Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Oh my goodness. I've been quiet, too quiet. Not for once, because nothing very much has been happening, but because almost everything has been happening all at the same time.

The consequences for this blog are two-fold.

1) Since everything was changing I decided that this blog should change too, and I moved it all across to a new blog, with a different design and a (hopefully) much better name.

2) But because everything was changing I never got around to actually making it visible. Or telling anyone.

So, if you all could recalibrate your browsers, update your favourites and rejig your hyperlinks, you will find that all of this, plus some new stuff, is available at appropinquabat.blogspot.com. Yes, much better isn't it. I nearly forked out for a domain and everything but, you know.

I'll change my mind again at some point, but for now that's what's happening. Or, at least, that is a tiny fraction of what's happening, but that this the totality of what's happening with regard to this blog.

Thank you.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Deep Breath

Obviously, I have had nothing else going on in my life for last nine months, but now, from my slumber, my hibernation, I awake at last, and with a Deep Breath.

I'm not sure I should be writing about new Doctor Who. When I began I was revisiting old episodes, watching them again with hindsight, and that's really easy to do: the original viewing sets a benchmark, everything that has happened since provides context, and all one needs to do to have an opinion is short the differential between the two.

But now I've caught up, and that makes it harder. We don't know where this is going and all I can do is make snap judgments - and I am sure to disagree with myself in the future.

The upshot of this hand-wringing is that I am (of course) going to write about this episode now but with the proviso that these aren't my final, considered thoughts. That comes later, after the end of the season, after the end of this Doctor, or the next.

But, for now, I was thrown, initially, by the slower pace. This is part of the much-vaunted change in style we were promised by this year's fearsome publicity machine but, despite the warnings, I found myself missing the helter-skelter zinginess of the last few years. A second viewing helped enormously, and it became clear how key moments benefitted from a slower treatment. Vastra's admonishment of Clara; the Doctor's haranguing of a tramp; the restaurant reunion; Clara's eye-bulging, lung-bursting escape attempt. These scenes all enjoyed space and time that has not been available recently. But for all that, the running time is still a gargantuan seventy-six minutes and some moments beg to be cut, most obviously Clara's medical - included to honour a Blue Peter competition. A few trims elsewhere (why all the writing on the floor with the chalk?) and this episode could at least have cantered along between the slower, more significant scenes.

Wisely, given that there is so much to be done with the Doctor and Clara, Moffat serves up a simple and familiar plot. The return of the clockwork robots from the 51st century is very welcome, especially when they provide such striking visuals and visceral scares as they do here. Half-Face Man looks amazing, partly down to the astonishing effects work, and partly due to a lovely performance by Peter Ferdinando: a combination of jarring robotic movements and snarling desperation that gives way, before the end, to a touching humanity. With their penchant for body parts and an implacable indefatigability, these robots are formidable and truly scary. Inadvertently they show us what a Cyberman story is supposed to look like - especially in the wonderful moment when Clara uses logic to resist Half-Face Man's threats and make him reveal his plans.

Coleman is great throughout, and a chief beneficiary of this slower pacing that allows Clara to show more of her character than has so far been possible since The Bells of Saint John. She is rightly shocked and unnerved by the regeneration, indignant, learned and eloquent at Vastra, resourceful and brave when she tries to escape the robots, and so, so clever during her interrogation. At the end, and most importantly, she demonstrates her compassion for this strange man who has replaced her friend.

And what about this new Doctor? Well, if nothing else Capaldi and Moffat are clearly a good fit for each other ("Don't look in the mirror? It's furious!"), but there is more to his performance than just getting all the best lines. On the muddy shore of the Thames, Capaldi, distractedly rattling out his thoughts, gives us a few final hand-flapping moments of the Eleventh Doctor. In the bedroom, this has become confusion and genuine desperation, and it is this vulnerability, which comes to the fore once again at the end of the episode, that it is more interesting and surprising than the darker steeliness which we knew to expect. It's not the fury or the shell-shock that Eccleston's Doctor kept hidden away, neither is it the loneliness of Tennant, or the sudden weeping of Smith. This Doctor is keenly aware of and embarrassed by how pathetic he looks to Clara, but he absolutely needs her. He is at her mercy, waiting for her to see the man she knows inside the stranger before her.

