Tom Pheby addresses some of the criticisms leveled at Doctor Who and The Magician's Apprentice.
Doctor Who has returned for series 9 and it has caused a bit of a hoohah with some Whovians (which is very unusual -not!). Plot holes the size of asteroids, dull periods, the Doctor playing guitar (which I rather liked), Missy being unproductive and first speaking in an English then a Scottish one (come on people, get a grip), and finally Clara being irrelevant - these are just some of the issues that appear to have been bugging viewers sooo much that they have to head straight for the nearest social media group and put the show to rights.
According to reports 4.6m viewers watched The Magician's Apprentice, compared with 6.8m for Capaldi's debut last year. Again, this is something that certain areas of fandom seem to take as justification that they were right all along and Doctor Who is not as good as it used to be (sigh!).
Personally I'm unconcerned by this type of nonsense, preferring to look at quality rather than quantity - and during The Magician's Apprentice there was a considerable amount of the former. Visually brilliant and a million miles away from the cobbled together sets it suffered in its early days, the series nine opening episode felt like a lavish modern production, yet still a little retro at the same time.
Initially I didn't quite know what to make of Capaldi in the role of the Doctor. Fine actor, yes, but the first season was all over the place, and even though there were glimpses of something special, I wasn't entirely convinced on the whole. I felt that Capaldi merited much better. This immensely talented actor/writer/director was just knocking on the door without ever going through, but now it appears that he may get the scripts and story arcs that he deserves - let's hope so anyway as he doesn't need another mixed bag of episodes that range from bad, mediocre, good and could've been better.
It is, of course, very early to make assumptions about the season ahead solely on the evidence of just one episode - but what an episode it was! Davros, the Daleks, Missy and Skaro, it was like Christmas had come early in my house. Plus Capaldi is now wearing the time lords sizeable shoes with comparative ease. He was compelling, intriguing and even commanding. All those jagged edges from the introductory period have been smoothed off and we now have the finished product that is the Twelfth Doctor. A Doctor which combines troubled time traveler, eccentric genius and quirky comedian.
A handful of moaning minnie's have said that Missy was irrelevant to the story, but I firmly disagree. There's clearly more to come from Gomez in this two-part adventure, and I love the way she dances and prances about like psychotic nanny, delivering the most preposterous lines with a quirky calmness and then manic insanity within seconds. She could never be irrelevant to anything with that much screen presence!
Gomez is an absolute delight to watch. Yes it would be easy to dismiss her role in the opener as just a glorified cameo, but it would be immensely naive of any fan to think she's involved for appearances sake only or just because she was a hit at the close of series 8. I have no doubt that Moffat has used the character here for reasons which will become clear.
When Moffat finally departs, this version of the Master could continue for some time. I know the Moff has hogged all the Missy stories to date, but writers must be cueing up to pen an episode with her in it. I recently rewatched The Mark of the Rani which starred the fabulous Kate O'Mara, and its hard not to make some comparisons between her approach to the Rani and Gomez's Missy. Gomez can steal a scene with little or no effort, really just by doing nothing in particular, she is just so immensely watchable, and this was also a trait of the late O'Mara (and, to pay respect where due, Roger Delgardo too).
But The Magician's Apprentice was all about Capaldi. He's never looked cooler, especially playing guitar on a tank and cracking jokes to an oblivious audience dressed in table cloths. Those bemoaning Matt Smith's replacement for being "too old" must surely now be warming to his incarnation of the Doctor?
He is older, for sure, but that has its benefits, especially in terms of how the fella acts and appears on screen.
His face is like a leather map, it tells a story on its own and requires merely a look or a stare to reflect a predicament. In the opener his changeable features showed vulnerability, regret and guilt. This is the type of thing some actors would never be capable of developing - Hugh Grant can't express milk from a cow, let alone demonstrate anger, remorse or torment. Roger Moore has similar issues and looks like he's about to order a cocktail in any scene that requires more than a modest tweak of an eyebrow. Capaldi has been around the block and worked incredibly hard to achieve his credibility and its paid off handsomely. Really, is there a better 'face' for a 2000 year old Timelord?
Moffat revels in toying with the viewers, bending Who's history to almost breaking point to fashion new story lines and arcs - but why not? To survive the series has to use its past to make its future. It's fun to revisit an idea and turn it into something else, and Moffat's certainly not the first show-runner to do so - no one reflected on the past more than John Nathan-Turner (with varied success, it has to be said).
At its best, Doctor Who remains an exceptional show, and even if viewing figures slide and it returns to the status of 'cult' rather than mainstream television, wouldn't we all rather have it on air than be without it? The thing is that many of us have grown up with Who and feel we are part owners of show, but really we are merely along for the ride, enjoying the best times and sometimes enduring the worst. But good, bad or indifferent it must continue.
The plot holes that people are talking about are unresolved at present because we haven't yet seen the second part to allow any explanation. It almost feels ridiculous to have to even point this out, but maybe the lack of two-part stories in recent years has led to people forgetting this? So give the Moff a break on this one. I'll admit I'm not his biggest fan at times (especially when he speaks to the press which normally irks) but when he's on the money, he really is!
So yes, it's early days but I'm expecting a very solid season. One that's overdue, and one that on the evidence of just a single episode I am prepared to take a chance, stick my neck out and claim that series 9 will be the best for many years. We seem to be edging more towards the classic series' approach, and maybe that was why Capaldi was entrusted with the role in the first place - to bring that gravitas and add a new persona and dimension. I feel as if the best of the Twelfth Doctor is yet to come, fingers firmly crossed.
It's frustrating to wait until Saturday to find out how all the pieces of this particular puzzle fit together. I'll be counting down the days To The Witch's Familiar, like I suspect many of you will be. Trapped and alone on Skara, no Sonic, no Tardis - will the Doctor be able to put everything right?
You just know that he will and that all will come good in the end. But the fun of Who is watching him do just that. And seeing him do it in such magnificent style is something no-one should be complaining about.
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