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

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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

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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

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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 #267: The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion

Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion
Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion
(2 episodes, s09e07-08, 2015)

Timestamp 267 Zygon Invasion Inversion

Best. Speech. Ever.

The Zygon Invasion

Once upon a time, there were three Doctors, two Osgoods, and one treaty.

Those two Osgoods represent Operation Double, the peace treaty with the Zygons. Twenty million Zygons have asylum on Earth so long as they maintain human forms, and each of those Zygons has the capacity for both great evil and great good. The treaty exists in the form of the Osgood Box, which can start and end war on the planet with a single death. If one human or Zygon goes rogue, regardless of the circumstances, it will spark a rebellion.

During Missy’s attempt to take over the world with Cybermen, one of the Osgoods died. Zygon or human? Unknown, but the other twin mourns regardless.

In 2015, the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is under attack. Osgood races for shelter in a police station and attempts to contact the Doctor but is soon found by a Zygon. Her message reaches the TARDIS as the Doctor rocks out to Amazing Grace, and he is surprised to see what Osgood wrote.

“Nightmare scenario.”

The TARDIS lands at Brockwell Park in London. The Doctor tries to reach Clara while watching children in the park and questioning two little girls. Meanwhile, Kate Stewart coordinates efforts during the nightmare scenario at a UNIT safe house. She receives intelligence that the Zygons have captured Osgood. She sends the Doctor news that the cease-fire has broken down as Zygons storm the park and take the girls.

The Doctor joins Kate at the safehouse and watches a hostage video from Osgood. He calls Clara, who has just arrived at her apartment. Clara finds a child who is missing his parents. She finds two adults posing as his parents but the resolution doesn’t sit right. Regardless, she calls the Doctor.

Kate takes the Doctor and Clara to a local junior school that houses a Zygon hatchery. The two little girls were local Zygon commanders who were kidnapped by rebels. The control center in the school’s basement can coordinate all of the Zygons on Earth, so the Doctor uses it to assess the current state of the Zygons.

After Missy killed Osgood, the other Osgood went into hiding in her grief. She was taken by the rebels, who have also executed the Zygon commanders. Their message, Truth or Consequences, leads Kate to investigate New Mexico while Clara and Jac (Kate’s assistant) stay in the United Kingdom. The Doctor takes the UNIT presidential plane to Turmezistan, which might house a Zygon base.

Kate tells Clara about Z-67, a compound created by a UNIT naval officer back in the ’70s or ’80s which basically turns Zygons inside-out. It was taken by the Doctor at some point. After Kate leaves, Clara and Jac return to Clara’s apartment in time to see the young boy’s “parents” hauling out a human-shaped bag. The women follow the “parents” to an underground complex that is full of Zygon pods.

When the Doctor arrives at the UNIT base in Turmezistan, he finds a drone strike in progress. When the Zygons take the form of a family, the operator aborts the strike. The Zygons had posed as the operator’s family, and the Doctor realizes that they have developed telepathy and can take the form of whatever their targets love most.

In New Mexico, Kate searches for Osgood and finds a police officer who holds her at gunpoint. Once they establish that Kate is not a Zygon, they discuss the town’s history with the aliens. They were not prepared for the rebellion, and the officer shows Kate dumpsters full of human remains.

The Doctor and UNIT travel to the village in search of Osgood. They surround a local church where the Zygons are said to be hiding, and the Doctor follows the commander while the strike team orders the Zygons to surrender. The Zygons pose as the team’s family members and convince the team to follow them into the church. The Doctor and the commander enter through a back door just in time to find the remains of the team members. The commander resolves to bomb the village and leaves the Doctor to search for Osgood. Soon after, he finds her under the church but she’s bait to lure the Doctor away from the United Kingdom. The bombing starts early and a Zygon is captured in the assault.

Clara and Jac return to the caverns under her apartment with a UNIT team. As the Doctor and Osgood board the UNIT plane, he tries to call Clara but fails. The Doctor questions Osgood but cannot get a straight answer about her identity – human or Zygon – and labels her as a hybrid. The old rules were that a Zygon needed to regularly refresh the DNA imprint, so if the source died the Zygon would revert.

