Archive for May, 2013

So… what did I think about the Name of the Doctor?

Posted on May 21st, 2013 in Culture | 1 Comment »


Here it is then. The big one.

I wrote at length about what Doctor Who season finales have become and need to be this time two years ago, so won’t go over all that again. I heard it said recently that a fair reviewer should be trying to tackle the following questions. What was the thing under review trying to do? How well did it succeed? Was it worth doing? To try and tackle the first of those questions, let’s go back to Blink.

Blink is a bit of a miracle in Doctor Who terms. A Doctor-light episode created to solve the problem of shooting 14 episodes in a schedule designed for 13, which Moffat agreed to do to make amends for pulling out of the two-part Dalek story. It’s an elegant puzzle-box of a story which stands entirely outside the continuity of the season and the series as a whole (bridging the gap between Martha’s early and late adventures with Ten) and thus accessible to new and old fans as well as casual viewers. It introduces a new enemy with a genuinely creepy and novel mode of attack, it is terribly funny when it wants to be, it is terribly sad when it wants to be and the resolution is properly thought-through and satisfying. And it gave the world Carey Mulligan (sort-of). It’s pretty much perfect.

And Moffat isn’t exactly unaware of this fact. The Weeping Angels are almost the only monsters he has created and then brought back again. We’ve never seen the Nanogenes, the Clockwork Robots, the Vashta Nerada, the Atraxi ever again, and the Silence were created as villains to sustain a season-arc. And the puzzle-box structure of Blink is evident in a lot of the stories we’ve seen since Matt Smith took over – much more than the love story structure of Girl in the Fireplace for example.

So, here we are at the end of another series. What kind of resolution is Mr Moffat ready to provide, and can it possibly match Blink? Well, it depends what you mean by resolution.

Blink provides a number of puzzles to be solved. How are the Angels able to move without being seen? What has happened to Kathy and why? What about those DVD “Easter eggs”? All of these are given proper, coherent answers, but answering those questions isn’t the same as resolving the predicament. That’s done when the TARDIS dematerialises from inside the ring of Weeping Angels, each of whom is suddenly staring another in the eyes, locking them in stasis forever. It’s a completely logical extension of what we already know about the Angels and it’s entirely obvious – as soon as it happens, but crucially not before. The emotional resolution doesn’t come until Sally takes Larry’s hand. Blink works so well because all three resolutions are present, clear and delivered adroitly.

But lately, Moffat has been mistaking resolution of puzzles for resolution of plots and has been putting puzzles ahead of people. He’s always been a daring formalist but it’s starting to lead him wildly astray.

Let’s take this step-by-step.

First there’s that prologue. Full of fan squee, but some bits work better than others. The colourised Hartnell looks very awkward, and it’s a shame that the Troughton and Pertwee footage is of them looking a bit doddery in The Five Doctors and not when they were in their prime. The extras in funny clothes actually work much better. But it’s hard to say at this point what it all means – what it’s all for.

The meeting of the Paternoster Gang, plus Clara and River, in Slumberspace, is great. Full of Moffat wit and dash, with a hint of tension and pathos too. “I think I’ve been murdered” – golly! (Such a shame she was reset so quickly.) They all meet up at Trenzalore – the one place a time traveller must never go; their own grave. Not sure why that should be. We’ve seen people visiting their own graves before – in fact earlier this series – and there was not so much as a Blinovitch flash, let alone a gang of Reapers. This feels grafted-on.

Much, much better is the Doctor’s tomb – a bloated, ruin of a Police Box, victim of size leakage. Absolutely lovely. And then, oh look, it’s REG as the Great Intelligence once more. Except wasn’t it Ian McKellen who was the Great Intelligence? And why the Great Intelligence anyway? A couple of minor skirmishes on Earth and that was it for ten or so incarnations. Even the Judoon have been in more stories. It might as well have been the Ogrons.

REG needs the Doctor to say his own name to open the doors. Moffat, whatever I think of his approach to Doctor Who lately, was never going to volunteer this information because there are only three options, all awful – his name is “Doctor Who”, his name is “Steve” or is name “Zanthanzanzibarthollberrytrumpettitorpergraviformaquizotl the fourth”. He finds an elegant way of dodging it, and – behold the tomb of the Doctor.

