Timestamp #CLS4: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart & Brave-ish Heart

Class: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart
Class: Brave-ish Heart
(2 episodes, s01e04-05, 2016)

Timestamp CLS4 Lonely Heart Brave-ish Heart

Loads of character development in a two-hour adventure.

Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart

Far across the universe in the halls of the Shadow Palace on The Underneath, Corakinus receives word that his servants can make his heart whole again. Unfortunately, his attempts to sever the attachment to April only strengthen the connection. On the other end of that connection in Shoreditch, April gasps in pain before picking up the sword of the Shadow King.

The next day, a strange petal dances on the wind before landing on April’s window as she practices her violin. April breaks a string and cuts herself, but the power of the Shadow King allows her to heal quickly. She also shares some bad news with her mother Jackie: He father has recently been released and made contact with the family.

Ram is feeling better after connecting with April. Meanwhile, Charlie shares the truth about the Cabinet of Souls with Matteusz. Everyone heads to school where Miss Quill watches as Mr. Armitage‘s name is added to the memorial and meets Dorothy Ames, the new headteacher sent by the Governors.

Later in class, April challenges her teacher during a lesson about warfare and the Dunkirk evacuation. As she literally breaks into her locker later, it’s apparent that the Shadow King is bleeding into her psyche. After ignoring a call from her father, she asks Ram for help. While they chat in Ram’s car, several more petals fall on the city and April’s father Huw MacLean shows up. His appearance is a violation of a court order, but all he wants is the chance to apologize. When he presses the issue, April manifests as the Shadow King and scares him away.

They are confronted by Ms. Ames for their truancy and Ram is encouraged to take April home while the headteacher is bitten by a flower petal. As Ram and April talk in her bedroom, the Shadow Kin locate Earth and plot an attack. April and Ram turn from talking to romance, which has a similar effect on the Shadow King 9,000 years of space travel away. Unfortunately for him, the Shadow Kin are disgusted by the thought of intimacy during sex. Afterward, April and Ram are discovered by April’s mother.

Charlie and Matteusz discuss the Cabinet of Souls and the prince reveals that the cabinet could transfer the souls into the bodies of another race. The cabinet is a powerful weapon capable of genocide. Miss Quill is angered by the discussion and storms away.

Later on, Tanya confronts Charlie about how he lords over the team. Matteusz chimes in occasionally while also being bitten by a flower petal. In fact, the petals are growing in number. Meanwhile, Miss Quill requests time off to deal with something at home, but Ms. Ames calls her into a meeting. The new headteacher also has a file with Charlie’s true identity on paper.

Jackie confronts the two teens about their relationship. Ram acts with respect toward her, but after he leaves, Jackie expresses her concerns about Ram and the parallels with April’s father. Ram calls Tanya and tells her that April is in trouble, which is a call that Huw overhears as he lurks nearby. On the ground is a squirrel, bloodied and killed by the flower petals.

Ms. Ames shows the petals to Miss Quill, remarking that there haven’t been many squirrels or birds around. One drop of blood causes the petals to multiply rapidly, and Ms. Ames asks Miss Quill to help solve the problem. She offers to remove the creature from Miss Quill’s head and free her from the contract.

April leaves the house to make up with Ram, but her departure is interrupted by Huw. After her parents argue, April is attacked by the Corakinus and the two personalities begin to merge. The Shadow King’s servant amplifies the effort but April resists as she attacks her father. Ram arrives just as April is about to execute her father with the Shadow King’s swords. April spares his life as she returns to lucidity. The rest of the team arrives just as April turns on her mother and heals her with the Shadow King’s power.

The act displaces enough energy to reveal Earth’s location to Corakinus, so April takes the initiative and slices open a rift. She dives inside, headed toward The Underneath, and Ram jumps in after her.

Brave-ish Heart

Ram races through The Underneath as a Shadow Kin chases him. He is saved by April and her scimitars, joining her as she makes her way to the Shadow Palace. She reveals that she cannot open a rift back home, so the two of them may be trapped there permanently. Back on Earth, Tanya reveals the truth of April’s condition to her parents, and they accompany Charlie to find help. Tanya finds Ram’s father and brings him into the team.

Meanwhile, Miss Quill and Ms. Ames continue their discussions. Ms. Ames asks for her thoughts on genocide, linking her plan back to Charlie and the Cabinet of Souls. They meet up with April’s parents and Charlie and Miss Quill confronts the prince over the cabinet. She’s angry that all of the people who slaughtered her people are still alive. Ms. Ames and the Governors want to use the cabinet’s power to destroy the petals.

April and Ram make their way through a cavern that reminds the Shadow Kin that they must defeat the universe or be crushed by it. They believe that they are a mistake of the universe and destined to live as shadows beneath everyone else unless they can overpower the universe. Ram discusses his Sikh heritage with April, proclaiming that doing good for the sake of doing so means getting closer to his god. They are interrupted by a telepathic link to Corakinus. He knows where they are.

Ram’s father and April’s parents argue about their children’s relationship while Tanya talks them down. As April gears up for war against the king and his army, Jackie’s heart glows. At the Quill/Smith home, Ms. Ames, Miss Quill, Charlie, and Matteusz debate the merits of using the cabinet to save the planet. Since only a Rhodian can operate the cabinet, Ms. Ames threatens Matteusz’s life to force Charlie into action. Tanya escorts everyone to the headteacher’s office as Matteusz sends her a text message. Apparently,  according to Ms. Ames, shadows can kill the petals. But bringing the Shadow Kin to Earth is a non-starter even though the petals are now consuming humans.

April engages Corakinus in a one-on-one battle where the victor becomes the new king. As they duel, the connection between Jackie and April intensifies. Using that connection, April opens a rift and she is joined by her father and Ram’s father. April finally defeats Corakinus. Huw talks her out of killing the king, and April declares that defeat is enough to depose Corakinus. The newly-crowned king has Corakinus locked away before she returns to Earth.

Under duress, Charlie decides to use the cabinet, but Matteusz is able to ambush Ms. Ames and throw her gun away. He stops short of committing genocide when April opens a rift and dispatches the Shadow Kin against the petals. Once the threat is obliterated, April orders the shadows to return home and destroy the path along the way.

Inside his cell, Corakinus severs the link that his followers created. April’s powers are gone, but they still share the same heart. Fortunately, the actions she took with the powers remain, including her mother’s ability to walk again. Her family is healing, but she needs Huw to stay away until the MacLean women can forgive him.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ames reveals that the Governors foretold all of this. The offer for Miss Quill still stands.

This should have come a lot sooner in the series. There is so much character development in this pair of episodes and it is a shame that we had to trudge through two really thin and slow plots to finally reach it.

I love seeing the weight on Charlie’s shoulders as a deposed prince, the last of his people, and the pressure placed upon him by his former enemy now turned indentured servant and protector. Miss Quill is hungry for revenge for her people and she’s willing to make a deal with the devil to get it. These two living under the same roof is delicious tension, particularly as Matteusz tries to tread the thin line of armistice between them.

We got a glimpse of Tanya’s leadership last week, and this week brings it back as she wrangles the personal conflicts between April and Ram’s parents while trying to save her friend. April and Ram continue to develop their new relationship, and they both show intense boldness alongside brilliant empathy. April’s personality tempers her heart – a most appropriate weakness for her empathy – with her wisdom, making her my favorite character of the bunch.

I also love that she’s practicing “Night Visiting” on her violin. A follow-on from that previous story, it’s a song inspired by legends about the spirits of deceased loved ones. Those spirits would knock on their living relative’s windows at night and appear as either warnings of danger or as an escort to drag their living relatives to Hell. It seems to have stuck with April, especially since she’s a student of folk songs.

Finally, in a neat bit of trivia, Charlie’s last name is Smith. Presumably no relation to the other Smiths that we know, either Time Lord or journalist.

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

UP NEXT – Class: Detained


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 #CLS3: Nightvisiting

Class: Nightvisiting
(1 episode, s01e03, 2016)

Timestamp CLS3 Nightvisiting

When memories become weeds.

