s plan and I get what Steven Moffat was going for, but personally, the Cyber-Master was a step too far. Sure, Missy could travel through time and space to secure the Brig’s consciousness at the moment of his death, but why would she open that weakness in her own plan? It doesn’t make sense.

It’s also notable that this is not the first time that the Cybermen have converted the dead. We saw the practice before in The Pandorica Opens. (Spoilers: We’ll also see it again in a few years within the franchise.)

The return of the Cybermen marks another point in the Steven Moffat trend of ending a series with the menace. To this point, every penultimate episode of every series under his reign as executive producer – The Pandorica Opens, Closing Time, and Nightmare in Silver – has featured the Cybermen. This was one of the best features in that list, especially with the visual callback to The Invasion and the iconic march near St. Paul’s Cathedral. This story also calls back to a similar awakening from The Tomb of the Cybermen.

The return of UNIT in the second half really throws a wrinkle in the story. It’s nice to see Kate and Osgood again, though Osgood’s death was meaningless. The story pretty much threw her away for shock value, continuing a revival-era tradition of killing potential companions after being invited to travel. You know, like Lynda Moss, Madame de Pompadour, Astrid Peth, Jenny, Rita, and Clara Oswin Oswald.

The plot point of making the Doctor into the President of Earth – some sort of UNIT contingency plan for a worldwide catastrophe – seemingly comes from thin air and really drags on the story’s tempo. It only serves to set the stage for a less than exciting dive-into-the-free-falling-TARDIS moment as the presidential jetliner is torn apart. It further boggles the mind that the Doctor did not even try to save Kate, leaving her fate (ahem) up in the air until the deus ex machina Cyber-Brig revelation.

Otherwise, the Cyber-Danny elements provide a good exercise in exploring the meaning of Doctor Who, and close the loop on the good man/bad man theme that has served as the backbone for this series. It’s evident that this was the moment that Steve Moffat wanted in this story, leaving the rest of the spectacle to meander to this point.

The story continues to meander right up to the credits, providing a meaningful moment as the Doctor fails to find Gallifrey but another exercise in toxic relationships as the Doctor and Clara say their prevaricating farewells.

But, hey, at least we got Missy playing Mary Poppins. Because Mary Poppins is a Time Lord, y’all.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Last Christmas


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.

Debrief: Dragon Con 2022

Debrief: Dragon Con 2022
Atlanta, GA – September 1 through September 5, 2022

Boom! Dragon Con 2022 is in the books!

And it was an experience of highs and lows.

Attendance was reported at 65,000, and while it was definitely higher than the 42,000 from 2021, it was still pretty manageable. The big issue was the convention’s pandemic precautions (or lack thereof… more on that later), but I could still get behind an attendance cap in the 65,000 to 70,000 range. It felt comfortable enough.

As usual, we did a lot of good charity work this year. Open Hand Atlanta will be receiving at least $190,000, which is $70k more than we raised in 2021.

Dragon Con was also a getaway from reality that I really needed. Life and work have been insanely busy lately, and it was refreshing to decompress with the geek family, especially the former Scapecast folks that my wife and I hadn’t seen for three years.

On to the discussion!

Read More »

Timestamp #261: In the Forest of the Night

Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night
(1 episode, s08e10, 2014)

Timestamp 261 In the Forest of the Night

Forest conservation saves the world.

A schoolgirl runs through a forest in search of a doctor. Instead, she finds the TARDIS. When he answers the door, the Doctor finds himself among trees instead of in London (where he expected to be). He and the girl have a discussion inside the TARDIS about Clara, Danny, and the inner dimensions of the blue box.

The TARDIS refuses to start because it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be. The forest is actually Trafalgar Square. The trees have returned to London with a vengeance.

Meanwhile, Danny and Clara are chaperoning a group of students on a museum sleepover trip. After they deal with an annoying student, they pack up and head for the exit. On the way, one girl notes that a tree cross-section shows a thick red ring, leading Clara to quip that it was a good year to be a tree. When the class exits the museum, they find that the city has been flooded with trees. Danny goes to the roof to scout out this development as the world responds to the invasion with panic and awe.

Clara phones the Doctor and finds out that the little girl in the TARDIS, Maebh, is one of Clara’s students. Clara asks the Doctor to bring her by as Danny chastises Clara for talking to the Doctor. The students dismiss the argument as Clara and Danny being in love.

Danny and Clara lead the group through the forest as they discuss the trees. Once they rendezvous with the Doctor and Maebh, they find out that the forest sprung up overnight. The Doctor is unable to get any readings and decides to move everyone into the TARDIS for safety, but he soon finds out how bad that plan was when the kids start playing with the console and touching everything.

Danny notices folders of homework assignments that Clara left in the TARDIS, prompting the Doctor to search for Maebh. Clara explains that Maebh is fragile and hears voices, which the Doctor interprets as the girl being on a different frequency. The Doctor tracks Maebh with Clara’s phone as Danny remains skeptical that Clara ever left the Doctor’s side. The children persuade Danny to follow.

Maebh encounters teams from the government who are trying to burn paths through the trees. She’s frightened, so she continues to run but leaves items along her path like breadcrumbs. The Doctor and Clara also find the burn team and are amazed to see that the fire has no effect. The Doctor believes that it’s because trees control the oxygen and can suffocate the fires.

The Doctor also reveals that Maebh has accurately predicted a massive solar flare that will destroy the planet. He believes that this is because Maebh has lost someone close to her, so she’s always looking and observing, searching for hope in the world.