REG jumps in and is able to… actually I don’t know what he’s able to do. Presumably not kill the Doctor in any of his earlier incarnations, because then the current version wouldn’t exist either. But even foiling the Doctor’s foiling of his opponents results in his own death more often than not and sometimes it results in the end of the Universe. So REG has been just generally getting in the way? Helping the bad guys out here and there? Tipping them the wink that they had better watch out for this Doctor feller, but making sure they don’t actually kill him or blow up the universe? Why?

Inevitably, Clara goes after them. So, I guess we do have a solution to the puzzle. Clara is the impossible girl, is present in the Dalek Asylum and Victorian London, looking and sounding like Clara because she entered the Doctor’s timeline. That’s the beginning of a solution to the puzzle, but it’s nowhere like as easy to understand as the Doctor inserting Easter Eggs into the DVDs he knew Sally Sparrow would one day own. And what does it mean for all those earlier adventures?

I thought at one point that every previous companion had some aspect of Clara in them. Moffat has been writing an any-companion who is now Every Companion. (Don’t believe me? Try switching the casting of Carey Mulligan and Jenna Louise Coleman. Doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference does it?) This would make some sense of this entering the Doctor’s time-line business, but makes no sense at all of her appearance in Asylum and The Snowmen. And is at odds with that teaser sequence. On the other hand, the teaser is at odds with every single other episode of Doctor Who we’ve ever seen. And what about the episodes with modern Clara in them? If there is a shadowy timey-wimey ghost Clara looking out for the Doctor and Jo Grant on Peladon, the Doctor and Leela on Pluto, the Doctor and Rose on Satellite Five – is there also a ghost Clara looking out for the Doctor and Clara on Akhaten?

So, we kind-of get the answer to the puzzle, except we’ve waited over half a year for it instead of thirty-odd minutes. But we’re no nearer to resolving the threat – if anything the answer to the puzzle has obfuscated what the threat actually is. And there’s no emotional resolutional at all. Clara is a shape to fit a hole. She isn’t a person, so why would I care when she jumps into that hole and fills it? A shame too that this episode had to be tied to the two rottenest episodes of this half-series, Ringpiece with that godawful leaf and Journey with its appalling reset-button-that-wasn’t.

And then, suddenly John Hurt appears and it’s a cliff-hanger ending.

Wait a minute, how is John Hurt a fucking cliff-hanger ending? Far, far too much of this series has been trying to get an emotional response from the viewer out of casting. We are meant to go “squee” when we see Jenna Louise Coleman in Asylum of the Daleks, when we see REG in The Snowmen and now when we John Hurt as Not-The-Valeyard-Please-Anything-I’ll-Give-You-Money-Anything. But within the context of the story it means nothing at all.

Okay, look, I didn’t hate it. The Paternoster Gang are still a joy and still well-used. Fanboy that I am, I did grin stupidly at that pre-title sequence, the journey to the Doctor’s tomb did feel suitably epic and Richard E Grant is a good actor, well cast, who mounts a credible threat. River’s reappearance as her digital self post-Library­ is a neat spin on the character and Matt Smith is as good as ever. Even the slack editing has been given the week off.

But as far as a star rating goes, well it’s impossible isn’t it? This is all build-up and no pay off. All tickling and no laughter. Which is fine, except that the tickling started in October 2011 in The Wedding of River Song and now we have to wait until November 2013 for the supposed resolution.

I wonder if it will ever come?

So… what did I think of Nightmare in Silver?

Posted on May 21st, 2013 in Culture | 1 Comment »

nightmareSuperstar Doctor Who writers are few and far between. Douglas Adams became a superstar only after writing for Doctor Who. Robert Holmes is only a superstar within the world of Doctor Who. Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat are arguably superstar writers but they also got to run the whole show. Series Five featured scripts from Simon Nye and Richard Curtis, one of which seemed to clip the writer’s wings and the other which seemed happiest when it wasn’t really a Doctor Who story at all.

But Neil Gaiman is a true superstar writer and he’s also a very, very good match for the version of Doctor Who which Moffat is going for – complex but with a fairy tale aesthetic. For a while it seemed as if The Doctor’s Wife (five stars, Tom Salinsky) was set to be a glorious one-off, but the creator of Sandman has been lured back by Cybermen and the results are, if not quite the perfection of Bigger on the Inside (as it obviously should have been called) then still pretty good.

