Tom Pheby ranks episodes five to seven from Series 8 of Doctor Who.
Three weeks ago I took a look at the opening four episodes of Series 8 and gave them marks out of 10. At that time my scoreboard looked like this...
It was a strong opening for Peter Capaldi's debut season, and I have to confess that things seem to be getting even better. So let's update the scoreboard, first we'll take a look at episode 5, Time Heist.
Take Minority Report, add Mission Impossible, Oceans Eleven and a dash of X-Men, give it a stir over a low intergalactic heat and you end up with Time Heist. It starts routinely enough with Clara looking forward to a second date with the disturbingly ordinary Danny Pink, but before we get the chance to witness another squirm-worthy encounter between the two, the TARDIS phone rings. Once answered the Time Lord and his love drunk assistant appear at a table full of sinister and undesirable waifs and strays to hear a message from the mysterious Architect outlining a mission (impossible).
The Doctor assumes control, much to everyone's annoyance including Psi, played by Jonathan Bailey who has a computer like brain and Saibra, played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, who can transform mystique style in to various other forms. As quickly as we are introduced to the characters, they are encouraged to rob the most secure bank (Karabraxos) in the galaxy. Having volunteered themselves without actually remembering doing so, thanks to an ugly memory worm - which looked remarkably similar to a meal from a Bush Tucker Trial!
The task is not without danger as the penalty for apprehension will not result in a cushy cell and nights watching Sky Sports, instead it's instant death. If that wasn't bad enough they encounter a creature called The Teller, a horseshoe headed rhino type creature that can refashion your skull into the shape of a crescent moon whilst reading your thoughts. Instead of don't Blink it's don't Think, a variation on what would appear to be an obsessive theme - blinking, breathing and now thinking. It'll be sneezing next year!
Keely Hawes turns in a fantastic performance as space dominatrix Ms Delphox, who turns out to be a clone of the banks owner, and she displays a deliciously ruthless streak to anyone threatening the impenetrable vaults - "Your next of kin will be informed and incarcerated, as further inducement to honest financial transactions." Perhaps it's the way to go to regulate Banks in this country to avoid financial ruination. Too extreme?
Capaldi continues to shine, appearing to grow in stature in every episode. He shows a lack of compassion when some are unfortunately lost to the cause, this appears to be a strand of the much promised darker side of this Doctor's persona.
Time Heist a well thought out story which unashamedly borrows from all and sundry. The twist that it's the Doctor himself which instigated the whole thing for selfless reasons is a nice touch. This episode has now become a firm favourite for me, hitting its stride from the start and delivering entertainment at a pace.
Moving on to The Caretaker, an episode that really gives Peter Capaldi every opportunity to reveal his comedic skills. As you'd expect, his timing is impeccable. He uses almost every scene to the max to show the Doctor's eccentric leanings and lays bare his quirky character. Posing as a Caretaker at Clara's (Coal Hill) School and clutching a broom as part of a well executed disguise, the Time Lord sets a trap for Skovox Blitzer - a bringer of death and destruction which threatens the existence of Earth.
The trouble is this pint sized bucket of bolts isn't dreadfully intimidating, and so it's hard to imagine that it could do anything other than chase you with a view to a good telling off. The episode is really all about the three main characters, and them discovering the truth about each other. So we have Danny Pink with his crap dating techniques and insecurities, Clara Oswald who yearns to be loved and admired, and The Doctor who needs his genius to be recognized and appreciated - the TARDIS isn't big enough for all this carrying on.
The dialogue is sharp, especially in the exchanges between Clara and The
Gallifreyan as he attempts to discover the object of her affections.
His haphazard attempts at compliments are dire "Have you had a wash?"
which continues on from the previous episodes observations "Why is your
face coloured in?", and when Clara pointed out "Heels!" the Time Lord
puzzles about their usefulness "What do you have to reach a high shelf?"
- clearly oblivious to the rigors of dating.
The Caretaker is a fun episode that ticks many boxes but it just falls short in some areas. Not in its interaction between the key players, but with the introduction of a less than fearsome alien that is firmly dispatched, not once but twice inside 72 hours. If we could overlook Mr Pink's out of the blue and out of context somersault, then it would fair much better. It's still enjoyable, but not nearly as good as the surrounding episodes
Episode 7, Kill the Moon, gives Jenna Coleman her best opportunity to make Clara Oswald the most memorable of all the Doctor's assistants. Here amid the red bobbled spiders, corpses and dying planet, she becomes involved in a moral dilemma not too dissimilar to the one in Genesis of the Daleks - should she allow an unborn creature to live or die?
Writer Peter Harness makes his Who debut and on the evidence of this it will not be his last. The Moon, it turns out, is just an egg waiting to hatch, but at what cost to Earth? So the powers that be send up a shuttle armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons to potentially blow it to smithereens if the outcome isn't to humanities liking. The use of a shuttle was one of the few baffling inclusions in an otherwise intriguing and inventive piece. Perhaps nobody gave a hoot about space exploration anymore and they sent a museum piece into the fray as a reminder of where it all went wrong.
Capaldi's Doctor bristles with selfishness and arrogant energy, ultimately leaving a Teacher (Coleman), an Astronaut (Hermione Norris), and a School Girl (Ellis George) to decide the outcome whilst he sneaks off out of the fray. Ellis George adds a little bit of a Grange Hill type cheek to the story, although quite why the Doctor has decided to take her on the mother of all field trips is a trifle baffling, but it is amusing when she calls in the middle of the drama to declare "I'm bored" - almost all parents must have at least smiled at that well worn announcement.
Clara lets her frustrations loose when she eventually catches up with the Doctor, and gives her best performance to date. Verbally assaulting the Doctor before giving him his marching orders and falling straight back into the arms of a philosophical Danny Pink (yeah, him again). I wish Danny would either become more central to the show or maybe just disappear via the TARDIS waste disposal unit. He's a distraction that isn't really working at this moment in time.
Kill The Moon was an entertaining, thought provoking, humorous and gritty episode, which for me has leapfrogged Listen to currently sit at the top of my scoreboard. So if we add the marks for these three episodes to the opening four, the scoreboard now looks something like this...
We'll update the scoreboard in three weeks, and see if any of the those
adventures can top Kill The Moon. In the meantime how would you rate the first seven episodes from series 8? Let us know in the comments below.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half
English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting
on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film
abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town
of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter