|Courtesy of the BBC|
It also featured John Sessions as an insane computer named Gus, as well as a jazz version of Don''t Stop Me Now by Foxes, so I'm just about confident enough to say this is the best series of the programme since series 5, and one of the best since the revival, period.
Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which is practically their job description.
"Earth legends are dry and dusty," said an expert this episode, after being offered a jellybaby. "And always fiction. Up here, anything is possible." Now, I've not heard a better succinct distillation of both the operations directive of this programme, but also of science fiction in general, in some time. Why bother with Earth at all, where (as we saw last week), the complexity of known science can interfere with the suspension of disbelief. But in space, the sky is literally limitless, and so is the number of random acts of madness that can befall our heroes. Like, an ancient mummy murdering people on a space train, based on an Agatha Christie novel.
Despite all appearances last week (and from the trailer for this very episode) this was not the companion-less adventure I thought and slightly hoped it would be. Clara is very much present, though less involved than she has been in past weeks. She spent most of this episode locked in a baggage car. Which allowed the Doctor to take his place as the front-and-centre star of the show, which hasn't happened all that often this year. This really was a brilliant showcase for Capaldi, who has settled into the manipulative and ends-justify-the-means Doctor that is Twelve. He's arrogant, but justified in that arrogance. He's a liar, but his lies aren't malicious, they are to protect people. He has a hard time seeing the trees for all the forest. And he doesn't like to lose.
He and Clara, as a final hurrah (the TARDIS equivalent of a break-up shag), finally answer that call that Matt Smith received back at the end of his first series. There is a horrible thing loose on a train in space, and only those it kills can see it. What works fantastically about the episode is that it doesn't gunk up the narrative by placing needless complexity on the framework. This series in general has been very lean, and I 100% hold that to account for the sharp up-tick in quality. If this were the old days, and the story needed to cover four episodes, then the train might have been going somewhere in particular, or Frank Skinner's Perkins might have seemed suspicious for longer. but this is a solid 42-ish minutes, without flim or flam, or flab of any kind.
It was a mystery, and the Doctor solved it through detective work and science, and only a few mad jumps of logic. This has been a deductive and reasoning Doctor, and I like it. Because his memory is crap, it means he actually has to work thing out, instead of just pulling random facts out of thin air like Ten was oft to do. This Doctor needs to see all the pieces to know how things work. The clockwork of the opening sequence was never more appropriate. The Foretold, for instance, he cant place. He's completely incapable of knowing what it is or what it wants. Even in the end, he only just figured out how to stop it, but got nowhere towards deducing where it came from.
I was disappointed to see all the wonderful development Clara went through last week pushed back under the rug here. I'd have been alright with it if they've kept her back for a few weeks, and then brought her back begrudgingly. But the constant turnaround with companions changing their minds, then changing them back is getting a little repetitive. Clara has always been strong and independent, so to see her now becoming co-dependent on not one, but two male characters seems like an odd step back for her, especially considering how much improved the characterization ha been for her this year. And everything she does from this point on undermines the overall effectiveness of her "you suck" speech at the end of last week. She's lying to herself as much as the Doctor is.
Minus point for me personally, though, as I hate with a deep visceral reaction, the twenties and flapper style. So that bothered me for long bits of this, but didn't subtract from the substance, so that's just me being a bit of a fug.