Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth – Series 11 Episode 1 Review

After a wait that has lasted since Christmas 2017, the new Doctor Who is finally here, and Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor does not disappoint. As the most viewed launch episode for a new Doctor since 2005, The Woman Who Fell To Earth is a great start for the show’s latest regeneration. After the departure of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor and Steven Moffat as showrunner this new series is essentially a soft-reboot, and features new writers, a new composer and new filming equipment that makes the debut episode feel like a fresh new take on the show, and if the rest of the series is as good as its debut, the future seems bright for the Thirteenth Doctor.

Speaking of the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker certainly makes the role her own with great energy and enthusiasm. Her take on the Doctor is definitely in keeping with the character, and from her first scene when she comes crashing through the roof of a train you know that this is the same Doctor, just a different face. In terms of individual personality, the Thirteenth Doctor seems as capable as the Third and Seventh incarnations when it comes to taking control of a situation, and she has a constant buzz of energy that is honed into keeping cool under pressure and working a specific problem, rather like the Tenth Doctor. Jodie Whittaker’s use of her Yorkshire accent also helps her Doctor leave a distinct impression,

But where would the Doctor be without her companions? True to his word, Chris Chibnall broadened the focus of the episode to include not just the Doctor but her new new friends, particularly Ryan, with whom the episode begins. Whilst we have only had one episode with Ryan and other newcomers Yasmin and Graham, they already feel like a fun and interesting TARDIS team – and they haven’t even set foot in the TARDIS yet. This is really a testament to how quickly the Doctor and the new companions meld as a team, and the companions work well with Thirteen’s style of delegation in her plans, a trait of their group that will hopefully continue in later episodes.

This episode brings in vital ingredient needed for a great Doctor Who episode with its great villain, Tzim-Sha – and the special effects on this creature as well as on its entirely CGI companion are fantastic. This episode does involve several grisly deaths, something that is inevitable with good Doctor Who stories, but the Doctor doesn’t take those deaths lying down – she wastes no time in tracking down Tzim-Sha and working out his plan, making for a plot that takes time to get going but accelerates quickly in pace as the plot unfolds. The creature is not likely to have children diving behind the sofa in fear, but it is an impressive design that presents a serious threat. The ending also has some heavy-hitting emotional moments, a testament to how well Chris Chibnall makes the audience care about the new characters right from the get-go.

Arguably one of the best aspects of this episode is how effectively it introduces a new Doctor – crashing into an alien incursion and forced to think on her feet, Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor only briefly questions her new gender before getting stuck in to her new role, and this will hopefully improve this episode’s longevity. Fans in the future will look back on this episode not as ‘that time they tried a woman as the Doctor’ but simply as one of the better ‘New Doctor’ premieres – and this already seems to be what is happening. With 40.1% of the audience share on its air date, The Woman Who Fell To Earth has already become one of the most successful series openers of Doctor Who since the revival, and many who were skeptical over the new Doctor have been won over by her impressive debut.

Overall, the first outing for the Thirteenth Doctor is a promising start and the fact that it has been so well received is fantastic news for Doctor Who fans. If this episode is any indication of what is to come, Doctor Who Series 11 may well be one of the best received seasons in Doctor Who’s history.

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Doctor Who – Ranking the Masters

Over the years the role of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis has been played by a diverse range of actors and although some have had far more time in the part than others, all have made unique contributions to defining the role of the villainous character. But after nearly ten incarnations of the beloved villain, how to they rank against each other?

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9 – Peter Pratt

Having only played the Master in one televised story, The Deadly Assassin, Peter Pratt is perhaps the least-known of the Master actors, particularly since his face was obscured by the gruesome mask that depicts this incarnation’s decayed appearance. His role in the episode in which he appears is brief, but significant – by engineering a conspiracy on Gallifrey, the Master attempts to steal the Sash of Rassilon and restore his damaged body. During this scheme he encounters the Fourth Doctor several times, and there are some great scenes between Petetr Pratt and Tom Baker. Unfortunately, due to the restrictive nature of the costume, Pratt doesn’t really get a chance to make the role his own – particularly since half the time it is difficult to understand what he is saying. In the end this incarnation resorts to ranting and raving, and whilst that is not unusual for the Master, Pratt never really gets the chance to portray any of the nuance of the character.

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8 – Eric Roberts

Unlike Paul McGann, who returned to Doctor Who following his part in the 1996 TV Movie in the form of Big Finish Audios the same decade, Eric Roberts left it a little longer before returning to reprise his role in the Audios – a pity really, since he did actually show promise during the TV Movie. Whilst there were undoubtedly issues with the direction of the Movie, and certain aspects of the film from the script to the costume design were questionable, Roberts does play a great villain, and it was clear despite his inexperience with the role of the Master that he at least knew how to play a deranged scheming megalomaniac. It would have been nice to see his version of the Master develop in Eighth Doctor Audios, but that role later went to Alex Macqueen. Still, Roberts is finally returning to the role in a new series of the Diary of River Song, of all things, so there is still hope for his incarnation. Speaking of Macqueen, though…

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7 – Alex Macqueen

Technically Eric Roberts’ successor in terms of the Master’s chronological timeline (probably…) Alex Macqueen’s incarnation takes on a far more delighted and almost child-like direction – he seems to always see the funny side to being pure evil, and although he has appeared exclusively in audios so far his version of the Master is clearly distinctive from the classic incarnations of the Master. Clearly inspired by the Simm incarnation, Macqueen does bridge the gap between the Classic and New Series Masters effectively, and he is a great foil for the Eighth Doctor. Interestingly, although this incarnation is best known for his appearances against the Eighth Doctor, this incarnation actually debuted  against the Seventh Doctor, and Alex Macqueen also voiced the decayed incarnation possessing his incarnation’s body against the Sixth Doctor. Both the Macqueen and Beevers incarnations regain their own minds to face off against the Seventh Doctor in The Two Masters, which incidentally is the first multi-Master story in performed Doctor Who, which is a testament to both actor’s skill as they do great impressions of each other’s specific Master personalities.

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6 – John Simm

Being the first Master incarnation to be depicted on screen post-regeneration, Simm’s incarnation initially came off as a bit too wacky and mad to really be the same Master that fans remember from the Classic Series. Whilst the gaps have since been filled by various Audios, fans at the time did concede that this was the Master immediately following the horrors he experienced in the Time War, and it was very possible that he had simply gone totally insane.Whilst Simm does have some character moments with  David Tennant’s Doctor and does a fantastic job of playing a crazed lunatic, unfortunately throughout his two appearances in the Russell T. Davies era his incarnation is never given a chance to slow down, and even when there are moments between the Doctor and this incarnation of the Master, they are always overshadowed by this incarnation’s instability – either through the ‘drumming’ arc or the fact that he is hungry for human flesh. Thankfully, Moffat gave this incarnation a bit more nuance in Series 10, and Simm shows his true talents as he effortlessly carries the role of a more Classic-themed Master perfectly.

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5 – Anthony Ainley

The official ‘replacement’ for Roger Delgado in the 1980s, The only real criticism that can be set against Ainley’s version of the Master is that he is in fact too good at emulating his predecessor. Even so, Ainley does make his own mark on the character, and develops the role over his long tenure that spans the last three Doctors of the televised Classic Series, and he is the definitive version of the Master for many Doctor Who fans. Known for his flamboyant personality, Ainley’s Master seemed to hate the Doctor a fair deal more than Delgado’s incarnation did, and his plans often revolve around achieving his ultimate goal to kill the Doctor. Still, like Delgado’s incarnation, he was not above siding with the Doctor if he felt it necessary – often leading to moments in which his true allegiances are a mystery, as in one of the most memorable scenes of The Five Doctors.