As with his previous effort, Gaiman’s first act is to take the TARDIS somewhere completely removed from any kind of established continuity – a bubble in which he can create an entirely self-sustaining story. This time it’s Hedgewick’s World of Wonders, but inevitably when it’s long-past its best and under military occupation. The break with the past isn’t entirely complete however, as the Doctor and whatshername are lumbered with the two ghastly moppets from the previous episode. Child actors are always dodgy and these two are awkward and cloying simultaneously. Luckily they don’t stick around for long (making me wonder if a version of this script exists without them…?)

We also have a bunch of marines running about the place, and while I’m aware they came in for criticism from some quarters, I adored the idea of crap marines, sent to guard this cold rock as a punishment with pisspoor weapons, very little training and hardly any military skill. Putting them up against the Cybermen made me laugh one minute and gasp in horror the next – that’s pretty much ideal Doctor Who. Putting Little Miss Nothing in charge of them gives her something to do and that’s a good thing I suppose.

So, yes, the Cybermen themselves make a quick appearance. When the Borg debuted on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1989 (the same year that Doctor Who was taken off the air), many British sci-fi fans commented that they were basically ripped-off Cybermen. Well Gaiman now has taken the opportunity to return the favour – unconsciously, he claims not to have watched much TNG. Actually, there’s another, earlier, probably equally unconscious rip-off – Big Finish already portrayed a Cybermen as a Mechanical Turk in a Paul McGann audio adventure from 2011.

The Borgified Cybermen work wonderfully well, however, storming the compound, upgrading themselves to overcome each new threat. I did feel just slightly that these new metal meanies were starting to become so un-Cyberlike that I wondered if there was any point in re-using them instead of creating new baddies from scratch (see also the Ice Warriors in Cold War). This is especially true when it comes to the hugely emotional Cyberplanner – of whom more in a minute. The one constant in the Cybermen’s history has been their lack of emotion, but here the Cyberplanner rants and raves with the best of the Doctor Who baddies. It’s great, but it isn’t very Cyber. The Cybermites are a brilliant conceit, fantastically well executed however.

The Doctor’s identity crisis is the most outré idea in the whole episode, but thanks to an absolutely astonishing performance from Matt Smith, it’s also the most successful. Fun though the Doctor’s doppelganger in The Rebel Flesh was, this was the real deal, executed occasionally with green screen in a Mara-like Neverwhere, but more often than not just by Smith’s committed performance. And the resolution of the chess game actually makes sense – about to lose the game on the board, the Doctor moves the field of play to the psychological realm, goading the Cyberplanner until he is able to take advantage of a momentary lapse in concentration. It’s brilliant, brilliant stuff.

What I’m less sold on is the Cyber weakness to gold being a software issues (which just makes no sense at all) and the fact that this generation of Cybermen hasn’t eliminated that as part of their constant and unstoppable upgrading.

The ending is a little rushed and throughout there’s some dodgy editing – a persistent flaw in this run of episodes, not sure why.  Fair enough, I didn’t spot Warwick Davis hiding in plain sight, but the conclusion didn’t have as much of a gut punch as I thought it needed, and it’s not at all clear what happened to the TARDIS when the planet blew.

Very, very good stuff then, rather than perfect. Four-and-a-half stars but I’m still waiting for this year’s cast-iron classic.

So… what did I think of The Crimson Horror?

Posted on May 10th, 2013 in Culture | No Comments »


It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride since the departure of the Ponds. Quick summary – Bells: fun. Rings: horrid. Cold War / Hide: decent. Journey: bobbins. Mark Gatiss certainly knows his Who but his scripts often end up being a little less than the sum of their parts. Still, in the Moffatverse, where we never get only six ideas if nine will do, that may be no bad thing.

This year has also seen the total abandonment of the two-parter. While this means we don’t get one-and-a-half-parters stretched out over ninety minutes (step forward The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood) we also don’t get stories with the depth and complexity of the best of the Tennant era (my personal faves being The Satan Pit and Doomsday). Mark Gatiss’s solution is absolutely brilliant. After a neat cold open which features only the Doctor’s grimacing, er, features, for the first fifteen minutes it’s the Vastra/Jenny/Strax show. The Doctor is kept off the stage for so long I was beginning to think I was watching an episode of Columbo. Then when he finally appears, we effectively get Part One of the story condensed into a two-minute sepia-tinted Previously On Doctor Who montage. It’s a tremendously effective way of delivering maximum plot bang for your tightly-scheduled buck.