Really, of course, he is speaking to us, asking us not to reject him. This makes it all the more surprising that Moffat brings in Matt Smith at that very moment to make the point on Capaldi's behalf. It's a very brave decision. By then, having survived the adventure and watched the Twelfth Doctor gradually assert himself, I was ready to accept him - the sudden reappearance of the old Doctor only served to make me realise how much I missed him. But, as much as it forces the audience to compare Smith and Capaldi, it does also absolutely sell the idea that they are indeed the same man, either side of a great change and, of course, it's a typical, ballsy, pull-the-rug-from-under-you moment from Steven Moffat.

The Eleventh Doctor was a wonderful fixer - he refused to accept any defeat, any reverse. He rebooted the Universe and restored Amy's family, he repeatedly saved her marriage with Rory, he reached back into his own past to save River Song, and even to circumvent the destruction of Gallifrey. Now we see his last act was to fix his own future and, anticipating Clara's disappointment, save her and himself from this rejection. Neither we nor Clara can resist him.

More than anything else though, this episode is full of hints and glimpses of what this Doctor has ahead of him. Watching him rebuild himself is fun, but I want to see this new persona in action and to learn the answers to the questions raised here: why did he choose this face? Did Half-Face Man jump, or was he pushed? And who is the, er, eccentric character played by Michelle Gomez in full Sue White mode?

Luckily we have eleven weeks in which to answer these questions, to get used to Capaldi's Doctor and for this new era to bed down and become the new normal. And after all that, we can look back at Deep Breath and, perhaps, see it properly for the first time.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Time of the Doctor

As much as I enjoyed this episode, it misses a major trick by underselling its key dramatic moment far too cheaply. The result is a good but slightly puzzling story, when perhaps we could have had a transcendent, wonderful one.

I'm not moaning about the beneficence of the Time Lords, or the eventual regeneration - no, the critical moment turns up about half-way through and it passes without any fanfare, despite the fact that it is possibly the most extraordinary thing to happen in Doctor Who since he first regenerated, possibly since he abandoned Susan.

The Doctor stops.

For as long as we have known him, the Doctor has been running. Running from the Time Lords, running around the Universe, running from his responsibilities. When the Time Lords caught him, they punished him by fixing him in place, pinning him to Earth, and it infuriated him. The thought of resuming his presidency made the Fifth Doctor wince. The Tenth Doctor ran from his own demise and then railed and fumed when it finally knocked.

Then here, on Trenzalore, in his last life (more on that later), he finds himself in an unwinnable situation. A stalemate that cannot be broken, only preserved. A peace that can only be enforced if he gives up his travels, his lifestyle, his freedom - and stays still for the rest of this life.

It's a big moment, no? And although I'm not sure I'd want the wailing and gnashing of teeth we saw from Tennant in The End of Time, I do think it could have, and should have, sat a little more heavily on the Eleventh Doctor. As it happens on screen, it's not even clear that he has actively made such a decision. It might be that he just reacts impulsively, and that he only stays because the TARDIS doesn't promptly return from dropping off Clara.

Either way, I think the story suffers from not clearly showing us the Doctor's resolve at that moment: to stay no matter what. We need to see that he knows what he is giving up, even if it is done willingly. Without it, especially on a first viewing, the episode seems to drifts into unfamiliar territory after that point, with voice-overs filling in great swathes of lost time, and the youthful Eleventh Doctor disappearing from the story. Eventually, once Clara comes back, we get a scene where some of this is explained - but it would have been better to have known where we were going, rather than be told where we had arrived.