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4 – Derek Jacobi

Despite only playing the Master briefly in Utopia, Derek Jacobi’s performance immediately sold him to audiences as the genuine article, perhaps even more so than John Simm’s incarnation did in the same episode, and it stands as a testament to his incredible ability as an actor that Jacobi could effectively snap from being a lovable, innocent old man to a violent and psychotic killer. Needless to say fans were eager to see this more of this Master, and having been given his own Big Finish series as well as appearing in the U.N.I.T. spinoff series, the Jacobi incarnation definitely deserves a return in the TV show itself.

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3 – Geoffrey Beevers

Initially appearing in just one episode of the Classic Series, The Keeper of Traken, Beevers would later reprise his role as the Master in the Big Finish Audios, and it is in these audios that he truly excels. This particular incarnation of the Master is interesting as he has more on his mind than simply conquest or domination – most of his plans revolve around survival or somehow acquiring more regenerations in order to prolong his life. That being said, his multiple appearances in various Big Finish Audios have allowed for some great character moments between his incarnation and various Doctors, with a particular highlight being the Seventh Doctor audio Master. Beever’s greatest asset to the role is his distinctive voice, which makes his audios all the better, as his line delivery is always spot on.

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2 – Michelle Gomez

The first female incarnation of the Master proved the perfect foil to the Twelfth Doctor thanks to both Michelle Gomez’s dynamic portrayal fueled by her interesting personality and the fascinating direction that Steven Moffat took the character, particularly during his final series as showrunner. Known as Missy, Gomez’s interpretation of the Master pays homage to many previous incarnations, particularly Delgado, and shocked fans after appearing regularly as a mystery plot arc throughout Series 8 only to drop the bombshell that she was actually the Master as the plot twist cliffhanger to the penultimate episode of the series. Following her brief return in the opener of Series 9, Missy went on to be one of the most fascinating elements of the incredible Series 10, and her redemption arc was perhaps one of the best executed in the New Series.

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1 – Roger Delgado

The original, you might say. Although the role Delgado played has been adapted by many talented individuals since his death, there is no doubt that Delgado had a true understanding of the character and his relationship with the Doctor and none since have been able to truly recapture the entirety of that complex understanding. Truly the perfect ploy for the Third Doctor, Roger Delgado’s Master filled the role of mustache-twirling supervillain to counter the Doctor’s role as the dashing secret agent/detective hero, and would often ally himself with various invading alien races in an attempt to conquer the Earth. Charming, manipulative, cunning and pure evil, Delgado’s Master is the archetype of the character and would inspire the character of each and every incarnation to come.

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Doctor Who – Top Ten Classic Who Dalek Stories

As Classic Who’s most iconic and enduring monster, the Daleks appeared many times throughout the 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who following their initial appearance in the show’s second aired episode. Over the many eras of Classic Who, the Daleks usually appeared at least once – and although their creator Terry Nation wrote many of their early episodes eventually other writers stepped in with alternate interpretations of the pepper pots and how they should be used on-screen. This, coupled with the fact that Nation himself toyed with many varying ideas related to the Daleks, means that their episodes vary dramatically in tone, setting and content, and this inevitably leads to varying levels of quality to match.

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Honorable Mention – Destiny of the Daleks

Included here as an honorable mention is Destiny of the Daleks, simply because it cannot hold a candle to any of the other Dalek episodes on this list. Despite being written by Terry Nation and featuring Douglas Adams as the script editor, this episode is an absolute shambles in terms of the show’s lore and the depiction of Davros. The worst moments include scenes in which both the Doctor and Davros refer to the Daleks as robotic creatures, and the Daleks contradicting themselves by first claiming that self-sacrifice is illogical before volunteering themselves for a literal suicide mission. The only real upsides are Romana II, the great dialogue and Tom Baker as the Doctor, but otherwise this episode is hardly worth the time.

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10 – Revelation of the Daleks

As previously discussed in How to Fix – Revelation of the Daleks, the Sixth Doctor’s only televised Dalek episode has its issues, particularly related to acting quality, pacing and story focus – it is still an enjoyable watch in its current state, although it does come across as a missed opportunity. The Doctor and Peri barely feature in this episode – and too much screen time is given to a strange DJ – but by far the highlight of the episode is Davros, and Terry Molloy is great as usual. Davros’ scheme is certainly twisted and insane, but what makes Revelation of the Daleks important to Davros fans is how it links two of the best Davros audios, Davros and The Juggernauts, as in the former we get to hear how Davros lays the foundations for his dreadful plans on Necros and the latter describes what happened to Davros immediately following this story, meaning Revelation forms the middle of a bizarre Sixth Doctor and Davros ‘trilogy’. One of the other highlights of this episode is the Glass Dalek, a monstrous creation by Davros that houses a human who has been mutated into a Dalek in much the same way that the Kaleds were in Genesis of the Daleks, laying the groundwork for Davros’ experimentation on the Dalek physiology that would ultimately culminate in the Imperial Daleks from 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks. Whilst it is undoubtedly an important milestone in 1980s Dalek lore, Revelation does not stand up to many of the other Dalek stories on this list, particularly due to its odd pacing and tone issues that plagued many mid-1980s Doctor Who stories.

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9 – Death to the the Daleks

This episode features one of the best Classic Dalek designs and colour schemes, with the ‘science division’ Daleks featured in this episode sporting a unique silver-and-black finish that is certainly striking, Unfortunately, as far as Classic Dalek episodes go, that’s about the best thing that can be said about this episode – although the idea of using a power drain to force the Daleks and Humans to work together is an interesting one, Death to the Daleks does little more than this, especially considering the fact that the Daleks get alternate weapons before long. Still, the sequences inside the Exxilon City are interesting, and the Exxilons themselves are an interesting species with tribal chants that give this episode a distinct vibe, making Death to the Daleks an iconic episode even if it is not among the best Classic Who Dalek serials. Interestingly, this story is apparently Nicholas Briggs’ favourite Dalek story, and several Big Finish audios pay homage to it including the Fourth Doctor Adventures story The Exxilons and the Dalek Empire story also entitled Death to the Daleks!. One of three Dalek stories in the Third Doctor’s era (ironic, considering Jon Pertwee himself disliked the Daleks as villains) Death to the Daleks ranks as the weakest, although Jon Pertwee and Elizabeth Sladen’s performances in this story are not to be underestimated, and fans of this Doctor-companion pairing will enjoy Death to the Daleks for that reason alone.

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8 – The Daleks

The debut of the Daleks in Classic Doctor Who, The Daleks is definitely worth a watch but does suffer from issues of pacing, particularly since it is seven episodes long. Whilst this can be forgiven due to the fact that it was only the second ever serial of Doctor Who to air, The Daleks is perhaps best watched with the foreknowledge that it is in many ways a ‘prototype’ for future Dalek episodes – although at the time the creators had no idea the Daleks would become such an enduring recurring villain, many elements of this episode are developed in much more detail in subsequent Dalek stories, and The Daleks does dedicate a lot of its run-time to what is clearly filler. The best example of this is the chasm jumping sequence, in which the episode stops dead as we watch all five or six members of the Human-Thal party jumping over a chasm, taking up the majority of its episode’s run time. Ultimately, being the first Dalek episode and a very early episode in the show’s run, The Daleks is worth watching for historical interest but doesn’t contain as much Dalek action as it perhaps could, although there are many extended scenes in the Dalek control rooms that give the audience a good idea of what the Daleks are really like early on, as they scheme and manipulate the humanoids in the story with sinister mercilessness, with a particularly chilling moment being the line in which the Daleks decide to alter the environment of their planet to kill the Thals rather than adapting to the planet’s radioactivity.

