It’s a different experience watching these episodes knowing that the end is in sight. But just as it’s hard to judge a multi-episode serial on the basis of a single episode, it’s hard to know where to begin this review. Was it a satisfying fifty minutes of television? Not really. Did it know that it was functioning primarily as set-ups for half a dozen or more plot threads? Clearly. Is that a good idea? Probably not.

Let’s go through this, most obvious element, first. This is essentially – what if modern Doctor Who but ADHD? We leap from character to character, setting to setting, without ever getting the time to be invested in any of them. Other than sheer novelty, what is the point of giving the Victorian engineer, the Sontarans and the woman going “the long way round” tiny little introductions in episode one, when any or all of them could be saved until a point in the longer story where they actually have something relevant to do?

But the team is determined to go all out and leave the thirteenth Doctor with a bigger crisis than any she’s encountered before. So, the first episode ends with a threat to the entire universe. Does this colossal raising of the stakes actually make the story more engaging? Not necessarily. On balance, the battle of Canary Wharf is better drama than Davros’s reality bomb because the emotional stakes in Doomsday are sky-high whereas the main threat in Journey’s End is rarely more than word peril.

Let’s take this section-by-section. Other than the Victorian engineers whose conversation is completely meaningless for now, The Weeping Angels and the Sontarans are the most disposable. Following the unexpectedly rapturous reaction to Blink, Steven Moffat, brought back the Weeping Angels as soon as he was installed in the big chair but he wrang new ideas out of their every moment. Chris Chibnall has a nasty habit of taking elements of Doctor Who which one or other of his predecessors has reinterpreted and returning them to their less-interesting earlier versions. So, after Missy completely reimagines what the character of the Master could be, Chibnall just goes back to writing him like the cackling maniac played by John Simm. Likewise, the Weeping Angel just reprises the scenes in Blink with zero variation.

And after the possibilities of the Sontarans were massively expanded in the form of Strax, here they just go back to being generic baddies – who are weirdly obsessed with each other’s personal appearance. You know, the way that cloned races would be. They also appear to be thirty trillion light years away, which is a neat trick in a universe which is only 90 billion light years across. So that’s only an error of three orders of magnitude. This took me ten seconds to verify on Google. Why does no-one on the production team care enough to do the same? Or is the whole tiresome mantra of this season going to be “Bigger! Better!”

The characters who actually had anything to do this episode were the regulars, Karvanista the dog, Dan the scouser and Swarm who’s a sort of cross between Tim Shaw and Ashad. Swarm does little except Be Evil and is dwarfed by the nexus-like universe ending wave of orange pixels. He also has a maddening habit of stopping the action to show Jodie Whittaker episodes of Doctor Who. Of all the things to copy from The Timeless Children, I really thought we’d seen the last of that.

There’s some very sloppy writing regarding that too. Yaz is written mainly as a dependable second-in-command but the Doctor announces that she’s had a weird “glitch” and Yaz, not unreasonably wants to know more. The rest of the scene plays out as if this is something that Yaz identified for herself and she is frustrated when the Doctor won’t explain herself. But the Doctor is the one who brought it up, completely unprompted, and who then becomes petty and precious, blaming Yaz for not being sufficiently grateful. Given that Whittaker still can’t think of anything to do beyond impersonating David Tennant, this adds nothing good to an already thin and weak incarnation of the Doctor. The episode never misses an opportunity to have her screw something up, get the wrong end of the stick, be in the dark or be inappropriately flippant.

To be fair, her getting the wrong end of the stick with Karvanista and his doggy chums is understandable given that nothing he does in the first part of the episode makes the slightest bit of sense given the reveal at the end of the episode. Why bother explaining to your own personal human that you’re there to keep him safe? Why would a race whose only purpose is to save humans work so hard to kill a human in a silly Batman style trap? And why would you leave a booby trap behind to slaughter other humans once you’ve saved yours? (See also Demons of the Punjab.)

That brings us to Dan, who as usual is a bundle of characteristics rather than a person. His devotion to Liverpool I doubt is ever going to be relevant again (like Ryan being a YouTuber) but the episode is determined to tell us what a nice guy he is, as he refuses to take any goods from the food bank home to his own empty fridge. The trick-or-treat supposed comedy sketch which follows in which a grown man, for no earthly reason, attempts to extract sweets from him is eye-wateringly bad. It wouldn’t be hard to fix the total lack of motivation – make him a parent of one of the children, a bit too eager to join in the fun, for example. But if the purpose of Dan’s introduction is to make us fall in love with him, surely he should be giving his last chocolate bar to this looper instead of being sarcastic at him.

The script is so determined to service him with would-be zingers that it robs the confrontation with Karvanista of any tension. We’ll shortly learn that Fido wasn’t trying to kill him anyway – breaking down the door with a great big glowing axe and not bothering to explain anything is exactly how you’d run a rescue operation if you had arrived hours early and had plenty of time to spare. And while we’re at it, do the Lupari really need one ship per human? Can they not send 70 million ships each of which can take 100 people? Sigh. Bigger! Better!

By this point, the fact that Dan’s front door regenerates between his kidnap by Karvanista and the Doctor’s arrival feels scarcely worth mentioning.

Amongst all the “will-this-do?” near-gibberish, a couple of things stick out. In an episode pointlessly overstuffed with characters, I was briefly diverted by the banter between the older and younger security guards and miffed to see them so casually bumped off. Jacob Anderson does much with little as Vinder, stuck talking to himself (because of COVID restrictions?). It is always nice to see Dan Starkey, even if the dialogue is poorer than usual and the shifting doors inside the TARDIS is a nifty mystery.

All of this might turn into a compelling saga with rich characters who come into fascinating conflict and a resolution which is as inevitable as it is unpredictable. But I doubt it, sorry. For all the breathless whirl and dash, this is more of the same and little else.

No Time to Die
So… what did I think of War of the Sontarans?