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Mark Gatiss (#110 of 11)

Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War”

Macall B. Polay/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 4, “The Spoils of War”

As epic and satisfying as it is to finally see dragons and Dothraki face off against the Lannisters outside of King’s Landing, the more important battle of “The Spoils of War” is between Game of Thrones’s two types of storytelling. The first, which plagues the episode’s first 20 minutes, is the stuff of pure exposition: tactical discussions, cryptic premonitions, and theory. At best, the language occasionally crackles in the right hands, as with the way in which Mark Gatiss cloyingly portrays the Iron Bank’s representative, Tycho Nestoris. “Arithmetic, not sentiment” makes for the sort of too-calculated approach that can swamp an episode before it even begins. It’s not much better when Jon Snow (Kit Harington) invites Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to view the obsidian tunnels beneath Dragonstone. Sure, there are cave drawings that show the Children and the First Men fighting together against the wights, but that convenient bit of ancient history simply isn’t compelling.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

There are currently two queens vying for control of Westeros, and the latest episode of Game of Thrones centers around the ways in which they rule. “The Queen’s Justice” is an effective summary of the various futures and beliefs for which the protagonists are all fighting for, but much of the episode feels as if it’s going through familiar motions. First there’s Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), stuck repeating the lessons of her father, Tywin. Her sense of justice is nothing more than revenge, and we already saw that play out in the far more masterful “The Winds of Winter.” And then there’s Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who stands in direct contrast to Cersei by distancing herself from her own father, apologizing to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) for Mad King Aerys’s evil, but then again, that’s also nothing new for her.

Doctor Who Recap Season 10, Episode 9, “Empress of Mars”

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 10, Episode 9, “Empress of Mars”

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 10, Episode 9, “Empress of Mars”

Mark Gatiss can usually be counted on to write Doctor Who episodes that are reliably suspenseful but don’t often stretch the show’s boundaries. He does it again with this week’s “Empress of Mars,” a successful standalone adventure which combines elements from two of his better past efforts, both from 2013. From “Cold War” comes the Ice Warriors, a race of reptilian Martians, who first appeared in Doctor Who 40 years ago, with their honor-bound militaristic outlook. They’re cleverly juxtaposed with the Victorian milieu of “The Crimson Horror”—though this isn’t apparent at first from the light-hearted teaser, which has the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie), and Nardole (Matt Lucas) turning up in the control room of a present-day NASA Mars mission whose robot probe has just landed on the red planet. To everyone’s consternation, the pictures show that, under the Martian polar ice cap, rocks have been arranged to spell out GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 9, "Sleep No More"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 9, “Sleep No More”

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 9, “Sleep No More”

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah for the opening line of a Doctor Who episode to be an emphatic “You must not watch this,” addressed directly to the audience. “Sleep No More” is a very odd and experimental entry written by Mark Gatiss, who last year contributed the light and frothy “Robot of Sherwood,” as great a contrast to this as could be imagined. With a nightmarish threat extrapolated from our mundane, everyday experience (in this case, the “sleep dust” we wipe from our eyes every morning when we wake up), he’s aiming here for the sort of effect more associated with the episodes penned by showrunner Steven Moffat. However, as the first truly standalone episode this season, it can’t help but feel rather insubstantial after the previous weightier tales, even before a surprise ending reveals the whole thing to be one big shaggy-dog story.

Doctor Who Recap Season 8, Episode 3, "Robot of Sherwood"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 8, Episode 3, “Robot of Sherwood”

BBC

Doctor Who Recap: Season 8, Episode 3, “Robot of Sherwood”

For the third time since Doctor Who returned in 2005, writer Mark Gatiss gets the opportunity to provide a new Doctor’s third adventure, and his first “celebrity historical” story. In “The Unquiet Dead,” it was Charles Dickens, while in 2010’s “Victory of the Daleks,” the Doctor paid a visit to Winston Churchill. Here, at the urging of Clara (Jenna Coleman), Peter Capaldi’s Doctor takes them back to 12th-century Nottingham, the haunt of someone she’s always wanted to meet. The Doctor tries to talk her out of it, telling her that she’ll be disappointed to learn that Robin Hood is just a story—only to be mystified when he steps out of the TARDIS and is faced with the legendary swashbuckler, large as life. Before long, he finds himself drawn into the struggle between Robin and a Sheriff of Nottingham who’s acquired some extraterrestrial assistance.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 4, Episode 6, "The Laws of God and Men"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Laws of God and Men”

HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Laws of God and Men”

If every episode of this season of Game of Thrones so far has revolved around a focusing idea, the unifying element of “The Laws of God and Men” may be the profound silence of the show’s architecture. It begins with Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Davos (Liam Cunningham) visiting the Iron Bank in Braavos, meeting a collection of bankers in a vast hall that adds a degree of severity to the talk before anyone speaks. A shot of the wannabe king’s ship sailing into Braavos establishes the city as a temperate lagoon, but the bank’s room feels as cold as the dilapidated chambers of Castle Black, too large to retain its warmth.