On the two-year anniversary night of Tanya’s father’s death, she is visited by something that resembles him. She doubts his appearance, believing that he is a hallucination, but the being has actual memories of their lives together. If she takes his hand, her grief will be gone forever.

A similar apparition visits Miss Quill, posing as her sister and promising that she can use a gun again if she accepts the bargain. Ram also gets a visitor in the form of Rachel while he video chats with April. Meanwhile, Charlie and Matteusz hook up after the former consoles the latter about his family’s homophobia.

Tanya returns to her room to talk with her “father” after checking in with her mother. She presumes that her mother is asleep but doesn’t notice that the woman is entangled in the alien vines. Both Tanya’s and Quill’s apparitions explain that they are the Lankin, an organism that feasts on a victim’s grief while killing them. They are all connected to the “great trunk” by vines running throughout the city and can presumably read their victims’ minds to emulate essential memories. The vines are also self-healing.

Ram and April rendezvous outside and try to work out this invasion. April reveals that her father attempted to kill himself by driving off a bridge when she was eight. Unfortunately, both she and her mother were in the car, resulting in her mother’s paralysis. April focuses on the things she loves to prevent the memory from controlling her life, and she uses this power to console Ram.

Ram and April follow the vines to Coal Hill and then follow the one into Tanya’s flat. Tanya struggles with the memory of her father since the Lankin only gets more aggressive about feeding on her grief. Ram and April arrive and warn her about the threat, but Tanya takes the Lankin’s hand. Unfortunately for the vine-creature, Tanya has more anger than grief toward her father’s memory. The anger poisons the creature but doesn’t weaken it enough.

Quill outright rejects her nightvisitor’s offer and eventually has Charlie and Matteusz stab the creature. They join up with the others to fight the threat. They finally defeat it after Quill steals a bus and rams it through the tentacles, forcing the broken links to retreat into the rift. Everyone seems fine afterward, and most of the victims have amnesia about the event.

The adventure ends as new bonds are forged within the team: Charlie offers space in his home for Matteusz while April and Ram continue to bond over their time together.

There’s not much to talk about here.

The episode tips its hand too way early by exposing that the ghosts of loved ones past are an alien tentacle invasion. While it does a good job of exploring the deeper hurt within the core team members, it spends a lot of time meandering through the 45-minute runtime before spending about five minutes actually fighting the threat.

The good side is that we see the team being proactive (in pieces, anyway), and admitting that they are gelling together after the threat is defeated. Hopefully it means that we’ll see them taking action more often in the remainder of the series run.

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

UP NEXT – Class: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart & Class: Brave-ish Heart


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 #CLS2: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo
(1 episode, s01e02, 2016)

Timestamp CLS2 Coach Dragon Tattoo

The episode that played with boredom.

Picking up after his injury in the fight against the Shadow King, Ram has trouble adjusting to his new leg. His performance during a football game disappoints Coach Dawson and Ram’s father Varun. The coach is also upset with his assistant, Caroll, who is brutally attacked and skinned alive in the locker room by a dragon-like creature.

Ram returns to the locker room and finds the corpse which triggers his trauma from the night of the prom. He hides in a restroom stall but the corpse and blood are gone when he returns. In their place stands Coach Dawson. The coach tells Ram to go home, then takes a shower while the dragon tattooed on his body snarls through bloodied teeth.

The next day, Charlie, April, and Tanya muse about how the rest of the school has seemingly forgotten about prom night. They also discuss Ram and his trauma. While they muse over what to call the temporal rifts in the school, Miss Quill and Mr. Armitage discuss the day’s inspection of her science class in front of the Barbara Wright Building. Finally, Ram is transferred to the second-string football team and rejects Charlie’s attempts at friendship.

In science class, Miss Quill tries to impress the inspector in her cold way. Ram storms out of class and finds Coach Dawson to ask about extra training. Unfortunately, Dawson doesn’t have time and Caroll is missing, so Ram is dismissed from the coach’s office. While Ram goes to the locker room to look for evidence of what he saw, we note that the coach has a corpse in a trash bag under his desk. Coming up empty-handed, Ram takes a smoke break with one of the cleaning staff. While he’s out there, the dragon strikes again, consuming the cleaner and dousing Ram in her blood. He takes a shower as the trauma consumes him.

That night, Ram talks to Tanya and they agree to meet up where the cleaner was killed. Tanya suggests involving Miss Quill and the new team, but Ram refuses. He wonders about his value now, but Tanya reminds him that he helped save April on one leg. They’re both surprised when Coach Dawson appears out of nowhere and dismisses the pair before chastising the sentient tattoo that moves across his body.

Miss Quill continues her silent torment with the inspector. She later consults with Charlie, insistent that the inspector is an alien or impostor. Meanwhile, Ram continues to perform poorly on the pitch. His father tries to console him on the drive home, but Ram doesn’t want to talk about it. He finds some solace in discussing death with Tanya, whose father died suddenly some time ago.

The inspector subplot continues as Miss Quill throws a stapler at the man and confronts him. Funny enough, the inspector is intrigued enough to request another observation period with her class.

Tanya, April, and Charlie talk about the coach, the cleaner, Ram, and Miss Quill’s attempts to hack into UNIT. Mainly, Tanya is upset that their new team isn’t getting involved in the mysteries. They start looking into the cleaner’s death but have trouble discussing it with Mr. Armitage. While they’re in his office, a space-time rift opens behind the headmaster and the dragon emerges. It kills the headmaster in front of the students and drags the corpse through the rift. The coach isn’t a direct suspect since he was talking to Ram at the time, but Ram also noticed the tattoo moving across the coach’s flesh.

The students involve Miss Quill, but she’s too wrapped up in her inspections to engage, so Tanya declares that they are on their own. Tanya does have a breakthrough with Ram during their homework chat that night, and April seeks solace in a video chat with Charlie. The team finally begins to coalesce around the mystery dragon as Ram lets slip what they experienced in the headmaster’s office. Ram realizes that the dragon that Charlie sketched from his memory is the same image that was on Dawson’s body.

The team meets at the school to find Coach Dawson while Miss Quill confronts the inspector. The inspector is inexplicably in the school after dark, and he ends up in a chase through the school with the dragon and Miss Quill. The dragon attacks the inspector and we find out that the inspector is a robot.

Correction: Was a robot. He’s decapitated now.

Meanwhile, the students watch Coach Dawson dispose of Mr. Armitage in the school’s trash bins. They confront the coach as Miss Quill leads the dragon to the scene. In the end, we find that the coach was inadvertently fused with a dragon when it came through a rift. It acted like a parasite and he had to feed it blood from the people that he killed. This second dragon has come in search of its mate.

Ram offers himself, primarily to rid himself of the pain, but the dragon simply abducts Dawson and takes him through the portal. Problem solved? The team isn’t convinced since it required a man’s death to end the threat.

Miss Quill continues to go on about the robot. No one cares, but she does find a clue that points toward “The Governors,” providing a hornet’s nest for her to kick.

Later that night, April ignores a call from her father while Ram discloses his secrets to his own. Varun consoles his son and helps him train with the new leg.

This was a rough one because it didn’t seem to have much heart. It works thematically, but the team doesn’t really gel at any point as this plot spins its wheels. The important pieces are placed on the board way too late, revealing that Coach Dawson isn’t necessarily evil but rather possessed by an entity beyond his control.

The inspector subplot has some funny points, mostly related to Mr. Armitage’s reaction to Miss Quill’s over-the-top investigation. “I don’t even understand some of these swear words.” But overall it is painfully obvious filler alongside a lackluster plot that wastes one of the most empathetic characters with a meaningless death. Thus ends the journey of Headmaster Armitage, whom we’ve known since Into the DalekThe Caretaker, and Dark Water, and it is a shame.

This episode also points out a rather large problem with the suspension of disbelief. Tanya claims that she’s 14 due to being moved ahead because of her academic performance. At the time of filming, actress Vivian Oparah was 19 and it’s pretty obvious since she blends in so well with the rest of the cast who are playing 17-year-olds. I’m no stranger to drama series set in high schools with twenty-somethings playing the students, but the difference between 14 and 17 is a bit more distinct.