The whole crisis is further exacerbated when the trees break the gates at the zoo, releasing the wild animals to chase Maebh, Clara, and the Doctor. The wolves jump the fence and run away scared, but that’s only because of a large tiger that has now arrived on the scene. Luckily, Danny arrives with the kids and scares the tiger off with a flashlight.

The Doctor notices that Maebh is waving at the air above her head and refuses to give her any medication. Maebh runs to a lighted area and explains that her own thoughts in her grief led to the forest’s growth. The Doctor is able to illuminate the beings swarming around Maebh, making them present as fireflies while they explain that they are the lifeforce of the trees. They have been and will always be there and are aware of the powerful solar flare. The lights leave and Maebh is freed from their thrall.

Clara realizes that this threat cannot be stopped and urges the Doctor to use the TARDIS as a lifeboat. They arrive at the TARDIS and Clara tells the Doctor that he should leave without them, but the Time Lord refuses. Earth is his planet too. He’s reminded that the trees were flameproof and boards the TARDIS, leaving the humans behind. Once the realization strikes him, he returns to Earth and summons everyone to the TARDIS. He explains the threat to the kids, which accidentally frightens them, then reveals that it has happened before, namely in the Tunguska and Curuçá events. The red ring in the museum exhibit is proof.

Maebh offers to appeal to the world. The Doctor calls every phone in the world simultaneously and Maebh advises everyone to remain calm and leave the trees alone. She also asks her sister to come home. When she’s done, her mother arrives and their reunion inspires everyone except Clara to turn down a trip to space to watch the flare. Clara will join the Doctor after the children are returned home, and Clara apologizes for lying to Danny. She and Danny then share a kiss, which proves the children right about those dating rumors.

From the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara watch the flare harmlessly strike Earth. Missy watches as well, surprised at the resolution. Later on, the trees vanish as the Doctor and Clara watch, and Clara is surprised to realize that the people of Earth will forget that this ever happened.

Finally, Maebh and her mother return home. When they arrive, a hydrangea vanishes like the trees did, revealing Maebh’s lost sister, Annabelle.

This is a fairly interesting episode that runs along the same narrative lines as Kill the Moon. The events would have happened with or without the Doctor’s interference, and the events do not truly pose a threat the humanity or the planet. Effectively, our normal protagonists could be removed from this story entirely and nothing would change.

What’s left is an intellectual mystery that the Doctor and his companions are compelled to resolve so that they can understand it. It’s that perpetual quest for knowledge that our favorite Time Lord seems to follow. Further detail comes from the investigation of Maebh’s behavior, which is often disregarded as a disability by everyone. I enjoy the beauty in exploring how such differences make us unique, but I’m not too keen on the idea that her unique skill is completely “cured” by the end of the story.

The title of the episode is taken from a verse of William Blake’s “The Tyger”. Not only does this foreshadow the tiger’s appearance (dodgy CGI and all), but it also calls back to Planet of the Spiders where it was previously read aloud. This poem also made an appearance in the audio story The Emerald Tiger.

Of course, in a moment of meta, this episode is an example of Doctor Who as a television show being referenced within the show itself. There is a bus (which is really a cardboard cutout) amongst the trees displaying a one-shot ad for Series 8. We previously saw this in Remembrance of the Daleks, which was set on the same day that the show first premiered, where a television aired the BBC commentator’s lead in before the debut of An Unearthly Child. Once again, the Doctor is a character in his own story.

We’ve seen solar flares before (Time Heist, The Ark, The Ark in Space, The Beast Below, The Mysterious Planet) as well as evidence of humanity’s “capacity for self-deception” (World War Three, Victory of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks) and communication with telepathic trees (The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe).

Overall, this was a slightly above average story even with its somewhat problematic approach to neurodivergence. The fairy tale ending was also a bit syrupy.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Dark Water and Doctor Who: Death in Heaven


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 #260: Flatline

Doctor Who: Flatline
(1 episode, s08e09, 2014)

Timestamp 260 Flatline

A familiar dimension in time travel.

A bearded man calls the police with vital information about who committed a crime. As a hissing grows around him, he begins to panic. He is soon ripped from the phone and literally inserted into the trim on the wall, a two-dimensional figure screaming in silence.

On the TARDIS, Clara is packing because Danny is a bit territorial, even though the Doctor claims that she can leave anything because there is plenty of space. The TARDIS lands in roughly the time and space where Clara lives, but the door has shrunken. Once the travelers extract themselves from the capsule, they find that it is roughly half its original size.

They’re also in Bristol, not London. Shades of Sarah Jane?

The Doctor doesn’t want to travel anywhere else while the TARDIS is malfunctioning, so he asks Clara to investigate while he gathers some tools. She meets Rigsy, a graffiti artist serving community service in the care of an abusive ass. She also notes a large makeshift memorial and a tunnel full of images of people. These people are missing and the memorial is for them.

Clara returns to the TARDIS to find that it is now action figure-sized. The interior of the TARDIS (and the Doctor) are the same size, and the Doctor asks Clara to pick up the craft and follow his readings. She meets up with Rigsy again and mockingly poses as the Doctor while she investigates. Together, they go to the apartment where the caller lived.

Rigsy muses that the victim could still be in the room since he went missing while the flat was locked up. He gets a little skittish about Clara until she shows him the TARDIS and the Doctor within. Rigsy is amused until the hissing screaming sound starts up and energy is drained from inside the TARDIS.

The pair next poses as MI-5 courtesy of the psychic paper and start investigating the walls under the Doctor’s direction by breaking them apart with a sledgehammer. While they work, a local police officer who was helping them is absorbed by the mysterious being. The Doctor is cued in by a new painting of a human nervous system on the wall. The aliens are experimenting with humanity in order to understand three-dimensional life.

