Category Archives: Doctor Who

Tales From /lost+found 144: The Armageddon Variations

4×21 March 10, 2000
THE ARMAGEDDON VARIATIONS (Serial 57)

Setting: Seattle, WA, UNIT-time
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Jonathan Frakes (Agent Blackwood), Denis Forest (Malcolm), John Lithgow (John Manning), Rodger Bumpass (Voice of the Morthrai Council)

In voice-over, the Doctor describes the “Monty Hall” problem, in which the participant is asked to choose one of three doors, behind only one of which is a prize, then offered the chance to switch his selection after one of the other doors is opened. The Doctor explains the problem in terms of parallel universes. His explanation is wrong about a key aspect of the problem, but he reaches the unintuitive correct solution: switching doors increases the chances of winning. The Doctor and Lizzie have just arrived back in the present at UNIT to find the Morthrai mothership approaching Earth. Agent Blackwood pressures the Doctor to give UNIT Time Lord technology to combat the aliens, but the Doctor, having witnessed the dire consequences of humanity obtaining such technology, refuses, insisting that they attempt a diplomatic solution. He uses the TARDIS’s communications equipment to request an audience with the Morthrai ruling council. An attache from Washington accompanies The Doctor, Lizzie, and Blackwood to the mothership. The humans argue that, despite the Morthrai’s technological superiority, human numerical and resource advantages will ultimately lead them to a military victory. Given the great cost to both sides in a military confrontation, the Doctor suggests a compromise: human bodies which are near death or suffering from severe brain injuries could be given the the Morthrai as hosts, and with their technology and increased hardiness, the Morthrai could live in areas of the planet uninhabitable by humans. Even Lizzie is taken aback at the possibility of sharing the planet with aliens, but the Morthrai leadership seem to be satisfied with the terms. Negotiations come to an abrupt halt when multiple nuclear launches occur on Earth, targeting not the mothership, but other Terrestrial nations. Malcolm contacts the council, informing them that he has secretly launched a coordinated infiltration of dozens of nuclear installations across the Earth to throw the planet into chaos and neutralize its military capabilities. With no further need to negotiate, the council prepares to execute the Doctor and the humans… And the Doctor is back at UNIT, moments after emerging from the TARDIS. This time, the Doctor advises Blackwood to launch an immediate attack on the mothership before it can send reinforcements to Malcolm’s contingent. Missiles eventually destroy the mothership, but not before it can launch a retaliatory bombardment which kills billions. UNIT itself is attacked by Morthrai soldiers, and the Doctor realizes that the aliens were able to evacuate their mothership before its destruction. Blackwood sacrifices himself to buy the Doctor time to locate Malcolm’s base. Before he dies, the Doctor reveals that he is using his Time Lord abilities to play out possible timelines in order to find a way to defeat the Morthrai. This is dangerous, because two points determine a line, and thus, anything he witnesses in two different timelines becomes “locked in”. On the next reset, the Doctor again pushes for negotiation, but this time as a delaying tactic, sending the attache while remaining behind himself. Though UNIT is able to defeat Malcolm at his base, the mothership launches a surgical strike which disables Earth’s nuclear capabilities. The Doctor tries many more variations, and despite his efforts, more details get locked in. He eventually realizes that the attache is a deep cover Morthrai agent who, left unsupervised, will give the ruling council key strategic information. Since he is now committed to sending the attache, on the next loop, he sends Lizzie along with him. Once Malcolm is defeated, the Doctor and Blackwood travel to the mothership via TARDIS. The Doctor tries to offer the council the same deal as before, but the attache turns on them. Blackwood dispatches him and reveals an explosive device with which he intends to destroy the mothership. Abandoning Blackwood in disgust, the Doctor tries to flee with Lizzie, but the TARDIS refuses her entry. Unable to escape with Lizzie, the Doctor resets the loop a second before detonation. Explaining that he’s locked in too much of the timeline to change his approach, the Doctor allows the timeline to play out almost exactly as before, but this time, he leaves Blackwood behind to deal with Malcolm and joins Lizzie on the mothership early. When the Morthrai council refuse his offer of a diplomatic solution, the Doctor reveals that he has sabotaged their weapon systems, leaving them defenseless against human counterattack. Advising them to leave, he and Lizzie prepare to depart. As the TARDIS still won’t allow Lizzie inside, he prepares to send her back to Earth with the mothership’s teleporter, but Manning, who like Malcolm, has become obsessed with the glory of conquest, tries to shoot the Doctor, hitting Lizzie instead. As she dies in his arms, the loop resets again. Before Blackwood can even ask, the Doctor volunteers to use Time Lord technology to help the humans defeat the invaders.

