Timestamp #274: Smile

Doctor Who: Smile
(1 episode, s10e02, 2017)

Timestamp 274 Smile

The importance of understanding emotion.

Bill prepares for her first proper trip in the TARDIS, musing about how the seats are too far from the console and how difficult it seems to drive it. She’s impressed that the Doctor stole the TARDIS instead of buying it, and their back-and-forth is interrupted by Nardole who chastizes the Doctor for considering a trip off-world. The Doctor dismisses him by requesting to put the kettle on for tea.

Between the vault and the Doctor’s office, before the kettle boils, the Doctor takes a trip to the future.

On a planet with vast expanses of wheat, colonists are waging a battle with their robots. If the robots detect emotions other than happiness, they murder the colonists with a wave of tiny drones. Sometime later, the Doctor and Bill arrive and take a self-guided tour of one of Earth’s first off-world colonies. They are fitted with translation devices while the emoji-bots stalk them from the windows above. One of the emoji-bots meets the travelers and offers them badges that reflect the wearer’s emotions. The emotions are not visible to the wearer and are worn on the back to facilitate transparency.

The robot serves Bill a meal of processed algae as she notes how skeptical the Doctor is about the empty city. She’s also amazed by the Doctor’s dual hearts, which he mentions during an excited monologue about how the city was built. He later finds a necklace on the ground and his theory changes regarding the residents of the colony. He verifies it by locating the source of a greenhouse’s calcium-based fertilizer.

The Doctor’s shift in mood is noted by the emoji-bots and they chase the travelers before the Doctor tells Bill to smile. The robots are programmed to ensure the happiness of the colonists and they have done so to a fault. The Doctor and Bill evade the robots and return to the TARDIS. The Doctor plans to leave Bill at the TARDIS while he destroys the death trap that is the city, but she is swayed otherwise by the sign on the TARDIS door: “Advice and assistance obtainable immediately.”

The Doctor is the universe’s helpline.

Bill returns to the Doctor’s side and he explains that the killer insect drones – the Vardy – are the literal bones and flesh of the buildings around them. At its core lies the original ship that the colonists arrived in, just like the Vikings who lived in their ships until they built their cities. As the travelers enter the ship, the Erehwon, the emoji-bots go on alert.

The Doctor navigates to the ship’s engine room with Bill’s help and a good old-fashioned deck plan. As the Doctor enters the engine room, the emoji-bots enter murder mode. Bill remembers that she can photograph the deck plan with her phone before following the Doctor’s path. She moves through stacks of artifacts and finds a room holding the remains of a recently-deceased elderly woman and a digital book filled with images of Earth’s history. She deduces that the colonists were the last humans evacuating from Earth.

Bill decides to rendezvous with the Doctor but finds a human boy. Meanwhile, the Doctor is ambushed by an emoji-bot. The Doctor meets up with Bill and the boy and he decides to disarm his makeshift bomb because the ship is a cryogenic colony ship filled with survivors from Earth. They meet Steadfast, one of the first to awaken, and the Doctor orders him to remain on the ship until told otherwise.

Bill takes the Doctor to the elderly woman whom the Time Lord identifies as a shepherd for this flock. She was the first to die, passing from natural causes, but the grief of her death passed through the colony like a virus. The Vardy identified grief as the enemy of happiness and started a cascade of death to stem the tide. Using the necklace, the Doctor recognizes that the grief cycle will continue, so he assembles the colonists to tell them the story.

The boy has left the ship and the colonists decide to wage war on the Vardy. When they fire on an emoji-bot, it experiences rage, and the Vardy attack the colonists. The Doctor realizes that the Vardy have become self-aware and stuns everyone in the city, effectively resetting the city into a symbiotic relationship where the humans are tenants in the Vardy’s new home.

Bill and the Doctor leave in the TARDIS as she muses about his role as an intergalactic policeman. The Doctor presumes that he can return them to the exact moment that they left, but they materialize in the wrong time as an elephant walks up the frozen Thames.

What starts as a monster-of-the-week story ends up with a Doctor Who twist as the supposed enemy ends up on top because it is simply misunderstood. Couple that with the theme of a new companion’s first real trip in the TARDIS and you have a winner.