Setting that aside, the most heart and character that this episode provides is between Ram and his father. Watching their relationship as Ram begins to heal from back-to-back episodes of blood-soaked trauma is beautiful. I only wish that the story had provided the same to the rest of this Scooby team.

If this story is any indication, Class is becoming Torchwood with edginess and darkness, but without a good chunk of the humanity that provided a flicker of hope in the fight.

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

UP NEXT – Class: Nightvisiting


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 #CLS1: For Tonight We Might Die

Class: For Tonight We Might Die
(1 episode, s01e01, 2016)

Timestamp CLS1 For Tonight We Might Die

A threat like the Hellmouth and a warrior like the Doctor.

At Coal Hill Academy, a student runs through the halls in the dark of the night. A woman pulls him into hiding but a molten creature still finds them. In the aftermath, a rift tears open in the hallway.

The following day, the students report for classes and gossip about Kevin’s disappearance. In the foyer, April MacLean tries to convince Tanya Adeola to help her decorate for the autumn prom. Tanya declines due to her strict mother, and April ponders taking the new kid, Charlie, as her date.

The new physics teacher, Miss Quill, argues with the head teacher, Mr. Armitage, over her new position. She soon convenes class and chastizes the kids over their personality quirks. She tries to stump the students with a difficult equation, but Tanya recognizes it as a Gibbs probability density (the Boltzmann distribution) of a classical Klein-Gordon field. After class, Charlie lets April down by telling her that he’s taking Matteusz as his date. April’s disappointed but happy that Charlie’s out and proud.

At a later football match, Ram Singh misses a goal when he spots a mysterious shadow on the field. Meanwhile, Tanya spots a similar shadow while walking home, and this shadow chases her into a shop. She dismisses the shadow as being under too much stress. Tanya later returns home, is chastised by her mother for not doing her homework, and calls Ram to tutor him in physics. April ends up facing the shadow as Ram tries to help her via video call.

Charlie heads home as well only to find Miss Quill waiting for him. He questions her about the burn marks on the floor and whether or not she killed Kevin. As Quill steps outside, she reminisces about the prior night’s events – she made Kevin shoot the monster, but the two ended up killing each other – and walks off with the gun that she’s not allowed to shoot in her pocket.

April ends up decorating for the prom alone and gets attacked by the shadow. Miss Quill arrives and tells April to run as they face the creature, telling April to use the gun. Before she can shoot it, Charlie interferes and knocks the gun out of her hands. The shot goes wild and clips the monster, and as April staggers from the pain, Miss Quill explains that the weapon is a displacement gun. Effectively, it displaces the target in space and time by sacrificing the shooter.

Since April hit the Shadow Kin with a glancing blow, they now share a heart. The creature retreats from both the school and Tanya’s room, and Tanya’s mother freaks out about the video call. Charlie and Miss Quill help April decorate for the prom and April learns the truth about the other two. Charlie is a Rhodian prince and Miss Quill is a freedom fighter from an opposing force. When the war ended, Quill was bound to Charlie’s service by a parasitic arn, which prevents her from using the gun. During the war, the Shadow Kin slaughtered all of the Rhodians. Quill saved Charlie and they were dropped on Earth by a figure of legend out of space and time. That figure, the Doctor, left them in hiding at Coal Hill School.

Since her heart is split across space and time, April hears the Shadow Kin’s thoughts. The creature is coming for Charlie and the object that he salvaged from his homeworld. Later that night, Charlie ponders the mysterious box while April stares at the stars.

The next morning, April warns Tanya to be careful of the shadow while at the prom. Tanya passes the warning to Ram later on, and as April, Ram, and Charlie prepare for the prom, Tanya tells her mother that going to the dance will help with a school assignment. Charlie, April, Matteusz, Ram, and his girlfriend Rachel arrive as Miss Quill chaperones the event. Everything goes well until the Shadow Kin makes contact through April, warning that it is coming through the rift that it created.

The creature kills Rachel and the students engage a group of the Shadow Kin. April tries to convince everyone to evacuate the school, but the students refuse. As the Shadow Kin burst through the doors, however, the students run. Meanwhile, Ram loses a leg as he attacks a Shadow Kin. The Shadow King confronts Charlie and destroys the gun, but as the king advances, the battle is interrupted by the Twelfth Doctor.

The Doctor riffs on once being the school’s caretaker before confronting the Shadow King, inadvertently revealing Charlie’s and Quill’s secret identities. The Shadow Kin demands the Cabinet of Souls, which supposedly contains the souls of every Rhodian and could be used as a weapon. While the Doctor questions avenging a genocide with genocide, Charlie reveals that the cabinet is empty. The legends were just a myth.

April threatens to kill herself to defeat the Shadow King, but the Doctor and Tanya fight back by eliminating the shadows in the school. Without a shadow to hide in, the Shadow Kin cannot occupy the space. The king threatens to take April with him, but Ram knocks the king into the rift as the Doctor seals it.

In the aftermath of the battle, the authorities clean up the mess while the Doctor assesses the new team. He reveals that the excess of artron energy in the area has worn the fabric of space/time quite thin. The school acts like a beacon and this team will need to defend the school. Ram is healed with an alien prosthetic leg and Miss Quill is left in charge of the defense force as penance for Kevin’s death.

With that, the Doctor departs.

Ram and Tanya head home in disbelief of the night’s events, the former trying to get used to his new leg and come to terms with Rachel’s death. Charlie promises April that they’ll get her heart back, and she tells Charlie about her mother who was paralyzed in a car accident. April says that if her mother can adjust, so can she.

Quill asks Charlie how he’s not consumed by the rage over the loss of his people like she is over her own. He doesn’t see a point in the rage, then returns to his room to reveal that the Cabinet of Souls is indeed full.

This is a decent start with a generic story that has a Doctor Who meets The CW feeling. It’s an interesting touch to have the two aliens in charge of the school’s new defense force be refugees, one the last of his kind and the other unable to wield her special weapon. I also like that our heroes have flaws to overcome during this journey. The potential exists for a decent ensemble adventure.

The Coal Hill School Roll of Honors is a nice touch in a setting reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – explained here as existing in the Doctor Who universe alongside Once Upon a Time and The Vampire Diaries – and draws the Doctor with Clara‘s name among those who have mysteriously disappeared from the school. The Doctor may not recognize her name directly, but he should recognize Danny Pink and Susan Foreman. Just like Sunnydale High, Coal Hill acknowledges that there’s something strange in the neighborhood but they can’t quite put a finger on what it is.

Pilot episodes are shaky, and this is no exception. But with the Doctor there to bless this spinoff, I’m eager to see what this ensemble does with the potential that they have been gifted.

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

UP NEXT – Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo


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.

Schedule Update: The Timestamps Project (December 2022)

Schedule Update: The Timestamps Project
December 2022

Timestamps Schedule Update Dec 2022

The Timestamps Project will return after a break for the holidays.

Starting in January, the plan is to review Class for eight weeks. This is an opportunity that hasn’t come up since reviewing The Sarah Jane Adventures since I haven’t seen a single episode of this short series. After that, I will return to Doctor Who with Series 10, Peter Capaldi’s last set, and the introduction of Bill Potts.

As always, the schedule is tentative. I hope you and yours have a happy, safe, and warm holiday season. See you next year.cc-break

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: Series Nine Summary

Doctor Who Series Nine Summary

Timestamp Logo Twelfth

Peter Capaldi’s sophomore set was a big step up.

After Series Eight‘s uneven performance, the Twelfth Doctor really started to shine with stories better aligned with science fiction’s mission to analyze the human condition. Series Nine tackled vengeance and regret, life and death, and war and peace before capping the run with a love story.

Along the way, we did get a straight time travel tale in Under the Lake & Before the Flood and a swing-and-a-miss regarding choice and consequences in the three stories orbiting Clara’s death, as well as an experiment that flopped with Sleep No More. Those last two were the big drawbacks in the series, but I’m more than pleased with the deep dive into the human condition that was amplified by Peter Capaldi getting more comfortable in the Twelfth Doctor’s skin.

Clara’s negative growth from the last series didn’t play out well in this series. She was a lot more stable in this set, but her arc didn’t pay off thanks to Steven Moffat’s inability to say goodbye. She faced the consequences of her actions but then had the choice reversed, thus reinforcing my position that Last Christmas should have been her last journey.

