Doctor Who (#110 of 119)

Doctor Who Recap Season 10, Episode 2, "Smile"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 10, Episode 2, "Smile"

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 10, Episode 2, "Smile"

“Smile” is the second Doctor Who episode from screenwriter and novelist Frank Cottrell-Boyce. It's a distinct improvement over the misfire of 2014's “In the Forest of the Night,” which made the mistake of reducing the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to a passive bystander, with no role to play in the resolution of that episode's crisis. Here, the Doctor and Bill (Pearl Mackie) are at the center of the action throughout, and there's a feeling of accomplishment for them at the end that was missing from “In the Forest of the Night.” Even so, there are points where the logic of the plot is rather strained, with a final ethical quandary that comes out of nowhere.

Doctor Who Recap Season 10, Episode 1, "The Pilot"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 10, Episode 1, "The Pilot"

Simon Ridgway

Doctor Who Recap: Season 10, Episode 1, "The Pilot"

Showrunner Steven Moffat kicks off the latest season of Doctor Who with an episode ironically named “The Pilot.” The title has a double meaning: It's a perfectly reasonable, albeit bland, label for the particular adventure that the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his friends go through here, but it also serves to emphasize that this is indeed a pilot episode, a relaunch for the series to a greater extent than any season opener since “Rose” began the modern era of Doctor Who in 2005. In place of the complex arc plotting and time-travel trickery characteristic of much of his previous work, Moffat presents a deliberately new viewer-friendly story that, as with “Rose,” follows the point of view of a fresh companion, Billie “Bill” Potts (Pearl Mackie), as she finds herself drawn into the weird world of the Doctor.

Doctor Who Recap 2016 Christmas Special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”

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Doctor Who Recap: 2016 Christmas Special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: 2016 Christmas Special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”

When the classic Doctor Who was first sold to Mexico in the 1960s, the show was retitled, with a stentorian voice declaiming “El doctor misterio!” at the opening of each Spanish-dubbed episode. According to Steven Moffat, showrunner of the present-day Doctor Who, this title—which the series still uses in Mexico—was the spark that served as the initial inspiration for this Christmas special, in which he creates a very enjoyable mash-up of Doctor Who and the superhero genre.

Doctor Who Recap 2015 Christmas Special, "The Husbands of River Song"

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Doctor Who Recap: 2015 Christmas Special, "The Husbands of River Song"

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: 2015 Christmas Special, "The Husbands of River Song"

For this year's Doctor Who Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffat serves up a frothy combination of romantic comedy and broad farce, which gradually transforms into a poignant tying up of a long-running plot thread introduced as far back as 2008. In contrast to “Last Christmas,” the actual festive content of “The Husbands of River Song” is minimal. The opening sequence is set on Christmas Day in a far-future human colony (which, from its appearance, might as well be present-day Earth) where a simple case of mistaken identity causes the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to be drawn into a scheme being run by his occasional wife, River Song (Alex Kingston). He's disconcerted to find that, not only does she not recognize him, but her plan involves killing her husband, King Hydroflax (Greg Davies), with the help of yet another husband, Ramone (Phillip Rhys).

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 12, "Hell Bent"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 12, "Hell Bent"

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 12, "Hell Bent"

As is Steven Moffat's usual practice with the second half of a two-part story, the season finale of Doctor Who, “Hell Bent,” opens with a moment of maximum disorientation for the viewer. Last week, we saw the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) survive a torment that lasted for billions of years as he refused to provide information about the mysterious “Hybrid” creature prophesied to threaten the whole universe, breaking through at last to arrive on his homeworld, Gallifrey. Now, suddenly he's a lonely drifter wandering into a Nevada diner and finding Clara (Jenna Coleman) behind the counter, neither of them apparently recognizing the other. He picks out Murray Gold's “Clara” theme on his guitar and begins telling the story of how he came to be here.

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 11, "Heaven Sent"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 11, "Heaven Sent"

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 11, "Heaven Sent"

In an interview given before this season began, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat described “Heaven Sent” as the most difficult script of his entire career to write. In the light of that statement, perhaps the greatest achievement of this amazing episode is how effortless the unfolding of its narrative seems. Right from the opening, it feels completely natural that we're watching only the Doctor (Peter Capaldi)—completely isolated, stuck in a place designed to be his own personal hell, and working his painful way out entirely by himself. All aspects of the production—writing, direction, design, music—come together in a tour de force of storytelling.

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 10, "Face the Raven"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 10, "Face the Raven"

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 10, "Face the Raven"

“Face the Raven” is an episode that will be most remembered for its climax, which brings a tragic end to the adventures of Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) with the Doctor (Peter Capaldi). But along the way, new writer Sarah Dollard shows that she's a real find for the series, taking a mundane idea—the fake streets inserted by map makers into their products as copyright traps—and putting a very Doctor Who-ish spin on it, to come up with the idea of a Harry Potter-like secret world in the heart of London which acts as a refuge for a host of different aliens, hiding from the humans all around them. (There is a vague analogy to the current European refugee crisis, but unlike “The Zygon Invasion,” political references are very much in the background here.)

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 9, Episode 8, "The Zygon Inversion"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 8, "The Zygon Inversion"
Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 8, "The Zygon Inversion"

“The Zygon Inversion,” the best episode of this season of Doctor Who thus far, is a powerful conclusion to the story started last week. Writer Peter Harness places the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman)—or, rather, Bonnie, Clara's Zygon duplicate—on opposite sides of a confrontation that has even more blazing intensity than he provided at the climax of last season's “Kill the Moon.” Showrunner and co-writer Steven Moffat's handiwork is visible in the way the episode conforms to his usual practice with the second half of a two-parter: After a sprawling first half, the story's focus is now confined almost exclusively to the regulars. There are practically no other on-screen characters (and only one other speaking part) besides the Doctor, Clara and Bonnie, UNIT leader Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), who represents humanity in this conflict with the shape-shifting aliens, and scientist Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), who gets to be the Doctor's companion while Clara is held captive.

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 7, "The Zygon Invasion"

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 7, "The Zygon Invasion"

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 7, "The Zygon Invasion"

Doctor Who is largely pitched as escapist action-adventure, but “The Zygon Invasion” has an unusually hard-edged, realistic feel for an episode that pits the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his friends against the show's typical grotesque, rubber-suited monsters, thanks to a story that deliberately parallels some of the distressing real-world events of the last decade. Writer Peter Harness greatly improves on last season's “Kill the Moon” by writing a script with all of that story's strengths, including excellent suspense building and strong characterizations, and none of its weaknesses (in particular, the egregious disregard for basic science that made it so hard to take seriously).