Doctor Who Recap Season 7, Episode 11, "The Crimson Horror"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 7, Episode 11, “The Crimson Horror”

BBC

Doctor Who Recap: Season 7, Episode 11, “The Crimson Horror”

With “The Crimson Horror,” the new series of Doctor Who notches its 100th episode. It’s an achievement that would have seemed outlandishly improbable when the series debuted in 2005, turning the franchise from a fading memory into a pop culture juggernaut that shows no sign of slowing down as it approaches its 50th anniversary. Writer Mark Gatiss, who helped launch the new series with a story set in the Victorian era (“The Unquiet Dead”), revisits one of Doctor Who’s favorite time periods with a wonderfully lurid tale which provides splendid entertainment, but also ties into and advances the ongoing arc of the season.

Doctor Who Recap: Season 6, Episode 13, "The Wedding of River Song"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 6, Episode 13, “The Wedding of River Song”
Doctor Who Recap: Season 6, Episode 13, “The Wedding of River Song”

As the title suggests, “The Wedding of River Song” finally makes clear the true nature of the relationship between the Doctor and the woman who has variously infuriated, intrigued, and attracted him for the last several years. Showrunner Steven Moffat calls on all his formidable plotting wizardry to conclude the incredibly complex story arc of this season, and both Matt Smith and Alex Kingston deliver superb performances as the entire story comes down to one particular action that has to be made by River. Moffat also provides a satisfying payoff to the threat that has been hanging over the Doctor—the unalterable, “fixed point in time” nature of his death as seen right at the beginning of this year’s very first episode—as he supplies the final links in the intricate chain of cause and effect that stretches back and forth across the entire season.

Doctor Who Recap: Season 6, Episode 9, "Night Terrors"

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<em>Doctor Who</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 9, “Night Terrors”
<em>Doctor Who</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 9, “Night Terrors”

After the dizzyingly complex plotting and major revelations of the past few episodes, “Night Terrors” is a real change of pace—a deliberately small-scale story centered around one child and his relationship with his parents. It fits somewhat awkwardly into the arc of this season, but taken on its own it’s quite a neat little story, which lives up to one of the major characteristics of Doctor Who in taking children’s fears and constructing from them some nicely creepy moments. There’s something strangely appropriate about a series which is famous for scaring children having an episode centered around what is effectively an exaggerated version of one of its own viewers.

Doctor Who Recap: Season 3, Episode 6: "The Lazarus Experiment"

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<em>Doctor Who</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 6: “The Lazarus Experiment”
<em>Doctor Who</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 6: “The Lazarus Experiment”

It’d be all too easy to write off “The Lazarus Experiment” as Season Three’s transitional episode, because, like “The Long Game” and “The Idiot’s Lantern” before it, that’s exactly what it is. Unlike the previous two outings, however, this has a firm grasp on what a transitional episode can really be. “Lazarus” shows obvious signs that the season is actually headed somewhere. Its strength lies not in its plot (which appears deceptively simple), but in its approach to character. Best example? Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) finally struts some serious companion wares and all of a sudden her chasing around of the Doctor (David Tennant) makes a lot more sense.

In the opening scene, the Doctor returns Martha to her time and place—and unlike the similar setup in the first season’s “Aliens of London”—he gets it right. It’s been less than 24 hours since she left; she hasn’t been missed and nobody’s asking, “What happened to Martha Jones?” The events here, in fact, are the flipside of “Aliens of London”: The Doctor wants to bid farewell to his companion, not hang around while she gathers her stuff and says hello to mum. His companion’s family, rather than being outsiders viewing pivotal events from afar, is central to the goings-on. Probably most noticeable is Francine Jones’ (Adjoa Andoh) attitude toward the Doctor. Throughout “Lazarus”, shadowy, governmental type figures plant ideas in Francine’s head about the dubious nature of the Doctor. None of them go directly for the Doctor himself, but rather seem alarmingly aware that the easiest way to get to him is through his companion—and the easiest way to get to her is through her family. Francine isn’t a case of Jackie Tyler redux—this woman means business: