I have a bone to pick with American TV. Now, I love the content of the shows made in the US of A, don’t get me wrong; how can you argue with Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and the rest? The quality is there, and I like to think those shows have influenced British TV just as much as the best bits of our shows have influenced them. No, my problem lies with the dreaded mid-season break. Why? Why do they insist on doing this? If you want two shorter seasons, just say so. Don’t try and squeeze two premieres and two finales out of one series and tell me you’re ‘having a break’. It’s spreading over here now, to the extent that even wise old BBC have adopted this most annoying of strategies. Still, considering the Beeb’s recent chequered history, it’s hardly their worst offence, so I’ll let it slide.
And besides, one of their biggest franchises has just come out of hibernation and is back on screens – Doctor Who! Yes, the Doctor is in once again, with a spruced-up TARDIS, a new jacket and, most notably of all, a new companion. She’s Clara Oswald, played with considerable attitude by Jenna-Louise Coleman. Coleman has already appeared in Doctor Who twice before, of course, so there’s some sense of déjà vu about her character, but presumably it’s all intentional and will pay off further on down the line. She appears to have the most important things down; great chemistry with the impossible-to-dislike Matt Smith, feisty personality, intelligence and wit, but then, most of the Doctor’s companions have these days. It remains to be seen whether she’ll continue to bounce off the Doctor so well, or sink back into the tried-and-tested pretty face role, but the early signs are positive. Their patter is electrifying, sometimes obnoxiously so, but the heart and humour are ever-present and for the most part that makes up for any Diet Coke Aaron Sorkin vibes that creep in occasionally.
The plot is typical Who fare, with the science-fiction ratio firmly on the fiction and scarcely on the science. Yes, the sci-fi is soft and soggy as ever, so IT experts, look away now: a mysterious organisation is downloading the souls and personalities of people onto a mysterious network for nefarious purposes (which are never explained, presumably on purpose), all via our ever-unreliable wi-fi. Expect lots of scenes of people typing really fast, while staring intently at meaningless computer graphics and vomiting equally meaningless technobabble into your ears faster than you can integrate your downloads into the network. The wi-fi can also be used to possess people, and to transfer exact copies of them onto blank, faceless droids, which in turn can go around downloading other people. It’s as preposterous as you’d expect from Doctor Who, but does lead to some vintage Who scares – creepy little girls with fully rotating heads ahoy! While it is taken to ridiculous lengths, the idea of some nefarious force exploiting the world’s faulty wi-fi is a stroke of genius, and bodes well for the future. Steven Moffat and co clearly have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the world, which deserves congratulation. No doubt the BBC thought police were driving past my house when they picked up a torrent of unprintable swear words after my internet kindly cut out just as I managed to build up an unstoppable run of kills on Team Fortress 2.
The episode breezes along at a brisk pace though, and manages to breathlessly combine the sci-fi silliness with some well-judged chills – including one particularly disturbing twist that lends the villains some unexpected sympathy – that makes it everything you could want from an episode of Doctor Who. It’s perfect Saturday tea time viewing, with something for everyone, and is a solid, if not particularly memorable return to the series. As a reintroduction to the series, you could do a lot worse, with the beginning of something great between Clara and the Doctor, as well as some solid villainous groundwork being laid, which will no doubt be trying to kill us all once again in the near future. All in all, it’s an episode that ticks all the right boxes even if it doesn’t think outside of them, and nonetheless it bodes well for the future of the season. Sorry, half-season. Ugh.