***WARNING! THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS***
Time is running out… and for The Twelfth Doctor, it’s almost at an end.
With just two episodes remaining in the Peter Capaldi era, things are heating up to the extreme. Trapped on a doomed spaceship, Twelve faces one final battle against two Masters and the Mondasian Cybermen. But before The Doctor Falls in next week’s explosive Series 10 finale, let’s look back at his finest adventures so far from 2014-2017. It feels like only yesterday that he burst onto our screens, crash landing with a dinosaur in Victorian London. Now, the end is nigh – but the moment has been prepared for…
5. Extremis (S10 E06)
“Without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis…”
Doctor Who Series 10 has consistently been a ‘good’ series, but this was the first episode that might truly be described as ‘great’. Steven Moffat’s mid-season offering, and the beginning of the Monk trilogy, was a mind-bending corker. The premise is deliciously enticing: deep in the Vatican, there’s a book called the Veritas that tells a forbidden truth. Anyone who reads it immediately kills themselves afterwards. What could be so shocking a revelation as to cause such mass suicide? And more importantly, will The Doctor dare to read it…?
If there’s one thing to say about Extremis it’s that it’s atmospheric. The scenes in the Vatican library are spooky stuff, a dark and winding labyrinth of mystery. Bill and Nardole’s encounter with CERN towards the end is also pretty unnerving – the effects of the Veritas are felt far and wide. Oh, and did we mention? The Doctor’s blind! Although Twelve’s Oxygen-induced disability is handled a bit haphazardly across Episodes 5-8, here it is used effectively to trap Capaldi in the dark. He’s weak and he’s vulnerable, and that’s a position we’ve never seen The Doctor in before.
Admittedly, some might find this a bit of a Marmite episode. Part of that may be down to the unceremonious unveiling of Missy in the Vault, but we wager it mainly depends on how you interpret the ending. Yes, it’s basically all a dream, but it’s at least a dream with purpose. We essentially watch Extremis through the (real) Doctor’s eyes, a recording of a computer simulation set up by those meddlesome Monks. A cop-out? Perhaps. But as a foundation for things to come, it provides a strong and intriguing build-up. Besides, if nothing else, there’s always that unforgettable moment when the Pope bursts in and interrupts Bill’s date. Mamma mia!
4. The Zygon Inversion (S9 E08)
Otherwise known as “that one with the war speech”. Series 9’s Zygon two-parter picked up where The Day of the Doctor left off, with rogue Zygons threatening to wreak havoc. But of the two episodes, it’s The Zygon Inversion and not The Zygon Invasion that makes this list. Whereas Invasion is a globe-trotting romp, Inversion is a smaller and slower affair, offering poignancy over scale. The plot is very contemporary and relevant, with unmistakable parallels to ISIS and terrorism. It also helps to flesh out and (ahem) humanise the Zygons. Most of them are peaceful folk, but a few bad eggs are ruining it for the others. The nightmare scenario is in full swing… call in Doctor Disco!
As well as the exciting return of Osgood and UNIT, there’s some genuinely clever stuff going on here. Clara’s ‘dream’ scenes throughout Inversion are wonderfully unnerving. In fact, Jenna Coleman is just generally one of the highlights in this episode. She totally owns her double role as Bonnie, and it’s a shame we don’t get to see her play evil more often.
Then, of course, there’s the bit that everyone remembers: that anti-war speech at the end. The Doctor’s lengthy monologue is incredible stuff, and it’s a risk that pays off beautifully. Kudos to Peter Harness and Steven Moffat for writing such a hard-hitting script. And even more kudos to Peter Capaldi for pulling it off with aplomb.
3. World Enough and Time (S10 E11)
The most recent episode of Doctor Who is easily the best of Series 10. Bringing the Vault series arc to a climactic head, The Doctor puts Missy’s rehabilitation to the test. Perhaps though he shouldn’t have done it on a spaceship slowly inching its way out of an enormous black hole. What starts off as a rollicking barrage of meta-humour quickly goes south, in every sense. The Doctor’s rash decision puts Bill in the crossfire and she quite literally gets a stomach full. Or a stomach less, we suppose, as she’s shot clean through the chest and left for dead. Some creepy surgeons take her away to the bottom of the ship for ‘repairs’ – and that’s when the episode really gets good.