Tales from the Found: Ranking the Capaldi Era

Because why not.

  1. Heaven Sent
  2. The Doctor Falls
  3. Extremis
  4. World Enough and Time
  5. Hell Bent
  6. The Pilot
  7. Into the Dalek
  8. Time Heist
  9. Thin Ice
  10. Last Christmas
  11. The Witch’s Familiar
  12. Death in Heaven
  13. Mummy on the Orient Express
  14. The Girl Who Died
  15. The Magician’s Apprentice
  16. The Caretaker
  17. Smile
  18. Dark Water
  19. The Husbands of River Song
  20. The Lie of the Land
  21. Kill the Moon
  22. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
  23. The Eaters of Light
  24. Flatline
  25. Twice Upon a Time
  26. The Zygon Invasion
  27. The Woman Who Lived
  28. The Zygon Inversion
  29. Knock Knock
  30. Oxygen
  31. Deep Breath
  32. In the Forest of the Night
  33. Under the Lake
  34. Face the Raven
  35. Before the Flood
  36. Empress of Mars
  37. Listen
  38. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  39. Robot of Sherwood
  40. Sleep No More

10-38 are mostly arbitrary; the two Zygon stories would rate much higher if it weren’t for the bit where a literal lord delivers the message that young people should just calm down and not do anything extreme in order to achieve freedom, equality, and the right not to be murdered in the street by a bunch of hicks for failing to disguise what they really are well enough. I imagine that I will look back on the Capaldi era as… a thing which happened.

Tales From the Found: Twice Upon a Time

Pop between realities, back in time for tea, here’s some thoughts about the 2017 Christmas special…