And the sight of the Doctor’s scarlet and rigid frame is a genuinely shocking one. No Doctor since Peter Davison has seemed as truly vulnerable as Matt Smith and it really helps to counterbalance all the lonely God stuff when we see him hurt, scared and reliant on his companions for help. Just a shame his recovery was so swift, easy and complete. A crippled Doctor, still regaining the full use of his limbs, would have added much to the final skirmish around the rocket.

So let’s talk about those companions. Vastra and Jenny make a strong first impression, greeting poor feckless swooning Mr Thursday in a manner which put me in mind of Marlowe’s first meeting with General Sternwood in The Big Sleep. They are joined by the redoubtable Dan Starkey as Strax and it feels like we’ve known this team forever. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two stories. A stark contrast to Clara who continues to be a nothing more than a pleasing blank, played with vim and vigour by Sarah Jessica Parker (that is right isn’t it?) but no more a person that I know and understand than the third Cyberman from the right in Earthshock.

Saul Metzstein directs with panache and pace and his control of tone is precise. Gatiss’s script veers from the happy foolishness of an urchin with an acute sense of direction introducing himself as “Thomas Thomas” to the genuine pain of Ada’s betrayal. Diana Rigg is the big box office draw here, merrily chewing up the scenery as a kind of northern version of the Wicked Witch of the West, but it’s Rachel Stirling (Rigg’s real-life daughter) who really impresses, bringing sincerity and depth to poor Ada’s plight. It’s the last few moments with Ada that lift this story from the level of fun romp to really excellent.

Elsewhere, Gatiss is a veritable magpie when it comes to finding inspiration. This one story contains elements from sources including The Stepford Wives, Frankenstein, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Total Recall, Tim Burton’s Batman, The Phantom of the Opera – even Ghost Light! Mrs Gilliflower’s scheme is a direct steal from the James Bond movie Moonraker, even down to the detail of the baddies’ plan being foiled in part when it is revealed that a less-than-perfect specimen in their employ will not be part of the eugenic utopia. But the parts are chosen well, blended thoughtfully and the climax strikes the right balance between all-is-lost and then the solution being not only set up but coming at a cost for a major character. The companions who show up at just the right moment have a reason to be there (unlike in, say, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) and Gatiss comes up with a plan for the Doctor that’s a bit more than crossing his fingers (as in Cold War) Only Mr Sweet disappoints, another ropey effect in a series that we all thought was past them by now.

This is rollicking stuff, then. Basically a good solid four-star adventure, but I’m going to bump it up to four-and-a-half for the novel structure, the striking attack on the Doctor and for Rachel Stirling’s astonishing performance. And the Doctor’s right – it is a good name.

Next week – Cybermen, yay! But also – moppets, boo! But Neil Gaiman, so yay again. And I’ll try and get the review up before the series finishes too.

So.. what did I think of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS?

Posted on May 4th, 2013 in Culture | 2 Comments »


Sh…. spoilers!

Unlike the various incarnations of Star Trek which regularly included “bottle shows” using only the standing spaceship interior sets as a cost-saving measure, stories set largely or completely inside the TARDIS are rare on Doctor Who, despite the fact that the Doctor’s Type 40 is potentially a much more interesting space. Or maybe because of that. Like Gallifrey, the Time War or – nota bene Mr Moffatt – the Doctor’s name, some things are much more interesting because we know so little about them.

So, in the 1960s we had the distinctly peculiar two-parter, The Edge of Destruction, in the 1970s, Tom Baker gave Sontarans the run-around in a very atypical TARDIS in The Invasion of Time and in the 1980s, Peter Davison spent the first two episodes of Castrovalva wandering around the TARDIS impersonating his predecessors. Since the show returned in 2005, however, we’ve almost never seen anything beyond the console room, so we were about due an episode like this.

