Written with no prior knowledge of what’s going to be in the episode – I watch the ‘Next Time’ trailer and make sure I see, hear and read nothing else – and written immediately after my first viewing. This is my unfettered, emotional response to this week’s DOCTOR WHO fare.
Looking back at a list of Mark Gatiss episodes this week, I was reminded that the only three I actually like are ‘The Unquiet Dead’, ‘Crimson Terror’ and ‘Cold War’.
Two Victorians and an Ice Warrior.
So the stars seemed perfectly aligned for him to take on this Victorians vs The Ice Warriors yarn. It seemed so beautifully, wonderfully him. I’ve been looking forward to it all week.
The result though?
I was more than a bit bored.
Having glanced at Twitter, I see that’s not an uncommon reaction. And it’s been suggested – by no less a personage than the wonderful Pearl Mackie herself – that that’s because it has a slower pace like a classic episode.
But I’m a classic series fan. A man whose first memories of DOCTOR WHO were the orignal showings of ‘The Keeper of Traken’ in 1981, and I don’t think that’s true.
The problem here was the characters – there just weren’t any that were likeable. Hell, there weren’t that many that were actually memorable. The stand-outs were the captain and the Empress, neither of whom we were supposed to empathise with. The only other who made his way out of a sea of beigeness was the cowardly colonel, and even he was such a walking cliché that he only made any kind of impression because he appeared from nowhere just when the plot needed him.
Everyone else was dull, dull, dull!
Gatiss as a writer clearly gets a certain thrill from Victoriana: the way of speaking, the slightly archaic phrases. He imagines that the audience gets the same kind of buzz, so has constructed a script crammed full of the proper slang and lingo, while forgetting to give us decent characters – ones we need to care about to make this episode work – to actually spout such dialogue.
The result was an episode that promised so much, but delivered so little.
Not that there weren’t some good points – the design of the Empress was excellent; while The Ice Warrior’s new weapon was a proper horror movie idea. Obviously it’s a family show so they can’t go too far, but if you think of all the breaking of bones and tearing of cartilage that would be required to kill someone like that, then it’s stomach churning. And yes, a churning of the stomach is something that would be required too.
Absolutely I liked it more than last week’s. Yet, even tomorrow, I think this is the one I’ll struggle to remember.
- To be fair, I did squeal with delight at the Alpha Centauri cameo. I’ve thought before that if they had the budget to do that design totally in CGI for an episode – as opposed to the polystyrene of the original – she/he/it would be a great addition to a story.
- Once again though, in a Gatiss’ Ice Warrior story, it’s a soldier disobeying orders who wakes the creature up. With ‘Cold War’ fairly fresh in my mind, that felt unforgiveably lazy.
- Missy flying the Tardis in this episode better pay off to something. If it proves inconsequential in this arc of her’s, I am going to stamp myself annoyed.
- I’m being a tad unfair to Gatiss in limiting his good DOCTOR WHO stories to just three. If you’ve never read his Virgin New Adventures novel: ‘Nightshade’, you should. It’s really, really good.
- Not DOCTOR WHO, but his Lucius Box novels are also well worth seeking out.