Doctor Who Series 10 is an interesting year. It is more laid back compared to the previous series. As a matter of fact, it is more laid back than any series since Series 4 at least. It’s just lighter and more relaxed in its tone, characterisation, settings, relationships and even the colours of the visuals around us, particularly the university. While it might not be as grandiose or as era defining as Series 9, this one is just a lot of fun for the majority of the time, from the perspective of the viewer and even of the Doctor. It’s as if the Doctor himself is on some kind of sabbatical from the heavy workload of saving the world, and he feels like having a few side adventures with some new friends for a while. The results lead to a very likeable and well received series, and an ultimately fitting farewell for Peter Capaldi from his undervalued reign as The Doctor.
Unusual for recent series of Doctor Who, there are not any major questions hanging over from the previous series. Series 9 managed to wrap up all of its plot points quite nicely in the end, and the only major dangling thread of any kind from The Doctor’s previous life with Clara Oswald, or with River, is the fate of Missy, which will be revealed in good time anyway. Essentially, Series 10 has provided us with a rare clean slate. The Doctor doesn’t remember Clara anyway, and here he is laying low, working at St. Mark’s University in Bristol going about his life as normal, apart from a mysterious person/thing that is locked away in an underground vault.
Regarding any further changes and developments from Series 9 as we move into Series 10, it is worth noting that this is the last series for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, for Steven Moffat as the main writer and showrunner, and for Murray Gold as the composer, who had been so since the show’s revival in 2005. Additionally, Pearl Mackie joins the team for Series 10 as Bill Potts, the first openly gay main character in Doctor Who, and Matt Lucas reprises his role of Nardole from ‘The Husbands of River Song’ for the duration of the series as well. Another addition to proceedings worth noting is St. Mark’s University, which serves as the Doctor’s base for this series. St. Mark’s is a fictional university, supposedly in Bristol, but the exterior at least is the Main Building of Cardiff University in Cathays Park. The facade plays a prominent role across many episodes across the series.
As for production and the airing of the series, the show was aired on BBC on Saturday nights between April and July 2017, with the specials on Christmas Day either side of the series. It is the last series with more than ten standard episodes, the last before the move to Sunday nights, and the last with specials on Christmas Day as well. Previous series had been mostly aired in autumn time, so perhaps the shift to spring had an impact on ratings.
Before we get into the episodes, for those of you reading these reviews for the first time, they are being written in light of our upcoming Doctor Who tour of Cardiff filming locations. The Welsh capital has served as the backdrop to most of the new stories filmed this century, be it in studios in Cardiff Bay or around the city’s streets and buildings, and a tour of those locations will become a reality later this year, once tours are possible again, of course. Series 10 is no exception, especially in, for example, ‘The Pilot’ (Cardiff University), ‘The Lie of the Land’ (The Exchange), and ‘World Enough and Time’ (Bute St). In the meantime, consider these reviews a light introduction into what may or may not feature on those tours in the future, and a fun lookback on the individual series’ as well to get us through lockdown.
With the set up and changes all noted, it’s time to dive into the stories.
For the first time in a couple of series now, we start with a special, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’. This might just be the most standalone Doctor Who special ever made. It could almost be a feature length movie in its own right, unrelated to the rest of the show. Not too subtly catered to an American audience, and as fan service to Superman, among other superheroes, The Doctor turns a dorky little boy into a superhero by accident. By the time the Doctor meets him again as an adult, he has been using his powers for good, which he had said he wouldn’t use at all. Some hi-jinks ensue and the guy gets the girl in the end, good fun as a once-off story.
‘The Pilot’ is where really start, as the double-meaning name suggests. As well as being considered a fresh start by Moffat, the story also involves a mysterious puddle needing a Pilot in which to travel, ultimately Bill's new friend, Heather. This episode has real relaxed, new beginnings vibes, with its new setting, new companion in Bill, a new type of foe, and some rampant space hopping for a newbie including Daleks and Sydney. A good set up for the series ahead, and change of pace from the previous years.
‘Smile’ moves us into more common Whoniverse territory, with a story set on another planet, Gliese 581d, in a not-too-distant future. Vardies and Emojibots are killing any humans who portray depression or sadness, through a misunderstanding over what death means and the bots not understanding grief. The Doctor resets them all in the end, but the story is more about his growing relationship with the feisty, independent Bill. Despite the prevalence of death, the Doctor maintains the laid-back feels of this series so far with his more casual attire this year. This episode is also noteworthy for a wasted cameo from Ralf Little, Death is Paradise’s latest Detective Inspector, but it wouldn’t be the first wasted guest appearance of NuWho.