Regular blog readers (hello!) may recall that I don’t hold Steve Thompson’s last effort The Soggy Pirate Rubbish (I genuinely cannot recall its real name off the top of my head) in particularly high regard, so while I have a definite fondness for stories told within formal constraints and I’m well up for seeing a bit more TARDIS feng shui, I just wish they hadn’t given the job to this guy. TSPR was typified by scanty explanations, very little originality, a fatal lack of follow-through on its few interesting ideas and a general “that’ll do” approach to structure and characterisation. Surely this would be an improvement…?

Well, it doesn’t make a very good first impression. The space haulage team are clumsily-made photocopies of the crew of the Nostromo, even down to the fact that one of them is an android, complete with cute but implausible vocal effect. Better “Tricky” than those appalling would-be comedy robots from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship I suppose, but c’mon. Their ship is equipped with a sort of souped-up tractor beam, which mysteriously comes equipped with a remote control. I cannot think of a single reason why this piece of equipment should require operation from anywhere other than the command deck, especially with more than a one-man crew. As we’ll see, the real reason has nothing whatever to do with logic or world-building, but is simply a requirement to resolve the plot.

The plot firstly requires that make this impossibly, magical, indestructible, engineering miracle of a time-space ship vulnerable to the three stooges’ space-grabby thing. The Doctor, annoyed that the TARDIS and Clara don’t get along, offers to show her how to pilot it, promising he will make it easy by “shutting it down to basics”. In other words, switch off all the automatic safety devices and switching to manual. But isn’t switching to manual what you do when you’re an expert? When you’re a novice, don’t you need as many automatic systems as you can possibly get your hands on? Rather like the Ice Warrior leaving its shell, this action clearly results in the opposite outcome from what was intended, regardless of what the script later claims.

The titles end and we witness the TARDIS being carried hundreds of feet inside the salvage ship by a great claw hammer. Rather than place it conveniently on the deck, this machine ends up dumping the old girl on a big pile of cables. Then I can only imagine that the poor director turned two pages of script at once because somehow we are asked to accept that, while our backs were turned, Clara has been lost in the TARDIS’s labyrinthine corridors, while the Doctor now finds himself buried in the pile of cables and outside his own ship. Try as I might, I can see no way in which this can have happened. Evidently neither could the writer, but that’s what he requires in order to make the story work, so we are just presented with it and have to accept it. Sigh.

The android crew member now announces that the TARDIS is leaking fuel and that Clara will be overcome by fumes. Remember that they believe the Doctor’s ship to be a product of their own technology, a small escape pod just big enough for two. They evidently have no knowledge of Gallifreyan time-space manipulation, and yet on the basis of a glance, van Baalen number one, seems to know more about the Doctor’s ship than he does. Because that’s what the writer requires in order to make the story work, so we have to accept it. Sigh.

The Doctor accepts this diagnosis and rather than fixing his ship which he knows intimately, on his own and in his own time, he decides that he needs to recruit the help of these three shady individuals, who are clearly out for themselves and have already lied to him to protect their own skin. Can’t see anything wrong with that plan – can you?

Why the Doctor needs the Chuckle Brothers is therefore something of a mystery. Why they need this expedition is even more puzzling. The Doctor promises them “the salvage of a lifetime” and the director – doing what the script can’t or won’t – dollies in on Ashely Walters who clearly decides this is worth risking everything for – even though he has no idea what the Doctor is actually promising him and has absolutely no reason to believe him. No, he just goes along with it because – well you get the idea.

Once on board, the Doctor pushes a button and removes the “poison” from the air but announces that the rest of the TARDIS may still be toxic (there’s zero evidence of this at any point in the episode) and so finding Clara must be done swiftly. I would have thought there would be another button there somewhere which would remove the rest of the “poison” too but apparently not. There’s probably a “locate passenger” button if you look hard enough. There is on the Enterprise. (In fact, one of the salvage brothers turns out to be packing one.) And the mission is so urgent, the Doctor is even willing to play around with the TARDIS self-destruct system. 30 minutes to find Clara or we all die. This of course turns out to be a lie. Even this version of the Doctor isn’t quite that idiotic.

So, the set up is dumb, badly constructed and scarcely making a particle of sense, but given we’ve all agreed to get on the train, let’s see if we can’t at least enjoy the ride. And this is the real point of this episode – Clara, plus Huey, Duey and Louey wandering around beautifully designed corridors, bumping into boot closets, swimming pools and libraries of which we’ve often heard tell.