The door slams shut as they pursue Rigsy and Clara, and while Clara takes a call from Danny, they escape by smashing a window with a suspended chair. Danny is very skeptical about Clara’s claims that she’s left the TARDIS.

They end up back in the tunnel as the community service workers start painting over the portraits. Clara tries to use the psychic paper but the supervisor lacks enough imagination to be affected. It isn’t until the images pull one of the workers into 2D that they all run and end up in a train warehouse. Clara convinces the supervisor in a very Doctorly fashion before rallying her new team and figuring out how to communicate with the aliens.

As they learn to communicate via mathematics, another worker is taken and it seems that the humans are deliberately being targeted. The Doctor creates a device to restore elements from two dimensions into three, but it fails. As another worker is taken, it becomes apparent that the aliens have evolved, but the team is able to escape after the Doctor fixes his device. The aliens give chase as they assimilate into three dimensions, and the TARDIS is knocked from Clara’s bag in the process.

The TARDIS lands on a train line and is nearly smashed into pieces by an oncoming train, but the Doctor is able to move it with his hand and then activates siege mode. This locks down the capsule, but there’s not enough power to turn it off or sustain life support.

Meanwhile, Clara, Rigsy, and the abusive supervisor stop another train in the tunnel and use it to punch through a blockage created by the aliens. The plan fails, but Rigsy proves himself to be rather heroic in the process. Clara also spots a cube with Gallifreyan markings and presumes it to be the TARDIS.

The team, now including the train driver, takes shelter in a disused office where Clara devises a plan. Using Rigsy’s art skills and a poster, they paint a fake access door that the aliens attempt to make three-dimensional. When they do, the energy is channeled into the TARDIS and restores it to normal.

Using the enemy’s power against them, Clara proved her mettle to the Doctor, and he praises her for doing so.

Realizing that the creatures (which the Doctor calls the Boneless) have no interest in peace, he declares that this plane is protected and that they are not welcome here. With that, he sends them back to their own dimension, echoing the confrontations with both the Sycorax and the Atraxi.

The Doctor returns everyone to the railyard above ground. The Doctor is disgusted by the supervisor but is pleased with Clara’s performance in his stead. He’s also intrigued that Clara rejected a call from Danny.

Meanwhile, Missy watches Clara on a tablet. She believes that she has chosen well.

This story marks a major milestone in the Doctor/Clara relationship. I love how the Doctor is still technically in charge, but he’s forced to act through Clara. In this way, he learns about how he is seen in the universe and gains respect for his companion and “pudding brain” humans. Clara gets to exercise the understanding of this Doctor’s character that she gained last adventure.

This new role for Clara will likely take a toll, as both Davros and Rory have pointed out in the past that traveling with the Doctor can turn companions into worse people. The Doctor is obviously uncomfortable with the development.

I also like the chemistry between Clara and Rigsy. The artist has the typical everyman backstory that we associate with the Doctor’s companions, and he also seemed to catch on quickly with the role.

Looking back, this story echoes similar adventures from the past. The TARDIS was previously shrunk in Planet of Giants, Carnival of Monsters, Logopolis, Let’s Kill Hitler, and The Wedding of River Song, and we saw enemies who were able to shift targets through dimensions in both Fear Her and Mona Lisa’s Revenge.

These recycled story tropes aside, this adventure carried the day well with wonderful character development and a good balance of fear with the action and completely silent antagonist. It seems to be Jamie Mathieson‘s trademark.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night


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.

Dragon Con 2022

Dragon Con 2022
Atlanta, GA – September 1 through September 5, 2022


Dragon Con!

It’s an annual tradition for me. It’s also a family reunion of sorts as I catch up with dear friends from around the world. This year will be my (lucky) thirteenth time attending and my (lucky) seventh year as an attending professional.

If you plan to be there, you can find me at various places over Labor Day weekend according to the schedule below. This year is still a bit lighter than normal due to the continuing spread of COVID-19. It is neither joke nor hoax, and I fully support masking and vaccination until the spread is knocked down. I’ll still be around having fun while adhering to Dragon Con masking policies to combat the virus.

The convention app is available now – look for Dragon Con by Core-apps in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store – and will have the schedule of events soon. The list of confirmed guests, performers, artists, and attending professionals is available on the official Dragon Con site.

Dragon Con itself takes place in downtown Atlanta spanning five hotels (Sheraton Atlanta, Hilton Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, and Westin Peachtree Plaza) and the AmericasMart Atlanta exhibition center. The convention draws approximately 70,000 to 80,000 attendees (or more) annually and showcases one of the city’s most popular parades on Saturday morning at 10am. This year, the attendance numbers will be lower with a pandemic-related attendance cap between the reported 85,000 in 2019 and 42,000 in 2021.

Dragon Con prides itself on contributions to charity and the community. You can find more information about those efforts on their webpage. Each year, the convention partners with a local charity organization and this year’s partner is Open Hand Atlanta. Open Hand’s mission is to help underserved individuals prevent or better manage chronic disease through tailored nutrition interventions, which include a variety of therapeutic meal plans as well as nutrition counseling and coaching delivered by an experienced team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. With the dedicated support of over 14,000 volunteers, they currently prepare, pack, and deliver over 5,500 meals per day in Metro Atlanta and rural Georgia. Donations can be made at various locations around the convention, including donation buckets in each track room and contributions from the annual charity auctions. Dragon Con will match every donation up to $100,000.