Overall, Series Nine comes in with a solid 4.1 score, putting it alongside the Fifth and Eighteenth classic seasons and the Second and Seventh revival era series. That collection is a tie for tenth among the thirty-seven seasons (so far) in the scope of the Timestamps Project. That’s a good place to be.

The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar – 4
Under the Lake & Before the Flood – 5
The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived – 4
The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion – 5
Sleep No More – 2
Face the Raven – 4
Heaven Sent & Hell Bent – 4
The Husbands of River Song – 5

Series Nine Average Rating: 4.1/5

Next up, the Timestamps Project takes a look at Class, which is the last big set of episodes that your humble reviewer hasn’t watched before. That will take about eight weeks and lead back to Doctor Who, which will take us through Series Ten and the final adventures of the Twelfth Doctor before embarking on the Thirteenth Doctor’s journey.

UP NEXT – Class: For Tonight We Might Diecc-break

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 #271: The Husbands of River Song

Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2015)

Timestamp 271 Husbands of River Song

Farewell, Professor.

Christmas Day, 5343, on the human colony of Mendorax Dellora brings a man named Nardole to the TARDIS. He was sent there with a handwritten note but is rebuffed by the Doctor wearing costume antlers. Nardole explains that there is a medical emergency and the Doctor decides to tag along despite already having had a long day. As they pass the real physician, they find themselves at the door to a flying saucer and a woman in a hooded cloak.

Hello, sweetie. The Doctor easily recognizes River Song, but she has no idea who this face belongs to. Also, she’s married. And her husband is dying.

River’s husband is King Hydroflax, a man in a giant suit of armor being watched by guards genetically engineered to have anger problems armed with sentient laser swords and (remotely) by four billion subjects. Posing as the physician, the Doctor studies the king while refusing to bow – bad back and all – and finds that the ruler has something jammed in his head. River takes him aside for a brief consultation while Nardole tries to calm his own frazzled nerves.

According to the holographic x-rays, the offending projectile is the Halassi Androvar, the most valuable diamond in the universe.  It was shrapnel from a raid on the vaults where the diamond was kept. River wants to remove the entire head, admitting that she is actually contracted to retrieve the gem. The Doctor is shocked but their discussions are interrupted by the king and his guards. He has been listening in and offers to help his false wife by removing his own head, revealing that he is a cyborg.

A brief battle ensues. River fends off the cyborg body with a sonic trowel while the Doctor coerces the king’s head to order his body to stop. The king’s head ends up in a bag before River and the Doctor are transmatted outside. The Doctor finds the entire affair to be hilarious but he’s still put off that River can’t recognize him. He’s also upset that she’s married to her associate Ramone, a man that she’s tasked to find the Doctor and who has had his memory of the wedding wiped. River assumes that the Doctor can only have twelve faces but Ramone has been unable to find any of them. He has located the TARDIS, though.

Meanwhile, Nardole is assimilated into the cyborg body and sent in search of the fugitives.

River, Ramone, and the Doctor walk to the TARDIS. As River steals the TARDIS, the Doctor finally gets the opportunity to have a “bigger on the inside” moment. When this hilariously cheesy monologue is over, he’s shocked to find River sampling the store of Aldebaran brandy hidden behind a roundel. When the king’s head starts to beep, River tries to pilot the TARDIS away but the capsule refuses to move. After she argues with the Doctor over how to drive, they determine that the TARDIS won’t establish a proper space-time envelope since the king is technically split across the inside and the outside.

Outside, the cyborg finds Ramone and demands that he deliver a message. Nardole is (figuratively) beside himself during this process. Inside the TARDIS, the king’s head declares that his body contains a bomb that will burn the world. The cyborg body, now wearing Ramone’s head, soon breaks into the TARDIS and the capsule takes off. When it lands, the Doctor and River snag the head and scramble into a party on the starship Harmony and Redemption.

River is greeted by the Maître d’, Flemming, whom she convinces to lock the cargo hold. They then head to dinner with a quick wardrobe change courtesy of a perfume bottle. River admits that she’s had her lifespan altered – she’s now 200 years old – and that the ship is full of people who are far worse than she is. The ship is where genocide comes to relax.

The couple is seated and River reads from her TARDIS-shaped diary. She reminisces about the man who gave it to her, noting that there are a scant few blank pages left. As they wait, Flemming is summoned to the cargo hold by a distress call from Ramone. Meanwhile, River and the Doctor are soon joined by a man named Scratch who holds special cargo in his own head. After a brief squabble over the diamond, Scratch reveals that the room is full of his own people as a guarantee. This group worships Hydroflax and wants the diamond in his honor.

Despite attempts to hide the head in the bag, the couple is forced to reveal the truth and create a distraction. A bigger one wanders in when Flemming and the cyborg body crash the party. Unfortunately for the king, the cyborg doesn’t want the ruler’s head back since it will die in seven minutes. The cyborg vaporizes the king’s head and Flemming offers the diary as a lure for the perfect replacement: The head of the Doctor.

Flemming reads the diary, noting that River witnessed the Pandorica opening, has been to Asgard for a picnic, survived the crash of the Byzantium (which was turned into a movie), has met Jim the Fish (who is known by everyone), and has just been to Manhattan (which Flemming thinks is a planet). Nardole’s head confirms that River is the Doctor’s consort, but River refuses to admit to his whereabouts. She does, however, state the truth that the Doctor doesn’t love her back. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. She adds that he wouldn’t be sentimental enough to be at her side at this point.

She then takes an honest look at the man she’s been traveling with. “Hello, sweetie.”

They kill some time as the ship pilots into a meteor storm, then fall into the deck below. River catches the falling diamond in her dress and heads off to deal with the ship’s emergency while the Doctor faces the cyborg. He defeats the menace by tempting it with Scratch’s orb that accesses the universe’s banks then introducing the cyborg to the best firewalls in the universe.

The Doctor rushes to the bridge as River recognizes that they are approaching the planet Darillium. The Doctor teleports River to the TARDIS, which she then materializes around him as they argue over how to save the ship. At the last second, they both rush back into the TARDIS and ride out the collision as the ship enters the atmosphere and crashes.

The Doctor takes the TARDIS to the next morning and gazes upon the wreckage, meeting with a rescuer who hasn’t found any survivors. Once the Doctor recognizes where he is, he suggests that someone build a restaurant that would gaze upon the famous singing towers. He also gives the rescue worker the diamond as capital to build it.

He travels to the future, makes a reservation, and then travels to the reservation itself. When River awakens, she is escorted to the Doctor’s side where she finds Ramone and Nardole in the cyborg body, now working for the restaurant. The Doctor himself is in a suit and offers River her own sonic screwdriver.

The same sonic that she will have at the time of her death.

They gaze upon the Singing Towers of Darillium and River is speechless. The Doctor is sad but reassures her as she speaks of stories about them. That their last night together is spent at these towers. In his way, the Doctor offers a confirmation but consoles River with confirmation that he does indeed love her.

The nights on Darillium are twenty-four years long, and happily ever after just means time. As such, River and the Doctor lived happily ever after.

Rather, they lived happily… together.

Her first and last stories in the show’s chronology are my favorite River Song adventures. The mystery of her life with the Doctor in Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead makes for some great comedy and drama, and this story brings some hot chemistry between the two time-crossed lovers.

Holiday episodes are typically heavy with dumb fun and this one is no exception, but the love story here is carried by Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi all the way to the bank (pun intended). You feel the heart of their relationship in the wacky pulse-pounding adventure and the soul is the quiet moments punctuated by discussions of love.

It’s also the perfect place to end their story. Fans often ask when Alex Kingston will return to Doctor Who, and while I miss her superlative talent on the show, I don’t see how her return pushes the relationship forward. We’ve seen the beginning and the end with flights of fancy in the middle, and this story is the perfect period to close their last chapter together.

