Doctor Who, “Season One”

OK, I can’t possibly not comment on the recently concluded first full series of stories featuring Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor and Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday. In summary, it srted a bit wobbly, had some super peaks in the middle, and ended (for me) a bit flat.

Ncuti Gatwa is great as the Doctor, and while I am of the old-school that prefers my Doctors not to have emotional vulnerability, I felt that he covered it off very well. Like all the lead actors so far, he is very watchable. The eye is drawn to him no matter where he is on the screen. I thought the chemistry with Gibson was great as well, and I am glad that she will still be around for at least some of the next series.

The two opening stories, both shown on Eurovision night six weeks ago, were OK but both were a bit silly. The actual premise of Space Babies is very silly indeed, but was executed with poker faces by all concerned. The flaw in the plot (alas, not the last time I will use that phrase) is that if Jocelyn has been hiding in a storage room all along, why did she not make herself known earlier?

Though it was good to see Golda Rosheuvel, the first of many excellent guest stars this series, Jocelyn here after enjoying her in the title role in Queen Charlotte. She was also a hospital doctor in two episodes of the second series of Torchwood.

Apparently a novelisation of Space Babies will be one of three published this summer, written by Angela Rumfitt who is a pioneer of the New Gross. Appropriate enough for a monster made of snot.

The Devil’s Chord has a really sinister plot, with music being removed from the world; Big Finish has sometimes dared to play with the soundscape of the fictional universe, but this is the first time that the TV show has really gone there. This time it was the execution that was a bit silly, with Jinkx Monsoon really chewing the scenery as the Maestro.

The returning figure from the show’s history that really took me by (pleasant) surprise was June Hudson, in her first appearance on screen at the age of ninety-something; she did all the costume design for late 1970s and early 1980s Who, and also for Blake’s 7. She is the only character actually killed in the 1963 part of the episode.

Then we get onto the good stuff, with a run of four brilliant episodes. Boom is not silly at all; it’s a tense story of potential sudden death in an awful war zone, where although we know that it’s only the third episode of eight in the season, the threat of disaster is real. Probably the darkest episode of the season.

The standout guest star is Varada Sethu, who is apparently joining next season as a new companion, but here playing the quietly desperate Mundy Flynn. She was great in Andor too.

I was in Glasgow planning the Worldcon for the showing of 73 Yards, and a bunch of us clustered together to watch it in someone’s room. This too was tremendous, a Doctor-lite episode that called on Gibson (who turned 20 last week) to portray her character aging through the decades, with one of those timey-wimey plots that can actually go awry rather easily but in this case didn’t.

This time the old school actor who I cheered for was Siân Phillips, who was of course Livia in I, CLAVDIVS, almost half a century ago, but has done some more recent Big Finish work as well. She too is in her nineties but clearly in her element as the sinister old woman in the pub.

Though I was also unnerved by the resemblance between Aneurin Barnard, as the fictional prime minister Roger ap Gwilliam, and Irakli Kobakhidze, who in real life is the prime minister of the Republic of Georgia.

73 Yards is also getting an early novelisation, this time by the series script editor Scott Handcock, who is a lovely chap though I have had mixed feelings about his previous books.

We watched Dot and Bubble in Antwerp before dental emergency brought a premature end to our romantic getaway three weeks ago. This was a return to the format of Blink, with the Doctor and Ruby participating in the story only by video until the end. Russell T. Davies doesn’t always get his social commentary right, but this was well done.

And full marks to Callie Cooke in her central role as Lindy Pepper-Bean. As she pointed out in the Unleashed episode following this, Carey Mulligan went on to big stardom after Blink. We’ll watch Callie Cooke with interest.

And the fourth in a good run of four episodes was Rogue, in which it turns out that aliens in the Doctor Who universe are also fans of Bridgerton. This had particularly good emoting from Ncuti Gatwa, suddenly taken by feelings for Jonathan Groff’s Rogue, but also had Millie Gibson playing Ruby pretending to be an alien pretending to be Ruby, and getting away with it. The contrast between spaceship and 1813 was well done.

Jonathan Groff of course was the very first King George in Hamilton, and so his voice was the first heard by the audience. I felt that (unlike Jinkx Monsoon) he avoided chewing the scenery here.

And I also cheered for Indira Varma, the Duchess here, but previously seen by me in Game of Thrones and the first season of Torchwood.

Rogue will also get the novelisation treatment, by the episode’s writers, Kate Herron and Briony Redman.

The Legend of Ruby Sunday summoned back lots of old favourites – UNIT, Mel, the recurrent character of Susan Twist, and most of all, Gabriel Woolf – another actor over the age of 90! – as Sutekh. It looked good, sounded good, and had a good twist, but there wasn’t a lot of substance; it was running around for the sake of running around. I hoped this would be put right this weekend.

And I’m afraid it wasn’t. Empire of Death was a real mess. The visuals were superb (as we have come to take for granted, now that we are Disneyfied), and the lead performances were great as usual. I also loved the explicit throwbacks to Pyramids of Mars, one of my favourite Old Who stories.

But the plot was very weak. As soon as people started disintegrating into dust, I knew that they would all be resurrected. Why should Sutekh care about Ruby’s unknown mother? (And indeed why could he not use the available technology to find her?) What was the point of the devastated future world with one inhabitant? And I missed the explanation of the snow, and of various other things.

I do have sympathy for the narrative of finding Ruby’s parents by DNA. My longer-term readers may recall that I myself identified the parents of a baby abandoned in a park in Philadelphia in 1917, using DNA samples and genealogy sites, who turned out to be a local musician and an airplane executive cousin of my grandmother’s; I’m in touch with the baby’s three children, now all in their 70s, and I have met with one of them and introduced her to other relatives.

I’ve also done it for another woman much closer to Ruby Sunday’s age, and for a couple of other cases that I have not reported here. So that’s one part of my own real life that I have now seen brought into a Doctor Who plot; and it could have been done much worse.

Still, I had been hoping for better.

Lots of people have been raking the episodes in order of preferences, so I will do the same.

  1. Dot and Bubble
  2. Rogue
  3. 73 Yards
  4. Boom
  5. The Devil’s Chord
  6. The Legend of Ruby Sunday
  7. Space Babies
  8. Empire of Death