  • Look, asking me to believe that David Bradley looks at all like William Hartnell was going to be a stretch, but it’s the sort of thing a fellow has to accept as just what happens when fifty years pass and people die and all. But that morph shot when archive footage of Hartnell turns into new footage of Bradley? That is nightmare fuel on the level of the new 2017 rebooted Teddy Ruxpin.
  • Look, asking me to accept Mark Gattis… At all. At Christmas? Seriously?
  • Notice that they never say when the Antarctica scenes are set? There’s even a spot or two where the dialogue gets slightly awkward in order to avoid it. There’s an unpleasant sense here of Moffat, of all people, here at the end, being just a little ashamed of some of the goofy stuff that hasn’t aged well. Like how “The Tenth Planet” was set in 1986.
  • I dig the classic TARDIS set. I don’t think it works especially well as a regular set for the modern show, but I would really like for them to find excuses to roll it out once a season.
  • I rather liked the musical reprises, “I Am The Doctor” on Testimony, “Vale Dicem” when the Doctors arrive on Villengard, and the Ninth Doctor’s Theme during Bill’s heart-to-heart with the Bradley Doctor. But Murray Gold seems strangely muted for what I gather is his last outing; none of the big manipulative antics he’s known for.
  • That scene with Bill? That is the only moment when Bradley actually seems to be playing The Doctor, rather than playing an over-the-top caricature of the Fandom Zeitgeist of what “The First Doctor” was like. He complains a lot, he’s curmudgeonly, he’s bitter, he’s sexist, he hates the French. He dislikes his future selves’ sense of taste. Yes, look, Doctor Who was indeed hella sexist back in the ’60s and the Bill Harnell was personally kinda on the regressive side even for his time. But that era of the show was a lot of other things too, and this didn’t feel, outside of that one moment, like an earnest attempt to revisit the feel of that era, just a “The Five Doctors”-style attempt to bring in a William Hartnell impersonator to do a goofy First Doctor shtick. Only in The Five Doctors, everyone’s shtick was meant to be adorable, not sexist.
  • And, I mean, I’m not of the camp that believes Steven Moffat is a misogynist. You have to ignore way too much in order to support that. But we’re into “after three shakes, you’re playing with it” territory here: at some point, you’re no longer mocking the tacit sexism of ’60s Who; you’re reveling in it.
  • Also, did anyone else notice that when Bill outs herself, the Captain looks scandalized, but the Doctor looks kinda creepily aroused?
  • Though I will grant that the Captain’s reaction was fairly understated, which was a relief, especially coming from Gattiss, a guy who, as a writer at least, seems to love writing “people from the past freak out at the concept of gay people” scenes.
  • Oh, that scene with Bill and the Bradley Doctor on Villengard? Bill’s framing of the Doctor’s reasons for leaving Gallifrey not as what he was running from but what he was running to? That’s fantastic.
  • And so, frankly, was the Doctor’s casual dismissal of his reasons for leaving as, essentially, “A bunch of things which seemed way more important at the time than they do now.”
  • I am glad they didn’t try to retcon in a more specific reason for the Doctor’s first regeneration by having him get shot or something.
  • Little surprised they didn’t CGI up an improved regeneration sequence. I have no feelings one way or the other about the decision beyond surprise.
  • I am also glad they let him just say “Time Lords” instead of having him talk around it to maintain the purity of the whole “Time Lords didn’t exist as a concept until The War Games” thing.
  • You noticed, didn’t you, that the speech Bill gives to the Doctor when he sends her back to the TARDIS on Villengard, the one about not being able to see her right in front of him, is the same one he gives Clara in “Deep Breath”?
  • Look, Clara, you’re the one who erased his memory. And sure, you had good reason, but it’s kinda a dick move to take him to task for it when you’re the one who did it.
  • “That’s the trouble with hope. Makes one awfully frightened.” Well, there’s 2017 in a nutshell for me.
  • A story with no real enemies, the Christmas Armistice as a major plot point, themes of rebirth, and this fairytale ending where it turns out that no one is ever really gone makes this very straightforwardly the most “Christmas” of all the Christmas stories.
  • At the same time, with all this stuff about reaching back and fiddling with one’s own past, interfering in the deaths of the parents of one’s friends, and everyone who ever lived getting a second life in the distant future, this is somehow the most straightforwardly Faction Paradox that Doctor Who has ever been. Which is super weird because…
  • It’s kinda also the most fluffy and insubstantial of the Christmas stories.
  • It bothers me how little any of the pieces of the story have to do with one another. Exactly what purpose does the Bradley Doctor serve in the narrative, anyway? I guess on the surface, he’s a plot device to create the temporal strangeness that serves as the setting to the episode. But what narrative function does he play?
  • What’s the Captain doing there anyway? Okay, the two Doctors trying to kill themselves in Antarctica in the ’80s breaks time. This is within the bounds of the sort of things we’ve seen before. Not the same exact thing as happened in “Father’s Day” or “The Wedding of River Song”, but close enough that we’ve established a basis between those earlier two to accept that fucking around with life and death on a temporal level like that can cause time to go sideways, and the exact details of what that means will vary depending on the exact circumstances. But “diverts a guy on his way to being beamed back to 1914” seems like a stretch. Why him? Testimony is apparently picking up people from all of time and space, and the one who gets shanghaied by the Doctors’ temporal crisis is a random Captain from the trenches in World War I? Why any of the infinity other people they’ve been beaming up?
