Where to start with this review? This episode was all over the place. It had some moments of brilliance, some moments of tiresome idiocy, some very promising moments, and some moments of what I can only describe as übercreep.
But first, Russell T. Davies would like us all to know that he’s very, very clever. Really, he is. He is very, very, very, very clever. He’s far cleverer than all of you, and he’d like you to know that.
It was clear right from the start that this was one of those episodes that’s going to have that gross, grotesque, ‘creep’ factor – in the form of those horrid dolls. This is certainly not the first episode to have that factor – S5E2 The Beast Below had it – with those horrid, disgusting ‘smilers’. It’s a thing that’s appeared in many other shows too. I think of this quality as being very easy to identify, but I don’t think it really has a proper name. I find it grotesque and repulsive, but these words alone don’t really emphasise just how perverse it always seems, so I think I shall call it übercreep. I find that kind of imagery – those misshapen dolls, with their malformed noses and rather noncy grins – to be uniquely repulsive. That’s the point, of course – to be creepy and repulsive – I guess some people find it entertaining – I don’t.
I think there’s this idea that übercreep makes for good television because it’s ‘scary’. But it’s not scary – it’s just repulsive. As such, it doesn’t really maintain any suspense. Things in a story are only really scary when the characters can’t do anything about them, but the only correct respond to these rather noncy dolls is to kick their fucking faces in and toss them in a skip, and preceding that to talk about how noncy they are. When tension is only maintained by a creep factor, you can cut through it with only words.
Some people like übercreep; I don’t – and it’s subjective, so I won’t mark the episode down for that.
Also, in case you missed it, Russell T. Davies is very, very clever. Did you know that? Very, very clever. And he’s going to remind you of that every two minutes in this episode.
We get some dialogue telling us that everyone in the world has suddenly started thinking they’re right all the time. The dialogue is absurdly expository (Jesus fucking Christ Russell, put some fucking effort in) and it’s also wrong. We see in that scene, as well as all later scenes, that people don’t actually just think they’re always right, they’ve just been driven into a state of mania where they’re very entitled, conspiratorial, and angry.
You see, what Russell’s doing here is very clever. Did you catch it? No of course not, because Russell is being very, very subtle here. He’s making an allegory for social media. Everyone always thinks they’re right on social media don’t they? And they’re always arguing with each other aren’t they? What an astute observation Russell’s made in 2023. (That was sarcasm, for the people at the back.)
Yep, this whole episode is going to be one giant allegory to social media.
Now, I don’t dislike allegory. I’ve written quite a lot of allegorical stories myself, and hope to keep writing more. But as I’ve said before, it’s not good when allegorical stories come across as preachy or patronising. (I hope mine never do – I fear that it’s something one cannot detect in one’s own stories.) It’s also not good when the allegory is insanely basic. What Russell seems to have gone for here is ‘social media bad’. Wow – what insight Russell. No-one has ever made that observation before. Do expand on that. Oh, you’re not going to?
As I said, Russell is very, very clever.
We’re taken to Avengers Tower. Oh no wait it’s UNIT Tower. They look very similar. Russell’s really going for the original ideas this series. It’s nice that UNIT has been made sensible again – I could never keep track of what was going on with them in the Moffat and Chibnall years. (Also nice that we get a bit of that UNIT leitmotif back – they could stand to do a bit more of that.)
Jemma Redgrave is back as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. I can hardly remember anything of the Capaldi run, so I couldn’t tell you anything about this character’s backstory, but I vaguely recognise her. Jemma Redgrave performs the part very well.
Bonnie Langford is back as Melanie Bush. I’m not well-versed in Classic Who, but I could tell the second she appeared on screen that she was a classic character. Langford also by far gave the best performance of the episode, despite having quite a small part.
Wheelchair Lady is back. She’s fun. Did they ever tell us her name? I don’t know. They make a point, though, of, when Lethbridge-Stewart has her anti-spike Zeedex turned off, her angrily saying ‘I’ve seen you walking’ to Wheelchair Lady, and then apologising to her when her Zeedex is turned back on. An obvious allusion to the phenomenon of people online not always believing when someone is disabled. Isn’t Russell clever for putting that in there? Isn’t he clever? It definitely doesn’t pull you out of the story for a few moments.
Actually that reminds me, I don’t think I heard a single person in this episode ask anyone what their ‘preferred pronouns’ were. Bigots, the lot of them. That’s what Russell thinks, anyway.
We get some more wonderfully subtle, subtle, very subtle, totally-not-obvious allegory from Russell: ‘The world is now 100% online.’, ‘Everyone is connected.’, ‘For the first time in history, everyone has access to this – a screen.’, ‘Hating each other – you never needed any help with that.’. Tip of the fedora back to you Russell – this is top stuff. It’s said that the dildo of consequences rarely arrives lubed, well the dildo of unsubtlety is twelve inches too big and slathered with mayonnaise, and Russell is going to slap you in the face with it.
Tennant and Tate have seemed ‘off’ for the last two episodes. In this episode, they are right back to form. The Doctor and Donna in this episode seem like an exact continuation from series 4, which is good.