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7 – The Power of the Daleks

Although this episode is entirely lost, thankfully a complete animated recreation was released by the BBC in 2013 with all six episodes restored using the original audio and some of the best animation for a Doctor Who DVD release to date. The episode shows the Daleks at their best – manipulative and ruthless – and their scheme to appear docile in order to siphon power from the human colony is devious. As this was the Second Doctor’s first televised story it set the standard for Dalek stories to come, as many fans view The Power of the Daleks as among the very best Dalek stories, but its length and pacing mean it has not aged as well as other much-loved Dalek episodes. Another slight drawback to this episode for many is the lack of original visuals, and although the animated reconstruction is welcome, many have noted the apparent poor quality of some of the recreated scenes – particularly the initial post-regeneration sequence and basically any other scene where it is not immediately obvious what the original actors were doing in the episode. Regardless, the animated Daleks do look spectacular and hopefully The Power of the Daleks will be the first of many fully-animated lost Dalek episodes.

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6 – Day of the Daleks

Having been recently remastered, Day of the Daleks went from being a somewhat mediocre Dalek story to a classic thanks to updated effects, re-dubbed Dalek voices performed by Nicholas Briggs and even whole new scenes filmed using the original camera equipment. In the original story, the final battle used only three Dalek props – the most that were available at the time – so the effect is lessened. With new Daleks added with CGI, the battle scene has been reinvigorated, and for Classic Who this episode is particularly exciting. With a complex time-travel plot that is similar to, but actually predates, the Terminator series, Day of the Daleks is a great action-packed Third Doctor story that incorporates time travel into the story as a core aspect of its main plot rather than simply a means of reaching Point A from Point B, making it unique among Dalek stories. Since its remaster, this episode has jumped up in quality from a mediocre Dalek serial that was bogged down by budget and production issues to a reinvigorated classic that is actually more like a longer episode of New Who than many other Classic Dalek serials. Living up to the action-adventure themes of the Third Doctor’s era, Day of the Daleks is well worth the time now that the much-needed remaster in the Special Edition has been released.

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5 – Resurrection of the Daleks

Resurrection of the Daleks begins the three-part ‘Dalek Civil War’ arc involving Davros, the Daleks and various factions of in-fighting Daleks that also includes Resurrection  and Remembrance, and of the three Resurrection has by far the best depiction of Davros in all his manipulative, scheming glory. Terry Molloy’s debut as the twisted Kaled scientist is a must-watch for Dalek fans, and fans of the Fifth Doctor can rejoice as this episode features many watershed moments for his character, including his deliberation over whether or not to shoot Davros, and the fact that Tegan departs the TARDIS, both situations that test the more human and fallible Fifth Doctor. As far as the Daleks go, however, Resurrection portrays them as being noticeably weaker than previous Dalek stories, with the Movellan War crippling the Dalek Empire and forcing the Daleks to employ humanoid soldiers for assistance in combat situations. This leads to the introduction of Lytton, a fantastic character who appears in this episode and Attack of the Cybermen, and is somewhat of an anti-hero in both episodes.

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4 – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

It was inevitable following the success of The Daleks that the Daleks themselves would return to Doctor Who, and their second appearance, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, has often being said to be their best episode of the Hartnell era, as depicting the Daleks assaulting familiar ground like central London is far more effective and heavy-hitting than having them attack a band of alien hippies in a forest, as in The Daleks. Relying heavily on imagery from the Second World War, an event that was still directly impacting many of the audience at the time, giving this episode a heavy impact at the time that still endures to this day. As if the depressing imagery of a subjugated Earth was not effective enough, The Dalek Invasion of Earth also features the first instance of a companion departure in the show, with Susan staying behind on the war-torn Earth as the TARDIS leaves, with the Doctor promising that one day, he would come back.

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3 – Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks

As a pair, Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks link together to form one 12-part story involving the Master, the Ogrons and the Daleks attempting to destabilise the relationship between the Human and Draconian civilisations before awakening an army of Daleks, and either episode experienced on their own pales in comparison to watching the entire serial as one continuous story. Because Frontier in Space is just so excellent, featuring the final appearance of Roger Delgado’s Master, and Planet of the Daleks has some fantastic scenes with both Daleks and Thals, the pair of stories combine into an epic space opera revolving around the beginnings of the Galactic War against the Daleks. The only real criticism of this story is the length – although Frontier in Space makes a competent use of its runtime, Planet of the Daleks could have been shorter, and overall twelve parts for the entire double-serial run is just too long.

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2 – Genesis of the Daleks

Arguably Terry Nation’s best contribution to the lore of his own creations, Genesis of the Daleks depicts the creation of the Daleks, centuries before their appearances in The Daleks and subsequent Dalek episodes, as well as being the debut episode of the mad Kaled scientist Davros. Like all the best six-part Classic Who stories, Genesis effectively utilises its run time to deliver a well-paced story with suitable doses of action, suspense, and exciting sequences in each episode. Unlike Planet of the Daleks, there is not a single individual episode of Genesis that feels as though it could have been cut out, and as the plot marches towards the inevitable creation of the Daleks the tension builds until the climax at the end of Part 6. Genesis has been praised for its great characters and dialogue, and there are some fantastic scenes between the Doctor, Sarah and Harry that show how the TARDIS team has bonded throughout the season. The Kaled characters in this story are also fantastic – Nyder, Ronson and, of course, Davros, who makes his debut here played for the first and only time by the legendary Michael Wisher who does a tremendous job as the maniacal scientist. Overall, Genesis is a classic and well-deserved of its status as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who. However, there is one other Dalek episode that takes the top spot, and that is…

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1 – Remembrance of the Daleks

…ironically, the final Dalek episode of the Classic series, Remembrance of the Daleks. The Cartmel Masterplan made its debut in this episode, as script editor Andrew Cartmel decided to include more references to the idea of the question behind the Doctor’s identity, and Remembrance of the Daleks is the first in a series of episode that hint at the Doctor’s dark past and his history with the Time Lords and other powerful races. The depiction of the Imperial-Renegade Dalek Civil War as well as the return of Davros and the introduction of the Special Weapons Dalek make this episode an explosive and fitting finale to the Dalek plot arc in the Classic series, as the episode ends with a much darker and more ruthless Seventh Doctor destroying Skaro and wiping out both the Imperial and Renegade Daleks on Earth. If that were not enough, this episode is considered by fans to be the true 25th Anniversary Special (even thought the inferior Silver Nemesis’s broadcast coincided with the actual anniversary date of the 23rd of November) as this episode is littered with continuity references and is based in 1963, in the same place as the First Doctor and Susan parked the TARDIS in the very first episode of the show.

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Doctor Who – Top Ten New Who Dalek Stories

As one of the most enduring icons of Classic Doctor Who, it was no surprise that the BBC decided to incorporate the Daleks into the modern version of the show as soon as possible, with Series 1 alone featuring them in three episodes including the two-part finale. Since then, the Daleks have appeared in every series of the revival, with varying success – sometimes a Dalek episode is exactly what a series needs to bump up the action and stakes, and other times the Daleks seem to be a drag on episodes that they could otherwise not even featured in. Due to their successes in the 60s, 70s and 80s, showrunners of modern Who assume that the Daleks will always be a big hit, but have the pepperpots enjoyed the same success in the 21st century as they had in the 20th? For this list, the focus will be primarily on how the Daleks themselves are presented in the various episodes in which they appear and how much of a threat they present, but also on other factors in the episodes that contribute (positively or negatively) to the overall quality of the story.

