Doctor Who’s stunning return to form

Simon was losing faith in the third series of the new Doctor Who. Until the last four episodes happened...

The Doctor and Martha. Before they got good again

In advance of a full review of the latest episode – which we hope to have online in the next day or two – I’ve spent much time musing over the odd beast that’s become the third season of the revived Doctor Who.

By most measures, it’s been one hell of a mixed bag. The opening episode, Smith & Jones, was decent enough, even if the potentially interesting Judoon flashed before our eyes and sodded off again, presumably late for an appointment at the action figure factory. But after that? It kind of went all over the shop.

The episodes in the new Who to date where they’ve pulled in historical figures – Dickens, Queen Victoria and now Shakespeare – have attained positive reviews, but for my money have been horribly weak, shoehorning historical elements in with little conviction or skill. The Shakespeare Code included. Bluntly, I just never bought it, and never really cared. A pity, especially as Classic Who legacy will tell you that Doctor Who’s historical stories used to be among the most interesting.

Then there was Gridlock. Nice idea, but the BBC didn’t have the cash to realise it. The thinking got it through, Father Dougal was just strange, and ultimately you couldn’t help feeling that the series had yet to warm up.

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But that was nothing compared to the Daleks episodes. Now still, for my money, the abomination with Peter Kay in it last year was the weakest Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot – even all the Colin Bakers ones). It remains so, but then it barely had any tools to play with as such (no decent enemy, no leading cast etc). For a Dalek double-header to run it close is staggering, but the quite appalling Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution Of The Daleks take some beating for pissing away what were once sinister, iconic baddies. They were just horrible, and I don’t want to talk about it, or that fecking atrocious Dalek/human hybrid ever again. Some people are giving the DVD of these episodes five stars on Amazon for feck’s sake. Have these people got eyes?

And so, five episodes in, this was the weakest season of the revived Who, and there was seemingly little hope around the corner. The next two episodes did little but offered a holding pattern and stopped the rot: both The Lazarus Experiment and 42 were fun enough in their own ways, but neither were highlights in any sense.

Yet in the space of the four episodes that followed, it’s all been turned around. And as a result, season three could now be the finest of the modern era. I am, clearly, not fickle.

The layered double header Human Nature/The Family Of Blood was, frankly, just brilliant, all the better for seemingly shooting out of nowhere. I quite like Tennant as the Doctor, but really liked Christopher Ecclestone a lot, so it was good to see DT so restrained for the majority of the story.

But what was great is that it took its time, it put its building blocks in place in much the same way they used to do with the classic Who stories. And it was tense. Interesting. Had people who could act. A proper story, superbly executed, even if part one was stronger.

And then there was Blink.

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Steven Moffat is a national treasure. Already responsible for the superbly strong children-with gas masks double header in series one, and the achingly great Girl In The Fireplace last year, Blink has surely marked him as a clever, top quality writer to be looked right up to.

As there was last year, this was the episode where – presumably for filming schedule reasons – the Doctor and Martha took a back seat. But unlike last year, Moffat embraced the freedom this offered, structuring an intelligent, genuinely jumpy episode, with terrific villains. More than one of my friends calls it the best episode ever. Personally, I wouldn’t go that far, but it can’t be too far off.

Then there was last Saturday’s. Perhaps it was the fanboy in me, because I’m convinced if I went back and rewatched Utopia I’d find it a standard episode as such (replete with RTD’s usual Captain Jack fancies the Doctor etc references).

But those last ten minutes! I was practically jumping up and down with joy at them. The watch! Genius! As my wife drolly commented as she looked across at me turning into a hypnotised, gleeful child: “you look like you’re about to wet yourself”. Cutting, but quite possibly true.

This was an episode ending for the old-time Who fan, and while the trailer for the following week leaves me a little unsure, we’re now in the midst of what is a three-part season finale, and my telly, sofa and telephone have been forewarned.

I must never lose faith in Doctor Who again. My lesson has been learned. Now don’t piss it all up the wall….

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