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Doctor Who Recap 2017 Christmas Special, “Twice Upon a Time”

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Doctor Who Recap: 2017 Christmas Special, “Twice Upon a Time”

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: 2017 Christmas Special, “Twice Upon a Time”

“Twice Upon a Time,” Doctor Who’s 2017 Christmas special, is a story of endings and of continuing beyond them. It caps off the Doctor Who careers of both showrunner Steven Moffat and the current Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, and heralds a time of wholesale change both in front of and behind the camera, as new showrunner Chris Chibnall arrives with his new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. Moffat’s swan song is a fittingly elegiac tale that looks at how the Doctor has changed in the course of his 54-year journey by placing Capaldi’s Doctor side by side with his very first incarnation, originally played back by William Hartnell and here by David Bradley.

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”

BBC America

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).

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 5, “The Girl Who Died”

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 5, “The Girl Who Died”

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 5, “The Girl Who Died”

For most of its duration, “The Girl Who Died” seems like a deliberately jokey story, in which the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) are dropped into an escapade with some comedy Vikings fighting off equally silly-looking aliens. The writing credits are shared between Jamie Mathieson, whose two acclaimed episodes last year—“Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline”—showed his talent for quirky ideas and memorable images, and showrunner Steven Moffat, who ensures that this episode’s standalone story is strongly linked to the ongoing current of the Doctor’s life in a way very characteristic of this era of Doctor Who. The episode opens with the Doctor and Clara finishing up an unrelated adventure, and ends with a scene that, even without the explicit “To be continued,” tells us there’s unfinished business remaining.

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 4, “Before the Flood”

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 4, “Before the Flood”

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 4, “Before the Flood”

Last week’s episode of Doctor Who, “Under the Lake,” ended with the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) separated, as the Doctor traveled back in time to 1980 to track down the original events which would eventually lead to Clara being trapped in a 22nd-century underwater base under attack by strange, ghostly manifestations of its dead crew—plus a ghost of the Doctor himself. “Before the Flood” has a particularly quirky opening, with writer Toby Whithouse dispensing with the usual pre-titles teaser—apart from the standard “Previously on…” montage—in favor of having the Doctor address the audience directly about a hypothetical “bootstrap paradox” involving Ludwig van Beethoven. This fourth-wall-breaking monologue prepares us for the episode to come, but it feels a little unnecessary after a decade of Steven Moffat stories (pre-eminently, 2007’s “Blink”) have made time-travel shenanigans almost too familiar to Doctor Who viewers. It does, however, successfully provide an excuse for the Doctor to take up his electric guitar again, leading into a rock-based adaptation of the theme music which works at least as well as the regular version.

Doctor Who Recap Season 9, Episode 3, “Under the Lake”

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Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 3, “Under the Lake”

BBC America

Doctor Who Recap: Season 9, Episode 3, “Under the Lake”

The first half of another two-part story, “Under the Lake” serves up a very satisfying slice of one of the most traditional forms of Doctor Who adventure: a small group of people trapped in an isolated place, coming under attack from monstrous forces, with a lot of running up and down corridors. Although the ending suggests next week’s conclusion will feature a return to the time-bending plotting more typical of Steven Moffat-period Doctor Who, this episode is refreshingly reminiscent of earlier eras of the series.

The setting is an underwater mining base in the north of Scotland, situated at the bottom of a lake created by a long-ago dam burst. When the crew discover a mysterious alien spaceship in the flooded valley outside and bring it aboard, a spectral presence quickly causes the death of the base commander, Moran (Colin McFarlane). Three days later, the TARDIS arrives, and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) find the remaining crew in hiding from what appear to be two ghosts trying to kill them—one of whom is Moran. The rest of the episode consists of the Doctor joining forces with the crew to neutralize the ghosts and work out what they are and what their presence signifies.