The same is true of the revelation (during that same conversation) that the Doctor is in his final body. I remember that when The Curse of Fatal Death aired some silly fans complained that this it was part of a BBC conspiracy to finally kill off Doctor Who by using up all his future regenerations in one go. I never had any truck with the more paranoid elements of fandom, but it is head-spinning to have whizzed from a tally of ten regenerations to twelve, and now thirteen, all within six months. There is no sense in which Doctor Who is an exhaustible resource, but I do think that I was rather looking forward to having a Thirteenth Doctor that threatened to be the last. It would have been interesting and new to see him affected by a sense of his own mortality, and it would have leant some extra drama to events building up to his eventual (and inevitable) regeneration.

But here again, we don't get to savour the moment. Thanks to the War Doctor and Tennant2, it turns out that we have already had our twelfth regeneration and that the Eleventh Doctor has been mortal all this time. I wish we had known (it would certainly have added weight to The Impossible Astronaut, if nothing else) but instead we have only twenty minutes or so to adjust to the idea before the whole matter is resolved.

I sympathise with the fannish fear that the notion of a 'last' Doctor is a precarious one - dangerous rapids that should be navigated as quickly as possible - but Moffat knows the show has never been more secure than it is now. The hurried culmination of the regeneration cycle has come about more as an accident of scheduling and casting as anything else: the co-incidence of the Fiftieth barrelling straight into a Christmas Special on the one hand, and the unwillingness of Eccleston to return for the anniversary coupled with Smith's decision to leave on the other.

Anyway, once again I have spent a great deal of time describing a small quibble. I have others that can be dealt with more quickly: I don't like using monsters piecemeal like this - it's useful shorthand, but their threat and their significance is reduced as a result. The long-promised answers we got weren't so much loose threads tied up as dead-ends closed off in so much that the answers didn't reveal but merely made the questions redundant. And although the latest explanations of The Crack and the Oldest Question make sense, they do have a whiff of reinvention about them.

But again, these are tiny quibbles and although it could have been even better, this was still a very enjoyable story and full of things to love. The opening ten minutes was completely manic, but chock full of some great jokes; Handles was a lovely addition and a K9 substitute with all of the advantages and none of the problems. Smith doesn't disappoint (has he ever?) and Coleman continues to shine as Clara, a companion who gets better and better as time goes on. Even if she was dangerously peripheral for some of this story, her intervention was crucial (as in The Day of the Doctor) and her reaction to the regeneration, when it came, was fantastic: for the first time in the new series (alright, unless you count Journey's End), the Doctor's demise was witnessed by someone who knew what was happening. Her fear and anxiety were thrillingly discomforting.

And the end itself was lovely: the bow tie discarded, tumbling to the floor; Amy's apparition, benevolent and cathartic... And then, in an instant, he was gone and a new man stood in his place. That was a great trick. It feels right to try and wrongfoot an audience that might think it knows the score. Capaldi doesn't have much opportunity to show his credentials (on first viewing I hankered for him to appear in the bell tower and finish the job that the old Doctor had left behind..), but then that's not the point.

The point is that shimmering blink of an eye when everything changes, when everything is up for grabs and for once, as the TARDIS careers off through the Universe, the question is not where next, but Who?

I can't wait to find out.

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Day of the Doctor

I didn't mean to take a whole month before writing about The Day of the Doctor, but I'm glad I didn't have to think coherently about it straight away. That weekend turned out to be an incredibly intense experience, with The Day of the Doctor, An Adventure in Space and Time, The Five(ish) Doctors and many other shows needing to be watched and then rewatched. It was a lot to take in, and I'm very happy that I wasn't expected to think critically about any of it while I was still watching. Instead I was able to just revel in the absurd and wonderful weekend when Doctor Who (the show that gave us the Myrka, don't forget) delighted a global audience of seventy-five million people.