The origin of this story makes me laugh: Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat don’t understand emojis, so they often had trouble understanding texts from Jenna Coleman (who uses a lot of them in her communication). Thus was born a story about miscommunication based around emotions.

The story’s moral, of course, orbits the concepts of miscommunication and toxic positivity and emphasizes the need to read and understand emotions in relationships. The Vardy only understand black and white when it comes to emotions – grief is the enemy of happiness – but humanity exists in shades of grey that are wide open to interpretation and analysis. We can make a lot of headway together by simply talking things through with transparency.

Following on from the wave of comic characters that exist in Doctor Who canon from The Return of Doctor Mysterio, Bill lets us know that Mister Fantastic of Marvel’s first family (The Fantastic Four) is another superhero in this continuity.

The show also returns to classic tropes with human colony ships (The Ark and The Beast Below, for example) and cryogenic suspension (The Ark in Space, for example). It’s also the second time that we’ve seen a human colony where unhappiness was a death sentence (The Happiness Patrol was the first).

I enjoyed the story of The Magic Haddock, which is a story about being careful about what you wish for. That in-universe parable is made up of two different stories: The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish is the source of the wishes in the haddock story, and The Monkey’s Paw is about an artifact that grants wishes at a deadly expense.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the colony planet was never named. It’s a literal “nowhere” colonized by people who traveled on a ship called Erewhon (“nowhere” spelled backward). (The planet is later called Gliese 581d and Earth 2.7 in different prose stories, but it is not identified in the course of this televised story.)

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Thin Ice


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 #273: The Pilot

Doctor Who: The Pilot
(1 episode, s10e01, 2017)

Timestamp 273 The Pilot

A new companion gets an education.

An empty university office soon welcomes Nardole and a woman we will come to know as Bill. The TARDIS stands darkly in the corner of the office, apparently out of order, and photos of River Song and Susan decorate the desk alongside a small jar of sonic screwdrivers. The Doctor makes his entrance with an electric guitar before questioning Bill as to why she’d attend his lectures if she wasn’t a student. Bill tells a story about a girl and fries before asking about the TARDIS.

The Doctor deflects and redirects Bill to the question at hand. He notes that she tends to smile when she doesn’t understand something. She wonders what he actually lectures about. The Doctor offers to tutor her so long as she performs well.

The Doctor lectures about time as Bill works her job in the canteen, and she arrives at his tutoring sessions on time while scoring top marks. Bill’s foster mother Moira wonders about her relationship with the Doctor, but Bill replies under her breath that she’s not interested in men. To wit, she sparks a relationship with a woman in a bar who has a star pattern in her eyes.

One day, Bill follows the Doctor and Nardole to a secret underground chamber. She overhears the pair talking as they work on a large door, but after she knocks over some debris on the floor, she rushes back outside. She soon runs into Heather, the woman from the bar. Heather explains that the star is a defect in her iris but offers to show Bill something that’s bothering her. They sneak into a construction area where Heather shows Bill a puddle that hasn’t evaporated since the rain last week. When Bill looks into it, she notes that the reflection is somehow wrong. Heather walks away without much explanation as a voice inside the puddle proclaims that the pilot has been located.

Christmas eventually rolls around and the Doctor and Bill celebrate with a small gathering. She talks about her mother and wonders about photographs helping ease the pain of loss. Later on, she returns home and looks at some photographs of her mother. She spots the Doctor in one of them and is intrigued.

She sees some other strange things when the new term starts, including evidence that the TARDIS has moved. She finds Heather staring into the puddle but the woman disappears when Bill approaches. Sadly, Heather is trapped in the puddle and identified as the pilot.

Bill tells the Doctor about Heather and he rushes off like a “penguin with his ass on fire” to investigate it. The Doctor soon understands that the problem with their reflections is that they’re being shown the wrong way. Whatever is in the water is mimicking the observer. The Doctor also takes note of the scorch marks around the puddle and then sends Bill home. The puddle pursues, claiming to have found its passenger.

When Bill returns home, she assumes that Moira is in the shower, but a phone call proves that assumption wrong. When Bill investigates the running shower, she finds Heather’s starry eye staring back at her from the drain. Bill rushes back to the university to find the Doctor, but is confronted in the darkness by a sopping wet Heather. Heather is a bit freaky and Bill rushes to the Doctor’s office where he is analyzing a sample of the puddle. The puddle pursues and takes Heather’s shape once again.