I adored the callbacks to the franchise, including the wallet photos of each of the Doctor’s faces. For your Doctor Who trivia nights, those photos were screencaps from The Smugglers, The Two Doctors, Carnival of Monsters, The Hand of Fear, Resurrection of the Daleks, Mindwarp, Survival, the TV movie, The Day of the Doctor, The Parting of the Ways, The Runaway Bride, and The Bells of Saint John. It is interesting that she knows about the Doctor’s prior regeneration limit – by default, that includes the vanity regeneration that she met – and the faces of his former lives (she admitted this in The Time of Angels), but she doesn’t know anything about the Twelfth Doctor.

Also, notably, the Twelfth is not her Doctor. From Forest of the Dead:

You know when you see a photograph of someone you know, but it’s from years before you knew them. and it’s like they’re not quite finished. They’re not done yet. Well, yes, the Doctor’s here. He came when I called, just like he always does. But not my Doctor. Now my Doctor, I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away. And he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor in the TARDIS. Next stop, everywhere.

The Tenth Doctor had no idea that someone could open the TARDIS with a snap of their fingers. River didn’t know the Twelfth Doctor until this adventure. River Song’s Doctor is the one that she married. Her Doctor is the Eleventh Doctor, whom she was just with as her own parents were lost in New York City’s past.

I love the subtle callback with the Twelfth Doctor scanning River with her new sonic screwdriver, thus enabling his former incarnation to save her as a data ghost. There’s also some degree of subtlety with the hidden brandy stash in the TARDIS, especially given the Doctor’s somewhat complicated history with alcohol. The First Doctor claimed to have never touched the stuff, the Fourth Doctor admitted to having a brandy stash onboard, the Third and Fourth Doctors drank regularly, the Ninth Doctor celebrated once with brandy and both he and the Tenth Doctor were rumored to be partiers, but the Eleventh Doctor routinely rejected drinks.

As I said, holiday episodes are often dumb fun, but the thin plot gave our leads plenty of room to shine. It’s a beautiful Christmas tale and a fitting end for a story arc that dominated the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Series Nine 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 #270: Heaven Sent & Hell Bent

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent
Doctor Who: Hell Bent
(2 episodes, s09e11-12, 2015)

Timestamp 270 Heaven Sent Hell Bent

The conflict runs strong with this pair.

Heaven Sent

Gears turn as a figure walks through a chamber. This figure flips a switch with bloody hands and collapses into dust as the Doctor materializes inside a teleporter chamber. He leaves the chamber with the weight of Clara’s death on his mind and analyzes the dusty remains. He vows to find those responsible and he won’t stop until he does.

He moves into a circular corridor and peers out of a window, realizing that he’s trapped in a castle tower. He’s only about a light-year from the trap street alley in London and he muses aloud about how he’ll determine his location by the stars. Further on, he finds a shovel and dirt. His anger continues to boil until he spots a couple of monitors with his image on them. From that, he determines that a hooded figure on the other side of the tower is watching him.

More than that, it is stalking him.

The Doctor runs but is trapped in a dead-end corridor by a locked door. He thinks that he’s met the creature before and uses a bit of telepathy to open the door. Unfortunately, a wall lies beyond and the creature reaches for the Doctor’s head. As the Doctor admits that he’s actually scared of dying, time stops and the castle shifts all around him. He slips past the creature and ends up in a bedroom where an aged portrait of Clara rests on the wall. The Doctor analyzes it with a loupe as the creature shambles into the room.

The Doctor finally recognizes the creature as a nightmare that he had about a dead, old woman he once met. She was covered in veils and flies swarmed around her body. He was haunted for years. Regardless, the Doctor deduces that this tower is a torture chamber tailor-made to his psyche, and he escapes the nightmare by diving out of a window. As he plunges into the mists, he admits again that he is scared of dying…

…and emerges into the TARDIS.

Okay, not exactly. It’s really a manifestation of his subconscious that he created to give himself more time to think. He’s also manifested an avatar of Clara that stands before the chalkboard with her back to him. The Doctor deduces that the tower is standing in the sea. He previously dropped his loupe to test the local gravity and broke the window to determine how far he would fall. He needed to know if he could survive. After all, “Rule One about being interrogated: you are the only irreplaceable person in the room. If they threaten you with death, show ’em who’s boss. Die faster.”

The Doctor plunges into the waters below. As he regains consciousness, the manifestation of the TARDIS comes back to life and the Clara avatar writes on the chalkboard:

  • “Question 1 – What is this place?”
  • “Question 2 – What did you say that made the creature stop?”
  • “Question 3 – How are you going to WIN?”

The Doctor peers into the water below him and spots a field of skulls on the seabed. He returns to the surface and enters the colossal tower, eventually finding a room with a lit fireplace. It even has a set of his own clothes ready for him. He dresses and leaves the room. Next is a small room with hand-drawn arrows pointing inward to an octagonal shape. He muses with his mental Clara and ponders the creature’s movements and purpose before heading to an outside garden. There he finds a rectangular mound of dirt and a shovel, so he decides to dig.

An hour later, he has a hole but not much else. He turns at the sound of flies and finds a monitor. It shows the creature staring at a smooth surface. In reality, it is right behind the door to the garden. The Doctor wrestles with the creature and the door before wedging the shovel beneath the doorknob. The creature shuffles into the octagon room so the Doctor continues to dig.

Night falls as the Doctor finally hits something. He notes that the stars are wrong before looking at his prize. It is the missing octagonal floor tile and it contains the words “I AM IN 12”. The Doctor’s analysis is interrupted as the creature emerges from the dirt, having dug into the garden from the octagon room.

The Doctor takes refuge in his mental TARDIS again, this time realizing that he must tell truths – perhaps, confessions? – to escape the creature. The problem is that there are truths that the Doctor can never tell.

In the real world, the Doctor confesses that he didn’t leave Gallifrey because he was bored. Instead, it was because he was scared. The creature backs off and the tower shifts again, this time revealing that the castle is standing alone in the midst of an endless sea.

As time marches on, the Doctor begins to measure the creature’s pace. From one end of the castle to the other, he has 82 minutes of solitude to eat, sleep, and work. He tries to find Room 12, which is a task in itself since the castle jumbles its internal geography. The castle tidies up after itself and resets rooms to the condition they were in before the Doctor arrived.

The Doctor muses about the nature of heaven and hell – “Hell is just Heaven for bad people” – and eventually returns to the teleporter room. There he finds the word “BIRD” scrawled on the sand of the fallen figure before the castle sweeps it away. He wonders what he’s missing as he wanders the halls, eventually finding Room 12. He decides that it is both a trap and a lure, also putting together that the stars are all wrong for the time zone. If he didn’t know better, he would say that he’s moved 7000 years into the future.

To stave off the creature, the Doctor talks about the Hybrid. Long before the Time War, the Time Lords knew the cataclysmic war was coming. There were many prophecies and stories concerning it, including one that mentioned a creature called the Hybrid, who was half Dalek and half Time Lord, the ultimate warrior. The Doctor confesses that he knows that the Hybrid is real, that he knows where it is, and what it is. He confesses that he is afraid of it.

The creature backs off as the castle moves again, opening the way through Room 12. At the far end lies a semi-transparent wall with the word “HOME” written on it. It is the final obstacle, one which the Doctor presumes will take him to the TARDIS if he can get through twenty feet of Azbantium. Of course, the mineral is four hundred times tougher than diamond.

The Doctor’s internal Clara asks the three questions again and the Doctor wonders why he can’t just lose. It would be easy to simply confess the secret details of the Hybrid. The Clara avatar responds with one handwritten word: “NO!”

The Doctor replies that he remembers everything, and no matter what he does she’ll still be gone. The Clara avatar responds by talking to him, explaining that he is not the only person to lose someone. It’s the story of everybody, and to get over it and beat it, he has to move on. It’s time to get up and win.

The Doctor faces the creature, apologizing for his lack of further confessions. He offers the truth as he punches the wall: The Hybrid is a very dangerous secret that cannot be let free, so the Doctor will break out of this prison and confront his captors. He offers a story from the Brothers Grimm until the creature grabs his head. The creature vanishes and a severely burned Doctor takes refuge in his safe space again.