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10 – Asylum of the Daleks

At the very bottom of the list is Asylum of the Daleks, which will come as no surprise to any Dalek fans as Asylum is notorious for being one of the biggest let-downs in the history of the show. To those not in the know, the marketing for this episode was really exciting – fans knew from various ‘leaked’ photos (which were actually released as a deliberate ploy by the BBC) that classic Dalek props from a multitude of different eras of the show were all gathered together, and modified to look damaged and dusty, and the title of the episode suggested that this would be a love letter to the Classic series that delved into Dalek psychology and perhaps filled in some gaps in their timeline from the Classic era. Fans were wildly speculating that the Cult of Skaro, the Dalek Emperor, the Special Weapons Dalek or even Davros could feature in this episode, and it generated a lot of hype. This all turned out to be in vain, however, and what is truly baffling is why the production team went to the trouble of gathering together all these genuine classic Daleks (including the Special Weapons Dalek from 1988) just to have them all sit there and do absolutely nothing. Ultimately, the fantastic setup and exciting premise of this episode were wasted on a pointless and unwarranted divorce subplot involving Amy and Rory that is solved like magic in the last five minutes, and an arguably well-executed but similarly unwarranted debut of Jenna Coleman as ‘Oswin’, which was later revealed to be one of Clara’s splinters, and the combination of these two subplots distracted attention entirely from the thing fans wanted most of all at that point – a decent Dalek episode – and what we are left with is a mess of wasted potential that should have either been a two parter or had a complete rewrite from the ground up.

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9 – The Time of the Doctor

From one myriad of wasted potential to another, The Time of the Doctor serves as the confusing and overstuffed finale to the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure, and it was essentially Steven Moffat trying to bolt together all the answers to all the loose ends that had accumulated throughout Matt Smith’s era into one hour-long special because, apparently, he had originally planned for the Eleventh Doctor to have one more series until Matt Smith announced he was leaving the role. As a result, none of the ideas presented here get any real development and, like Asylum of the Daleks, many great ideas are either watered down to the point where they are forgettable or just go over the audience’s heads. Take Handles’ death for example – the scene is beautifully acted, the score is fantastic, and it is clear that the death of this Cyberman head really does affect the Doctor – but it doesn’t affect the audience, because we only met this character about half an hour beforehand. The Daleks in this episode are actually quite formidable – the episode describes in detail how the Daleks attacked the Church of the Papal Mainframe and slaughtered everyone inside, Humans and Silents alike, but it would have been better if the audience could have actually witnessed this for themselves as it would not only have made the Daleks appear more of a threat but it would also have solidified the idea that the Silents are good guys now (which, the first time I saw this episode, I didn’t even clock onto – that’s how fast-paced and convoluted the plot is). Yet, despite all this, Moffat still found a ten-minute space in the runtime for the Eleventh Doctor to make creepy and perverted sexual advances on Clara by running up to her stark naked and then proceeding to do the same thing to her relatives at Christmas dinner, too. Yes, this was a dark time for Doctor Who.

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8 – The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

As previously mentioned in How to Fix – The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, this two-part finale of Series 4 has a fantastic setup but a poor conclusion. In fact, were these two separate episodes, The Stolen Earth would rank much higher whereas Journey’s End would definitely be lower, which gives an idea of how inconsistently the Daleks are presented in this two-parter. The Stolen Earth is a great opener – the Doctor and all of his companions from the previous two years, including Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack and the Torchwood team all come together to combat a full-on Dalek invasion of Earth, and it is glorious. Throughout this opening episode the audience is constantly reminded of how much of a threat the Daleks are to human society – we see Dalek Saucers bombing Manhatten, we see Daleks destroying houses to draw out human prisoners, we see Daleks slaughtering Human defences like UNIT HQ and the Master’s battleship Valiant, Davros returns for the first time since Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988, and as icing on the cake, a Dalek finally gets to shoot the Doctor dead. All of this is fantastic, but then Journey’s End comes along to spoil everything. As if by magic, suddenly the Daleks are spinning around, out of control, and all the threat and menace that was built up over the opening part melts away and Russell falls back on the most generic, flimsy ‘prophecy’ plotline ever contrived, and the Daleks are beaten. How difficult would it have been for Russell to let the Daleks win? The Doctor should have saved the Earth and stopped the Reality Bomb but at the cost of failing to destroy the New Dalek Empire, allowing Davros to escape with his new army swearing that he will return, and then we wouldn’t have been faced with…

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7 – Victory of the Daleks

In a similar vein to The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, Victory of the Daleks suffers from having a great opening and general premise, but also having a disappointing final act that essentially ruins the episode by leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the audience. This came in the form of the often-derided Paradigm Daleks, which debuted in this episode as a vain attempt by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss to ‘reboot’ the Daleks for their tenure as showrunner and resident weirdo respectively. To make things perfectly clear (and perhaps in contradiction to my earlier assessment of the Paradigm in my various Custom Figure Collection posts), the design of the Paradigm Daleks isn’t actually all that bad – true, there are some odd design choices, such as the hunched back, the flexi-straw neck and the oversized fenders, but if Asylum of the Daleks did one thing right by Dalek fans, it showed that with a new coat of chrome paint and a few modifications the Paradigm props could be made to look intimidating. Unfortunately for Victory of the Daleks, the Paradigm first appeared with matte paint in a disused matchstick factory that had the lighting of a primary school assembly hall that only served to make the new Daleks look more tacky and laughable than they were already. The real tragedy is that, aside from the Paradigm, Victory is actually a decent Dalek story – the Ironsides look awesome, the World War 2 setting complete with Winston Churchill works really well, and there are some great narrative links to Classic Who stories like The Power of the Daleks. It is a true shame that the first Dalek story in Moffat’s era was so disappointing.

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6 – Daleks in Manhatten/Evolution of the Daleks

Yet another episode on this list with its own article on how it can be fixed, Daleks in Manhatten and Evolution of the Daleks are the kind of Doctor Who episodes that take a lot of hate from certain fans of the show, despite essentially being episodes that are not meant to be taken all that seriously. The problem with this idea is that when using a monster like the Daleks, fans tend to take things more seriously than they should, which has led to this Series 3 two-parter being slammed by Whovians of all creeds for brutally cutting short the reign of the Cult of Skaro, creating a ridiculous and overtly phallic Dalek Hybrid creature, and featuring a musical number in a style designed to accompany a 1920s flapper dance routine. Surprisingly, the results are oddly glorious, with this episode slotting in nicely between a great homage to classic sci-fi B-Movies and an odd nod to sci-fi Noir, whilst also featuring some great Dalek scenes, most notably scenes involving Dalek Sec. Other highlights include the rest of the Cult scheming against Sec, the scene in which Solomon and Dalek Caan converse, the relationship between Tallulah and Lazlo and Martha generally just been cool and reliable, as usual. The final battle between the Daleks and the Hybrids is pretty cool as well, and although you don’t have to be Grand Admiral Thrawn to see the obvious flaws in both sides’ strategies (standing still and firing continuously regardless of how many casualties are inflicted on either side), a genuinely poignant moment is when the Doctor laments the eventual death of Dalek Sec, hailing him as ‘the cleverest Dalek ever’, probably due to his mercilessly roasting of the Cyberleader during their previous encounter.