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. This was an excellent anniversary story that delivered everything that could reasonably have been asked of it, and much more that couldn't even have been imagined. There's so much to talk about, and I'm going to forget some things, but here's what still stands out for me now, a month later.

It begins with a very original opening or, rather, the original opening. Monochrome titles and Delia Derbyshire's unmatchable version of the theme - both still gobsmackingly good and, after a sensible rest from our screens, still retaining the power to shock and delight. Better yet, is there a more suitable way to drive home the point that this is still the same show. Like Trigger's shovel, everything has changed, but this is still Doctor Who.

Much of this episode is whizz-bang fantastic, with great stunts and some extraordinary 3D action over Gallifrey. There are plenty of these kisses to the past throughout the show, but most of them are almost invisible jokes, tucked away in props or muttered comments, to be enjoyed on repeated viewings. But, although the bells and whistles are marvellous, although the Daleks, Zygons, UNIT and Rose all return for their anniversary bow, they're not essential to the unwinding of this story. At last the focus of the programme has come to rest squarely on its lead character, and the result is spellbinding.

The essence of drama since ancient times has been someone talking to themself. Only Doctor Who, of course, can take a soliloquy and turn it into a three-handed conversation. But the point is that this is not a multi-Doctor story in the way we have known it before. In the original series, the character of the Doctor was so much less well defined and, if different versions met, it was their costumes that varied most, and any differences of demeanour resulted as much from the personalities of the actors as anything else. In The Five Doctors, they take turns being the Doctor, even when they're in the same scene. This time we get something else.

That scene in the dungeon of the Tower is centrepiece of a wonderful drama, the lynchpin of the story. Three versions of the same man, locked together, forced to converse and through doing so revealing how they have changed. These aren't personality clashes forced by the arbitrary neural-rewiring of regeneration - at last, the Doctor is portrayed as someone affected by the passage of time, a character moulded by events. Imagine yourself, at 20, at 35, at 50 - trapped in a room. The youngest is eager to find out what happens; the oldest, perhaps, has tried to move on. In between them is a man who regrets his mistakes, who resents the vanished opportunities of youth, and who can't forgive the old man for the fact that he seemingly no longer cares.

That's what we get here, told through three superb performances. Hurt, the young Doctor, watches his older selves with some humour. Smith, impossibly old, trying to remember, but it was all so long ago. Tennant does it with a look. When the Eleventh Doctor mutters that he has no idea how many children were on Gallifrey, the Tenth glances at him - surprised, disgusted, but most of all horrified. What will I become? For most of us, that's a disturbing thought - how much more so for a Time Lord.

Moffat (such a clever trick with the sonic - we thought they were different, but they were always the same) forces even the most casual and incurious member of the Saturday night audience to see these three actors as the same man, not just sharing a title, but the same internal life, the same memories and thoughts. The younger can rekindle hope in the older two; the old dogs can show the whelp that the future is worth fighting for. Youth and experience combine to undo past mistakes, without evading their consequences.

The Doctor is the centre of the episode, of the story, of the whole anniversary, and the restoration of Gallifrey is a fitting present for the old man. It's very slickly done too, the technology of it so far off the scale that it doesn't, can't and shouldn't matter that we have no idea how it's being achieved. If you're worrying about that when the skies fill with TARDISes, I can't help you. Most importantly, perhaps, Moffat manages to reengineer the fate of Gallifrey without trampling over what has gone before - the Ninth Doctor will still be guilt-ridden and traumatised; in another room, Rassilon still plots his own escape. And how fitting that the Doctor should be able to take his greatest defeat and turn it into a victory: Gallifrey not destroyed but saved, his own self not damned but redeemed.

Then, not content with giving us every single previous Doctor, Moffat throws in a couple of future ones. I must confess, the sight of Capaldi's Eyes made me gasp aloud and I'm sure that, even were I to make it to the 100th anniversary, that would still be one of the most thrilling moments in the series' history. But the killer blow belongs to that genius loci of Doctor Who, Tom Baker, back in the programme for the first time in thirty years to play a mercurial future incarnation. It's an emotional moment (how wonderful to see him and Smith together), and a suitably timey-wimey way to salute both past and future.