World Enough and Time is excellent on two very different levels – again, quite literally. The Doctor, Missy and Nardole are at the top of the ship where time moves very slowly. Here, we get all the hard science of how gravity affects time in the eye of a black hole. Meanwhile, down below decks where minutes equate to years, Bill finds herself on a horrifying hospital ward. The slow introduction and transformation of the Mondasian Cybermen is properly creepy, and the best the metal monsters have been in the revived show. We’re still having nightmares about the “pain… pain… pain…” scene. Shudder.
But that’s not all! We also get the glorious return of John Simm’s Master, disguised as the strangely hilarious and lovable Mr Razor. He’s having a field day under all those prosthetics, but before long the mask comes off and his evil intentions are revealed. If only we hadn’t known about one (or both) of these big surprises in advance, World Enough and Time might well have been the shocker of the century. But, expected or unexpected, the lead-up to the reveals was undeniably good. And that cliffhanger! Argh! We can only hope The Doctor Falls keeps up the same quality on Saturday…
2. Listen (S8 E04)
Question: what happens when you write a story about The Doctor in his down time? Conjecture: the best episode of Series 8, and the first defining Twelfth Doctor episode! While Listen often feels like a greatest hits of Steven Moffat tropes, it’s done so well that it hardly makes a difference. The premise is simple and intriguing: The Doctor, purely for the sake of it, is on the hunt of perfect hiders. Is it possible to ever witness something that can never be seen? The answer, it seems, isn’t so straightforward…
The script is timey-wimey, but beautifully so. Clara and Danny’s first date interweaves with The Doctor’s search in impossible ways. Moffat manages to write both a funny yet terrifying series of events. Everything in the restaurant is comedy gold, but the rest? Chilling to the bone. If you’ve ever had a nightmare about what’s under your bed, prepare to jump behind the sofa. The journey takes us right to the very end of the universe. But, even then, closure isn’t very forthcoming – and all the better for it.
Some will argue that the ending with Clara on Gallifrey is a step too far. Love it or loathe it, though, it’s hard to deny that the scene itself is lovingly shot. Clara’s “fear makes companions of us all” speech is moving and it ties the story up perfectly. As a 45 minute showcase of The Twelfth Doctor in Series 8, Listen is as good as it gets.
Oh, and was that thing under the covers a monster, or just a child? We may never know…
1. Heaven Sent (S9 E11)
The Twelfth Doctor in Series 9 though? Well, this is definitely as good as it gets. Heaven Sent is a tour-de-force in writing, acting, and directing. This is Doctor Who at its most experimental, its most brave, and its absolute best. Considering it’s essentially just 55 minutes of one man talking to himself in a castle, that’s pretty good going.
Still reeling from Clara’s death, The Doctor is well and truly put through the wringer. Somebody wants information about the Hybrid and they’ll do anything to get it. The Doctor is locked in a puzzle-box of his own nightmares, stalked by the sinister Veil. He’s only got his brains and his brawn to figure out how to escape. The good news is, he eventually does. The bad news? It’s going to take him quite a while…
The build-up is great, but this is an episode that completely triumphs on its ending. In fact, it gets even better on rewatch when you can make sense of everything in reverse. The final montage of The Doctor pounding away at the azbantium wall is pure artistic brilliance. Four and a half billion years fly by in just a few minutes, and you feel the weight of every single moment. Around and around The Doctor goes, dying and dying again and again, just to painstakingly chisel away at that impossible tunnel. Poor guy.
Then, at last, he smashes through and steps onto the harsh sands of a familiar planet. The Doctor is finally back on Gallifrey, and this time he’s got a score to settle. Opinions on Hell Bent are divisive to say the least, but surely everyone can agree that this story was a worthy way for him to get there… quite literally “the long way round”!