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5 – The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar

Opening the divisive Series 9 is the equally divisive The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, a two-part episode that receives equal measure of love and hate from various factions of the Doctor Who fanbase. On the one hand, this episode does a much better job of showcasing the relationship between the Doctor and Davros than The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End did, to the extent that many have come to regard this episode as less of a Dalek story and more of a Davros story, as the Daleks themselves feature more as a background power at work rather than the main villain of the story. The scenes with Missy and Clara are all fantastic, and there are a handful of great Dalek scenes – most notably the Supreme Dalek’s ‘Maximum Extermination’ scene. On the other hand, the episode does its best to deliberately mess with the audience, in that it seems for the entire story as though the Doctor had done something terrible to Davros in his youth – perhaps even causing the horrendous injuries he is famous for – and yet this rising source of tension in the plot seems to suddenly deflate at the end, and although the moments between Davros and the Doctor are poignant, some fans saw right through the attempt to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings and labelled this episode a failure. Whilst both sides have good points to make, the justification for ranking this episode so highly comes primarily from the scenes with Missy, finally having Classic props in lighting that allows the audience to see them, and some great dialogue between Davros and the Doctor that are reminiscent of the kind of thing Big Finish have done in audios like Davros.

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4 – Doomsday

There are many important factors to consider when revisiting Doomsday now, after over ten years. At the time of airing, this episode shook the nation, and that fact cannot be understated – the hype for this episode was justified, and Rose was given a departure to remember as she is torn away from the Doctor whilst Daleks and Cybermen burn the city of London in an unprecedented all-out war between two of the franchise’s most iconic villains. From the perspective of the Daleks specifically, Doomsday has some fantastic scenes, especially thanks to the introduction of the Cult of Skaro, a group of Daleks with more distinct personalities than the standard drones fans are accustomed to. Stand-outs include the verbal demolition of the Cyberleader conducted by Dalek Sec as war is declared, some short but fast-paced action scenes as they tear up the Cybermen, and a surprisingly deep insight into the mind of a Dalek as the Tenth Doctor breaks down how lonely and painful their existence actually is. Over the years, the impact of Rose’s departure has somewhat lessened, particularly as her status as ‘most important companion’ was slowly transferred to Clara over the course of Moffat’s run, and this is perhaps what has hurt this episode the most – ultimately, Doomsday spends a lot more time focusing on the Doctor and companion than it does the Daleks, which is more justified in this instance than it was in Asylum of the Daleks but no less frustrating in hindsight.

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3 – Into the Dalek

Since this was only the second episode to feature the Twelfth Doctor, it was important at this stage that his character be firmly established lest the audience grow confused over what this new Doctor actually stands for. Whilst complaints of an inconsistent characterisation are often thrown against the Twelfth Doctor, Into the Dalek was the episode that firmly established Capaldi as the Doctor, as all the best things about the Twelfth Doctor really shine in this story. He struggles with his morality, he is merciless and rude but also caring and occasionally tender, and ultimately with help from Clara he realises the correct course of action and helps bring out the best outcome of a situation that was rapidly spiraling out of control. The Daleks in this story are fantastic, and the opening scene in particular does wonders to showcase the vast size of the Dalek Empire compared to the tiny and ill-equipped Human resistance. In fact, this is the first Dalek story in a long time to effectively convey the idea of a wider galactic conflict being waged against the Daleks in the future, a plot point that often featured in the Classic Series and Big Finish audios yet has been unfortunately absent from New Who until this point thanks to Russell’s Time War plotline. Whilst the basic premise of the episode requires some suspension of disbelief to go with, once this episode gets going it is almost perfect in its depiction of Dalek morality and philosophy, and it is a shame in hindsight that Capaldi didn’t get more Dalek episodes.

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2 – Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

The finale of the Series 1 is perhaps the most exciting depiction of the Daleks waging war in the entire history of televised Doctor Who, as the Dalek Emperor returns from the Time War to enact a 100,000 year plan to destroy the Human race and wage war on the entire Galaxy. The Emperor himself is impressive, and credit must be given to both the artists and designers who worked on the prop and Nicholas Briggs, who provided the Emperor’s fantastic booming voice. The Emperor isn’t the only impressive addition to this episode either, as this is the first time we see a full Dalek Fleet in action on-screen and the scenes of the fleet bombing planet Earth as Lynda watches are particularly horrific. Speaking of Lynda, her untimely death at the hands of the Dalek Attack Squad provided another heavy-hitting moment in this already devastating episode, making this episode undoubtedly one of the darkest and most harrowing of the series, and a great showcase of just how threatening the Daleks are at the height of their power. Interestingly, this episode also takes a unique approach to the Daleks themselves – these are half-Human and have a concept of blasphemy, and view the Emperor as the God of all Daleks – and credit must be given here for a fantastic idea that is well-implemented, as this has a distinct effect on the characterisation of the Emperor himself that turns him from an already menacing Dalek into a full-blown deranged megalomaniac of a villain.

 

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Honorable Mention – The Day of the Doctor

As a brief aside, it is worth mentioning that the Daleks feature in 2013’s The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary special, and for the most part they are very strong in this episode. For the first time we get to see the final day of the Last Great Time War, and although this scene has been criticised for depicting the once-legendary dimension-rending myth-war as simply a generic sci-fi battle with lasers and explosions, it is somewhat understandable as by this point in the War the Time Lords had expended all of their timey-wimey weapons and were simply trying to hold out against what was now an inevitable wave of utter devastation – that is exactly why the War Doctor chooses to end it all with the Galaxy-Eater. The reappearance of Murray Gold’s soundtrack ‘The Dark and Endless Dalek Night’ works fantastically with this scene as we see the Daleks lay waste to Gallifrey’s second city, slaughtering soldiers and commoners alike in the streets. Immediately after this scene, however, the Daleks are reduced to mere fodder and do not feature as prominently in the 50th as many fans would have liked, with the honor of primary monster going to the… Zygons? Why?

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1 – Dalek

And finally, the number one – Dalek, the initial appearance of the Daleks in NuWho. Whilst the title does spoil the surprise somewhat, Classic Who fans rejoiced at the prospect of the Daleks returning to modern Doctor Who, and this episode certainly lived up to the hype. Robert Shearman, who had previously written for Big Finish audios before penning this episode, largely based the plot of Dalek on his Sixth Doctor audio Jubilee, which dealt with the idea of a single Dalek locked up in a prison only to escape and slaughter its former captors. Dalek has the edge, however, in that it was also written to flatten many previous criticisms of their design – particularly the inclusion of their rotating middle section and the reappearance of their ability to fly which had not been seen on-screen since 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks, which makes their comeback all the stronger. This episode also features plenty of death, again to showcase the true power that even a single Dalek can unleash, but also features a rare example of Dalek character development – this particular Dalek gains human emotions from Rose, and the scenes between the Dalek and Rose, particularly the Dalek’s final scene, is surprisingly poignant. The scene that makes the episode, however, is the Doctor confronting the Dalek in its cell – arguably one of the greatest Dalek scenes in the history of the show. With compelling characters, a fast-paced story and some great action, Dalek is hands down the best Dalek episode in NuWho.

