Now this really is more like it.

From the very beginning of this episode, there’s a swagger, a commitment to drama, and to fun, a sense that everyone involved knows exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. The Doctor ripping off her coat and plunging into that lake is a defining moment for this incarnation. The panicky figure of The Ghost Monument is nowhere to be seen, neither is the stoic back-turner of Rosa and Demons of the Punjab. This is morally-righteous, heroic stuff and all the better for it, with the Chibnall Checklist of Tedium completely absent for the second week in a row.

Other writers have grumbled that the Doctor grumbles when later in the episode, men attempt to sideline her. But it’s precisely because Joy Wilkinson’s script makes her so strong for so much of the episode that these moments don’t undermine her. In fact, throughout there’s proper adventure and jeopardy, real moments of tension, very strong character work, and a much more rich and profound theme than last week’s “Cor, Amazon, eh? What are they like?

There are some moments of clumsy plotting and uncertain geography. Early on, Yaz joins the Doctor and co as they head off to Becka Savage’s mansion. Then, for no real reason, she doubles back just in time to see Willa Twiston menaced by a root. In no time at all, she’s back at the mansion with the Doctor, and then the Doctor and Yaz have to go together all the way back to Willa’s place. Surely that could have been streamlined a little?

And it’s a similar story towards the end, when the Doctor and company are knocked out and then reconvene before the final assault. It doesn’t seem like a long journey, but night falls very quickly.

In general, new director Sallie Aprahamian photographs and paces the whole thing wonderfully. The only real exception is the – as noted, iconic – first ducking stool scene which seems to be over and done with far too quickly to finish off even very elderly Mother Twiston. Did they run out of time? Money? Was it cut down at the last minute, for fear of being too scary for children?

She has also assembled a truly exceptional supporting cast – headed by a wonderfully ludicrous Alan Cumming as a wildly louche King James, who gains just enough depth by the end of the story that we’re forced to take him somewhat seriously. But the great turns keep coming. Here’s Siobhan Finneran as Becka Savage, and lovely stuff from Tilly Steel and Tricia Kelly too.

Possibly the weakest part of the episode is the climax, where it all becomes a bit of an RTD style whirl of technobabble and images. But personally, I rather like an RTD-style whirl of technobabble and images, and there’s good thematic stuff going on here with the King putting the witch to the fire and good character stuff too with Willa stepping up to the plate. (Although “Only I know the way,” is a bit of a feeble justification. Even dyspraxic Ryan could find his way to the top of a hill without a sat-nav.)

Ah yes, Ryan. Needless to say, even a writer as skilled as Wilkinson can’t make real characters out of Chibnall’s walking trio of cliches. It’s fun to see Ryan objectified by King James as so many Doctor Who girls were in the seventies, but it only underlines the fact that he has no personality to speak of and no plot function at all. Bradley Walsh continues to grab whatever crumbs are available and Mandip Gill is as personable as ever. But what makes me cross about this episode is that we were denied the version in which it’s just, say, the Doctor and Yaz who land in seventeenth century Lancashire. With three times as many lines, even if the part had been woefully underwritten before, I bet Wilkinson could have given Yaz some real character development. But when all the companion stuff is split into tiny pieces, there really isn’t a chance.

Overall, easily my favorite of the season so far, with only a few minor niggles preventing me from awarding it the full five stars.

I mean, I’ve got to save something for the finale, haven’t I…?

So... what did I think of Kerblam!?
Pre-Oscars 2019 – A Star Is Born