The convention hosts the Dragon Con Hustle, a virtual 5K conducted on the honor system. The registration fee is donated to the annual charity and each participant gets a physical medal two weeks after the convention ends. This is probably one of my favorite ways to donate since I routinely log 30 to 35 miles during the convention as I walk to and fro. You can run, walk, roll, or even skip your way to the goal, and all Dragon Con asks is for a progress update on social media with the #DragonConHustle hashtag.

Dragon Con also hosts one of the most successful blood drives with the donations going to the non-profit Lifesouth Community Blood Centers. Lifesouth serves 125 hospitals in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and the Dragon Con blood drives routinely outperform those held at that big west coast corporate convention.

If you’re new to the convention, consider stopping by the Dragon Con Newbies group on Facebook. It is run by Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony, and me, and is an in-depth community resource for information about this massive (and sometimes overwhelming) event. Memberships (tickets) for this year’s convention are available, however, due to the pandemic-related attendance caps, memberships are limited.

Along with the attendance caps, all attendees are required to wear masks that adhere to CDC guidelines. The other preventative measures taken by the con this year can be found on their website.

Note: All Dragon Con schedules are tentative until the convention ends on Monday. Even then, things are a bit suspect. As things change before the convention, I’ll update this post.

Revision History:

    • Rev 0 – 19 Aug 2022: Initial post.

The Schedule


Attendees start rolling in up to a week before the convention and start partying. I don’t have any big plans for Wednesday yet, but I will definitely be in the area on Thursday to check in to the hotel, pick up my badge and Hard Rock Dragon Con gear, and get started with programming.


12:00p-4:00p: Dragon Con Newbies Walking and Rolling Tours (4 hours)
Main Programming
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
Want to get a ‘lay of the land’ and find your way around the hotels? Did you know there’s a food court? Meet others new to Dragon Con and get a tour with some veteran con-goers. The last tours will leave at approximately 3:30pm.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

5:30p-6:30p: Dragon Con Newbies Q&A (1 hour)
Main Programming
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
First Dragon Con? Confused or overwhelmed? Savvy con attendees will share tips and tricks.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

8:30p-9:30p: James Bond: No Time to Die – A Review (1 hour)
Hilton, Galleria 5
Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007 has finally been released. Love it or hate it, it was definitely climactic. Our discussion will answer the burning question: was it finally time for Bond to die?
Panelists include: Caro McCully, Alan J. Porter, Janné McKamey, Tony Bowers, Niki Veasey


10:00a: Dragon Con Newbies 101 (1 hour)
Main Programming
Hyatt, Regency V
First Dragon Con? Confused or overwhelmed? Savvy con attendees will share their tips and tricks for making your experience an awesome one.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

11:30a: Go Web! Spider-Man Movie’s 20th Tobey-Versary (1 hour)
American Sci-Fi Classics
Marriott Marquis, M103-M105
Bonesaw is ready for our tribute to the movie that launched the Spider-Verse as well as webs from Peter Parker’s hands (that’s still weird.)
Panelists include: Michael Bailey, Kevin Cafferty, ToniAnn Marini, Derek B. Gayle, Gary Mitchel

1:00p: 60 years of James Bond (1 hour)
Hilton, Galleria 5
The 007 film franchise is turning 60 on October 5th, 2022. This panel investigates the long-lasting impact the film franchise has had on the action movie. Where has Bond Been, and where will the franchise go after ‘No Time to Die.’
Panelists include: Caro McCully, Lauren Carey, Van Allen Plexico, Alan J. Porter, Janné McKamey

2:30p: Severance: Of Two Minds (1 hour)
American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M302-M303
Working at Lumon Industries is complicated. First, you have to agree to a specialized medical procedure called severance, and then you are not entirely sure what you’re working on. It’s pretty stressful. Take a look at what the MDR team, Mark, Helly R, and one of its former members, Petey, have to say about the experience. Oh, wait, you can’t, unless you’re talking to their ‘innie’, since their ‘outie’ doesn’t have a clue. A unique story, an intriguing allegory, consider our panelists’ perspectives, and then offer your own.
Panelists include: Thomas Mariani, M.C. Williams, Felicity Kusinitz, Kevin Cafferty, Lindy Keelan

4:00p: Earth Station Who Podcast: A Look Back at the 13th Doctor (1 hour)
Hilton, Galleria 7
The era of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th incarnation of the Doctor is slowly coming to an end. The crew from the Earth Station Who Podcast will host a retrospective of her time in the TARDIS. We will look at how The Doctor and her “fam” took on villains of all shapes and sizes from across the universe as well as figuring out the mystery of the Timeless Child & the Flux, and reveal the good, the bad, and the Chibnall.
Panelists include: Mike Faber, Michael Gordon, Mary Ogle

5:30p: Doctor Who New Series (1 hour)
Hilton, Crystal Ballroom
Doctor Who returned to our screens this year with the “Flux” saga and two other specials showcasing the Daleks and the Sea Devils (last seen in 1984’s “Warriors from the Deep”) We will discuss the themes, storylines, and ramifications of these stories, and how they might affect the upcoming 60th Anniversary special.
Panelists include: Caro McCully, Sue Kisenwether, Anthony Williams, J.M. Tuffley


11:30a: Host, Co-Host, or Group Host That is the Question
Digital Media
Hilton, Galleria 6
Do you need a co-host? Do you want one? What about group hosting? How do you find a compatible co-host and what do you do if the honeymoon is over? Whether it’s a new podcast or you are changing it up with your current one, we’ll talk about how you can find the right co-host, how to divorce a co-host, and how to create connections for guests to fill in the gaps without needing an HR department.
Panelists include: Tyra Burton, Mike Faber, Tony P Henderson, Sue Kisenwether, Leighann Lord, Lali DeRosier