Except that we can’t get on with that because we’re saddled with these characters of the greedy salvage haulers. And you don’t have to be the most brilliant man in the universe to realise that if you let greedy salvage haulers wander around the most incredible ship in the universe, then they will try and carve bits off it to take home. I suppose we should be grateful for some consistent characterisation, but it’s hard not to think that the Doctor must have hit his head a bit harder than we thought. His actions throughout the first fifteen minutes of the story seem designed to make his life far, far harder than necessary.

There’s some nice The House That Jack Built stuff once Gregor nicks the glowy globe thing, but just as the Doctor’s pointless stupidity weakens his character, the TARDIS’s reaction to this threat weakens it in turn. Inside the ship, space, volume even gravity are completely configurable by the ship itself. Guy’s nicked your glowy globe thing? Reverse gravity so it falls out of his backpack. Then burn him up like you nearly did Clara. Why fuck about just making them walk in circles?

And I thought the TARDIS was bust? If it isn’t bust, then the Doctor can fly it to a more convenient location and hunt for Clara at his leisure. But it seems perfectly capable of pulling these sub-M C Escher tricks so just how bust is it? And of course, trapping the Doctor in a maze means he won’t be able to get to the console room to cancel the self-destruct, as possibly one of the Marx Brothers should have noticed. Still maybe they will concluded that the TARDIS will cancel it of its own accord if “she’s” genuinely that self-aware. You see? Once you start trying to make story out of these ideas you have to make them rigorous, and then you run the risk of making them mundane. Thompson needs the capabilities and limitations of the TARDIS to be accurately defined for his story to have any power, but evidently is anxious about binding his successors (or contradicting his predecessors) and so refuses to give us any such clarity.

Now, just being lost isn’t interesting enough, so send in the cheap-looking shambling monsters to menace the interlopers. Director Mat King, possibly aware that this dog of a script has been let down by some shoddy design work shoots them in the dark and out-of-focus but it doesn’t really help. One of them offs Huey (or was it Duey?) which again makes the Doctor’s decision to drag these three reprobates into this environment very, very questionable.

And of course, all of this frantic wandering around, this introduction of morally-bankrupt ship-wreckers, is rendered instantly moot as soon as the TARDIS obediently guides Clara back to the console room. So if the Doctor had jumped in and shut the doors (we’ve seen that damaged or not, it’s as invulnerable as ever, so who cares what the salvage crew try and do to it), Clara would have strolled in about ten minutes later. Job done. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Except it isn’t the same console room as the one the Doctor enters later. It’s a shadow… echo… thing… And the TARDIS has done this because…?

Rather than subject you (and me) to much more of this, let’s brush past much of the rest – echoes of the past for no very good reason, steel poles shooting through the walls for no very good reason, and then the genuinely peculiar revelation that yeah, Huey did tell his brother he was an android, BUT AS A JOKE, YEAH?! Moffat is very fond of this Philip K Dick style revelation and with good reason – handled correctly it can be very powerful, as in the case of Oswin the Dalek or poor Miss Kizlet. Here what might have been a neat flip of the android who thinks it’s human never really plays. It doesn’t seem to be a real part of this story and it’s not given sufficient detail to gain any credibility. I mean, be honest, which of us hasn’t tried to deal with the grief brought on by seeing a loved-one suffer a near-fatal accident by attempting to rewrite their entire identity for them. What laughs!

On to the Gantry of Doom. Once again, things we are told in dialogue turn out to have no tangible reality at all. “We can only remain in there for a minute or two or our skin will burn and our cells will liquify,” intones the Doctor severely, but all four then spend many many minutes trotting back and forth, Benny Hill style, without even a wisp of smoke curling up from them. Remember that the apparitions of the Doctor and Clara are because the past was echoing back into the TARDIS? But the golems turn out to be Clara (because one identity crisis is never enough) because now there are echoes of the future too. Why? Does it matter at this point?

And for that matter, just why does being burned up by the Eye of Harmony turn one into a murderous zombie? If there’s enough Clara DNA left for the tricorder to identify, why isn’t there enough for some residual compassion? If her cells have liquified why isn’t she a puddle on the floor?