The new rules are that the Zygons have been taking people and placing them in stasis. That’s what happened with the young boy’s parents, and it is what happened to Clara when she asked after them earlier.

The Clara Zygon, who names herself Bonnie, has the UNIT team and Jac executed. Meanwhile, the New Mexican police officer reveals herself, turns on Kate, and takes her form. When the Kate-Zygon reports back to Bonnie at UNIT HQ, Bonnie takes a rocket launcher to the coast and takes aim at the Doctor’s plane.

The Zygon Inversion

The real Clara awakens in her apartment. There are clues that nothing is right, including her alarm clock reading wrong and her toothpaste being black gunk. She follows the Doctor’s voice to a static-filled television. She tries to escape the apartment but finds every exit blocked. As she watches Bonnie fire on the Doctor’s plane, she is able to manipulate Bonnie’s mind and actions, forcing her to miss the first shot.

The second rocket, however, strikes true. The plane explodes.

Later, Bonnie walks through the city in pursuit of a man. She tracks him to his apartment and promises to set him free. She zaps the man, forcing him to change shape and reveal himself as a Zygon. Bonnie returns to UNIT to retrieve the Osgood Box.

Clara reviews the footage of the explosion and discovers evidence that the Doctor survived. Sure enough, he and Osgood parachuted to safety in the debris. Osgood’s glasses were broken so the Doctor lends her the sonic sunglasses. They discuss the situation as they walk, including how much thought Osgood has put into how best to kill the Doctor if she were to take over the world. Meanwhile, Clara manipulates Bonnie’s hands to send the Doctor a message: “I’m awake.”

Osgood puts the pieces together and realizes that Clara is still alive and in stasis. They try to get help from the police but the officers are Zygons. Osgood tries calling Bonnie.

Bonnie watches the video about the Osgood Box but discovers that she was tricked. Osgood fed her false information about the box’s location. Bonnie takes the call and the Doctor is able to get information from Clara. They drive to Bonnie’s location as the Zygon travels to Clara’s pod and tries to extract information from her memories. Clara resists the effort and actually turns the tables on Bonnie before the Zygon reasserts control. Under duress, Clara reveals the location and access credentials for the Osgood Box at UNIT headquarters in the Black Archive.

The Box contains a button that will expose every Zygon for one hour. The sight alone will spark war.

The Doctor and Osgood arrive at the building where the Zygon that Bonnie awakened went on a massacre. They find the Zygon and discover that he only acted out of self-defense as humans turned on him. He was perfectly happy in human form and wanted no part in the rebellion. He kills himself out of fear.

Zygon-Kate (acting under Bonnie’s orders) arrives with two Zygons in disguise and offers to take the Doctor and Osgood to Clara’s pod. Bonnie has taken that pod with her to the Black Archive, but Zygon-Kate leads the Doctor and Osgood into a trap in the cavern. Bonnie orders Zygon-Kate to wait, however, when she discovers that the Osgood Box is really two boxes.

One box exposes the Zygons. The other kills them all instantly.

Bonnie frees Clara and tries to use her life as a bargaining chip. The Doctor tells her which box to open, but both contain buttons labeled Truth and Consequences. Bonnie screams in rage and orders Zygon-Kate to bring the captors to her. They are interrupted with the real Kate arrives, having survived her ordeal in New Mexico with “five rounds rapid“, and kills the Zygons.

The Doctor reveals that the boxes are safeguards for both species. Kate agreed to the contingency (and also to the Doctor wiping her mind) and agrees to take him to the Black Archive for a final showdown. When they arrive, the Doctor offers to take the boxes away and let the cease-fire stand, but Bonnie and Kate stand ready to push a button. So the Doctor lays out the stakes of the game.

In the red box, one button will release the Z-67 gas and kill every Zygon on Earth, but the other button will detonate a nuclear device under the Black Archive and destroy London. In the blue box, one button will unmask every Zygon on the planet, but the other button negates the ability of Zygons to shapeshift and locks them in human form forever.

Bonnie makes her case in front of the blue box but the Doctor dismisses her cruelty. The only way that anyone can live in peace is if they are prepared to forgive.

