The Twelve Doctors

One of my New Year’s resolutions, which will no doubt go as well as all my past resolutions, is to stop ranking things. It’s pointless and is designed to lead to nothing but arguments — sometimes just with yourself, but even someone who disagrees with only one placement now has something to debate with you to no one’s benefit. It’s a dumb thing to do.

The original version of this post was exactly that dumb thing: a ranking of all the Doctors Who, from my least favorite to my most favorite. As I suspected, it took me mere weeks to start second-guessing the rankings and changing my mind. After shuffling the upper-middle range several times, I realized I was mad to think I could let it stand, even as a record of my mindset on New Year’s Eve 2017.

So I’ve revised it, preserving the substance of the commentary but not burdening it to express an order of preference. As before, this list includes only Doctors who have appeared on television in more than one episode, meaning the Eighth Doctor squeaks in on the slightest of technicalities and the War Doctor gets to sit out this whole discussion, which is how I’m sure he would have preferred it. Peter Cushing doesn’t count either. As for the Valeyard: give me a break.

First Doctor (Hartnell)
With all respect due the man who initiated the role, I’ve never been a fan of his Doctor. Part of it is my own limitation as a viewer: many of the 60s episodes are tough going for me. The stories I’ve heard about the actor’s personality are unpleasant, but the real problem for me is onscreen: I just can’t connect to his performance or lose myself in it, particularly with the frequent line fluffs. His Doctor’s persona strikes me as unpleasant and irascible, and somehow when he’s cheerful it verges on creepy. I realize my aversion to him may entirely discredit me among a large contingent of classic Who fans, but hey: at least now we have something to argue about.

Second Doctor (Troughton)
I’ve idly thought that in the vanishingly unlikely event that I, an American with absolutely no television acting or production experience, were ever called upon to play or to conceive of how to play the Doctor, I’d opt for something vaguely Troughtonesque. My Doctor would initially strike others as unassuming and unimportant, often being mistaken for “the help,” and use that impression to drop suggestions into the conversation that sound humble but turn out to be a brilliant solution to the problem or a sneaky way of getting what I wanted. In real life my personality is a lot closer to the bombastic, quick-to-anger Sixth Doctor’s, but that’s why they call it acting. I don’t know how Troughtonesque my idea of “Troughtonesque” actually is, since Troughton is the Doctor whose stories I’ve seen the smallest percentage of, owing of course to the missing-episode fiasco. I’ve enjoyed him in all the stories I’ve seen and heard, but I haven’t developed a solid enough sense of him to count him as a favorite the way so many diehard 60s fans do.

Third Doctor (Pertwee)
It’s no secret that the 70s were my favorite era of Doctor Who, and the Third Doctor commanded half of that decade with frilly shirts and velvet jackets and fast cars. His Doctor was always in charge, so that the few occasions where he wasn’t — e.g. being ordered to march in a circle by a giant psychic spider, or being held in a cell by a fascist parallel-universe UNIT — really felt scary. All the aspects of his incarnation that felt a little too macho — the Venusian aikido, the car fetish, his sometimes peremptory manner with Jo Grant — were offset by his dandyish style and inarguable sense of right and wrong. The Third Doctor might be one of the least “fun” versions of himself, and missing many of the qualities I enjoy most about other versions of the character, but his tenure as the Doctor was nevertheless a magical time, and one I’m unable to separate him from.

Fourth Doctor (T. Baker)
My very first exposure to Doctor Who was the Pinnacle edition of the novelisation of “The Android Invasion,” so while I don’t actually remember what the first story I saw on television was, technically the Fourth Doctor was still my first Doctor, and therefore “my Doctor.” Though part of me is still slightly scandalized by his obvious nonchalance in “Robot,” the immediate sense that he couldn’t be more eager to zip off in the TARDIS and ditch the UNIT family one grows so fond of while watching the Pertwee years in order, mostly I recognize that rebellious restlessness and wanderlust as the quality I like best in Doctor Who. The show changes texture, attitude, and situation almost overnight, but continues the unbroken streak of quality begun in 1970 and finishes out the decade much sillier but, in its own way, just as strong. Baker’s performance, give or take a few obvious self-indulgent goofs, was a huge part of that. Even if I’m reluctant to rank the other Doctors, I’m confident that the Fourth will likely always be my uncontroversial but inevitable favorite.