“Don’t touch each other, or time will reassert itself,” proclaims the Doctor mysteriously, as not-Android-van-Balen bashes the zombie Claras about the head and neck and the two brothers grapple with each other. Who mustn’t touch whom? What will happen should time reassert itself? Is anyone remotely following any of this any more, writer, director and cast included? At this point, the glowy-globe thing suddenly ceases to have any impact on the plot, becoming just another in a long list of ideas that don’t go anywhere or connect to anything in this complete dogs-dinner of a script. It’s also disappointing to see the remaining Val Baalen brothers slaughtered with zero remorse from the Doctor, who tricked them into entering this fatal environment for his own purposes and largely unnecessarily as we’ve seen. That’s more than a sliver of ice in your heart. That’s just being a bastard.

Once we get to the Heart of the TARDIS things improve a little. For once, what we are told actually matches what we see, and the rendering of the exploded TARDIS engine, frozen in time is hugely impressive. But it’s telling that the vision we see here is not a coherent explanation of what we’ve seen before, tying together the loose threads from earlier in the episode. On the contrary, it’s just another new idea stacked on top of an already perilously shaky pile of largely disconnected ideas. And almost as soon as we’ve been taken here, we are taken away by a literal reset button. Okay, Steve Thompson gets a couple of points for bothering to chuck in a couple of lines of dialogue early on to set this up, but instantly loses them again for stealing the key clue shamelessly from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

He then loses more by fudging the reset. At the beginning of the episode we saw the remote control rolling along the floor, so it must have been thrown there by the future Doctor. But we didn’t see the future Doctor whom the past Doctor clearly sees and acknowledges this time. And just what exactly is supposed to have happened when the Doctor presses the button? I think the idea here is just a little cleverer than the execution. By bringing the magic grappling hook’s unnecessary remote control on board the TARDIS, the Doctor is able to give it to his earlier self and use it to switch off the machine before its TARDIS-destroying capabilities are given long enough to do any real damage. But Thompson seems so delighted that he’s been able to generate a reset button that he’s lost interest in how it actually works and so far from seeing Gregor van Baalen mystified at just how another party has managed to take control of his space salvage scoop, seeing the TARDIS freed from its grasp so the Doctor can dematerialise, we just get told that the TARDIS disappeared from the scanner.

And, just as with all good “it was only a dream” endings, we get to have our cake and eat it too. Because of the traumatic experiences that he hasn’t actually been through Gregor van Baalen might be 5% less of a shit from now on. Whoop-de-doo.

So, what can we salvage from this mess? Well, production design and effects were largely up-to-snuff – which used to be a given, but ever since that rotten space bike in The Ringpiece of Akhaten I’m not so complacent. The exception being the Clara-creatures which looked like they could have walked straight off the set of a Jon Pertwee adventure. Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman continued to give it their all, but the guest cast looked ill-at-ease throughout, and who can blame them with a script that makes as little sense as this?

It’s almost a cliché of the older actor asked to perform in a Doctor Who script that they cheerfully admit they didn’t really understand a word of it, but like an old pro, they manage to look the other actor in the eye and say the lines with conviction. But it’s actually rather atypical of the series that it makes as little sense as this. The Void in Doomsday might be an awfully convenient way of hoovering up an army of Cybermen and Daleks but it has specifically defined qualities and capabilities that do not get rewritten as the plot demands. Time and again in this script, the only explanation for all of the bizarre landscapes and peculiarities visited by the cast is the one word TARDIS and that just isn’t good enough. What’s really unforgivable, however, is the lack of connection between the dialogue and the visuals. If the cast are going into a location hot enough to fry their skin and liquify their body cells, is it asking too much to see their clothing smoulder a little?

So, I’m a grumpy fan today. Exploring the delights of the TARDIS should have been a joy and instead it was nonsense. Worse if anything than Akhaten because it promised so much more. But at least we were spared the earlier story’s glacial pacing, litres of schmaltz and adorable moppety heroine, so it’s probably a wash. Two, very grudging stars.

And whither Doctor Who under Steven Moffat? It really is troubling that for all the effort he has gone to to surround new companion Clara with a mysterious plot, he has apparently forgotten to put an actual person in the centre of it. Mistaking complication for complexity is easily done, but there needs to be some actual human cost to all of this mucking about with multiple Claras and there needs to be somebody reading these scripts who is at least trying to connect the dots properly. Dare I say it – possibly the best thing Moffatt could do now for Doctor Who is to leave after the fiftieth anniversary and let someone else take over.