Warning: This episode recap contains major spoilers. Proceed with caution.
OK fam. Hold onto your hats. If you’ve seen the episode (and if you haven’t, what are you doing here reading this spoileriffic piece?), you can probably guess my reaction to this episode. Among other things, I literally screamed, knowing there was every chance it would disturb my children who I’d put to bed not long before this aired, and I couldn’t help myself. It made me as happy as I’ve ever been about anything on a TV show. There are only two ways to proceed with a review of an episode of this magnitude. The first is several pages of incoherent jibberish peppered heavily with swearing. As I imagine the Doctor feels about swearing much the same as she does about guns, I shall leave it at a simple HOLY MOTHERFORKING SHIRTBALLS and endeavor to collect myself and discuss the major points, as that’s all we have time for. Just move forward under the assumption that I approved of all the standard elements of a Doctor Who episode that appeared in this one because I did, but there’s no time for all that because CAPTAIN JACK IS BACK and so much more!
Backing up, the Judoon are also back. Unlike the other reveal, this was a well-publicized return for these characters. I really enjoyed these guys back in Season 3 and no one can say, nine seasons later, that they have been brought back too often. They were gone long enough for the audience to have forgotten just what an unreasonable menace they are. While their interaction was limited to their singular purpose in “Smith and Jones,” here we get the chance to learn more about them and to see them function in and react to a variety of circumstances. The Doctor’s familiar contempt for authorities who enforce with violence was a grounding element while chaos swirled around us in the rest of the episode. And the writers made just the right amount of use out of the rhyming joke using their names. I even think the fact that this species’ return was teased in the press was a clever way to hide other bigger reveals to come, to give fans something to throw them off the scent during an incredibly long hiatus. In short, these characters were used, in every way, to absolute perfection.
Speaking of ABSOLUTE PERFECTION, JACK MOTHERFLIPPIN’ HARKNESS IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But this episode was not done blowing minds yet because DOCTOR. RUTH. SO MANY QUESTIONS! Who is she? When is she from? And where? And why doesn’t either Doctor remember the other? I really enjoyed Jo Martin’s performance as the Doctor and of course, since that Doctor needs her own companion, I kind of love that she went and got married and settled down in a quiet English town. She handled herself well with Whittaker’s Doctor and with Gat and the Judoon. Obviously now is not the time to get into whatever the hell this plot is with only a small part of the story having been told, but this is the type of Doctor Who that has had me on the edge of my seat for most of my life, dying for the next episode and the excitement of whatever craziness is about to happen next. It’s really reminiscent of some of the more bonkers plotlines of early Doctor Who and I love, love, LOVE it.
Season 11 really dealt with standalone episodes and gave the new cast and creative team time and space (see what I did there?) to breathe and to get to know each other and for us to get to know them. With the solid foundation built there and having gained the trust of the audience, they now have the freedom to build what is shaping up to be a crazy interesting season-long story arc. This creative team really had stealth, audacity, and cleverness about this season. Having seen this episode, the structure of season 12 makes a lot more sense to me. Whatever this business is with Jack and the lone Cyberman, with Doctor Ruth who doesn’t know our Doctor, and with the Gallifreyan setting the Judoon on the Doctor, clearly it’s an arc that’s going to be present for the rest of the season. They knew exactly how much story they had to sustain and couldn’t have dropped these bombs too early in the season. So, first we got a barn-burner of a two-part premiere to let us know that, despite having been gone a year, they had not lost a step, they were not fucking around, and that we could expect more greatness to come from the hints they planted (as I can’t believe that the Master’s reappearance and subsequent destruction of Gallifrey has nothing to do with what happened in this episode). Then, it made sense to stick other kinds of episodes next in the season. They had something they wanted to say about a current event and they wanted to do another solid historical/American episode after the success of Rosa. While the execution of the former was bungled in my opinion, now is the time for both of those. I’d expect we’ll get a breather episode with a lighter tone somewhere around episode seven or eight, but otherwise, buckle up kids.
While I’ve never really had a problem with any of seasons 11 or 12 thus far, THIS is the Doctor Who I fell in love with and I genuinely don’t know how I will be able to wait until next week to see what happens next. Luckily, my team did not make it into the Superbowl, so at least I don’t have to make a Sophie’s Choice on Sunday night. See you all then!