There's so much more to talk about (incredible direction from Nick Hurran, astonishing production design) but not enough time to do it justice. But I can't not say how good it was to have David Tennant back as the Doctor. I know some feel that his and RTD's era was being sent up slightly, but this really isn't the case - it was more of a greatest hits package, condensed perhaps but without condescension. And Moffat's tenure got just as much needle, not least Hurt's complaints about Smith's flapping hands or the childlike "timey-wimey" (gifting Tennant the best joke of the script: "I've no idea where he gets it from"). He, Hurt and Smith combined beautifully, and the result was brilliantly funny, even joyous - perfectly pitched for an anniversary episode.

Piper and Coleman were also excellent, the former's return astutely executed by Moffat: any further return for Rose herself would have been difficult, if not downright irritating, and her appearance as the Moment/Bad Wolf was just right - simultaneously full of meaning, portent and nostalgia. Coleman had a more difficult job perhaps. Companions can get lost or over-looked in the most straightforward of episodes, but holding her own amongst all this hoopla was no mean feat. Clara's contribution is impossibly important, for it is she who, at the last gasp, forces the Doctor to fulfil his promise. In that moment Clara represents every companion, and justifies the very existence of the role in the show. It is a big deal.

But Clara does something else, right at the top of the episode, that although easily overlooked might be even more important. She ploughs her motorbike through the TARDIS doors. Now, they can keep pulling off this trick every week as far as I'm concerned, because it is superb. It's a perfectly executed entrance shot - a breathtaking composition that takes Clara (and us) from an exterior location, through the TARDIS doors and into the studio set. But this is more than just showing off - this journey, replayed again and again throughout the show's history, is a strand of the programme's DNA, as distinct and as important as the Police Box, the music or the Daleks.

The very first episode, fifty years ago, pivoted around that extraordinary transition, dramatically, technically and in other ways besides. Perhaps we take it for granted, but every time someone moves through those doors, stepping from junkyard to shining white control room, or out into a petrified jungle, a space station, or a country house, we are witnessing the essential magic of Doctor Who. From the outside, that little box is perfectly unassuming - but once the threshold has been crossed, suddenly the spaces on both sides of the doors are full of wonders.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Night of the Doctor

I squeed. I did. Unashamedly. Paul McGann, back on screen as the Eighth Doctor? For nearly seven whole minutes? Now, that's an anniversary special right there. I don't care if it's 'just' a webisode, or an online exclusive. It's Doctor Who, written by Steven Moffat, starring Paul McGann, and it has a flaming regeneration in it. There's no way this doesn't properly, absolutely, definitively count.

And, luckily, it's really good. McGann's Doctor, in stasis for seventeen years (sort of), bounces back on to the screen just the same as he ever was. A little more weathered perhaps, but still the witty, compassionate, charismatic man we met in San Francisco all those years ago. I don't think Moffat writes the Doctor differently for McGann than he would for more recent incarnations. When Cass asks why they are heading to the back of the ship, the Doctor replies with that wonderful line "Because the front crashes first. Think it through." That's a line that Tennant or Smith would have had too; the Tenth Doctor might have said it breathlessly, the Eleventh absently, both of them stating the obvious. McGann delivers it patiently, with a suspicion of dry humour. His is the warmest of the Doctor's many personalities and that shows here, even in the darkest of contexts.

It's lovely to see him again. When the TV movie came out I was so excited that I got myself into a bit of a state and blinded myself to its considerable flaws. But McGann was always perfect for the part and for many years afterwards he remained the incumbent Doctor. No television episodes were made, of course, between 1996 and 2005, but the Eighth Doctor appeared in hundreds of stories during that time - in audio adventures produced by Big Finish, in a range of monthly novels published by BBC Books, and in Doctor Who Magazine's regular comic strip - and some of them, particularly Scott Gray's comics, are genuinely outstanding.