The Toymaker makes a return in this episode. I’m quite glad that they’re selectively bringing back things from Classic Who. He’s played by Neil Patrick Harris. Unfortunately Neil Patrick Harris always just seems like Neil Patrick Harris. He’s like Johnny Depp and Ryan Reynolds – he’s always really playing the same character. I felt like I was watching A Series Of Unfortunate Events – this rendition is basically just Count Olaf.
Also, Russell seems to be almost exclusively choosing gay, transgender, or “queer” actors for parts. Neil Patrick Harris, Nathaniel Curtis, Miriam Margolyes, Yasmin Finney, Ncuti Gatwa. Statistically unlikely to not be a deliberate choice. Is it even legal to hire people on those grounds?
There are some basic errors of continuity. The Doctor says ‘when he was young’ when referring to his last encounter with the Toymaker, but with all the Timeless Child nonsense, the Doctor was already old by the time he was the ‘First Doctor’. The Doctor also calls himself a Time Lord, but he’s not – he’s an unknown species. (Well, that’s my understanding based on what I’ve heard of the Timeless Child nonsense – I never watched the episode itself – only the reviews.)
We get some more übercreep. I don’t care for it. Donna has the right idea – she kicks it in the face. Count Olaf gives us a recap of several series’, including ‘The Flux’ – whatever that is. I don’t care Russell – I just don’t care.
Did I mention that Russell is very clever? He’s certainly not going to let us forget. ‘[The Doctor] The human race, back in the future, why does everyone think they’re right? [The Toymaker] So that they win. I made every opinion supreme. That’s the game of the 21st century. They shout and they type and they cancel.’
Oh clehp clehp clehp clehp clehp clehp clehp clehp clehp Russell. Oh how astute! Those people on the internet they sure do love to ‘cancel’ don’t they Russell? When will they learn? Surely after witnessing this delightlessly deft writing, Russell. Now get this mayo dildo out of my face.
We get a scene of Count Olaf dancing to the Spice Girls. It’s actually quite a visually spectacular scene – well made on a technical level. But it did just look like Neil Patrick Harris having fun dancing in a costume – I wasn’t sold on it.
‘[The Doctor] I don’t understand why your so small!!!’ – that’s ‘cause he’s far away dear – move closer and he’ll appear bigger.
We’re then introduced to a new thing: ‘bi-generation’. I actually find this idea quite interesting. The Doctor has essentially reproduced here. We don’t know what species the Doctor is, so we don’t know how it reproduces – apparently it’s by mitosis. (With all Russell’s polemicising about the universe being ‘non-binary’, it’s ironic that he’s chosen a method of reproduction that is distinctly binary.) Apparently it’s caused by the galvanic beam, so the Doctor could now reproduce indefinitely (though obviously that won’t happen, for the sake of the writers’ feeble hands).
Can’t say I’m thrilled to discover what kind of underwear the Doctor wears, though. I’d’ve thought a time-travelling, billion-year-old super-genius would’ve worked out that white cotton button-up boxer-briefs are a hard no. Might I suggest a polyamide-elastane blend for sir? (Also, the clothes being shared between the bi-generated Doctors and the Gatwa-Doctor wearing underwear means that the Tennant-Doctor is going commando. That’s not something I wanted to know.)
We’re given a bizarre moment of Gatwa embracing Tenant saying ‘I got you.’. God it’s weird. Here’s a rule of television writing for you: never have a younger character act like a parent to an older character. It’s weird and creepy.
The Master is apparently locked inside the Toymaker’s gold tooth, which for some reason falls out before he goes all origami. A hand picks up the tooth, in an almost exact replica of the scene from several series’ ago where a hand picks up the Master’s ring, which somehow contains his essence. (I think that’s how it goes – I can’t be bothered to look it up.) Who’s hand is that? Who was even standing there on that part of the platform? I don’t think anyone was.
The duplicate TARDIS is apparently wheelchair-accessible. Apart from the entire inside, of course – quite a few steep inclines. Isn’t virtue-signalling great?
Gatwa doesn’t really have enough of his own time in this episode to judge his performance – I guess we’ll wait until the next episode to see how that turns out.
And that’s it. That was the episode. Gosh, it’s worse on the second viewing.
There were some great moments in that episode – the structure made it fun, and there were some entertaining (if not good) performances – but there was also a lot of dizzying, preachy, tiresome, eye-roll-worthy nonsense. This could have been a great episode – I think it could have been a 9/10, if Russell had just had some self-restraint. I’d have to put it at a 7/10.
I was hoping that with these three episodes Davies would establish that Doctor Who had turned around – that it would no longer cling to the tropes of bad fan fiction. These three episodes have failed to do that. This really should be a lesson for all writers in the importance of not doing things that pull your readers or viewers out of the story. When I think back over the episodes, the things I remember most vividly are the nonsense: the gender-woo of the first episode, Indian Newton of the second episode, and the multitude of weird things from this one. It all pulls you out of the story, and when something pulls you out of the story, it’s like putting a spotlight on that thing.
I don’t want to watch any of these episodes again. Not a good sign at all – especially since as I’m writing this I’d quite like to go back and rewatch series’ 1-4 of New Who. I’ll give Gatwa’s first full series a watch, but I am much less optimistic about it than I was.