The early season trilogy, and Russell T. Davies tradition, of Present Day- Future Planet- Historic Earth back to back stories is completed with ‘Thin Ice’. Bill and The Doctor visit nineteenth century London, as usual, and find that there is something living under the frozen River Thames. The learn that a Lord Sutcliffe is responsible for the underwater monster, as his family has used the creature to amass a fortune by collecting and selling its waste as a replacement for coal. Sutcliffe then sends the Doctor and Bill to be eaten by the creature, but the Doctor takes the bomb and places it on the creature's chains, freeing himself, Bill and the creature. The episode is most fondly remembered with how it deals with the subject of racism in 1914 London, and the Doctor punching Sutcliffe as well as being a call back to 'A Good Man Goes to War'.
‘Knock Knock’ brings us back to the present day and it lightens the mood once again before things ramp up in the mid-series trilogy. This is basically a haunted house story crossed with the E4 show, Fresh Meat, as Bill moves into a too-good-to-be-true house with five other students. There’s a weird landlord, some no-go zones and a twist finish, but mainly, the Doctor is the fish out of water rather than the companion for a change, as he has to blend in with the students.
With ‘Oxygen’ we reach the point of the series with the perils of travelling with the Doctor become more prominent for Bill, and Nardole. Also, we start to shift into more of a series story arc from this point, apart from a couple of filler-episodes. This story results in the Doctor going blind, which carries over into the forthcoming ‘Monk Trilogy’. He goes blind on a space station where oxygen levels are being intentionally dropped by an evil corporation in order to kill off their expensive employees. The Doctor gives his helmet to Bill to save her and he loses his sight, but the workers ultimately defeat their paymasters.
‘Extremis’ begins the Monk Trilogy with a bang, with the Doctor seemingly set to execute Missy only for Nardole, and by extension River, to intervene, which finally explains why he is guarding her in a vault for 1,000 years. Then the Pope arrives on the scene, explaining that a text called Veritas forces people into suicide. The team investigates, they find portals to the Pentagon and around the world. They reach the conclusion that the world might be a simulation, but the Doctor deduces it is merely a trial to see if the world can be taken over this way, which brings us to part two…
‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’ appears on the border of Chinese, Russian and American military bases, created by the Monks. They foresee a disaster for planet Earth in the near future, pinpointed by the Doctor to a specific biochemical lab where misread calculations create a deadly bacteria. The Monks call upon the humans to invite them to take over the world as a means of saving them from the bacteria. In order to restore the Doctor’s sight, as of course he will find a way to save the planet eventually, Bill asks the Monks for their help...
‘The Lie of the Land’ opens with images of how the Monks have always been around, looking after the human race, and almost all of humanity believes the Monks to have always been around, with a few rogue dissenters believing they’ve only been here a few months. Bill and Nardole set about finding the Doctor, who is captive in what seems like a maximum-security purpose-built prison. Bill shoots him as she thinks he is working with the Monks, but in fact it was a test to find out if she was still the same Bill. It’s definitely the best scene in the whole of the ‘Monk’ series. Missy is called upon to help and suggests Bill dying is the only way to reverse things, as she invited them in the first place. They find a way around that though by infiltrating the London Pyramid of the Monks, and Bill replaces the images of Monks with images of her mother, providing an image of hope rather than fear which allows the humans to overcome the Monks.
That’s a relatively long summary of each of the three parts to the ‘Monk Trilogy’, which has some extreme ups and downs, some crazy inconsistencies in tone between and within its three parts, and a finale that falls back on love, which is usually a disappointment whenever it’s used in Doctor Who, such as in James Corden's appearances. At least the Doctor providing Bill with photos of her mother in ‘The Pilot’ served a larger overall purpose, so there was some good foreshadowing there anyway.
What follows are two stories that revert to the light-hearted romp of the early series episodes, albeit combined with a sense that these are only filler before the finale. Firstly we have ‘Empress of Mars’ which brings us back to the red planet for the first time since ‘The Waters of Mars’, which sadly isn’t referenced, especially as it is a far superior story as well. This does bring the Ice Warriors into NuWho for the first time though, and the initial set up of the words ‘God Save the Queen’ being found on Mars since Victorian times is interesting enough. A stand-off on Mars arises between the British army and the Empress of Mars, Iraxxa, but the Doctor and a disrespected army man eventually manage to deescalate the rising tensions and they live together peacefully on Mars.