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Doctor Who – Top Ten New Who Cyberman Stories

Following on from the Top Ten Classic Who Cyberman Stories, this list presents the appearances of the Cybermen in the Doctor Who, ordered by the quality of their depiction of the Cybermen themselves – originally designed to be fearsome former humans stripped of all emotions, the Cybermen had experienced significant ‘villain decay’ during their tenure on Classic Who. That being said, did NuWho do any better a job of realising Kit Pedler’s original vision of the Cybermen as a sinister cautionary tale against the advancements of medical technology, or are the NuWho Cybermen merely robotic tin soldiers as they were depicted towards the end of Classic Who?

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10 – The Time of the Doctor

For those who recall the appearance of the Cybermen in The Time of the Doctor, you should be commended – this episode is mend-bending in its complex awfulness and there are many who have burnt this special from their minds completely to avoid flashbacks of some of the more cringe-inducing aspects to this story – a naked Matt Smith accosting Jenna Coleman, Tasha Lem implying that her alter is a sex-bed she used with the Doctor once, and all manner of Moffat-isms that will undoubtedly be looked back on by future generations as one of the lowest points in the show’s history. Nonetheless, the Cybermen do feature, in two significant capacities – first in the decapitated Cyber-head which the Doctor christens ‘Handles’, arguably one of the best things about this episode, and a Wooden Cyberman which invades Trenzalore with a flamethrower only for it to burn itself to death. From this we can draw two important conclusions – first, Moffat most think the Cybermen are absolute imbeciles that would arm a wooden soldier with a device that creates fire, and second, the fact that a decapitated Cyberman’s head is the best thing about this episode really tells how bad this episode actually is.

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9 – Closing Time

Whilst James Cordon did a surprisingly good job as a one-off central character in Series 5’s The Lodger, Series 6’s Closing Time proves that the law of diminishing return is still going strong as Cordon turns what was already a mediocre script into a genuinely bad episode. What makes this all the worse is the fact that, at this point, the Cybermen hadn’t had their own episode since The Next Doctor, meaning this was essentially a chance to redeem the Cybermen that fell completely flat for numerous reasons. Firstly, the Cybermen themselves barely appear, and whilst there are some creepy scenes in which the Cybermen sneak around the department store at night abducting workers, this seems to completely ignore one of the Cybus Cybermen’s key traits – their loud intimidating stomp. Secondly, far too much attention is placed on the Doctor essentially bumming around (although this criticism could stand against many episodes in the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure) and, in a similar fashion to The Lodger, the villain’s entire plan has to be summed up in about 3 lines of dialogue right at the end since so much time was spent with scenes of James Cordon and Matt Smith doing ‘ordinary bloke stuff’ like playing in a toy shop and snogging in a lift. Lastly, the Cybermen are defeated by ‘the power of love’, the laziest and stupidest plot device ever after ‘and they woke up and it was all a dream’.

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8 – A Good Man Goes To War

Despite only appearing in one scene, the Cybermen do make somewhat of an impression in this episode – though they are essentially used as fodder for Rory to destroy to make him seem like more of a badass by comparison. This episode does contribute somewhat to the villain decay that the Cybermen experienced throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s era, although this episode is notable in that it features the reappearance of the Cyberman warships, which were briefly seen in The Pandorica Opens although it is not until this episode that we see them as part of a fleet. Other than that, there really isn’t much more to say about this episode as far as the Cybermen are concerned – apart from the fact that their brief cameo in this is far better than the entirety of Closing Time.

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7 – Nightmare in Silver

Neil Gaiman’s attempt to reboot the Cybermen in Series 7 was met with mixed reception, and it is certainly nowhere near as good as his previous episode, The Doctor’s Wife. Despite this, Nightmare in Silver is probably one of the best episodes of Series 7, alongside Cold War and A Town Called Mercy, and it does do a decent job of presenting the Cybermen as a serious threat, unlike several previous Matt Smith episodes had. The setting used here is particularly creepy, the thought of an entire planet dedicated to an abandoned theme park is an interesting idea, but the focus in this story is all over the place – for a start we have the ludicrous idea to include schoolchildren under Clara’s care in this story, a plot device that goes nowhere and was essentially included to fill time, then we have Porridge and his strange subplot involving Clara, and on top of that we have the soldiers and their conflict with the Doctor over blowing up the planet, all running at the same time. Overall, the best aspect of this episode is the Doctor’s conflict with the Cyber-Planner that is attempting to take over his mind, and Matt Smith has to be given credit for some fantastic acting in these scenes, but the impact of the Cybermen themselves in this episode is mediocre thanks to the inclusion of cartoonish special effects to depict their new abilities.

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6 – The Next Doctor

As a Christmas Special, it is no surprise that The Next Doctor does not focus primarily on the Cybermen themselves, despite being marketed at the end of Journey’s End as ‘The Return of the Cybermen’, this episode seems to feature them as a token villain – there are some great scenes with them, particularly the scenes between the Cyberlord and Mercy Hartigan, but ultimately this episode contributes little to their story aside from introducing the Cybershades, which never appear again. By far the best scene in the episode, as far as the Cybermen are concerned, is the scene in which Mercy Hartigan unleashes them onto unsuspecting Victorian Noblemen in the graveyard, and this is probably the last good scene that the Cybus Cybermen get in Doctor Who – even if it does only last about a minute and a half. The Cybershades are a nice addition to this scene too, their guttural cries and bestial stature make them scarier than the standard Cybermen but over the course of the episode they gradually devolve from a fearsome threat to a simple footsoldier for the Cybermen, until they are all inexplicably destroyed at the end in a puff of smoke.

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5 – The Pandorica Opens

The Cybermen are essentially the primary villain of The Pandorica Opens, which is fitting considering the next part, The Big Bang, primarily features a Dalek. However, The Pandorica Opens does not feature the Cybermen to an extent anywhere near the usual for the villain of a Doctor Who episode – a Cyberman’s head stalks Amy before attacking her and re-attaching itself to its old body in an attempt to assimilate her, which is a great scene in itself, but is basically the Cybermen’s only appearance in this episode aside from the brief scene of the Cyberleader arriving with the other Alliance members. Still, it is probably the strongest Cyberman cameo in the revived series, definitely beating Hell Bent and Face the Raven in terms of action-factor, as well as also being the final appearance of the ‘Cybus’ Cybermen, with all future NuWho Cyberman episodes featuring either Mondasian Cybermen or the strange ‘non-Cybus’ Cybermen who use their basic form but without the trademark Cybus logo. The design of the ‘zombie’ Cyberman is to be commended – arguably the best scene in the episode is Amy’s battle with the spider-like Cyber-head, and the skull popping out as it tries to essentially eat her alive is a gruesome reminder that each Cyberman was once a person, whilst also emphasising the more robotic elements of the Cybus design – the suit can operate even without any organic parts, and it yearns to assimilate a new brain and nervous system.

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4 – Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

The finale of Series 2 starts out as a Cyberman story before the Daleks show up at the end of Army of Ghosts to wipe the floor with them – thus prematurely beginning the inevitable villain decay that the Cybermen would experience in NuWho, just as they had done in Classic Who. Although the scenes in Army of Ghosts and Doomsday with the Cybermen are good, and their plan definitely devious, the Daleks steal the show in this episode and the Cybermen are reduced to merely fodder for the Cult of Skaro to mow down in their dozens. The only really interesting aspect to the Cybermen in this story is that they eventually end up siding with the Doctor and the Human forces, fighting alongside the Preachers and even marching out into the streets to divert fire away from the Humans (intentionally or not). This is in keeping with the fact that the Cybus Cybermen were programmed to believe that upgrading is for the Human’s own good, so it makes sense that they would seek to protect what they regard as good stock. Aside from being verbally demolished by Dalek Sec, the Cyberleader is physically destroyed when Jake and his parallel soldiers storm the Torchwood control room, and we get an idea as to how the Cybermen promote individuals within their ranks – apparently, the choice is made at random, and as soon as one Cyberleader is killed the information from its brain is downloaded into another Cyberman, effectively making the Cyberleader almost like a body-hopping consciousness that can possess any soldier in the Cyber-army. What is a shame is that, with everything that is going on in this episode, absolutely nothing is done with this idea.