Time Lords always take forever to die, even when they are too injured to regenerate and every cell in the body tries to use every last reserve to save them. He muses that it will take about a day and a half to reach the top of the tower. There he reveals everything that he remembered, including that the castle was created specifically for him. He’s been here for a very, very long time.

The teleporter chamber is a hard drive that contains the Doctor’s image from 7000 years before. The dying Doctor is the power source, burning the old Doctor to make a new one. The Doctor’s body fades into oblivion, leaving only a skull behind as a new copy emerges from the chamber and vows vengeance for Clara’s death.

The cycle continues for centuries. Each time, the Doctor gets a little further into the Azbantium chamber as he continues to tell the tale of The Shepherd Boy. Over four billion years later, the Doctor lands the final punch in the wall. A bright light floods around him as the creature falls apart into a pile of gears. The Doctor steps into the light and lands on a desert world. The Azbantium tunnel collapses into an image of the castle and sea on the face of the Doctor’s confession dial.

A boy runs up to the Doctor and the Time Lord tells him to find someone important in the city beyond and deliver a message: He’s back, he knows what they did, and he’s on his way. He came the long way around.

The desert world is Gallifrey, and the Doctor finally reveals the secret of the prophecy. A Dalek would never allow a half-Dalek being to exist, and the Hybrid – the being destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins – is the Doctor himself.

Hell Bent

In the Nevada desert, the Doctor walks into a diner with a guitar and is greeted by a waitress who looks remarkably like Clara Oswald. Oddly, the Doctor doesn’t recognize her. He has no money but offers to play for a drink. He also notes that the waitress is English and wonders how she got to the middle of nowhere Nevada. She tells him that it was magic.

The Doctor strums out a tune named Clara – itself the character’s theme by Murray Gold – and tells her the story of the woman behind the song.

On Gallifrey, the Doctor wanders the desert until he arrives at the barn where he nearly set off the Moment and discovered how to save his home. The same barn where he slept as a child. When he arrives, the Cloister bells sound in the Citadel. Rassilon advises a guard named Gastron to not approach the Cloister Wraiths contained within before speaking with Ohila of the Sisterhood of Karn. She has heard that the Doctor has returned home and she came to see the fireworks.

The Doctor enters the barn and encounters a woman who recognizes him. Despite her warning that Rassilon will kill him, he settles in for a bowl of soup with the locals as a military craft arrives. Gastron, the ship’s pilot, demands that the Doctor accompany him to the Citadel. Instead, the Doctor walks up to the ship and draws a line in the sand, standing in defiance of the Rassilon’s order. The civilians applaud.

The General decides to talk to the Doctor – Words are the Doctor’s weapons, the General muses, but when did they stop being theirs? – and the Doctor rebuffs him. The same happens when the High Council bows before the Doctor. It isn’t until Rassilon himself comes before him that the Doctor acts. After all, the Doctor doesn’t blame the Time Lords for the horrors of the Last Great Time War. He only blames Rassilon.

The Doctor walks up to Rassilon and ignores an offered handshake. Instead, he drops the confession dial at Rassilon’s feet and demands that the president gets off his planet. Rassilon tries to defend his actions, both those of the Time War and the Doctor’s incarceration, but finally orders the Doctor’s execution.

The Doctor stops his story to ask the waitress for a drink. When he picks up again, every shot from the firing squad has gone wide. Each soldier drops his weapon as they express their respect for the war hero who saved Gallifrey. Rassilon raises his gauntlet and asks just how many regenerations they granted him back on Trenzalore. After all, he has all night to work through them. His vengeance is cut short as reinforcements arrive and the General joins his soldiers at the Doctor’s side.

Later, in the Citadel, the General explains to the Doctor that Gallifrey was returned to the universe at the extreme end of the time continuum. It was a safety measure for the Time Lords since the Doctor never confirmed that it was safe for Gallifrey to return to the moment in which it disappeared. Since the end of time is so near, anyone who is banished doesn’t have far to go before reaching the edge of the universe. Nevertheless, the Doctor exiles the entire High Council.

The Doctor visits the Cloister Chambers and chats with Ohila about the confession dial. It was meant to purify a dying Time Lord’s soul so that they could be uploaded to the Matrix without regrets. Instead, Rassilon configured the Doctor’s as a torture chamber. Returning to the High Council chambers, the Doctor discusses the prophecy of the Hybrid with Ohila and the General, exposing the information that Rassilon feared.

The Doctor asks for the use of an extraction chamber so he can visit an old friend. He uses it to remove Clara from the moment of her death. The Doctor and the General explain where they are and coach Clara through the last moment of her life. Her functions are a reflex but her heart no longer beats, a phenomenon that scares her. Despite the need to return her to her death, the Doctor punches the General and takes his sidearm. Clara is shocked but the Doctor asks how many regenerations the General has left.

The Doctor shoots the General and then asks for a human-compatible neural block before he and Clara run. The General, meanwhile, regenerates into a dark-skinned woman. Ohila arrives and presumes that the Doctor has run straight into the most dangerous place he could think of.

They end up in the Cloisters, and Clara is introduced to the Cloister Wraiths. The Wraiths are the firewall to keep foreign entities out of the Matrix by trapping them in the Cloisters, preventing them from ever leaving. The room is full of Cybermen, Daleks, and Weeping Angels, but the Doctor knows of a secret way out. He knows this path through a maintenance hatch because he heard of a boy who was lost there and told a secret by the Wraiths. The last anyone heard of the boy, he stole the moon and the president’s wife.

That boy, of course, was the Doctor.

As the General and Ohila search for the Doctor and Clara, the Doctor explains that Clara’s death was engineered by the Time Lords. The coup he staged on Gallifrey was in the service of finding the technology to resurrect her. He pretended to know about the Hybrid just for that. The General and Ohila arrive and demand that the Doctor and Clara surrender. Clara asks how long the Doctor was trapped in the confession dial, and while it was 4.5 billion years, the General reveals that the truth could have released him sooner.

The General and Ohila were part of the deception.

Clara demands to know why the Doctor would put himself through hell for her, then takes the time to say all the things that need to be said. She calls Ohila and the General monsters and refuses to divulge what she told the Doctor. While she engages them, the Doctor escapes and steals a TARDIS before materializing it around Clara. They run away, but the Doctor is stunned to realize that Clara hasn’t been freed of the quantum shade‘s chronolock or her death state. Ohila’s warning that saving Clara echoes in the console room, but the Doctor is sure that the damage to the universe will be minimal. The Doctor decides to take Clara to the very end of the universe, declaring that he’s answerable to no one.

Four knocks sound at the TARDIS door. The Doctor exits alone to find Me, the last being in existence in a small universe. She’s been staying alive by using a reality bubble on the Cloisters, watching the universe die around her. She explains that Clara’s death was her own doing, not the Doctor’s and not Me’s. She also asks to learn the secret of the Hybrid, which the Wraith told the Doctor as a boy. He speculates that she is the Hybrid, born of humanity and the Mire. She speculates that the Doctor could be half-human, but he laughs at her.

Me presents another theory: The Hybrid is not one person, but rather two true companions who will go to extremes for the sake of each other. A powerful and compassionate Time Lord and a human who serves as a guiding conscience. As Clara watches on the TARDIS monitor, the Doctor explains that he will wipe Clara’s memory of him to prevent the Time Lords from tracking her before dropping her off somewhere to live her life.

Clara throws a wrinkle in the plan by reversing the polarity of the neural blocker and taking charge of her own future. The Doctor wonders if she could do that as he realizes that their adventure has to end. They choose to activate the neural blocker together and let fate decide.

In the end, Clara succeeded. The Doctor’s memories of her are erased, and as he falls asleep he says that she needs to run like hell. She should never be cruel and never be cowardly, and if she ever is, she should always make amends. He asks for one last smile as he tells her that everything is okay – he broke every rule he had and became the Hybrid – before he finally loses consciousness.

The Doctor wakes up in Nevada where a man has been told by Clara to look after him. The story brings him to the diner where he admits that he remembers adventures with Clara and talking with her in the Cloisters, but he can’t remember what she looks like or what the very important message was. The Doctor does remember visiting the diner with Amy and Rory, however, he doesn’t know where his TARDIS is.

