There are already theories about how they got so far north in the time of the vikings and some of the them just about work. But really, however well intentioned these theories are, I’m just going to raise an eyebrow and say “really?” Then I’m going to let it go because however dumb and incongruous, it’s a good natured flub in a very good episode.
There was so much going against this episode from the write ups; it sounded as if it was going to be one of those terrible mock-historicals from the later period of ‘Classic Who’. I mean, vikings versus aliens. Really?
Oh, but this is Doctor Who and not the silliest thing that’s ever happened by a long, long way. And it occurs to me me that this reads like I’m trying to justify the episode; apologise for it; and that is far from the truth!
This is another episode by Jamie Mathieson, the guy responsible for some of the precious few, truly good episodes last season – Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline. He needs to be treated well and kept sweet; he’s working wonders for the good/bad ratio of recent Who.
So what happens? Well, the Doctor and Clara turn up, they’re captured by Vikings, The Doctor pretends to be Odin with the aid of a yoyo – don’t know how that was meant to work and indeed it doesn’t – and then Odin turns up in the sky demanding the warrior class return with him to valhalla for some mega-fight or another.
It doesn’t end well and the Doctor has to somehow turn the farmers that are left into a fighting force capable of seeing off some uber-tech aliens intent on swigging back their hormones. This prompts the line “The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me. It’s unbearable” from Clara. Nice. All this is acheived with the help of a poetic baby . . .
It’s not the greatest of plots – although the baby is a nice touch – but it’s not the plot that matters here. It’s the consequences; the set up for part two.
The story we are presented with is over and done with almost indecent haste. So we have another ten minutes or so give us further clues to the over-arching story for this season. We’re given an explanation as to why The Doctor looks like Caecilius from The Fires of Pompeii – although curiously not John Frobisher from Torchwood . . mind you, he never actually met Frobisher – and we have more chat about responsibility, Clara getting too big for her boots and the mysterious myth of “The Hybrid” first posited by Davros in the over-wrought The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar.
We even get flashbacks of David Tennant and Donna – another hybrid: The Doctordonna. Hybrids are important here. I just hope to god they don’t bring the human/dalek hybrid back because that thing was bloody awful!
The villain was ridiculously camp and all the better for it – you can’t really be taken seriously with wings of that size on your helmet and having to deliver lines like “Nec . . . taaaaaaarrrrrrrr”. In a parallel universe, the Doctor would have witnessed this and the false Odin would have screamed “Nec . . . taaaaaaarrrrrrrr, Doc . . . toooorrrrr”, but sadly, it wasn’t to be.
The thing that really, really pleased me though was that Maisie Williams turned out NOT to be River Song or any kind of Gallifreyan. Although it would have been nice if it was, say, Susan – it would have played into the constant looking back and the smug, fan pleasing references that I constantly rail against. So, all is good.
What we get is a dissection of Ashildr’s fate, beautifully illustrated by a swirling shot as the world progresses around her new found status. “Immortality”, warns the Doctor, “isn’t living for ever. That isn’t what it feels like. Immortality is everyone else dying.”
Is Ashildr The Hybrid?
No doubt this is going to be revisited in next week’s second part and will have a bearing on the season as a whole
What was wonderfully refreshing about this episode, though was the lightness of touch. Where the comedy could have been crass, it was delivered with pleasing deftness. The scenes with ZZ Top, Lofty, Heidi, Daphne, Noggin the Nog (Noggin the Nog!!!), and Limpy could have been embarrassingly bad and, worse yet, a terrible cliche but again, it was never overplayed.
Where the entire story could have been horribly corny, it never failed to surprise; every few minutes something unexpected happened; enough to confound, but not enough to distract. So, major kudos to Ed Bazalgette here. Wonderful direction!
Now, having enjoyed this so much, naturally, I worry about next week’s episode being written by Catherine Tregenna and not Jamie Mathieson. Not that I have anything against Catherine Tregenna, she written some fantastic stories within the Whoniverse, most notably “Out of Time”, “Adam”, “Meat” and the wonderful “Captain Jack Harkness”. I just wonder about the shift of tone.
Of course, when you consider that Catherine Tregenna is well known for bringing – and I quote from the Doctor Who Wikia here – “significant advancements in the emotional lives of the main characters”, I reckon next week’s episode is going to be a doozy.
But yeah . . .
Those eels . . .