1:00p: Space: 1999 – 45 Years Later (1 hour)
Military Science Fiction
Westin, Chastain DE
What is the enduring appeal of Space: 1999? Where else could it have gone? We look at this iconic show that, even now, still lives on in the hearts of fans. This cross-track panel between BritTrack, American Sci-Fi Classics, & Military SciFi Media discusses the legacy of Moonbase Alpha.
Panelists include: James Henson, Ryan Carey, “Badger”

2:30p: Shake Your Tailfeathers: You Have a Podcast, So Now What?
Digital Media
Hilton, Galleria 7
What do you need to do to take your podcast to the next level? How do you keep your listeners engaged while continuing to come up with evergreen content? We’ll talk about networking, topic generating, watching for scammers, and when you need to tackle the business of podcasting.
I will be the moderator for this panel.
Panelists include: Tyra Burton, Mike Faber, Bobby Blackwolf, Marc Leary

4:00p: So, You Have A Face For Radio: Surviving The Evolution of Podcasting To Video
Digital Media
Hilton, Galleria 7
Podcasting has evolved from being audio-only to including video and live broadcasts. How do you make the switch to being on camera? Join us as we chat about equipment, setup, solutions, and apps. Get ready for lights, camera, and action whether it is on Twitch, Facebook Live, or YouTube.
Panelists include: Tyra Burton, Mike Faber, Bobby Blackwolf, Rob Roberts, Todd Cochrane, Kyle Sullivan


No panels scheduled at this time.


11:30a: Battle of the Fictional Bands: This One Goes to 11 (1 hour)
American Sci-Fi Classics
Marriott Marquis, M103-M105
Be part of the discerning audience of music connoisseurs who decides the winners in a tantalizing tournament of bands from Josie and the Pussycats to Spinal Tap.
Panelists include: ToniAnn Marini, Chris Cummins, John G. Hartness, William Joseph Roberts


Timestamp #259: Mummy on the Orient Express

Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express
(1 episode, s08e08, 2014)

Timestamp 259 Mummy on the Orient Express

One minute to doom.

A sixty-six-second clock begins ticking as Mrs. Pitt and her grandaughter Maisie are enjoying a meal in a luxurious train dining car. Mrs. Pitt spots a “mummy monster” but no one else seems to notice. Even a train official is oblivious.

At 6 seconds, the mummy gets closer. At 5 seconds, it has its face in hers. At 4 seconds, Maisie begins to worry as her grandmother panics. At 3 seconds, everyone in the car is staring. At 2 seconds, Mrs. Pitt screams in terror. At 1 second, the mummy has his hands on her forehead.

At zero seconds, she dies.

The Doctor and Clara arrive at the TARDIS materializes on the train. It is the Orient Express, one of many trains to hold the name, but this is the first innnnnn spaaaaaaaace. The Doctor is in a tuxedo and Clara is in a dress from the 1920s. As a singer offers a jazzy rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, the travelers enter the dining car where the Doctor questions Clara’s confusing sad/happy smile. It’s understandable since he chose this journey as their last together.

Clara admits that she hated him for weeks, but she received some advice: “Hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like.” Clara realized then that she doesn’t hate the Doctor, but she can’t keep traveling with him in this form. They are interrupted by Maisie who calls the Doctor on what she sees as a lie. The train’s conductor, Captain Quell, apologizes as Maisie is escorted away. He then explains what happened to the young woman.

Later on, Clara begins to question her decision to leave the Doctor when she realizes that she may never see him again. The Doctor ponders the mystery of Mrs. Pitt’s death while Clara calls Danny about her quandary. The Doctor can’t refuse a good mystery, but he decides to leave Clara behind.

In the engine room, the Doctor finds a life extender – a device that tried and failed to save Mrs. Pitt – and Chief Engineer Perkins. Meanwhile, Clara gets dressed and finds Maisie, who is walking the halls in her nightclothes and carrying a shoe. She’s denied access to her grandmother’s body until she beats the lock with her shoe. Clara makes friends with Maisie as they work the problem at hand.

The Doctor finds a passenger named Professor Emile Moorhouse, an expert in alien mythology, and asks about the Foretold. This mythical mummy’s stare offers only sixty-six seconds to its victims, but victims can only see the creature when it appears to them. As they chat, the mummy attacks a chef.

After Quell orders the staff to cover up the chef’s death, the Doctor interrogates him with help from the psychic paper. Talking with Quell doesn’t pan out, but Perkins gives the Doctor a trove of documents and information. After meeting up with Moorhouse in the engineer’s room, the three watch the footage of Mrs. Pitt’s death.

The search for Mrs. Pitt comes up fruitless. The body is missing. Clara and Maisie are trapped in the room in which she was supposedly stored, and Maisie questions whether or not Clara is really done with her travels. The Doctor calls Clara’s mobile on the train’s communicator and rushes to her rescue when she tells him that she’s trapped. A suppression field blocks the sonic screwdriver, so Clara and Maisie are alone when a sarcophagus opens in the storage room. The box only contains lights and bubble wrap, and as Captain Quell apprehends the Time Lord for trespassing, another passenger is killed. The captain has no choice but to trust the Doctor with the case.

The Doctor realizes that someone has orchestrated the trip since the passenger list is stacked with brilliant scientists. When the Doctor questions this, the train stops and various passengers disappear as a lab appears in their place. Those passengers were hard-light holograms and the train’s computer Gus is in charge of this examination of the Foretold. Moorhouse suddenly catches sight of the mummy and is able to pass some information about its appearance before succumbing to fear and dying.