  • It’s nice to see Rusty again, and I really like his animosity toward the Doctor; it woulda been easy to make him friendly, but the idea that hating the Doctor for his similarity to the Daleks would stick with Rusty is wonderful. Though I felt it undermined his credibility how easily the Doctor manipulated him. You get the feeling that you could basically get Rusty to do pretty much anything you liked by reminding him that helping an inferior lifeform would piss the Daleks off.
  • But speaking of which, Testimony freezes time on Villengard while the Doctor’s with Rusty. Which means that the time-freezing thing is something Testimony was doing, not because of the Doctors. There’s no sense of causality between the Doctor’s meeting, the “temporal error”, the Captain, or anything else that happens.
  • Unless, of course, the whole thing is a rouse. I mean, the Doctor screws around with time right in front of them to save the Captain and no one objects or anything. Could it be that Testimony never actually intended for the Captain to die, but rather set the whole thing up, matchmaking between the Doctor and Alistair’s dad, offering him a chance to see Bill, giving him back his memories of Clara, as a kindness?
  • But this only pushes the question off again: why now, and why the Captain? If this was all a set-up by Testimony, why did we get this episode and not David Tennant catching Colin Baker before he whacked his head and flying off to meet Jo Grant’s grandpa? I mean, other than “Because no one wants to watch that.”
  • The Captain’s identity is a bit out of nowhere, isn’t it? This is largely the same issue as the previous three bullet points, but, like, it being specifically him doesn’t connect to anything else in the story, it’s just “HERE IS A CONTINUITY REFERENCE. YOU NERDS LIKE THOSE DON’T YOU?”
  • I’m feeling a little bipolar about this whole episode now that I think about it. Whiplash back and forth between “There’s a whole bunch of stuff crammed in here for no reason” and “It seems a bit thin, doesn’t it?”
  • There’s the beginning of an arc going on with the Bradley Doctor being reluctant to regenerate, then horrified by his future as “The Doctor of War” (Don’t think I haven’t noticed how completely free they are with acknowledging the Hurt Doctor now that the cat’s out of the bag, despite his introduction as the secret the Doctor would take to his grave), and finally resigning himself to his future when his successor saves the Captain. But this ultimately isn’t his story, it’s the Capaldi Doctor’s, and thusly it doesn’t get enough focus for the weight it ought to have. The emotional heart of the episode has been shifted over to a side-plot.
  • Which gets me to the thing that worked the least for me: the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t have an emotional arc. We don’t actually see him grow or change or react to what happens around him in a way that brings about the ultimate character change. In the end, he changes his mind about dying and decides to regenerate instead. But why? It doesn’t feel like something that comes out of the events of the episode. In fact, his very last scene with Nardole, Bill and Clara suggests that he still hasn’t changed his mind. But then suddenly, for no clear reason, he consents to the regeneration. And despite his long speech, there’s no suggestion for why he does it.
  • You could tell a story about how meeting his former self causes him to face his own fears about regenerating. But that isn’t this story.
  • You could tell a story about how seeing Bill resurrected as a glass avatar and realizing that she is no less real even though she exists now as a being of memory rather than flesh and blood helps him to get past his refusal to let this version of himself be relegated to memory. But this isn’t that story. In fact, it seems like to the very end, he still isn’t completely able to accept that memory-Bill and memory-Nardole are legitimately themselves.
  • You could tell a story about the Doctor finally getting the answer to the question he poses to Bill about the sustainability of good — that he is the force in the universe that tips the scales in favor of good. But, again, this isn’t that story; the reveal happens to the wrong Doctor, and besides, the whole concept is introduced only in the middle of the second act.
  • You could even tell a story where meeting Testimony convinces the Doctor that the kindness he puts into the universe can ultimately be repaid, and this makes death less appealing. But again, this isn’t that story. This is a largely unrelated story, at the end of which, the Doctor shrugs and says “Okay, fine, I’ll regenerate.”
  • Y’know, I’m the one person who actually liked Tennant’s “I don’t want to go.” I think most people wanted some kind of grandiloquent speech instead.  This whole episode was Capaldi’s “I don’t want to go,” and he finishes on a big speech which, honestly, does nothing for me. I mean, it starts out at largely cliche platitudes, saying nothing that wasn’t already said much better in “The Doctor Falls”. By the time he gets to the bits about his name, honestly, the whole thing seems like just random meaningless gibberish trying to sound profound.
  • Jodie Whittaker is lovely, but I wish she’d gotten at least a whole sentence or two. Enjoyed the physical acting, but she gets far and away the least screen-time of any incoming Doctor in the new series. Given that they’ve released her new costume, I will also note that she continues the trend of the new Doctor looking cooler in the remains of her predecessor’s wardrobe than in her own.
  • Though not thrilled with the extent to which it’s a very straight rehash of Matt Smith’s first scene.
  • Overall… It was fine. Least favorite of the Capaldi Christmas Specials. Not disappointing-to-the-point-of-inducing-a-three-year-neurosis or anything. But a let-down all the same.

