Neil Cross’s first episode for Doctor Who is likely to be one of those “marmite” instalments: people are going to either love it or hate it. It’s based around a core idea that may put some viewers off: there is a song that must be sung in order to preserve the status quo, and quite a bit of the episode is devoted to choral music in various forms. (Those same people ironically probably didn’t have a problem with the Logopolitans using numbers though.) It’s a clever idea – and one that echoes the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among many others – and it’s brought to life well.
The pre-credits sequence walks a fine line between being sentimental and slightly creepy: we need some of the information provided in it to make sense of the resolution of the episode, but there’s an almost-stalkerish element to the Doctor’s behaviour which just feels slightly wrong. It’s the only potentially false note in another great performance by Matt Smith though, and he and Jenna-Louise Coleman are rapidly developing into a solid team. Since Clara is still the newcomer, there’s an appropriate amount of attention given to her first trip to an alien world (very reminiscent of The End of the World and The Beast Below), and we see sides of the earlier versions in her behaviour.
There seems to be a deliberate policy of referring forward and back in the stories so far this year (including The Snowmen): there’s a continuity reference to fifty years ago, and some very interesting hints about the future almost hidden within the dialogue. With a strong performance from the child guest star Emilia Jones (daughter of Aled), incredible visuals in terms of the amount of costuming and the alien feel to the Rings of Akhaten, and one of Murray Gold’s best musical contributions, this shows that the series is treading confidently towards the anniversary.
Verdict: A very good debut for Cross. 8/10