Cheerleader Poet, Save The World
If there’s one thing Doctor Who has managed to nail this year it’s the element of unpredictability. Season 12 has offered up some of the worst writing in the show’s history, along with a trio of uninteresting companions that feel messily handled and make the TARDIS feel far too crowded. From political messages and agenda-driven writing, through to lazy designs and morally grey characterisations, Doctor Who has been anything but a fun sci-fi ride at times this year.
Yet somehow the show has managed to pull off some genuinely decent episodes along the way, referencing past eras and bringing a new spin on tried and tested ideas that feel exciting and hopeful. This latest episode is another that falls on the side of optimism; a rare burst of energy in an otherwise flat-lined season that may just have enough spark to see us over the finish line on a high.
Our tale this week takes place on the Lake Geneva in 1816. Mary and her friends are graced with a story but as the tale is told, a rapping at the door draws the storyteller away. It turns out the Doctor and her companions have arrived and they shriek at the sight of her. The Doctor introduces herself and questions whether they fancy writing a ghost story. Outside the room however, a vase smashes against the wall. It turns out Percy Shelley is missing and because of this, history is in danger of careering off track.
While Graham wanders off to find the bathroom, a picture falls from the wall and with it, a hand rips itself free. After skipping between the different companions and a whole litany of characters across the house, the skeletal hand charges at Ryan and starts choking him out until the Doctor gets there just in time and saves him.
As the group attempt to leave the house, they find themselves running around in circles, re-entering the same rooms whence they came and unable to escape. With all the companions separated, they shout to one another and try to figure out what’s going on. The candles and lights go out and Dr Polidori awakens, seemingly possessed, walking through the walls and confronting the Doctor. As she starts to piece everything together, she tells the other companions to open their minds as there’s a perception filter over the house.
Unfortunately, they’re unable to get out the house but together they try to talk their way out of the problem. Mary notices a glowing figure outside floating and shimmering, and this figure manages to break into the house. The Doctor barricades the door as the lone cyberman arrives, clearly looking for something. The Doctor heads out alone to talk to it.
The Doctor comes face to face with this half-Cyberman/half human hybrid and tries to gauge exactly what it wants. This creature clearly still has feelings and while Graham heads down to the basement and finds Percy Shelley – the prophesied Guardian – the Doctor finds her chance to slip away and save baby William.
After handing over the child, Mary rushes off with the Doctor and her companions to Percy’s location in the basement, who seemingly moves the Cyberman with his mind. It turns out he’s been changing the house too and as the Doctor reads his memories, she sees visions of the past involving a quicksilver shimmer from the lake rooting around inside his veins. This quicksilver (the cyberium), holds all the history and ancient knowledge of the cybermen. They believe someone sent it back through time to try and change the future, which clearly has bloodshed and distraction in line for Earth.
After a rousing speech about words mattering, The Doctor inspires the troops and in particular Mary, who stands up and speaks to the creature, asking it if it was a Father and managing to touch his emotional core. This doesn’t last long as the creature grabs Mary and threatens to kill her. The Doctor apologises and frees Percy from the Cyberium, instead caving to the prophecy and giving the cyberium to this lone cyberman and immediately bringing daylight to the world as it teleports away.
Having caused a whole world of problems, the Doctor sets to work course-correcting the future, preparing Shelley to write down the symbols and numbers he’s seen. As they return to the TARDIS, she tells her companions they don’t need to follow her to the cyber co-ordinates they’ve managed to decipher. The companions are defiant though and decide to stick with her as we prepare to descend into hell where the episode ends.
If there’s one thing this episode, and in a way the whole season, has taught us it’s that one of these companions needs to die. Ryan is nigh on useless at this point, Yaz feels like a clone of the Doctor, with her quirky one-liners and attitude, while Graham’s comedic edge is the only defining attribute given he can’t really lean on the Doctor for moral support during his issues. It’s such a bizarre companion set-up and one that’s reinforced by the writers clearly knowing this emotional resonance isn’t there.
The episode itself does do well to give some consistency and a clearer purpose to the season, with a definitive arc and some intriguing ideas brought to the foreground. Although this episode is one of the better ones this season, it’s not saying much compared to the excellent quality of the past. Still, the two-part finale is up next and plenty of questions remain over this one. Whether Doctor Who can recover from its drop of 5 million+ viewers since last season remains to be seen but this is certainly another step in the right direction.
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