Clara suggests that lost memories become stories and songs when they’re forgotten, then walks into the back room as the Doctor continues playing his song. The diner is revealed to be the stolen TARDIS as it dematerializes around the Doctor. As Clara and Me travel the universe as a pair of adventuring immortals, returning to Gallifrey the long way around, the Doctor finds his TARDIS parked in the desert with Rigsy’s memorial painted upon it.

The Doctor admires the artwork and steps into the TARDIS. The ship welcomes him home. As he puts his guitar away, he sees a message from Clara on the blackboard – “Run you clever boy, and be a Doctor” – and receives a new sonic screwdriver from the TARDIS.

He dons his coat and sets a course. The memorial burns away, leaving no trace of Clara except a diner flying through space and time.

This pair, while designed as one cohesive story, is an exercise in the love it/hate it dichotomy. Let me explain.

First, I find Heaven Sent to be an amazing tour de force for Peter Capaldi. He explores this hour-long mystery on his own and carries the whole episode with aplomb. This is the prime example of his craft as an actor and artist. The story itself is also well-crafted, orbiting around the rather short tale that is featured as the Doctor punches through the crystal wall. The Shepherd Boy contains the key elements of inspiration for Steven Moffat’s script, from the drops in the sea and the stars in the sky to the little bird who sharpens his beak on the diamond mountain until the first second of eternity is over. It does so well to remind us of the story threads from this series of episodes and lay the path toward resolution.

But then we come to Hell Bent. The great parts are the return to Gallifrey, the circumstances of its return to our universe, and the sheer hubris of the Time Lords (and their associates) placed square in the spotlight. I love seeing the resolution of The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, I love the Doctor’s realization in the face of Gallifreyan ignobility that he can never truly go home again, and I love stories where the Doctor realizes that he can go too far on his own, but I absolutely despise this ending for Clara’s journey.

This is Steven Moffat’s inability to simply let characters go on full display. It was exercised before when Amy and Rory couldn’t just leave the show but instead had to be written into a semi-nonsensical temporal paradox. It was exercised again in Last Christmas where Clara’s story threads were tied off in a beautiful tearjerker of a farewell that ended in a terrible coda. And here we are again, after a series where Clara’s pride and arrogance play out in a classic action-reaction arc, presented with a series ender that completely neuters the finale by reversing the consequences. It leaves the resolution dangling by shunting a fan-favorite companion into a state where they (presumably) can never be seen again outside of quick cameos. It’s Donna Noble all over, like Steven Moffat learned the wrong lesson from Russell T Davies.

It’s a hard calculation because the stories this time around have been fun adventures with powerful messages, but the resolution feels hollow.

Or, in the case of the whole Hybrid thread, incomplete and half-hearted. I get the impression that Steven Moffat had no idea what to do with it outside of a clever spark of inspiration. It ends up here are a muddled mess with no solid resolution.

Some other interesting notes that I made include the newfound ability for the Doctor to telepathically commune with inanimate objects, the ability for Time Lords to change gender (previously noted in The Curse of Fatal Death, The Doctor’s Wife, The Night of the Doctor, and Dark Water) and skin color during regeneration, and the relative ease with which other Time Lords recover from regenerations (like Romana in Destiny of the Daleks), marking the Doctor’s traumatic regenerations as fairly unique in comparison. I was happy to see the return of the classic TARDIS console room and over the moon about Clara’s beautiful theme becoming actual in-universe diegetic music.

Also, Jackson, Nevada doesn’t exist. The closest this episode’s wide spot in the road comes to reality is the Jackson Mountain range in the state’s northwest region. I grew up in the western United States, so I had no choice but to look into that one.

Heaven Sent alone is an easy top score while Hell Bent falls well below average due to Clara’s departure. Together, they balance somewhere above the average. As is tradition around these parts, I round up for optimism’s sake, but it’s almost a stretch this time.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song


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 #269: Face the Raven

Doctor Who: Face the Raven
(1 episode, s09e10, 2015)

Timestamp 269 Face the Raven

Doctor Clara has consequences.

The Doctor and Clara return from an amazing adventure when they get a phone call from Rigsy. He has found a mysterious tattoo on his neck and it’s counting down. The travelers arrive at his home and meet his fiancée and his newborn daughter. Rigsy doesn’t remember getting the tattoo and he’s lost the last day or so due to a dose of Retcon. When the Doctor scans him, he discovers that Rigsy has been in contact with aliens.

He’ll also die when the countdown reaches zero.

Rigsy demands that the Doctor do what he does best, so the Doctor decides to save the man. He takes the TARDIS to the heart of London and uses the Great British Library’s maps to find the alien enclave. When that doesn’t turn up anything, he takes the TARDIS into the sky to scan the city with the sonic sunglasses. The spots where Clara’s eyes couldn’t focus indicate a perception filter or misdirection circuit hiding the “trap street”.

The team works together to locate the enclave. When the TARDIS finishes the analysis of Rigsy’s phone, he remembers what happened the night before. He found a dead body and several alien witnesses. They discover the enclave’s entrance and go inside, but are soon trapped. They discover that this is a refugee camp headed by Lady Me. The former Ashildr is also in charge of the quantum shade that has infected Rigsy, effectively a death sentence for a crime that Rigsy supposedly committed.

Me places Clara under her personal protection as she takes the team deeper into the street. The camp is teeming with aliens who believe Rigsy is a murderer. Me tells the Doctor that many of his enemies are also on the street, making it the most dangerous place in the universe. The misdirection circuit is driven by glowing worm-like creatures in the streetlamps. Me has also ordered the street to be a violence-free sanctuary.

Rigsy has been convicted of the murder of Anah, a two-faced Janus woman. While the community believes Rigsy to be guilty, the Doctor and Clara know that he was lured to the scene. Their discussion is interrupted by a man who stole medical rations, and even though his actions were noble, Me still considers him to be guilty. The man’s timer expires and he is executed by the quantum shade which takes the form of a raven and can find its target at any place and time.

Me does have the power to rescind the sentence. She tells the Doctor that he needs to convince the refugees that Rigsy is innocent. Clara also discovers that the victim can give the sentence to someone else as long as they consent. Since Clara is under Me’s personal protection, she assumes that she can avoid the raven, so she offers to take Rigsy’s burden.

Clara and the Doctor canvas the street and discover that Rigsy tried to call the Doctor when he realized that he was in the enclave. The Doctor believes that Me was trying to lure him to the trap street. Clara interviews Anahson, the daughter of Anah who has been posing as a boy to shield her ability to see the past and future in someone. Using her ability, she tells them that Me concocted a mystery to bring the Doctor to the enclave.

The Doctor notes that Anah’s body is being kept in a stasis chamber. Even more important, Anah is still alive. The stasis chamber is locked by the TARDIS key, but when the Doctor attempts to unlock the chamber, his wrist is ensnared by a teleportation bracelet. Me enters the room and confesses that her task was to deliver the Doctor and keep the key so that he couldn’t be tracked. She’s also supposed to take his confession dial.

Things get really complicated when Me tries to remove the quantum shade from Rigsy. Since it was transferred to Clara, the terms of the contract between Me and the quantum shade were changed. Clara’s fate cannot be altered by the Doctor, but he threatens to destroy the refugee camp if Me doesn’t fix it.

Clara begs him to stop and takes responsibility for her decision. She wants their last moment to be a kind one. She realizes that she’s been taking reckless risks since Danny Pink died, and while the Doctor expresses guilt over her fate, Clara tells him that she needs to face her own fate. She makes the Doctor promise that he’ll face what comes next as a doctor instead of a warrior. He needs to heal himself, not insult her memory, and not take revenge for her death.

With a hug and a goodbye, she walks into the street and faces the raven. After Clara’s body collapses to the ground, the Doctor is teleported away to points unknown as Me expresses her sorrow and apologizes to the Time Lord.

Later on, Rigsy puts the final touches on his latest work. The abandoned TARDIS now stands as a memorial to Clara Oswald.

