Spoilers are straight ahead. But if you're concerned about spoilers, you probably shouldn't read an article with the word in the title.
To put it as politely as we often have to in a household that includes a two year-old, “What the heck?!” I’ve seen a lot of Doctor Who in my day and there is no shortage of weird, wonky, inexplicable stuff, but when it comes to not making a damn lick of sense, this episode absolutely takes the cake.
It opens with one of my least favorite tropes, the video claiming to be “now” and the smash cut to earlier. So right off the bat, I don’t trust the premise I’m being given. Next, we meet the rescue squad, who all might as well be wearing red shirts, and then the Doctor and Clara show up. Nothing in this interaction is new. Soldiers wave guns, Doctor postures, then performs heroic feats and/or shows off dazzling knowledge to gain respect/authority, Doctor goes on to defeat monsters etc. The heroic sacrifice of the clone 474 was hollow. The betrayal of the scientist was predictable and boring. As far as plot goes, this was as formulaic as it gets. I saw every plot development coming, as if it was tramping down an adjacent hallway wearing heavy boots and shouting a lot.
I kept looking for things to like about the episode and coming up empty. None of the performances were particularly remarkable. Even Capaldi, who as previously mentioned, has been killing it, seems bored with this one. The monster design was kind of cool and simultaneously really gross. There were a few bright spots in the writing; the bit about using “space-“ as a prefix was cute and I enjoyed the nod to the 2nd Doctor’s catchphrase “When I say run, run!” I suppose the lack of credits sequence is notable, but that’s all it is. I will say it was nice to have a story that was not based on present-day Earth, even if it did still involve humans. I get that aliens are expensive, production-wise, but if you have a guy who can go anywhere in time and space and he never goes anywhere but 20th century London, it strains credulity, even for a science fiction show.
And then we have that ending. What even was that? I try not to seek out external coverage of this show before I write these pieces, but I peeked and we are not alone in our utter confusion. Nobody understands what really happened or what the point of this episode was. Even the Doctor exclaimed “None of this makes any sense!” as he escaped into the TARDIS. It’s as if we were shown the moment when the actors decided to bail on the concept, hop in the TARDIS and take off for somewhere else in BBC-land until the showrunners have been sacked or had their Ambien prescriptions revoked, and that final exclamation was not the Doctor’s but Capaldi’s.
The most notable quality of this episode is that it does not purport itself to be a 2-parter, making it the first of its kind in series 9. Moreover, it truly begs for resolution, making it ideal for the To Be Continued title card, far more than other stories told this year have. At least, if we had a part 2, we could understand that the nonsensical ending was intentional. The show has earned enough faith with this season’s stellar Part 2s that I would willingly grant a little leeway if the second part adequately explained and justified the confusion of the first. Even if it did, I’d still have problems. A Part 1 should be able to stand on its own even though the story isn’t resolved. This predictable mess of an episode leaves its audience scratching their heads and doesn’t offer any recompense. I suppose it’s possible we could get some resolution, but the scenes from next week don’t offer any connection and, frankly, I’d be happier if we all pretended that this week didn’t happen.
The best sense I can make of Rassmussen’s final monologue is that this was all meant to just be a story, similar to the dreams we all have, that don’t quite make sense when we wake up and are gone by the time we finish our first cup of coffee. If that’s the case, I wish I had been asleep for the length of the episode. Also, if that was your point, Show, it was ham-fistedly executed and shame on you for doing that in what is otherwise a really remarkable season of a generally top-notch show. Let’s all rub this episode out of our eyes and hope next week is a lot different. I smell the return of Maisie Williams, which bodes well. See you then!