Different Doctor Who fans have responded in different ways to the shallow disappointment that is the Chibnall/Whittaker era. I have reluctantly written something about each episode, despite actively disliking plenty of them. Elizabeth Sandifer seems to have pretty much given up. Andrew Rilstone has written about the most recent season (having quite rightly skipped the previous one), but is also reviewing Tom Baker’s tenure from the start.
But maybe the most interesting response has been that of Gavin Burrows.
Let’s start with the big-picture stuff. The Timeless Children was fun to watch, but more than that: fascinating. It’s full of interesting ideas, and they all pretty much make sense. The rewriting of Time Lord history accords well with what we have come to learn of that race’s mendacious tendencies, and the Doctor’s discovery of her own pre-Hartnell history makes perfect sense.
The Master’s role is crucial, his plan truly horrible; the Irish policeman’s story from last week plays into the big reveal in a perfectly cromulent way; and the reappearance of Ruth Clayton from Fugitive of the Judoon was welcome and not overcooked. I particularly liked how everything she said was reflecting back to the Doctor things she already knew.
It feels to me that this series is gearing up to be much stronger than series 11, and this penultimate episode does a fine job of setting the stage for the finale. I like that we’re left with three separate cliffhangers.
What I like even more is the way the episode built to that point, organically and progressively, almost as though there was some narrative craftsmanship involved. I found myself drawn into the story of the Irish foundling baby, and moved by it, to the point where it almost felt like an unwelcome jolt to be pulled out of that story into what was more obvious Doctor Who: how many backstory sequences can we say that for?
I feel like the ingredients are all there in this episode, but the somehow they spend most of the episode just sitting there. We have a cast of interesting historical characters in a web of ambiguous relationships, in the setting of an ostensibly haunted house on the night in which one of them should write one of the two greatest horror novels in the English language … but the tension never really ratchets up above “medium”.
To be fair, it kicks into gear in the last third, when tension has been abandoned and it becomes about the lone cyberman. But that gear-change serves to highlight how relatively weak everything up till then has been.
It was interesting seeing this one so soon after Praxeus. Like the earlier episode, Can You Hear Me? begins with a sequence of apparently disconnected vignettes — this time, monsters in Aleppo in 1380, Ryan’s distant friend Tibo, Yaz’s flashbacks to herself alone on a moorland road, and Graham’s visions of an imprisoned girl between two burning planets — and asks what thread ties them together.
But this time, there is such a thread, and it pretty much makes sense.
Dire Straits’ third album, Making Movies, has a stellar side one: Tunnel of Love, Romeo and Juliet, Skateaway. Only three songs, but all of them stone-cold classics, using their extended running times to great effect. But then on side two, it all falls apart, eventually staggering to embarrassing collapse with the cod-cabaret of Les Boys.
That’s Praxeus, that is.
I’ve made the point several times in these reviews that it gives my no joy to be relentlessly negative about Doctor Who, a series that I have loved deeply. That I go into each episode with an open mind, hoping to enjoy it.
This time, I did. Amost without reservation.
Like I said last time, I don’t go into these episodes wanting to hate them. I start each one with as open a mind as I can summon, hoping to enjoy them. And this time, I did.
I’m not saying it was a classic — it’s no The Empty Child or Human Nature or A Christmas Carol — but it’s a solid, decently constructed celebrity historical which, crucially, takes the time to breathe.
I’d be hard-pressed to explain why I am, after all, watching series 12 of Doctor Who, but it appears that I am. Tonight, Orphan 55.
This is us, apparently, in a sufficiently near future that Russian road-signs still survive, but mutated by global warming into predators that breathe CO2 and excrete oxygen.
Look, I don’t go into these things wanting not to enjoy them. Every episode, I come in with a bright, optimistic outlook, ready and willing to relax into whatever the BBC have come up with for me. I have decades of accumulated investment in Doctor Who. Heck, I even wrote a book about it. It gives me no pleasure to find, half an hour in, that I am basically waiting for the episode to end.
That was … both better and worse than I expected. On the positive side was the opening of Daniel Barton’s tech presentation:
“We gave you pieces of plastic and circuitry and games and you handed us, me, my company, total access to your lives, what you buy, where you go, who you text, what you text, every thought and photo and post, every credit-card number, every birthday, every memorable place and all your mothers’ maiden names. So thank you for carrying our cameras in your pockets and putting our microphones in your bedrooms, for signing up your kids, handing them our devices.”
On the negative side was … the rest of that speech (we’re going to use your DNA as a hard drive … seriously). Oh, and the rest of the episode.