This leads to one of the best speeches of the Twelfth Doctor’s era.

This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk! Listen to me. Listen, I just, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.

[…]

I don’t understand? Are you kidding? Me? Of course I understand. I mean, do you call this a war? This funny little thing? This is not a war! I fought in a bigger war than you will ever know. I did worse things than you could ever imagine. And when I close my eyes I hear more screams than anyone could ever be able to count! And do you know what you do with all that pain? Shall I tell you where you put it? You hold it tight till it burns your hand, and you say this. No one else will ever have to live like this. No one else will have to feel this pain. Not on my watch!

This is a man who has learned from the horrors of the Last Great Time War. He sees the faces and hears the screams every single day. This is a man who never wants to see it happen again.

And he’s willing to extend the hand of forgiveness to prevent it from happening again.

Kate closes her box and apologizes. The Doctor thanks her. After a few tense moments, Bonnie realizes that box boxes are empty. The Doctor tells her that she’s started to think. When Kate explains that threat is also empty, the Doctor tells her that she’s said that for the last fifteen times before activating the Black Archive’s defenses to wipe her mind.

Bonnie had not been persuaded fifteen times before. The Doctor repeated the events until he got a good result.

This time, he doesn’t wipe Bonnie’s memory. He explains that he had a similar choice once with a very special box, and just like Bonnie, he had Clara Oswald in his head as a guide. Bonnie returns to the master console and tells every Zygon that they are safe. She then returns to her normal form.

The Doctor offers to take Osgood in the TARDIS, but Petronella stays behind to take care of the boxes. As Clara goes inside, the Doctor asks one more time about Osgood’s identity. She won’t tell him, even as Bonnie arrives as the new Osgood, restoring the balance once again.

It doesn’t matter if they are human or Zygon. They are Osgood, and a credit to their species.

With that, the Doctor and Clara return to the stars. The Osgoods return to the defense of Earth.

But first, ice creams.


When people tell you that Doctor Who isn’t political, show them this pair of episodes. Invasion deals directly with imperialism and parallels the Global War on Terror, including a trip to a fictional central Asian nation. Inversion continues the thread by talking about war – both cold and warm – along with insurgency and brinksmanship. The analysis is capped by the speech that embodies the attitudes of many war veterans and students of history.

The trend of countrystan-ing to create a generic nation with easily identifiable stereotypes is disappointing and lazy. I don’t mind the tool when the writers take time to give the inhabitants actual personality and character – see Black Panther‘s Wakanda, for a great example – but here we see a play from the television dramas of the Cold War, Gulf War, and Global War on Terror eras. Think 1980 to present, spanning MacGyverThe A-Team24, and so on.

That aside, this tale is tense and important, following on from the sea change instituted in The Day of the Doctor. It echoes back to that pivotal day in the Doctor’s lives, including a life-changing box (or two) with a big button (or two, each). This story exercises the lessons that the Doctor learned from both sides of the Last Great Time War to save humanity.

I wonder if the path started with Kahler-Jex, another person who could hear the screams when he closed his eyes.

This story also picks up the thread of Harry Sullivan, whose last regular appearance was Terror of the Zygons. It seems that his last adventure stuck with him, and we remember from Mawdryn Undead that he ended up at the Porton Down chemical and biological weapons facility. The Doctor still considers him to be an imbecile.

As a war veteran myself, I can’t sing the praises of this adventure enough.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Sleep No More

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

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

Timestamp 266 Girl Who Died Woman Who Lived

Who really wants to live forever?

The Girl Who Died

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Woman Who Lived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Timestamp #265: Under the Lake & Before the Flood

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

Timestamp 265 Under the Lake Before the Flood

A creepy twisty time travel tale.

Under the Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the Flood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


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

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

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

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

Timestamp 264 Magicians Apprentice Witchs Familiar

Courting death with Daleks.

Prologue

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

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

The Doctor’s Meditation

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

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

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

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

The Magician’s Apprentice

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

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

The boy’s name is Davros.

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, Bors wanted an axe fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Witch’s Familiar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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

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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

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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 #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

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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.