From one fake history side-adventure to one real-history side adventure, ‘Eaters of Light’. This is set in Scotland in Roman times, when the Ninth Roman Legion supposedly disappeared mysteriously. The Doctor and Bill have bets over whether they were real or not. Eventually, Bill finds the Romans, while the Doctor finds the local Picts. Meanwhile, there is a mysterious creature that is a drawn to any light source, which is why both parties are operating in the dark. Ultimately, the eater of light is a led back to the Cairn-portal from which it escaped, and the Picts and Romans both defend it together.
‘World Enough and Time’ & ‘The Doctor Falls’ brings us a finale for the ages, following after the previous side-stories. If anything, the key points of those previous episodes are the brief moments involving Missy, who may have turned good, and the Doctor, who may be losing his edge. However, in part one of the finale, Missy takes the lead in an adventure with Nardole and Bill upon a very large ship near a black hole, due to a distress call. The mission backfires early as Bill is shot, and is brought to the medical services on the ship only to be gradually transformed in to a Cyberman, unbeknown to her at the time. While minutes pass for the Doctor, years are passing for Bill, who is slowly coming to terms with her reality with the help of Razor, the hospital caretaker, who just happens to be John Simm’s Master!
Part two, ‘The Doctor Falls’, is mainly set on a countryside-style floor of the ship. The Cybermen descend upon the village people, and the Doctor, Nardole and what is left of Bill try to help them, while Missy is conflicted and the Master is not interested. The Doctor blows up the entire level of the ship, destroying the Cybermen, wounding himself, and the Master kills Missy after she stabs him in the back, literally. Despite Bill fading into a Cyberman, Heather, from 'The Pilot', appears to save her, so their souls can travel through space and time together, while Nardole decides to stay with his new friends in the countryside. The Doctor fights his regeneration, walks through the snow, and finds the First Doctor...
‘Twice Upon a Time’ is the last appearance for Peter Capaldi and brings back the first Doctor, William Hartnell (albeit played now by David Bradley). Both don’t want to regenerate, and meet a first World War British Captain (Mark Gatiss for the third time). They are abducted and meet Bill Potts, and then the Twelfth Doctor meets Rusty, the “Good Dalek” from ‘Into the Dalek’, and realises these are just avatars rather than the real versions of the characters. Eventually, the Captain is returned to the battlefield where he started, moments before the infamous Christmas Truce, and the Doctors are content to go about their regenerations. Following some final words of wisdom from the Doctor to the world and to his successor, he regenerated in Jodie Whittaker, and falls to Earth from the Tardis...
Peter Capaldi cements his position as the best Doctor with his third series, maybe. He is the best actor to be the Doctor at least, and as a result his Doctor is potentially the best one there has been. Along with Christopher Eccleston, he creates the best balance of humour with drama of any of the Doctor’s of modern times, and he, of course, gets more time to show it than the Ninth Doctor as well. Capaldi has essentially had three series of totally different styles and yet is still the star of all of them. Unfortunately, his time coincided with a demise in ratings for the show as well, at least in terms of live viewers, but thankfully the prevalence of Netflix and BBC iPlayer mean it has grown a greater appreciation in the meantime. He also got a good send off, consisting of one of the best ever series finale stories. ‘World Enough and Time’ is just an all-time wonderful episode in its own right, and that culminates in an interesting second part where many character arcs are satisfyingly brought to a close. Finally, ‘Twice Upon A Time’ is one of the better specials there has been, bringing the Twelfth and the First Doctors together, the Doctor and Bill back together, as well as with Nardole and Clara, and culminating in a touching World War One finale. His final words “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.” are a motto for life but more than anything they show how far he has come since ‘Deep Breath’.
As for the rest of Series 10, Bill was a nice addition. Sometimes with these one off companions for a single series, they can feel as though they haven’t made an impact, but after five full season of Amy and Clara, it was time for a refreshing change and Bill stood out as someone who was inquisitive, smart and interesting rather than being a mystery herself like Amy and Clara were. It was a welcome return to the companion being a conduit for the viewer. With that in mind, she also formed the same kind of gradual relationship across the series that the Ninth Doctor and Rose did. With each episode, they grew closer, like when the Doctor punched Sutcliffe for his racist remarks, when he saved Bill in Oxygen, when she showed her personal strength and growth from Smile to Eaters of Light, and of course saved the world in ‘The Lie of the Land’, willing to challenge the Doctor but also willing to work hard even when they were separated. Her character’s arc was the shortest for a full-time companion since Martha, but she had one of the more unique entrances and one of the best finales as well. Pearl Mackie also fulfilled the role really well too, and was a great match for Capaldi. Despite her being a newbie and the Doctor being a veteran, she never suffered in that environment.
