For fans of time travel, look no further than the past two-part episode of Doctor Who for one of the most complex and bloody brilliant time travel stories yet to make it to the screen. Steven Moffat, after a year of getting us accustomed to Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, has now delivered four superb episodes. It’s enough to convince us Capaldi is the real deal and fans of not only the Doctor Who of Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant/Matt Smith series but the classic series as well should be able to embrace the current series as the real thing.
Take the first two-parter of this second season of the 12th Doctor, beginning with “The Magician’s Apprentice,” the creator of all Daleks, Davros, continuity-wise looking very much as he looked back to Tom Baker days, sets up the beginning of a clever trap for the Doctor, relying on the Doctor’s compassion as his ultimate weakness. Then Michelle Gomez’s Missy–the Doctor’s “brother” Time-Lord also known as The Master now in its current female or “evolved” form–must partner with Jenna Coleman’s Clara to both save the Doctor and themselves, sort of. It is my own favorite motif–the forced partnering of a franchise’s good guy with its villain against a common foe. The chemistry between Missy and Clara was simply superb. And of course, the finale in “The Witch’s Familiar” successfully ties up all the loose ends, but not without wrestling in some good conflicts like an emotional struggle with the Self as the Doctor deciding whether to leave a little boy to die in the middle of an alien mine field.
This season is about Capaldi’s Doctor letting loose and freely occupying the role as his own. The electric guitar show he performs in the season opener with his new sonic sunglasses replacing the retired sonic screwdriver–a brilliant and probably long-overdue maneuver by Moffat–came full circled last night in “Before the Flood,” with an updated version of the Doctor Who introduction music in the wrap-up of the two-parter begun on October 3, 2015, “Under the Lake”. The Doctor’s Finest–a recap show highlighting the best of the reboot Doctor Who episodes shown this summer as a lead-in to Capaldi’s Season 2 (also reboot Season 9)–needs completely redone now that we have the story arc in “Under the Lake”/”Before the Flood”.
Is time linear or “twisty” as the Doctor has asserted before?
Beginning with a parable about Beethoven and showing a bust of the composer that looks strikingly like Capaldi, Moffat takes us on a magical mystery tour full of adventure, emotion, fear, self-reflection, heroism, and all-out fun. Only this Doctor would get away with talking directly to the audience. In fact, this two-parter may be a good entry point for those unfamiliar with the series. It has everything Doctor Who is known for, including the best-in-class scenes of crew life aboard a spaceship, the world’s finest creature costumes and make-up work with the new villain The Fisher King (part Predator, part Xenomorph, part Mimic creature), a look at the complex and vital relationship between Doctor and companion, subplots making you care about the everymen he encounters along the way, further study of the Doctor’s singular aloneness in the universe, and his willingness to do anything to protect humanity.
In one scene we see bravery as shipmate Lunn (Zaqi Ismail) defies logic by entering into a realm of ghosts to retrieve a mobile phone to save Cass, the strong-willed leader of the crew, played by Sophie Stone. Then we see gut-wrenching agony as Bennett (Arsher Ali) must decide whether to save has own love interest, O’Donnell (played by Morven Christie) when given the chance in a trip to the past. The pinnacle of the episode is in its denouement, as Bennett shoots a cupid’s arrow to Lunn and Cass.
Credit writer Toby Whithouse, director Daniel O’Hara, costume designer Ray Holman and the make-up crew under Sara Angharad with this stunning two-parter. And let’s not forget the brilliantly realized ghosts, courtesy of Jade Poole & Co., and a really nifty shuttle craft from Michael Pickwoad’s production team.
Frankly, I can’t get enough of these “base under siege” episodes of Doctor Who. Providing us with so many different looks at the future aboard a spacecraft, Moffat’s team has rivaled the work perfected in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise aboard the Nostramo and Sulaco and briefly defined aboard the Millennium Falcon after Princess Leia’s rescue and the escape from Hoth, and surpassed the examination of life aboard a ship revealed briefly on the Serenity. As science fiction is concerned, Doctor Who continues to provide the best stories and visuals via both television and the movies. If you dropped off after Capaldi’s first season, it’s time to give the series another try.