Clara calls the Doctor with the papers and schematics that she found. The Foretold appears to be targeting weaker passengers first, but this avenue of analysis is stopped when Gus sacrifices the entire kitchen staff to persuade the Doctor to return to work. As the team of scientists crunches through the data, Quell is the next to die as the Foretold exploits his post-traumatic stress. Quell describes the creature in detail and Perkins realizes that the specific time is related to technology to bring victims out of phase so it can consume their energy.

Also, Maisie is the next most likely target. The Doctor arranges for Clara and Maisie to come to the laboratory so the scientists can study her death, and Clara notes that the TARDIS is trapped behind a force field. Clara also confronts the Doctor because he knew that something might happen on this trip.

As Maisie sees the mummy, the Doctor transfers her grief to him so he can confront the mummy. During his 66 seconds, he deduces that the scroll that the scientists were analyzing is actually a flag. The mummy is an ancient soldier augmented with stealth technology to allow it to kill only its victims by pulling them out of phase, and it is trying to protect the flag. The Doctor declares that the war is over and surrenders, thus ending the mummy’s watch as it salutes and collapses into a pile of dust.

Gus congratulates everyone for solving the mystery, then decides to kill them all. The Doctor works the teleport technology in the mummy’s remains and saves everyone as the train explodes. Clara discovers this as she wakes up on an alien world, also understanding that the Doctor had to pretend to be heartless in order to fool Gus. The Doctor explains that he couldn’t save everyone, and he had no idea if he could succeed. He also has no idea who was manipulating the train’s computer. He tells Clara that sometimes, all your available choices are bad ones, but in the end, you still have to choose.

Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor offers to travel with Perkins but he refuses. Clara asks the Time Lord if he loves being the man to make an impossible choice. When the Doctor says that it is his life, Clara wonders if it is an addiction. But you can’t truly tell if something is an addiction until you have tried giving it up, and the Doctor has never done so.

Clara takes a call from Danny, then lies to her boyfriend and chooses to continue her travels with the Doctor.

This story swings back upward after the character decline of Kill the Moon. It effectively removes the tension between the Doctor and Clara by framing this adventure as Clara’s last hurrah and then reframes it to provide room for epiphany. Clara realizes that the Doctor is now a realist – sometimes all of the available choices are bad ones, but there is still no choice but to choose – and the Doctor realizes that Clara’s empathy forces her to mourn every death and failure, no matter how small.

The Doctor is still abrasive and detached, but at least they’ve met on common ground. Unfortunately, that leads Clara to forgive by lying to the man she loves. Not a good look, Clara.

Otherwise, the monster feature is a fun horror romp with a twist. I actually enjoyed that the Doctor had to scientifically prove what the monster was, even though it meant sacrificing people for the methodology. The story is also another dip into the well of Agatha Christie’s oeuvre, which we previously visited in The Robots of Death, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Unicorn and the Wasp.

This story also features a music video due to the cameo of real-life singer Foxes covering Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. The BBC released an official music video with clips of Series 8 episodes, which was a first for Doctor Who. Foxes herself then uploaded a second video consisting solely of her performance and music mix.

Of course, we have ties to the history of Doctor Who. Following Amy and Rory’s wedding, the Eleventh Doctor received a call regarding an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express in space. Meanwhile, the Doctor manipulates Clara in a similar fashion to how Seventh Doctor manipulated Ace in The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor’s respiratory bypass also came into play once again, as it had in The Ark in Space, Four to Doomsday, Smith and Jones, and The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe.

Considering mummies, the previously encountered them (in one form or another) in Pyramids of Mars (the source of one of my favorite Doctor Who “nope” GIFs) and The Rings of Akhaten. Oh yeah, and that question… of course, he had to ask “Are you my mummy?

This story is a big step up from the previous outing and provides a good stepping-off point as we barrel toward the finale and the resolution of Missy’s plan.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Flatline


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 #258: Kill the Moon

Doctor Who: Kill the Moon
(1 episode, s08e07, 2014)

Timestamp 258 Kill the Moon

An innocent life versus the future of all mankind.

Do you remember Courtney Woods? It seems that she’s been quite the troublemaker after meeting the Doctor. She’s been using the psychic paper to sneak into clubs and stowing away in the TARDIS, and it’s all been since the Doctor told her that she wasn’t special. It damaged her psyche.

The Doctor and Clara find Courtney in the console room and the Time Lord offers to make the student the first woman on the Moon. The TARDIS lands in the cargo bay of a shuttle approaching the Moon, and after the landing, the travelers meet the crew who want to know what’s going on. The cargo bay is full of bombs, and the Doctor distracts the human crew with tales of infinite regenerations while conducting a Fourth Doctor gravity test with a yo-yo.

The Moon’s gravity is too strong and no one knows why. The Doctor presumes that it has somehow increased in mass. A Mexican mining outpost has gone missing and this crew is an after-thought in a third-rate spacecraft. The travelers and the crew venture onto the lunar surface to investigate, finding the outpost and a lot of organic webbing.

Inside the mining outpost, the team finds a corpse. They restore power and oxygen and the Doctor discovers that the Moon is slowly disintegrating. Crewman Henry explores a nearby cave and gets eaten by a spider. Another spider enters the base kills crewman Duke and sets its sights on the rest of the team. Courtney gets separated from the team and ends up killing the spider with a cleaner that she brought along, leading the Doctor to conclude that the spider is a germ. Gravity is also shifting as the internal mass of the Moon is moving.

