It’s been a very long time since I’ve sat and watched an episode of Doctor Who genuinely unsure how things are going to pan out – in fact, not since some of the early days of Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation. Phil Ford and Steven Moffat throw some real twists into this story, not just in the characterisation of the Doctor (and there are moments here you will be taken aback by) but also the decisions of some of the other characters. In the early days of the twenty-first century show, it felt as if all bets were off in terms of where Russell T Davies was taking the show; there’s that same unpredictability present here.
This is the one that takes the Doctor and Clara into darkness, into the worst place in the universe, but it’s not all grim unremitting horror. There are some great comedic scenes at the top of the episode, with the introduction of Clara’s fellow teacher Danny Pink (although those too have their pathos), and there are a couple of lines between the Doctor and Clara that are likely to make their way straight into the updated Quotable Doctor Who book.
Eccleston’s tenure is evoked by a number of elements of this story. Ben Wheatley captures the inexorable nature of the Daleks that we saw in Joe Ahearne’s direction (which also featured in the Time War sequences of The Day of the Doctor), while the single-mindedness of a Dalek that Robert Shearman nailed in his reintroduction of the metal monsters to the programme nearly a decade ago now is never far from the surface.
Verdict: For me, the best use of the Daleks for many years – let’s hope the whole season has this sensibility. 9/10