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3 – Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel

The debut of the Cybermen in NuWho also introduced a ‘subspecies’ in the Cybus Cybermen – i.e. Cybermen that had been created on Earth in a parallel universe by the Cybus Corporation, the brainchild of John Lumic. This episode is a spiritual remake of the Big Finish Audio Spare Parts, in that they both depict the origin of their respective species of Cybermen, although the stories themselves are quite different. The parallel universe setting allows for some great character moments, particularly when Rose finds out that in this timeline her father is still alive, and also Mickey’s similar realisation with his Nan. What makes this all the more tragic is that, in this parallel world, the Cybermen essentially control the population through their earpods, leading thousands of Londoners to the slaughter including the parallel version of Rose’s mother. Though this is exceptionally bleak, Russell doesn’t quite go as far as Spare Parts did in terms of bleakness, since ultimately the Cyber-revolution is prevented and the main factory destroyed. Of all the factors in this episode, however, by far the best is the character of John Lumic. Essentially the Cyberman’s equivalent to Davros, Lumic is insane and fits the part of merciless businessman perfectly. Following his conversion into the Cyber-Controller, Lumic retains an aspect of his megalomaniac personality and the scenes with him and the Doctor are all excellent.

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2 – Dark Water/Death in Heaven

Arguably the first true Cyberman story since The Next Doctor, the Series 8 two-part finale Dark Water and Death in Heaven finally reintroduce the element of body horror to the Cybermen that has, in many ways, been lost since Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. Through Danny Pink’s death and subsequent conversion by a highly advanced race of Cybermen created by Missy, the audience finally gains an insight into the horrors of Cyber-conversion in a way that is not often seen in televised Doctor Who. The plot is primarily driven by Clara and her grief and desperation after losing Danny, and the horror when she learns of his true fate makes us more sympathetic towards her than perhaps ever before in her tenure on the show – for once she isn’t marching around acting like she owns the show, and that frees up plenty of time for this episode to spend on great scenes with the Doctor, Missy and the Cybermen. There are some nice nods to The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Invasion with the Cyber-Tombs being located inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the inside of these new Cybermen have been fantastically designed, as Danny’s partially decayed corpse staring blankly out of the face of a Cyberman has got to be one of the most enduring images of the Series. This episode was controversial at the time of airing as the dark themes of death and the afterlife, coupled with the three words ‘Don’t Cremate Me’ being a driving force behind the episode,  was reportedly more scary for kids than the Cybermen themselves, but in hindsight this merely adds a much-needed boost to the fear factor of both the Master and the Cybermen as the plot involving Cybermen rising from the graves of the recently deceased in a fashion similar to a zombie apocalypse is perhaps one of the most fearsome plot outlines in NuWho’s history, making this one of the Cybermen’s scariest episodes.

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Honorable Mention – Cyberwoman

For all its faults, the Torchwood episode Cyberwoman has some really gruesome depictions of Cyber-conversion that would never have been seen on the main show – for once blood and gore go hand in hand with the process of Cyber-conversion thanks to the more mature and adult-orientated nature of the spinoff. This is just about the only positive that can be said about this episode, however – its reputation as being an overblown nonsensical waste of potential is deserved – but for its part it does try to bring an element of body horror back to the Cybermen, the likes of which so far had not been seen in NuWho before this episode’s release.

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1 – World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls

The last thing anyone expected to get in NuWho was the Genesis of the Cybermen story involving the classic Mondasian Cybermen as previously seen in The Tenth Planet, but that’s what we got with the Series 10 finale World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls. As icing on the cake, this episode goes out of its way to ensure that the Big Finish audio Spare Parts – the Fifth Doctor story which shows the origin of the Cybermen on Mondas – is still canon, by establishing the idea of parallel evolution of the Cybermen, accounting for the Mondasian, Telosian, Cybus and Cyberiad versions all existing at once. This allows Steven Moffat to essentially tell his own version of the Cyberman origin story without interfering with the canon, and his version is far darker and bleaker than Russell’s version from Rise of the Cybermen. The inclusion of the Master as a major contributing factor to the creation of this particular faction of Cybermen is an interesting twist, and the scenes with John Simm and Michelle Gomez show how truly great both performers are at capturing certain aspects of the Master’s personality. What steals the show however is Pearl Mackie as Bill, and her tragic subplot involving Cyber-conversion is perhaps the most harrowing depiction of the process in the history of the show. The editing and direction in this episode is excellent, with Bill switching between her human and Cyberman body depending on the perspective of the scene, which showcases the most fundamental horror of the Cybermen – under the metal and plastic exterior they are, or rather were, simply ordinary people.

Ultimately, it appears as though NuWho’s depiction of the Cybermen is as varied both in content and quality as in Classic Who – there are some great episodes, that portray the Cybermen as horrifically ruined human beings either tragically seduced by the advancements of technology or forced into conversion against their will, and some terrible episodes that present the Cybermen as little more than robots who stomp around as a generic enemy for the Doctor to defeat. Both showrunners so far in NuWho have had a mixed bag of handling the Cybermen, and hopefully Chris Chibnall finds something more interesting to do with them that doesn’t resemble Cyberwoman.

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Doctor Who – The War Games Review

The Second Doctor finale The War Games is now almost 50 years old, and marks several important milestones in Doctor Who’s history – it is the final episode of the Classic era to be broadcast in monochrome, and it is the final episode in the distinguished run of the Second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. Unusually for a Classic Doctor Who story, this episode is ten parts long, giving it a total run time of almost 250 minutes, making it quite the epic. But almost 50 years later, how does this climactic finale hold up?

The vast majority of the early parts of this episode can be summed up in three words all too familiar to fans of Classic Who – ‘capture and escape’. This method of storytelling can get somewhat tiresome, but in fairness to this story, the setting and characters vary dramatically throughout the early episodes thanks to the intriguing and fantastically executed central premise – the idea that the TARDIS lands in what seems to be the First World War, that is actually another planet upon which various wars from throughout human history are being played out in the titular ‘War Games’, allowing for some dramatic variations in setting that keep things interesting.

Most of the first 5 episodes revolve around the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe finding their bearings in this strange setup – at first, the episode takes its World War 1 setting very seriously, and it should be noted that the writers and producers took extra time and care to ensure that their depiction of the Great War was both respectful and accurate. This is complicated somewhat as the story progresses, however, and as the truth unfolds the World War 1 setting falls away to make room for depictions of the American Civil War and the War Lords’ headquarters. Speaking of the War Lord, both he and the War Chief are great characters – the dialogue between the Doctor and the War Chief in particular is fascinating, especially given what we know in hindsight about Gallifrey. The War Chief is somewhat of a ‘prototype’ for the character of the Master, who would debut on the show just 2 years later in 1971’s Terror of the Autons, but this does not mean that the War Chief lacks his own distinct personality – his lack of a prior relationship with the Doctor allows him to be manipulated in a way that the Master would never have been.

