TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Under the Lake” (09.03, 2015)

Written by Toby Whithouse

Directed by Daniel O’Hara

Okay, let’s get the inevitable sonic discussion out of the way . . .

The Sonic Screwdriver has been a part of Doctor Who since at least very near the beginning back in 1963. However, it began life as a piece of alien technology that nonetheless actually did what its name would imply: it functioned as a screwdriver, just doing so with sonic vibrations instead of mechanical force. Its functions have grown since, to the point that the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors have essentially been able to use it to resolve any plot point they wished. Its appearance has changed repeatedly, and we learned from an angry Amy Pond that it is in fact a Sonic Probe rather than a screwdriver, which the Eleventh Doctor essentially said he called a screwdriver just for fun. It has really changed so much and so often that it hasn’t been the same thing. So, the Twelfth Doctor ditching it for sunglasses isn’t some sort of affront to the series’s history. Continue reading

TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Death in Heaven” (08.12, 2014)

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Rachel Talalay

I’m not a fan of the Cybermen. I’m not a fan of UNIT or the Doctor’s relationship to it. Still, the Master is my favorite villain, so I thought this had a chance. I was wrong. It’s the kind of overly militaristic, far-too-fight-heavy, extremely overblown episode that both UNIT and the Cybermen tend to bring with them. Indeed, the Master’s presence was so tangential to what was going on that she could easily have been replaced with almost any other character without it mattering.

Even when the Master reveals her final plan to prove that the Doctor is her, it feels tacked-on to an otherwise completed story, and it falls flat, coming across as a reworking of the skyscraper interrogation from The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA/UK 2008) that hardly even bothers to change the dialogue. And in its zeal to copycat that film’s climax, it misses a fundamental piece of the relationship between the Doctor and the Master: love. The Master and the Doctor love one another, but if this were your introduction to their relationship, you wouldn’t know it. That’s a failure.

The episode also has problems in its obviousness: as soon as the Doctor mentioned the portrait of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, it was clear that he was going to be there in cyber-form, so then when Kate fell out of the plane, I knew he was going to save her. Danny, as always, is so relentlessly selfless that the irredeemably selfish Clara cannot understand his willingness to give up his own life in order to send back a child he killed during his time as a soldier–and that was clearly the only reason to introduce that child an episode earlier. The Doctor of course finds that Gallifrey is not where the Master claims that it is but doesn’t want Clara to feel guilty over their separation, so he lies to her while we are being shown the “shocking” revelation that the Master, who might never have said something truthful in any of his/her various incarnations over the last half-decade, was lying.

Otherwise, the biggest problem with this episode is that it has too much plot and seriousness, lacking the fun, humor, and goofiness that have always characterized the best of Doctor Who. Because of that overdone, over-serious plot, it’s actually boring. It’s too busy moving from one plot point to the next for any of the clever dialogue that has always been Moffat’s strength. It’s too busy trying to tug at our heartstrings to allow any of the fun back-and-forth between the Doctor and Clara that has often been the saving grace of this season. Add that all up, and we get a very un-Doctor Who episode, and not really in a good way.

This season started off with some real promise. The first few episodes were mostly good (especially the fantastic “Listen”) and Peter Capaldi proved himself capable of great depth and strength in the lead role, with his Doctor also showing a great amount of separation from earlier Doctors. And then it just fell apart. The writers didn’t deserve the Doctor they were given, and he deserved better scripts. Sure, they were saddled with Clara Oswald, but attempting to make her interesting by adding a terrible soap opera romance was still a bad idea on their part.

It seems Clara is probably on her way out, though the BBC has already said that she will be involved in the Christmas special. Perhaps a new companion is what Moffat and company need to get the show back on track after a couple of very rocky, disappointing seasons, but I’m starting to fear that it’s Moffat who needs to go for the show to return to its best.


  • Sometimes, I get the impression that Moffat is actually engaged in a childish battle against the ghost of Russell T. Davies. Did he write a season finale starring the Master to try to one-up the triptych that ended season three? If he did, he failed. And it’s not the fault of Michelle Gomez, who was every bit as good in the role as John Simm ever was. The idea of making the Master female was sort of interesting, but then Moffat didn’t do anything with it. Instead, he just used it as a way to throw people off the scent of who this was.
  • For all that his acting has been a problem this season, Samuel Anderson actually played his poorly-written departure sequence as well as he has played anything.
  • Did anyone else just want to throw up on seeing Santa Claus? Yuck.

TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Kill the Moon” (08.07, 2014)

Written by Peter Harness

Directed by Paul Wilmshurst

The conceit of this episode is fairly simple: the moon is actually a giant egg that hatches some sort of giant space dragon that is forcing its way out in 2049. The Doctor arrives with Clara and Courtney Woods (the troublemaking student we met last episode) in tow, figures out the problem, and then leaves it to the humans to decide what will happen.

The Doctor has always had a complex view of humanity. On one hand, he clearly loves humanity’s pioneering, inquisitive spirit. He praises its growth and ability to span the reaches of the universe, even against those who claim humanity as a disease. On the other hand, he is often dismayed at humans’ odd materialistic preoccupations and violent nature. This episode was in part an examination of the Doctor’s attitude toward humanity, his paternalistic “patronizing” (as Clara calls it) and clear disapproval of humans’ bloodthirst.

On that level, the episode works well enough, with the Doctor clearly disapproving of the fact that humans immediately want to kill the space dragon but also unwilling to guide them. And his sudden “hands off” approach to the humans’ moral dilemma is something that certainly only seems to appear at times when it is convenient for the Doctor to pass the buck on a decision that he does not want to make, leaving him wide open to criticism that Clara does not miss. When the situation is resolved, Clara and the Doctor have a fight the likes of which the Doctor may never have had with a companion before, and that scene is the one scene in this episode that stands out in a good way, with Jenna Coleman finally nailing a scene at the same time that Peter Capaldi does. Ending it all with us supposedly in suspense about the Doctor and Clara’s future (though Coleman being confirmed to be in the Christmas special certainly gives something away there) was also excellent–the overriding theme of this season has been how to resolve the contradictions at the heart of the Doctor, and here Clara finally realizes one of them and takes him on. To paraphrase Alice Cooper, how is she going to see him now?

The problem is that all of that is surrounded by a ridiculously obvious and facile discussion of abortion. The Doctor ensures that it is not only humans but females who make the decision about what to do with this egg, and goes out of his way to mention them being women at every given opportunity. Clara declares the space dragon inside the egg “life” while Lundvik declares it “a threat” and their discussion essentially takes the form of, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, or is that right?” which just makes for a dull, un-nuanced version of the abortion debate.

Further, Courtney Woods is a dull, useless addition to the TARDIS crew. She acts more like a ten year old than a 15 year old, complaining of boredom and incapable of leaving alone the controls on the TARDIS. She has nothing interesting to say and adds nothing to the Clara-Doctor relationship.

Overall, it’s an episode that’s really defined by one problem: it’s just dumb. The facility of its abortion debate and the inanity of its moral discussion is just so extreme that it becomes almost difficult to watch. The only saving grace is the strong ending, with the Doctor and Clara arguing.


  • Broken apart moon is a science fiction cliche that should be avoided.
  • Why didn’t he just call it a space dragon? That’s clearly what it was.
  • The mess of magazines on Clara’s coffee table seemed decidedly un-Clara.