The pair takes shelter in the TARDIS where the Doctor is pleased to show off his time capsule. Bill is astounded as most companions are, but she does proclaim that it resembles a kitchen. Nardole appears as the puddle attacks, forcing the Doctor to relocate the TARDIS to the underground vault. As the Doctor and Nardole analyze the vault for any breaches, Bill finally has her “bigger on the inside” moment.

The puddle eventually catches up to them so the trio takes flight to Sydney, Australia. The gravity of what’s happening finally catches up to Bill, and she starts asking the Doctor questions about his life and history. They’re interrupted when Heather catches up to them, so the Doctor takes the TARDIS off the planet and twenty-three million years into the future.

Bill is amazed as Nardole and the Doctor muse about the puddle. They presume that the puddle is a remnant from an alien craft that can take the shape of what it needs. It found Heather, someone who wanted to leave the world around her, and took her on board to leave the planet. The puddle catches up to them and nearly abducts Bill, and the Doctor takes his team to the most dangerous place in time and space. When they arrive, the Doctor tosses a classic sonic screwdriver to Nardole before rushing into a war zone in the past. Nardole tries to distract the Daleks, who are fighting the Movellans, as the Doctor and Bill try to escape the puddle.

Taking a slight detour to the Friend from the Future promo teaser, the Doctor and Bill run from the Daleks. Taking refuge behind a wall, Bill repeatedly questions the Doctor about the Daleks.

The Doctor finds a Dalek and has it scan his sonic screwdriver. It fires on the Doctor, but he dodges so the blast hits Heather. As the travelers run, Heather morphs into a Dalek but the Doctor is not tricked. He does wonder, however, why she didn’t shoot when she had a gun.

Bill realizes that Heather’s last conscious thought was to not leave without her. The pilot has been trying to fulfill that promise since Heather was killed. Bill releases Heather from the promise after briefly bonding with the pilot. The puddle retreats and the traveling trio returns to the TARDIS, though Bill notes that she is now partially connected with Heather.

Back in the university office, Bill regrets leaving Heather and the Doctor decides to wipe her memory in order to protect his undercover disguise while he guards the vault. Bill asks him to imagine what it would feel like if someone did the same to him and the memory of Clara forces him to send Bill away. The TARDIS and the pictures of River and Susan chide him, and he decides to meet Bill downstairs with the time capsule.

It’s a big universe, but maybe one day they’ll find Heather again. Until then it’s time for an adventure in time and space.

This episode’s title does double duty. The obvious meaning is in reference to Heather’s fate, but the other one is this story’s status as a perfect entry point for newcomers. The story tells the viewer everything they need to know about Doctor Who while easing them into the universe and a season-long story arc. Steven Moffat has compared this story (in that regard) to both An Unearthly Child and Rose. To a lesser degree, I’d also include The Eleventh Hour, Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Autons, and Remembrance of the Daleks.

Bill debuts here as a not-the-usual companion. Most companions are enraptured by the magic and fantasy of everything Time Lord, but Bill’s worldview pushes all of that to the backseat as she parses the new world around her. It’s quite refreshing.

We also get the mystery of the vault beneath the university. The Doctor and Nardole have apparently been guarding it for approximately 50 years. Since St. Luke’s University is in Bristol, the Doctor runs the risk of crossing his own timeline since Flatline also took place in Bristol. It’s also across the Bristol Channel – about an hour’s drive or so – from Cardiff, which means possible interactions with the Ninth Doctor, the Tenth Doctor, and Torchwood Three. I mean, none of those things will occur, but I’m honestly surprised that more inadvertent timeline interactions don’t happen given how much time the Doctor spends on the British Isles.

This episode marks the return of the Movellans to Doctor Who, which results in a neat timeline check with the Daleks. They don’t know that the Twelfth Doctor is their nemesis until they scan the sonic screwdriver because they only know about the current incarnation (the Fourth Doctor) who was involved in the Dalek-Movellan war shown in Destiny of the Daleks.