Matt Lucas ended up being a good addition as well. He wasn’t just comic relief or a lovable buffoon, as would have been anticipated, but actually served a purpose. He was a voice of reason, even more so than Bill, and almost operated as the Doctor’s conscious at times. Nardole grew into the story from ‘Oxygen’ onwards and had a fitting finale of his own, so in a short period of time he matured a lot.
We’ve mentioned Rose and the Nine Doctor, and this series is something of a parallel with that, as the show very much got back to basics here. The renowned formulas of Russell T. Davies were used a lot; a lot of side-adventure standalone episodes, a couple of multi-parters thrown in, some stories that don’t affect the overall plot but are still fun, and using the episode-pattern of today-past-future, which was done in the first three stories, to establish time-travel and other worlds. There’s nothing wrong with that, many people pine for the “good old days” after all, and Moffat really wanted to use this series as an opportunity to start fresh anyway, so no better way than to imitate the foundations of NuWho.
We should also talk about Missy, the person the series revolved around in many ways, but perhaps didn’t feature enough. The story-arc of ‘who is in the vault?’, and ultimately Missy’s (potential) redemption was the main thread of the series. It even reached a satisfying conclusion, with her ‘killing’ the Master and becoming good just as she dies herself. The vault plot device wasn’t that big of a reveal though in the end, and Michelle Gomez, and to an extent even John Simm, were criminally underused. In hindsight now, Missy’s peak was the Series 8 finale and Series 9 opening on Scaro, yet here we are a series and a half later and she is playing a bit-part role despite the main story arc being hers. The viewer wants to see as much of the Doctor and Bill as possible, but to not use Gomez more is just a shame. Even her grand finale and opportunity to shine was overshadowed a bit by the return of John Simm, even though he is universally loved and it was great to have him back.
Regarding Cardiff filming locations, they were also well used, revolving mainly around Cardiff University's Main Building. Clearly by this stage, certain buildings have been almost overused, like the National Museum, Temple of Peace, the Glamorgan Building and The Exchange, and even the most central shopping streets of the city as well. However, the university hasn’t been used before, so having the show based around a university was a good idea, as it involved using parts of the city that haven’t been used before in a productive way. However, it’s no wonder that the following two series, as we will see next week, started to move away from Cardiff city centre.
In conclusion, it was a solid standalone series with no particularly bad episodes, and a couple of memorable ones like the first story, the final two-parter, and the two specials either side of the series were also pretty good too. While it was a welcome change of pace, fun to have a semi-restart, and also a strong idea to move away from the multi-arc, multi-series trend of the previous five series, it still suffered a little without a Clara, for example, without a wider connection, to some people. However, going back to basics was commendable, as was the idea of being more casual, was rooted more in reality and normality, that it had some consistency of locations as well. Essentially it was more relatable. Overall, just a nice swansong for Capaldi.
Best Episode - ‘World Enough & Time’
Already noted, just a great story, with an unexpected twist and some fantastic performances. A unique Doctor Who episode.
Worst Episode - ‘Empress of Mars’
There were no bad stories necessarily, but this is one that failed to grab the viewer compared to some others this year. The dark setting, the annoying British military officer, the peaceful conclusion, it just didn’t spark unfortunately.
Best Character - The Master
This feels like a slight on Missy, but that’s not the case. John Simm is just a great actor and his maniacal performances are always memorable.
Favourite Moment - Grandad Doctor, Knock Knock
Continuing the trend of some early-season humour, the Doctor's reaction to being passed off as Bill’s grandad was priceless, before proceeding to effectively act as an uncool grandad unconsciously anyway.
Best Villain - Emojibots, ‘Smile’
As tempting as it is to mention the Master again, one of the more threatening villains in the series was actually the emoji robots, and the changes in their faces was quite suspenseful.
Favourite Guest Star - John Simm
The Master gets his second mention here. It’s just always a delight to see him on screen, and a nice surprise to have him back. His dynamic with Missy was also very enjoyable.
Obviously Cardiff/Wales Location- Main Building, Cardiff University, All Series
While it hasn’t been used before, Cardiff University eventually became quite an obvious location after a few viewings. Anyone who has studied there or visited it, will have instantly recognised it, or anyone who has watched Sherlock.
Location Not So Obviously Cardiff - Bute St, ‘World Enough and Time’ & ‘The Doctor Falls’
This series used specific locations a lot, rather than using a lot of public locations. However, one of the more subtle locations was Bute Street in Cardiff, not too far from Cardiff Bay, and an area generally used when Cybermen are marching through London. When Razor and Bill go to ground level from the ship, they are walking along one of Cardiff’s most famous streets.
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