The Doctor lost. These types of stories don’t happen often, but they do make up a significant chunk of the franchise’s history and often have a strong emotional message behind them. This time around, Clara saved Rigsy but the Doctor lost Clara because his companion tried to become him. Her recklessness has been building since Danny Pink was killed, and while I’m glad that her behavior has had consequences, it further cements my opinion that she should have permanently left the TARDIS in Last Christmas.

The Doctor has some consequences as well. He didn’t see Clara’s descent into risky behavior because he relied on her to show a human face to those around him. He also was responsible for the birth of Me from the resurrection of Ashildr. He has as much blame as anyone for Clara’s death.

All of that said, the concepts of a trap street and the actual trapping of the Doctor were pretty neat to see. The conflict with the Doctor not being the smartest person in the room was tense and driving. I enjoyed seeing all the pieces come together even if it meant watching everyone lose in the end.

On the design side, that burgundy Crombie coat looks amazing. I’m also a huge fan of the Back to the Future/Star Wars Easter egg where a flux capacitor poster contains the word “Delorean” in the Aurebesh script. Someone really had fun with that.

I also got a nice kick out of the “Remember 82” moment. What does it mean? Well, Clara is the first ongoing, long-term companion to permanently die on screen since Adric’s planet quaking demise in Earthshock, which was first broadcast in 1982. And, yes, I hear you saying already that the Ponds died in their final appearance, but they died off-screen and in the relative past. Adric was the last companion before now to die on screen while traveling with the Doctor.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Heaven Sent and Doctor Who: Hell Bent


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 #268: Sleep No More

Doctor Who: Sleep No More
(1 episode, s09e09, 2015)

Timestamp 268 Sleep No More

“You must not watch this.”

Professor Gagan Rassmussen introduces a video that he has assembled that details strange goings-on aboard the Le Verrier space station. What follows is a found footage-style episode with a unique title sequence.

We first meet Chopra, a soldier who is upset at deadly killing machine-cum-lovesick puppy Grunt 474. Next are commander  Nagata and soldier Deep-Ando, both of whom mock Chopra for abstaining from the sleep aid Morpheus. They are the rescue crew who came to find Rassmussen. The professor warns that they will all die horribly. Don’t get too attached.

The station is empty with the exception of the Doctor and Clara. The soldiers confront the travelers, who pose as stress engineers, then brief them on the mission. Nagata takes them under her command as they continue to investigate. The Doctor assesses that they are in the thirty-eighth century, a time after India and Japan were merged during a great catastrophe.

Chopra and Grunt 474 have an altercation and Clara learns that the grunts are disposable clones. The team encounters hostile creatures that dissolve into piles of sand when they are dispatched. The Doctor, Clara, Nagata, and Chopra take refuge in a lab while Deep-Ando runs down a different hallway. Clara analyzes the Morpheus pods and ends up trapped inside one of them. When the pod opens, Clara emerges with wires connected to her. The Doctor demands an explanation and investigates a different pod with his sonic sunglasses and the team is soon introduced to Rassmussen.

Morpheus was designed to give people the effects of a full night’s sleep in a five-minute burst, primarily motivated by the drive to work all day long. The Doctor and Chopra are not convinced. In fact, the Doctor calls the technology an abomination. He concludes that the monsters are created from sleep dust, the crusty mucus that forms in the corners of your eyes during slumber, which has evolved from the Morpheus technology which Rassmussen has upgraded on the station.

The team continues to investigate the station as they look for Deep-Ando. Meanwhile, Deep-Ando tries to take refuge in a storage room. The computer demands that he sing Mr. Sandman – the 1954 song by The Chordettes used as the Morpheus jingle – and he is killed by the sand creatures. The rest of the team hears him die, but they are soon forced to deal with a different problem as they run from the creatures and fight against failing systems as the station falls toward Neptune. Rassmussen is consumed by a creature as the team escapes. Clara, Nagata, and the Doctor hide in a freezer while Chopra and 474 hide elsewhere.

While a Morpheus pod floats down the passageway with a message that hazardous materials are in transit, Chopra tells 474 that they’ll have to destroy the station to prevent the monsters from escaping. When trapped by a fire, 474 sucker punches Chopra and takes him to safety. The grunt likes Chopra but has sustained fatal injuries from the fire. 474 sacrifices herself to save Chopra.

The Doctor reviews helmet cam footage – Nagata notes that her team doesn’t have such cams – and wonders why Rassmussen was killed by direct assault. When the creatures (which Clara has named Sandmen) knock at the freezer door, they let them inside. Since the Sandmen are blind, they assume that they can quietly sneak by and escape. They head to the engine room next.

Along the way, the Doctor notes that someone is collecting the footage. He also notes that the images are being collected by the dust itself and being fed into the Sandmen. Since Clara was inside a pod, she has been infected and is now transmitting video from her own eyes. The Doctor promises to save her and destroy Morpheus forever.

Chopra assumes that everyone else is dead and returns to the rescue ship. He’s soon consumed by the Sandmen.

In the engine room, the Doctor realizes that the system failures were deliberate. He takes Clara and Nagata to the rescue ship where he finds Rassmussen not dead and willing to let the Sandmen spread amongst humanity. The creatures speak to him but have the mentality of babies. While he enacts his plan, he unleashes a King Sandman against them from the Morpheus pod.

The Doctor plays Mr. Sandman as a distraction so they can escape. Nagata shoots Rassmussen to stop him – an act that annoys Clara – and the Doctor decides that they need alternative transport to Triton so they can destroy the Morpheus project. Unfortunately, the Sandmen are guarding the TARDIS, so the Doctor destroys the grav-shields so the station and the Sandmen will be destroyed as the station crashes.

As the TARDIS dematerializes, we learn that Rassmussen has embedded the secrets of Morpheus in the video. By watching it, we are all infected. Joy.

As far as I’m concerned, the elephant in the room for this story is the format. The found footage genre evolved from the epistolary novel format, which typically tells stories via diary entries or correspondence. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu (1928) are prime examples. In cinema, the genre rose from 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust and The Other Side of the Wind by Orson Welles (shot in the early 1970s and released in 2018) but really took off with The Blair Witch Project in 1999. With the Paranormal Activity series (2007-2015, 2021-present), •REC series (2007-2014), Cloverfield (2008), District 9 (2009), Apollo 18 (2011), Chronicle (2012), Europa Report (2013), and so on, the first two decades of the 2000s became immersed in the format. These films are inexpensive to produce and rake in money, making them a huge return on investment for studios. In fact, a reviewer in 2012 noted that the genre had defined the era for horror and science fiction like slasher movies did in the 1980s.

In general, I dislike these types of films. They do the job, and I give them credit for footing the bill for projects that I do like, but they feel shallow and don’t appeal to me for deeper storytelling purposes. From the previous list, Cloverfield and District 9 stand out as two that captured my attention, but I don’t revisit those titles often. It follows that this cinematic genre in Doctor Who presents a huge stumbling block for an otherwise Twilight Zone/Outer Limits kind of story.

It’s obvious that this story pulls from The Ring (2002) – itself a remake of the Japanese film Ring (1998), which was based on the Koji Suzuki novel from 1991 that spawned a ton of similar projects worldwide – which is a story that I really like since it highlights the depravity of humanity, something that the Doctor Who universe does in spades while showing us that there are ways to overcome it.

In fact, this calls back to the classic era stories where the Doctor does not defeat the villain. Victory in this case (and many of the classic serials) was simply to escape and survive.

I don’t have a problem with the monster being the “sleep bugs” in the corner of the eye any more than I have a problem with the mites that perpetually live on human flesh. I have had a healthy appreciation for the microscopic world since the Martian invasion was stopped by the common cold in The War of the Worlds. Granted, mucus monsters are an odd choice, but developing a squickiness for a universal something that we cannot control is a tried-and-true hallmark of horror sci-fi.

So is the depravity of man, especially when one person is willing to sell out the entire human race over a belief. Even if Rassmussen was nothing special in the villain department. He reminded me of the slasher villains that stalked in the shadows and refused to die, but he lacked menace. He just existed as a bad man, mediocre at best.

All of that said, I do have a problem focusing through the found footage film genre. That distraction pulls this experience down for me. I applaud the attempt and experimentation, but it’s not for me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wash my face.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Face the Raven


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.