Troughton's the best Doctor. Tom Baker's the one I saw first; Davison is the one I grew up with. Hartnell is the original, Tennant the most popular and Smith is, blimey, you have to say he's right up there with Troughton, and sometimes even better.

But Paul McGann is my Doctor; from beginning to end, and through everything we imagined in between.


Friday, 22 November 2013

The Name of the Doctor

Immediately this feels like something very special indeed. Still months (or hours) away from the 50th Anniversary, we are unexpectedly treated to a montage of previous Doctors, the highlight of which is seeing the First Doctor in the process of stealing himself a TARDIS. The significance couldn't be clearer: this is a story that started, as the caption reminds us, a very long time ago.

When we started re-watching these new episodes with Rose, the re-launched programme seemed to be almost in denial that it had a past. The premise, the core of the show may have been intact, but it can't be denied that there was something zealous about that first episode and something almost iconoclastic about the pairing of the Ninth Doctor and Rose compared with what had gone before. It was the right thing to do at the time - the audience need to know that they were getting something new, something revamped - but look where we are today.

At some point the Doctor regained his posh accent and his frock-coat; words like Gallifrey and Valeyard have crept back into the scripts; now the original black and white First Doctor, is stood there talking, on a Saturday night in 2013: a fifty year old continuity reference for a programme that is continually changing and yet always the same.

Once this particular episode gets underway it is chock-full of delights: Strax in Glasgow; Jenny and Vastra's trippy conference call; River' appearing in a puff of smoke and her disgraceful glass of champagne. But that's just for starters.

"I think I've been murdered!" Jenny's fearful cry is macabre and chilling - a heart-stilling moment, as a single tear flows down her cheek. Later on she'll be fine and I felt, originally, that this undermined the impact of her implied death. Watching it again, knowing that she isn't ever supposed to die, softens that blow, but this line is still an absolute killer.

The Doctor is Informed. Smith is running out of chances to dazzle us with his Doctor, but this is an opportunity seized. On hearing the mysterious prophecy for himself, the Doctor is devastated, utterly crushed in a way we have never seen before. It's a quiet moment, a private grief. Smith is extraordinary.

That Landing. The Doctor can't go to Trenzalore; the TARDIS won't. The closest it will go is to materialise in orbit above the planet, but the Doctor has no choice. He switches off whatever is keeping it up in the sky and the TARDIS plummets, smashing into the surface like a hammer blow. It appears to be undamaged, except for a single cracked pane of glass in one of the front windows - an ominous sign of vulnerability.

The Tomb of the Doctor. The dead TARDIS shell looms like a mountain over the countless graves, relics of a final battle. There's something irresistibly Arthurian about this set-up, with Trenzalore as a latter day Camlann. As with Arthur, it's only death that can allow us to look backwards at the Doctor and his significance. Like Arthur, something of the Doctor can and must survive, sleeping away within his tomb.

"The dimensional forces this deep in the TARDIS, they can make you a bit giddy!" It's absurdly easy to please a Doctor Who fan. Just recycle a line of dialogue from an episode they watched when they were five years old and wait for them to notice. About three-quarters of a second should do it.

The Doctor's Remains. Or the tracks of his tears as he calls it. Whatever it actually is, instead of a body or a catafalque, Moffat has come up with something else, something that can double as a visual metaphor for the Doctor's life, and therefore for the history of the programme itself. That's ingenious, but it is also beautiful and, perhaps most importantly, allows for vague character actions depending on the needs of the script.

