The Virgin New Adventures of the 1990s brought elements of fan fiction into the official spin-offs of Doctor Who, including the desire by some writers (particularly Kate Orman) to put the Doctor through the mill – sometimes physically, but more often psychologically. It’s appropriate then, in an episode which features the Doctor pretty much exclusively (there are a couple of other characters seen), that aspects of this particular trope is unearthed. The who, how and why will remain spoiler-free…
The episode, unsurprisingly, stands or falls on Peter Capaldi’s performance, and he presents a tour de force, displaying an emotional range in the Doctor that you rarely saw in the classic era (and is rarely seen to this extent in the new series, come to that). Director Rachel Talalay maintains momentum in a story unlike any other we’ve seen on Doctor Who – although I do think it doesn’t need the extra time allotted to the episode: a leaner 45 minute version might have been stronger.
This time last year we had Cybermen on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and the revelation of the Master’s new identity; this is something very different – a story about the Doctor himself. We’re at the stage of the season where a new audience is unlikely to come in, so such self-indulgence on the show’s part is hardly likely to harm it, although Steven Moffat’s own often-repeated line about how the show is about those around the Doctor, rather than the Time Lord himself, did come to mind from time to time.
Verdict: If you’re not a fan of the show, I suspect this will leave you cold; for fans, though, and particularly those of Peter Capaldi and/or the 12th Doctor, it’s a treat. 8/10