Overall, The Pilot fulfills its mission of serving both newbies and veterans with plenty of explanation and nods to the past interwoven with an engaging story and enjoyable actors. It serves well as a welcome back to the Twelfth Doctor after the complicated drama dance with Clara.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Smile


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 #272: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2016)

Doctor Who Christmas 2016 The Return of Doctor Mysterio

With great fandom comes great tributes to nostalgia.

It’s Christmas Eve in 1990. In New York City, a boy named Grant meets the Doctor in the middle of the night as the Time Lord dangles by his ankles in front of Grant’s window. The Doctor was testing a trap and inadvertently set it off. After some hijinks, the Doctor is finally let in because he is “expected.” Turns out that Grant and his mother believe that the Doctor is Santa Claus.

The Doctor flips through Grant’s Superman comic collection, discovering that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. The Doctor also learns about Spider-Man before taking Grant to the roof to work on the Doctor’s trap. Grant names the Time Lord “Doctor Mysterio” as he works on the “time distortion equalizer thingy” that will take the edge off of his frequent incursions near the area. It will also help protect a glowing gemstone in the Doctor’s possession. The gemstone is one of four left in the universe and is known as the Hazandra. This “Ghost of Love and Wishes” uses power from a nearby star to make the wisher’s dreams come true.

Unfortunately, Grant swallowed the gemstone after mistaking it for medicine, and now has superpowers. Fast-forwarding to the future, a now-adult Grant works as a nanny. Elsewhere in the city, a man named Brock is hosting a press release at the Harmony Shoal building – which looks a lot like the Daily Planet – and fields questions from a reporter named Lucy Fletcher and Nardole.

Brock later meets with Dr. Sim at midnight, missing the fact that Lucy and Nardole have both independently sneaked back into the building. Sim and Brock enter a vault full of brains and Sim questions where some of the brains came from. Lucy overhears this and meets the Doctor as Brock discovers that Sim and the brains are aliens. The aliens swapped the brain of the real Dr. Sim with an invader, and a surgical team soon does the same to Mr. Brock.

Lucy and the Doctor retreat to the lobby where they meet with Nardole before being discovered by Sim. Sim threatens to kill the intruders but they are interrupted by a superhero knocking on the window of the 100th floor. This superhero is known as the Ghost and he saves the protagonists. The Doctor recognizes Grant as the Ghost before the superhero flies Lucy home.

On the day that Grant swallowed the gemstone, he promised not to use his powers as he waited for the stone to pass naturally. The Doctor tracks Grant back to the apartment where he works as a nanny to confront the hero with a Spider-Man catchphrase. It turns out that Grant is working for Lucy, and when she arrives home she is surprised to find the Doctor and Nardole in her dining room.

The Doctor checked in on Grant from time to time. One of those times was in high school when Grant knew Lucy and had x-ray vision. It was then that the Doctor knew that the stone had bonded with Grant’s DNA. In the modern day, the Doctor chats with Grant before sirens call the hero away and the Doctor meets with Lucy.

Lucy investigates the Doctor while using a Mr. Huffle toy – later sold as a Doctor Who-branded collectible! – to persuade him to tell the truth. The Doctor reveals everything about Harmony Shoal and the brain-swapping operation, and Lucy wants to know how the Ghost is related to the plot. She deduces that the Doctor knows the Ghost’s identity, but she’s oblivious to Grant’s secret. Grant overhears Lucy’s demands and calls her in his Ghost persona. Hilarity ensues as the Ghost agrees to have dinner with Lucy and Grant agrees to watch her daughter for the night.

As Sim and Brock hatch a plot to take over the Ghost’s body, the Doctor confronts them. He figures out the plan to assimilate the world’s leaders and warns the body-swappers as Nadole materializes the TARDIS around him. We learn that the Doctor extracted Nardole from Hydroflax because he was lonely. They travel to the Tokyo branch to search for clues while Grant and Lucy have their dinner on the roof of her apartment building. The Doctor and Nardole track a signal in orbit and find a spaceship.

Brock tracks the Ghost and leads a team to assimilate him while the Doctor and Nardole investigate the ship. The ship has been rewired into a floating bomb and has been targeted toward New York City to stage an attack and lure the world’s leaders. Luckily, Harmony Shoal has been designed as a bunker that can withstand the blast. The Doctor decides to crash the ship into the planet’s atmosphere.