Courtney would really like to go home so the team returns to the TARDIS. Clara wonders why they don’t just leave but the Doctor isn’t sure that the Moon doesn’t survive this adventure. He isn’t sure what happens beyond this point, but he knows that he must remain here to see that this problem is resolved. It is a fluxed point in time. Meanwhile, crewman Lundvik begins prepping her nuclear arsenal.

The team investigates the site where Henry died and finds the cave to be full of germ spiders that are afraid of the sunlight. The Doctor finds evidence of amniotic fluid in a crater and dives in to investigate. Left behind, Clara and Lundvik head back to the TARDIS as Courtney posts about her adventure on Tumblr. Unfortunately, the shuttle is swallowed by a crevasse.

The Doctor returns and takes the team back to the mining base. He has figured out that the Moon is an egg, and the spiders are bacteria living inside it. If they destroy the Moon with nuclear bombs, they will have to explain why they killed a creature that is the last of its kind. On the other hand, the lunar disruptions are taking a toll on the Earth. While the Doctor and Clara debate with Lundvik, the Doctor gives Courtney instructions to bring the TARDIS to him.

He then decides to let the humans sort it out. Not being from Earth or the Moon, the Doctor chooses not to interfere, insisting that only humans can decide the future of their planet. He boards the TARDIS and leaves.

The team discusses the risks of eliminating the Moon. Lundvik decides to activate the bomb timer but Courtney and Clara suggest that the people of Earth take a poll. Between “kill” and “don’t kill”, the planet chooses “kill”. Lundvik decides to detonate the explosives but Clara presses the abort command first just as the Doctor returns.

The team descends to a beach on Earth’s surface as the creature hatches. As the Doctor monologues, the butterfly-like being flies into the stars, leaving another egg behind that becomes a new Moon. From this point, humanity expands into space and endures to the end of the universe because they chose not to kill. Lundvik is left to find her way to NASA while the Doctor takes Clara and Courtney home.

As Courtney leaves the TARDIS, Clara confronts the Doctor about what he knew. He explains that he knew that the egg was harmless but that it wasn’t his place to choose the fate of humanity. Clara is furious for patronizing her and placing them in danger. As her friend, he left her behind to scrabble with the rest of humanity.

She tells him to go away and not come back.

As the TARDIS fades from sight, Clara returns to her classroom and finds some solace with Danny. He tells her that, because she’s still angry with him, her relationship with the Doctor is not over. She agrees, then heads home for a glass of wine as she stares out at the Moon.

We continue the Doctor’s decline that I noted in The Caretaker. While I appreciate the prickly nature when it comes to no one getting sick and no hanky panky on the TARDIS, I found his decision to leave the humans to fend for themselves… well… anger-inducing.

I get it. I really do. It was important for humans to make this choice for themselves, but he could have offered a bit more warmth and explanation for his choice. He’s helped so many other times, but this one is the one that has to be completely hands-off? Clara had a point about the Twelfth Doctor being patronizing instead of being a counselor, and her anger is completely justified.

Now take this to the next level: Kill the Moon is an analogy for abortion. While the de facto custodians of this new life – Clara, Courtney, and Lundvik, notably all women – have the agency to choose, the Doctor’s role with his vast knowledge of was to guide, counsel, and console. He performed none of those roles, waving the “not my problem” flag and leaving the humans in the mire of making a life-altering decision without a trusted someone to provide support.

Clara’s anger was birthed from frustration and fear, and all of it could have been avoided with the Doctor’s help. Now that trust is broken. Especially because he knew that the egg was (mostly) harmless.

Note that the Ninth Doctor took a similar approach in Aliens of London, but he still remained as an anchor through a difficult moment. The Twelfth Doctor abandoned his companions.

All of that analysis aside, this story has an interesting hook with a Philip Hinchcliffe monster-of-the-week execution and terrible logic. The Moon is really an egg that incubates for millions of years, causes planetary distress upon hatching, and then is replaced by an exact copy to repeat the cycle in another eon?

The concept should have been incubated for much longer.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express


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 #257: The Caretaker

Doctor Who: The Caretaker
(1 episode, s08e06, 2014)

Timestamp 257 The Caretaker

Life, love, and lies in time and space.

Clara and the Doctor begin this adventure chained to posts on Geonosis a red desert planet with no name. The Doctor asks Clara for the vibro-cutters, but she left them in her other jacket. The Doctor asks why she has a backup jacket, to which Clara retorts that even if she had the device, she wouldn’t be able to pass it because her hands are restrained.

Of course, they won’t die of exposure because the sand piranhas will eat them first.

They escape somehow and Clara meets Danny for a date. He comments on her deep tan.

Later, she tries to leave for another date only to find the Doctor and the TARDIS in her bedroom. He tempts her with an adventure among the fish people. She later explains her soaking wet dress and the seaweed in her hair as a freak rain shower.

On another adventure, the travelers run from soldiers bent on killing them. She then meets up with Danny for a run outside. When she gets home, she claims that she can’t keep this up. She then decides that she has everything under control.

Clara enters the TARDIS for another trip but the Doctor says that he has nothing for her to do. She calls his bluff but he maintains the story that he’s going undercover. Clara is not convinced but leaves the Doctor to his work. Clara finds out the next day that his undercover assignment is as John Smith, the new caretaker of Coal Hill School.

Oh, boy.

Clara finds a moment to interrogate the Doctor about this mission, but the Doctor has no desire to explain why he’s working there. He simply says that the children will be safe if he’s allowed to complete his task.

