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 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 classis, 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.