Hang on... So the Great Intelligence's plan is to visit (or, in some cases, revisit) every moment of the Doctor's existence and change it for the worse. That's spiteful to say the least. Also, it's not clear how he is going to pull this off. For example, the last time he tried to kill the Doctor, he failed. Why is he going to succeed if he has another go at that point in time? The implication is that occupying the shiny-timey-life-lightning somehow grants him admin privileges over the Doctor's life, but it's by no means clear. Also, wouldn't this be one of the moments he visited?

Um... So then Clara jumps inside too, in order to try and prevent (or undo, again it's not clear) the damage that the Great Intelligence has wrought. I can't help but think this would cause both her and G.I. to appear simultaneously at every point in the Doctor's timeline. What do they do then? Rock/Paper/Scissor? How does Clara's desired outcome trump that of the Great Intelligence, and does she have any effect at all (other than in the Dalek asylum and in Victorian London) when all she seems to do is shout 'Doctor!'. Either she can be heard, in which case she is responsible for saving him somehow (but he has never spotted her?) or he can't hear her, in which case what is she doing?

But! Sorry, I'm not so much nitpicking as trying to get my head around it, but what can't be denied is that this is glorious. Clara is fantastic here, sacrificing herself for the Doctor even though it feels like they've only really just met, and if her insertion into all the important moments of his life is difficult to swallow, at least we can see that initial meeting on Gallifrey played out in full. That one definitely makes sense and marvellously ties this newest episode to the very beginning of the programme in 1963.

The Doctor and River. Wow, where did this come from? The Doctor grabs River's invisible, insubstantial hand...
RIVER: How are you even doing that? I'm not really here.
THE DOCTOR: You are always here to me. And I always listen, and I can always see you.
...and they talk. Finally, after years of dancing around the subject, the Doctor is allowed to be unambiguously romantic, even passionate. And it is fantastic. Despite idle chatter that we might not have seen the last of Professor Song, this is surely a perfect place to stop following their relationship. This conversation is a coda to Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead but the two stories bookend this romance with satisfying symmetry. Except... that last "Spoilers!" from River... If that's hinting at anything new...

That Caption. Where the hell does Clara end up? The Doctor says they are still inside his timestream, but that's no answer. Where is this space that has all the different Doctors running hither and yon? Maybe we'll find out tomorrow, you never know. Wherever we are, we are here for one reason. The Doctor's secret is revealed: a previously unknown incarnation, albeit one that doesn't appear to 'count' as a Doctor. At last, we understand the last of Moffat's many red herrings and the title of this episode: this was never about revealing the Doctor's name. What would be the point? Were we ever to discover that his name was Kevin, or Ulysses or Whovoratrelundar, what would we do with that information except go "Huh, so now we know."? It would add nothing, and take so much away. The title refers to the name of 'The Doctor' and the significance that this adopted moniker has accumulated over the years. For both the character and the show, it means something different now than it did in 1963. Whoever this other guy is, his behaviour isn't worthy of the name of the Doctor.

So it's a little bit confusing when five seconds later words are smashed against the inside of our televisions: INTRODUCING-boom. JOHN HURT-boom. AS-boom. THE DOCTOR-boom. It's certainly attention grabbing, but it's not any less intrusive than Graham Norton's cartoon face turning up over the end The Time of Angels is it? Also, is he called the Doctor or not? I'm guessing he is, on the basis that Moffat writes the captions and there's no rule that says the Doctor has to agree with them.

Ah well, that's presumably something else that'll get sorted out tomorrow. November 23rd, 2013: the fiftieth anniversary of Totters Lane, "this doesn't roll along on wheels you know", and a strangely elongated silhouette. The Day of the Doctor.

I am quite excited.


Nightmare in Silver

I seem to remember being rather ambivalent about this one when I saw it back in May, although I certainly wasn't annoyed by the children. Some grown up fans seem to be incensed by the presence of Angie and Artie, as if they were Scrappy Doo or something. It's a nice twist to involve some children once in a while, and to let them see a bit of the Universe - just was it was nice to have Rory's dad meet the dinosaurs on that spaceship.