Brock attempts to assimilate the Ghost, but Grant breaks free and returns in his civilian guise to confront the aliens. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to communicate with Grant, asking the hero to use his powers and stop the ship from crashing. Of course, Grant is forced to reveal his true identity to Lucy, but the city is saved from nuclear disaster. The Doctor and Nardole arrive in the TARDIS and confront Brock. Grant and Lucy kiss and fly into the sky with the ship as UNIT arrives to close down Harmony Shoal.

Unfortunately, the brain-swappers escape (as the baddies in the comic pages usually do).

As the Doctor and Nardole say goodbye to Grant and Lucy, they discuss how things end and begin again, alluding to the Doctor’s final night with the woman he loved. Nardole explains as the Doctor returns to the TARDIS. Together they set course for adventures unknown.

In typical Christmas Special fashion, this was a light and fluffy piece with plenty of room for the actors to have fun. Steven Moffat’s love of the Superman comics is on full display, making up most of the homage here. Grant puts off definite Clark Kent and Peter Parker vibes as he dances between his personas, and he acts like Batman with a serious and gravelly voice while in the cape and mask. There are several other elements, particularly from the 1978 Superman film, including the rooftop interview and being contacted on a specific frequency that only their super ears can hear. The x-ray vision sequence in the high school reminded me of the Smallville episode “X-Ray” from 2001, though Clark Kent seemed to enjoy the power a bit more than Grant did.

The Superman comic that the Doctor reads is Superman Vol. 2 #19 from July 1988. In that issue, “The Power that Failed”, the villain Psi-Phon removes Superman’s powers one by one. It’s an ironic choice given how young Grant is shown as gaining his powers sequentially in this episode.

The superhero homage is embellished to the extreme in young Grant’s bedroom, complete with tributes to Superman, the Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Captain America, Iron Man, the Defenders, and more. All of them are apparently canon in the Doctor Who universe, and Batman was previously mentioned in Inferno, The Time Monster, Remembrance of the Daleks (where Ace’s earrings were outstanding!), Sky, and The Curse of Clyde Langer. It’s all capped by the nods to Miss Shuster and Miss Siegel, which pays tribute to Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the parents of Superman’s legacy.

Brain swapping is a storytelling trope with a long history behind it. In fact, the first supervillain in a DC Comics story was the Ultra-Humanite, a mad scientist who tangled with Superman in Action Comics #13 (“Superman vs. the Cab Protective League”) in June 1939, and that ne’er-do-well transplanted his brain into an actress after supposedly dying in battle against the Man of Steel. He transplanted his brain multiple times over the years before settling on the body of an albino gorilla. Doctor Who fans will recognize the trope as part of the story The Brain of Morbius.

A fun bit of trivia that I didn’t know until I started diving into this story relates to the name Doctor Mysterio. When Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi were doing the Doctor Who World Tour, they fell in love with the show’s Mexican title Doctor Misterio. Peter Capaldi’s delivery of that name in this episode is an impersonation of the announcer’s voice on the overdubbed soundtrack.

Finally, I loved how the Doctor brought snacks to his investigation. I also loved the callback to The Green Death as Lucy disguises herself as a cleaner just like the Doctor did to infiltrate Global Chemicals.

Overall, this ends up as a wholesome fluff story and a lovely tribute to the superhero genre.

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Pilot


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

Timestamp #CLS1: For Tonight We Might Die

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

Timestamp CLS1 For Tonight We Might Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that, the Doctor departs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

UP NEXT – Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo


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

Timestamp #271: The Husbands of River Song

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

Timestamp 271 Husbands of River Song

Farewell, Professor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rather, they lived happily… together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Series Nine Summary


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

Timestamp #270: Heaven Sent & Hell Bent

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

Timestamp 270 Heaven Sent Hell Bent

The conflict runs strong with this pair.

Heaven Sent

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

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

More than that, it is stalking him.

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

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

…and emerges into the TARDIS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hell Bent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That boy, of course, was the Doctor.

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

The General and Ohila were part of the deception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song


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

Timestamp #269: Face the Raven

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

Timestamp 269 Face the Raven

Doctor Clara has consequences.

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

He’ll also die when the countdown reaches zero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Timestamp #268: Sleep No More

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

Timestamp 268 Sleep No More

“You must not watch this.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Face the Raven


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

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


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


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.