Tales From /lost+found 143: Christmas Special 2017

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4.X Living in Harmony: On the planet Hath, war has broken out between the Human and Messaline colonists. Traveling alone, the Doctor finds himself separated from the TARDIS and thrust into this tense situation. What has driven a wedge between these once-allied races? And who is Harmony Beck, an enigmatic young colonist who seems to know far more about the Doctor than she possibly could…

Tales from /lost+found 141: Song of the Space Whale

1×19 May 2, 1997
SONG OF THE SPACE WHALE (Serial 13, Episode 1)

Setting: Inside a Space Whale, 24th Century
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Christopher Liam Moore (Tova Veer), Nancy Youngblut (Taleen), Kate Mulgrew (Janeway)

Plot: The Doctor parks the TARDIS in deep space to do some stargazing via the TARDIS’s planetarium dome. Too late, Lizzie sees an approaching object, which turns out to be a Space Whale: a gigantic creature adapted to live in the vacuum of space, feeding on the energy fields of radioactive materials and derelict space probes. Mistaking the TARDIS for an energy-rich asteroid, the creature swallows it, and its energy-extracting abilities disable the timeship. The travelers discover a breathable atmosphere when the TARDIS crashes in a cavity inside the whale, and emerge to find themselves in the town of Megaptera, a shanty built out of the remains of the many spacecraft and debris consumed by the whale. Despite the protests of the Megapterans that escape is impossible, the Doctor tries to find a way to move the TARDIS far enough from the whale’s stomach to restore power. Eventually, he succeeds in finding a passage to the whale’s blow-hole, where he discovers evidence of a second settlement. Before he can return to Megaptera, the whale sneezes, expelling the Doctor into open space. He is saved from suffocation by a ship which has been tracking the whale, commanded by the hard-bitten Captain Janeway. She has been hunting the whale for many years, considering it a navigational hazard to the space lanes. The Doctor believes she mostly wants to harvest the whale’s organs for their energy processing abilities. He tells her about the Megapterans, but Janeway is resolved to kill the whale at any cost. When she attempts to fire a killing shot at a weak spot on the whale, the Doctor sabotages her ship with his sonic screwdriver. Enraged, Janeway orders the Doctor executed, but the frightened whale attacks the ship, disabling it. In exchange for his life, the Doctor offers to repair the ship, but is unable to restore power before the space whale swallows it whole.

Tales from /lost+found 138: Week 11



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4×11 The Tunnel at the End of the Light: Sammy returns home to visit her parents to find the Earth in crisis. A wave of suicides is sweeping the world, somehow connected to a mysterious internet meme called “The Test of Shadows”. As the death toll rises and the deaths become increasingly extravagant, can the Doctor solve the test of shadows? Or will he become its next victim?

Tales from /lost+found 137: Week 10

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4×10 Vincent and the Doctor: Something is coming. Something very different and very dangerous. To stop it, the Doctor needs to find a whole new way to look at the universe. And who better to show him than Vincent van Gogh? The Doctor and Sammy travel to 1890s France to meet the troubled artist who can see a monster no one else can.