Later on, a police officer finds two students on the street. He tells them to get back to school, then investigates a strange noise in a nearby abandoned building. The officer is soon killed by an alien robot.

The Doctor interrupts Clara’s class to tell her that she has the publication date of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice wrong. She introduces him to the class as the new caretaker, and as the bell rings, he continues laying devices around the school perimeter. Clara finds the Doctor talking to Danny and Adrian Davies, and she eavesdrops to help preserve the secret of their traveling relationship. She also reminds the Doctor about Colonel Orson Pink before being pulled away for teaching business. The Doctor mistakes Adrian for Clara’s boyfriend, and as he continues his work, Danny keeps a suspicious eye on him.

The Doctor also meets Courtney Woods when the schoolgirl finds him working in the TARDIS (which is hidden in the caretaker’s workshop). Courtney threatens to tell the headmaster about the strange blue box but the Doctor deflects as Clara arrives. After Courtney leaves, the Doctor explains that he’s looking for a Skovox Blitzer, a machine that may be hunting the artron energy and will kill everyone in its path before destroying Earth. He also shows her a wrist-mounted cloaking device that he will use to prevent the Blitzer from scanning him while he traps it.

Oh, and he’s lured it to the school.

Clara meets up with Danny and they discuss plans for a date and the new caretaker. After the school closes and the sun sets, the Doctor puts his plan into action, unaware that Danny is stalking him. Clara also canceled her date in order to help the Doctor, so all three of them are in harm’s way.

The Blitzer pursues the Doctor by following the scanning devices that Danny Pink moved to the assembly hall. The Doctor saves Danny’s life by pulling the Blitzer into the temporal vortex and casting it into the future. He chastises Danny for interfering, concerned that the device changes have altered the plan. Instead of returning in one billion years, the Blitzer will return in three days.

Danny puts the clues together and the Doctor tries to erase his memory. As Clara tries to convince him otherwise, she admits that she loves the math teacher. She determines that the best way to explain everything is the truth, including showing Danny the TARDIS.

Danny wants to call in the military to fight the Blitzer, but the Doctor tells Clara to take Danny away. The humans go to Clara’s flat to deal with what Danny has learned while the Doctor resets the trap. Despite her denials, Danny struggles with whether or not Clara loves the Doctor romantically, but he does accept that she travels to see the wonders of the universe. He does, however, feel betrayed by the lies, so Clara offers the cloaking watch so he can observe how she interacts with the Doctor.

In the TARDIS, Clara tries to change the Doctor’s opinion of Danny, but she fails. Danny decloaks himself and the Doctor reveals that Time Lords can feel invisibility fields around them. Danny and the Doctor argue – Danny considers the Time Lord to be pompous due to his aristocratic title and the Doctor sees the math teacher as nothing more than a soldier – and the teachers leave for Parents Night.

The Doctor presumes that he is alone but is met again by Courtney. The Doctor shows Courtney the TARDIS, suggesting that she could travel with him because there may soon be a vacancy. Meanwhile, the teachers meet with the parents as the vortex unexpectedly opens and deposits the Blitzer in the assembly hall.

The Doctor summons Clara to help. Danny follows but is rebuffed by the Doctor while Clara acts like a decoy. The Blitzer chases Clara into the caretaker’s storeroom where the Doctor is waiting with an improvised trap and poses as the Blitzer’s superior officer. Danny provides a final distraction that gives the Doctor enough time to end the threat. The Time Lord and the math teacher finally resolve their conflict as they both realize that Danny is good enough for Clara.

The Doctor takes Courtney as he leaves the Blitzer in deep space, but the schoolgirl proves that she can’t handle travel in the TARDIS. Back in Clara’s flat, Danny explains that he knows the Doctor because he’s seen men like him in the military. He asks her to tell him if the Doctor pushes her too far.

Finally, in a brightly lit office, the police officer who was killed by the Blitzer is being interviewed by a man named Seb. It is revealed that CSO Matthew is in the afterlife in a place called the Nethersphere, and as he spots Missy walking the hallway, Seb asks the new arrival if he has any questions.

This story is this set’s The Lodger and Closing Time, and that leaves it on somewhat shaky ground. It is great to see some development with Clara and Danny, but the counter is how the Doctor is so abrasive and detached from the people he’s trying to protect. Further, he literally draws the threat to the school, potentially placing plenty of innocents in danger when the plan goes sideways.

At the point, the halfway mark in Peter Capaldi’s debut series, it’s painfully apparent that the Doctor is alien. It’s also painfully apparent that he has not grown into the traditional role of being a companion to those he serves and travels with.

It’s a double-edged sword. It’s a good dynamic to explore in the revival era, which has had plenty of Doctors that are intimately familiar with their companions, but the abrasiveness is also off-putting. Even the Sixth and Ninth Doctors had a certain degree of compassion, but the Twelfth (to this point) feels like he sees humanity as something beneath him.

This story also echoes to another revival-era undercover story in School Reunion with similar results from a less prickly Doctor. The artron emissions that drew the Blitzer to Earth could either be from every adventure that the Doctor has had on the planet, or it could be specific to Coal Hill with An Unearthly Child, Attack of the Cybermen, Remembrance of the Daleks, and maybe even The Day of the Doctor. The first adventure is also nodded to with the “Home sweet home” throwaway line, and another callback reaches out to Mawdryn Undead with the discussion that a soldier cannot become a math teacher. The Brigadier would like a word, dear Doctor.

This had the power to be a great character-building story, but I couldn’t get past the Doctor’s apparent lack of progress on the same plane.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Kill the Moon


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.