Doctor Who came sprinting back onto our screens on Saturday, fizzing with an energy and invention that’s remarkable in a 2,000-year-old man – and even more remarkable in a 52-year-old TV property.
Steven Moffat’s busy series curtain raiser opened on a ravaged battlefield, where our hero was attempting to guide a terrified young boy through a cluster of hand mines. And no, that’s not a typo – these were literally hands that dragged their victims down into the mud. Hands with eyes. It’s that sort of show.
Except it turned out the kid he was trying to save was actually Davros, future megalomaniacal creator of the Daleks. Oops, his bad.
This was a plot development some 40 years in the making, predicated on a line from the 1975 story in which the Doctor and Davros first met (‘If someone pointed out a child that would grow up totally evil, a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?’). If that sounds self-indulgent, Moffat laid it all out there on the screen for new starters, complete with archive footage of Tom Baker in all his pop-eyed glory. (And why shouldn’t Doctor Who celebrate its astonishing legacy? How many other shows even have that chance?)
Davros and the Daleks weren’t the only villains on the comeback trail: Michelle Gomez also reprised her fabulously fruity turn as Missy – aka the Doctor’s old nemesis the Master, who is now a woman with a penchant for dressing like Mary Poppins (keep up, do), and suffering a little ‘arch enemy envy’, vis-à-vis Davros.
Hang on, wasn’t Missy blasted to atoms last year? ‘Death is for other people, dear,’ she told Clara (the excellent Jenna Coleman) breezily, adding that, for her and the Doctor, killing each other was ‘like texting’.
After an uneven start last series, Peter Capaldi was in his element here, making his big entrance wielding an electric guitar on top of a tank, Tony Stark-style, and generally looking like he was born to be a Time Lord. Which, let’s face it, he was. Doctor Who has been Capaldi’s favourite TV show for half a century. There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be yours too.
Storm clouds are gathering over Downton, where Lord Crawley is down to just the one hall boy. ‘Who lives as we do now?’ he asked gloomily, as another stately home went under the hammer.
Elsewhere, it was business as usual in this final series opener: a sex scandal for Lady Mary, fresh trials for poor Anna and Bates, and some deliciously acidic bon mots from the Dowager Countess.
We’ll miss it when it’s gone, of course, but is it just me who feels Sunday night’s centre of gravity may have shifted west, to Poldark country?
Midwinter of the Spirit
This supernatural thriller stars the fabulous Anna Maxwell Martin as the Rev Merrily Watkins, a recent graduate of the Deliverance Ministry – the branch of the CofE that deals in exorcisms. Or, as Merry’s daughter put it, ‘Ghostbusting for Jesus’. It’s a good career move, as it turns out Merrily’s patch of the Welsh borders is a hotbed of demonic possession, complete with a horrific crucifixion in the woods.
Mixing lovely scenery – all wintry trees and rolling mists – with violent death, it’s your classic ITV crime hokum given a satisfyingly spooky twist.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, September 24, 2015
(c) Waitrose Weekend