One of Doctor Who's key strengths is its intergenerational audience: today's grandparents were the kids who watched Hartnell and Troughton, and today's kids are the grandparents of the future who will sit down with their grandchildren and watch the adventures of the Twenty-Second Doctor. The whole thing knits together, forwards and backwards, and yes, teenagers can seem a bit stroppy, but that's just how they communicate! Angie, forced to spend her formative years in the period that future generations will refer to as the Great Snark, is doing pretty well I think.

And come on, we have Cybermen to obsess about! Gaiman's brief was, apparently, to make them scary again and I think we have to call this a partial success. The Cybermen are redefined and redesigned and there are some nice touches - but do we end up with a coherent idea of what the Cybermen are these days? Their reputation seems to have undergone the most radical adjustment. The Cybermen are now an unstoppable force - whole galaxies have been destroyed just to contain their menace. Their most recent catchphrase "Upgrade!" has become a battlefield mantra, and individual units can now download physical improvements in seconds in response to perceived deficiencies on the ground (we see them develop resistance to high electrical voltages and to anti-Cybermen guns), although the inference is that this can only happen when a Cyber-Planner is active and networked.

Other new features include heads that can twist backwards, or be removed entirely in order to be used as lures or distractions. Then there detachable hands that can operate independently, and a super-speed mode. In other words, these guys have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves for stealth, sneaking and infiltration. Which is good. I like that. Let's have more sneaking, creeping, and hiding in shadows from the Cybermen. But does it make sense? These new models are relentless, practically invulnerable, and there are millions of them - why would they ever need to sneak around? That's a tactic employed by fragile units, ones that are outnumbered or who lack armour and need to manufacture an advantage through mobility or cunning. These Cybermen are anthropomorphic tanks, they have no anxiety about casualties, and they can eliminate any weakness from their bodies instantly. They could just walk forwards, five abreast (and at normal speed), and never be defeated.

I think the Cybermen can either be invulnerable or spooky. They can't be both, and I think one is much more interesting than the other.

The Cybermites are good, and certainly an excellent upgrade to the clunky old Cybermats. The defunct Cyberman converted into a Silver Turk and playing chess is a wonderful image, but the key thing here, as with the reinvention in Dalek, is to humiliate the Cybermen before they can impress. Some aspects of this new paradigm are just plain bad though: what is that ridiculous shrug-of-the-shoulders walk they have? They look like they're playing at choo-choo trains!

So these Cybermen look great, but they've been rendered a bit dull; not only do we hardly get a whiff of their trademark body horror (their esprit de corps you might say), but they don't really say anything either. They maintain an imposing physical threat, but they've lost their psychological menace. Possibly because their brains are being used by the Cyber-Planner, and he doesn't shut up at all.

This is a really strong element in this episode, mainly thanks to the incredible effort Matt Smith has put into delivering both sides of a ginormous battle of wits. The duel between the Doctor and the Cyber-Planner is very satisfying, full of subterfuge, feints and clever touches: the Golden Ticket, the Doctor's voices, writing a note for Clara while the other half of the brain has control of the mouth, and more besides. Presumably, the reason why the Cyber-Planner exhibits all sorts of emotions is something to do with the Doctor's brain being involved?

Elsewhere Clara turns out, rather surprisingly, to be an extremely effective commanding officer, Jason Watkin's Webley is another of those nicely grubby characters ("Uniforms give me the heebie-jeebies."), and Warwick Davies prevents Emperor Porridge from turning into a spoiled dilettante. It's a lovely performance: a ruler, supposedly distant and aloof, who can't stop himself worrying about the consequences of his decisions. He could come across as irresponsible, but he's actually all heart. Thanks to these characters and odd little side-references they make, we get a real sense from this episode of a wider universe and a future human empire.

I enjoyed it a lot, particularly Smith's dual role, and it's certainly a good episode. But, for whatever reason, we still haven't worked out what to do with the Cybermen...