As usual, Jamie and Zoe are both fantastic in this story, a fact that is made all the more tragic by the fact that this is their final story. The eventual fate of the duo is heartbreaking, but anticipation of this does not overshadow the entire story in the way that, for example, Adric’s death does for an episode like Earthshock. One of the best things about The War Games is how varied it is, and although it is a whopping ten parts long, the format takes full advantage of the unique setting to keep things refreshing every couple of episodes. In a similar fashion to a story like The Trial of a Time Lord, the episode’s unusual length is warranted thanks to a good use of setting and using changes in location to advance the story. Jamie and Zoe do just as much to advance the plot as the Doctor does, and Jamie in particular shows just how much he has learned during his travels with the Doctor in some fantastic scenes, making this episode an essential for fans of these companions.

This story also features the departure of Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, and his regeneration is perhaps the strangest of them all. The seemingly omnipotent Time Lords in this story appear far more benevolent than how they are depicted in later media, and the circumstances behind their appearance present a turning point in the Doctor’s character as he finally realises that he has encountered a problem that is beyond his ability to resolve. The War Games does a great job of maintaining tension, and there is a continuous sense that the stakes are high as the Doctor and his companions make their way through Earth’s various wars – in fact, this may be one of the most divisive Doctor Who episodes in terms of engagement – on the one hand, ten parts is definitely too long for any single Doctor Who story, and yet The War Games seems to defy this by effectively breaking the runtime into distinct sections, each with their own individual setting, villains, obstacles and outcome, that all roll together at the end and blend seamlessly onto one long narrative. This episode is similar to Genesis of the Daleks in the sense that on paper it would seem as though the run time is too long, and yet the actual execution subverts expectations for an overlong Doctor Who story and turns it into an epic that maintains the engagement of the audience throughout thanks to clever narrative techniques.

Overall, The War Games is a great watch for so many reasons, and whilst it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea either due to the subject matter, the length or the era from which it originated, for fans of the Second Doctor this is definitely a must-watch, and fans of Classic Who in general should definitely give it a chance. The final episode in particular is heartbreaking but hopeful at the same time, and given the hindsight of knowing that great things are yet to come, the ending is as bittersweet as it is dark and gripping.

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Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord – 30 Years Later

It has been over 30 years since Colin Baker’s final series, The Trial of a Time Lord. The unusual format of this season means that, technically, it is one long 14-part story, framed as a trial conducted by the Time Lords to determine if the Doctor has broken the first law of time. Leading the prosecution is the mysterious Valeyard, who is essentially the Doctor’s nemesis throughout this season, and each individually named story is a piece of evidence brought forward by either the prosecution or the defence. At the time this series was allegedly poorly received – according to many of the contemporary reviews, audiences at the time regarded this season as a weak attempt at saving the show from its eventual cancellation. Today, reviewers may have been somewhat kinder to this season, but still regard it with a hint of distaste. However, 30 years later, how does this 14- part serial hold up? And did it save the show from an imminent cancellation in 1986?

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Part 1 – The Mysterious Planet

As far as the opening to a 14-part series goes, The Mysterious Planet is not half bad. Despite many reviewers at the time calling this story ‘boring’, it seems in hindsight that they were wrong, as this story seems to embody everything that is inherently good about a Doctor Who story. For a start, it was written by the late Robert Holmes, one of the legends of the Classic Who era, and his mastery of making every supporting character interesting really shines here. Sabalom Glitz is a great example of this, and he has some great lines that are delivered brilliantly. The mystery that permeates throughout this story is an interesting one, and the Doctor is significantly less of a jerk which definitely helps, it seems that the writers and producers were really trying to pull out all the stops. An example of this is the impressive opening shot, a wide zoom towards the humongous Time Lord space station that is a fantastic use of model shots.

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Part 2 – Mindwarp

This story is dark. Really, really dark. The story is a complex web of intrigue and deception, as the Doctor pretends to work for scientists attempting to use brain transplants to discover the secret of immortality, funded by Sil to save the Mentor leader Kiv from a painful death. But what really makes this story dark is that scene – particularly the Sixth Doctor’s reaction to it, and for those who have not seen this episode, it is well worth a watch just for one of the most memorable cliffhangers in Doctor Who history. As far as the actual episode goes, the characters are well-defined with clear motives, and there are some great performances here – particularly Brian Blessed as the over-the-top but oddly likeable King Yrcanos. The only real criticism of this story is the fact that most of it takes place in very similar-looking dirt tunnels, or the same few laboratory sets, meaning that there isn’t much visual variety aside from the occasional flashy costume. Still, the episode’s story feeds in well with the trial, scenes of which are still strong, and there is some genuine emotional weight to this story, making it perhaps one of the strongest of the season.

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Part 3 – Terror of the Vervoids

Our first proper introduction to Mel as a companion is certainly a strange one – after all, this was before Big Finish came along to refine her character, meaning she does have a few high-pitched and prolonged screams in this episode, usually at the cliffhangers. Oddly enough, at the start of each episode when the repeat of last week’s cliffhanger plays, often her scream is edited out, meaning that if this serial were to be condensed into one long unbroken movie, most of her screams would be omitted. Even so, Terror of the Vervoids does have a few moments that are genuinely creepy – the scenes in the pod growth room are particularly creepy – but overall this story lacks realism, as the audience are somewhat disassociated from this adventure by the fact that it takes place in the Doctor’s future with a companion that has never been before seen. Also, the version of the Doctor who is on trial admits that the footage has been doctored, meaning that anything could essentially happen and it have no real consequence. Speaking of the trial, the framing device becomes increasingly tiresome the episode goes on but there are some good moments. Generally, however, Terror of the Vervoids is a significant step down from the episodes that preceded it, and the worst is yet to come…

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Part 4 – The Ultimate Foe

Originally a two-part story written by Robert Holmes to tie together The Trial of a Time LordThe Ultimate Foe was unfortunately left unfinished by the writer’s death in May 1986. Although Eric Saward was able to finish the script for episode 13 of the season, an argument with then-showrunner John-Nathan Turner over the ending caused Saward to quit, and Turner instead hired writers Pip and Jane Baker to write the final episode. In all honesty, this was a terrible mistake, as although part one of The Ultimate Foe establishes a creepy and sinister side to the Matrix and features the return of Sabalom Glitz, in the end that is all that is good about the story. The undoing of one of the greatest moments in the season coupled with the idea that the Valeyard is a future Doctor make this episode seem like glorified fan-fiction, and although Anthony Ainley’s Master features to stir up trouble, overall the episode seems a lacklustre conclusion to the season. The Valeyard himself is boring and predictable, the method by which he is defeated makes little sense, Mel and the Time Lords in the trial room do very little, and the infamous ending scene serves as a less-than-fitting sendoff to the Sixth Doctor.

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Conclusion

Overall, whilst The Trial of a Time Lord has a strong opening, the quality wanes as the season progresses starting with Terror of the Vervoids, and the finale is disappointing and almost sad in retrospect. What makes this season particularly frustrating is that Big Finish were able to successfully redeem the Sixth Doctor in their audios, yet neither John-Nathan Turner or Eric Saward seemed capable of making Colin Baker appealing to audiences at the time, and the series was forced to undertake some radical changes following this season’s transmission. Still, both The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp are worth a watch, and whilst Mel’s introduction as a companion is less than remarkable, she does go on to become more bearable during the Seventh Doctor’s tenure. The season is therefore worth a watch, it doesn’t hold up as well as one might like but it is still a significant turning point in the show’s history, and does help to contextualise a lot of the great Big Finish audios featuring the Sixth Doctor, Peri and Mel that were to come.

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