It’s always a strange time when you realize there are only two episodes left in any given Doctor Who series. Especially when–in the case of Series 10–we wait over a calendar year for a new batch of episodes and almost as soon as it begins, it’s about to be over, and we’ll have another long, dark period. Ah, such is the way of Doctor Who. But I think part of the reason it’s seemed to have gone by so quickly is that the series started so strong, but has fallen off rather sharply. Not that any episode has been bad, but it’s definitely a series of halves.
For exactly the first five episodes of the series, I was raving from the rooftops that the show was doing something it hadn’t in a very long time: gone simple with the storylines but complex with the characters and point of view. “ The Pilot” is perhaps one of the best companion introduction stories ever made; “ Smile,” while not the best in terms of plot, proved to be an excellent two-hander for the Doctor and Bill to go off on an adventure together; “ Thin Ice” might still be my favorite episode of the year, with a great historical setting, a compelling creature, and a ton of wonderful racial and moral quandaries; “ Knock Knock” is at once a hilarious Doctor-hanging-with-modern-kids story and a creepy mood piece; and “ Oxygen” combined hard science with brilliant capitalist satire.
And then the second set of five episodes has felt strangely off. A big part of this is certainly down to the experimental mid-series 3-parter, which introduced the threatening Monks, a race that wanted to subjugate the Earth through love and devotion and the changing of memories/historical records. I will always applaud the attempt to do something completely outside of the norm, and a connected series of three episodes that are separate and individual but don’t feel like “to be continued” stories was a neat idea. The problem, though, is that they work much better thematically than they do in practice.
I praised “ Extremis” at the time as a cool way to do a prologue for a two-parter about alien invasion. I still think it’s a great idea, having a simulation of the Doctor defeat the villains, simply because he’s the Doctor even if he’s fake. However, “ The Pyramid at the End of the World” didn’t really continue along those same lines, becoming instead about how one little series of accidents could destroy the whole world, and that conquering a planet isn’t nearly as effective as being asked to conquer it.
And yet again, in the culmination, “ The Lie of the Land,” we explore another theme–that of being lied to by a regime, and discovering the truth in the era of fake news. In all three cases, the themes in the episodes are deeply resonant, but they seemed to overtake the stories at hand more than they perhaps should have, and following the five episodes at the top of the series, it felt very much like the show was different. It also doesn’t help that we’re meant to care about what the Monks are doing, but we know absolutely nothing about them. They were ciphers at best, and seemingly able to do anything.
Another huge aspect of the three Monk episodes is the realization of what the Vault is and who was inside of it. Once a mystery of that nature is uncovered, that becomes the most important thing, and following the super portentous three-parter and the realization of Missy as the strange, evidently rehabilitating center to this puzzle, going off on a Martian adventure with Victorians and Ice Warriors, and especially heading to Scotland to find out what happened to the 9th Roman Legion, feel like enormous digressions.
“The Eaters of Light” was an episode I was really looking forward to, not least because it’s written by Rona Munro, the writer of the very last classic series story back in 1989. And while there is absolutely nothing the matter with the episode–it’s got great characters, Bill is excellent in it, the concept and monster are top-notch–its placement in the series feels incredibly off and kept me from enjoying it fully.
Based on things said in the episode–specifically Nardole chiding the Doctor for not continuing his vow to guard the Vault–and the general attitude of Bill, this is clearly an episode that was meant to be slotted in earlier in the series. The final scene with Missy was obviously shot much later, and there are ADR lines to establish that they’d just come back from Mars. But they super didn’t. My guess is this episode was the most mobile, and was meant to be shown in between “Oxygen” and “Extremis,” but perhaps only having one episode in between the Monks and the two-part finale seemed too fast. Either way, having two episodes in a row now of two armies having to come to an agreement for the betterment of a planet (and the Doctor and Bill being relatively unrelated to the resolution) left me wanting.
That said, despite the inconsistencies of the recent five episodes, I still thing Series 10 has enough goodwill with me to make me incredibly excited and curious to see how the final two episodes shake out, and with two Masters and some old-ass Cybermen involved–not to mention more direction from the great Rachel Talalay–we’re in for some excellence. I can feel it in me bones.
What do you think about Series 10 thus far? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9/8c on BBC America.
Images: BBC America
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!