Fifth Doctor (Davison)
The Fifth Doctor’s episodes were being shown on public TV when I was exactly the right age to be enthralled by them, which is why I adore his first season (with the sole exception of “Time-Flight”) and probably why three of his stories (“Kinda,” “Snakedance,” and “Enlightenment”) are in my book among the very best the show has ever had to offer. This along with his friendly, open persona has led me to feel warmly toward the Fifth Doctor for a long time, and it’s only recently that this feeling has started to fade a bit. These days I’m more likely to notice how much of a scold he sometimes seems, or to feel irritated by his narratively interesting but frustratingly ineffective “vulnerable” Doctor’s failings. Compounding the problem is that Peter Davison seems a little more reserved and guarded at conventions compared to his two successors. Perhaps this is because when he lets down his guard he tends to put his foot in his mouth a bit about subjects like female Doctors, making himself sound more old-fashioned than he actually is. Still, it’s hard to imagine any of the other Doctors allowing a wise woman to order them to “be silent, idiot!” with anything like his grace and humility. That counts for a lot.

Sixth Doctor (C. Baker)
The Sixth Doctor is a bit of an underdog, and I want to take a moment to root for him. He’s loud, extroverted, brash, ridiculous, erudite, energetic, and — when the moment calls for it — (perhaps a little too) ready for violence. Although he had to carry the show through some extremely poor creative decisions, his era’s stories were among the most interesting and unusual bummers we’ve ever seen. From the hand-crushing scene in “Attack of the Cybermen” to a whole season with the Doctor on trial — well, you didn’t have to like these stories (and honestly, I generally don’t), but they took plenty of risks and are largely unforgettable. Colin Baker is absolutely excellent on audio and has only improved his Doctor’s reputation on Big Finish, and comes across as an eminently pleasant and broad-minded fellow both online and in person. It’s not his fault he was saddled with two poorly-conceived companions, one of whom his Doctor tried to strangle in an even more poorly-conceived post-regenerative mania and who endured what looked for all the world like an emotionally abusive relationship with him for most of the following season. If we consider the Sixth Doctor separately from his often unpleasant context, we’re dealing with one of the most dynamic — and underrated — personas the show has ever manifested. And frankly, I kind of like the coat.

Seventh Doctor (McCoy)
I have never in my life seen anyone so thoroughly command and enchant a room full of Doctor Who nerds like Sylvester McCoy. The man is entertaining and charming beyond belief. For a man who’s acted with so many legends of stage and screen, he’s perfectly humble. He’s a natural fit for the role of the Doctor, and has only grown on me over the years, and seems likely to continue to do so as I revisit his stories. One reason I remain ambivalent about the Seventh Doctor is that I found his onscreen persona (and indeed the one that continued in the New Adventures books) was never quite as perfect as his offscreen persona seems to me now. He started out as a goofball, and that almost worked, but then they decided to add in that undercurrent of mystery and secret power which struck me at the time as a little tough to swallow. It was the same transition they put Batman through in the comics, taking him from 60s camp icon to 80s haunted shadow, but on the Doctor in general and this Doctor in particular it just felt desperate and unlikely. Somewhere in the middle is the Doctor this Doctor should have been, but what we got was still pretty great.

Eighth Doctor (McGann)
There’s not a lot of McGann to go on. I have only recently made my peace with the TV Movie he starred in back in 1996, which was what probably prejudiced me so strongly against revivals of the show that it took me three seasons to warm to the RTD version. And beyond that, there’s only the wonderful “Night of the Doctor” minisode and a run of Big Finish. I don’t think he’s the best Doctor for audio: his deadpan delivery is pleasant but not necessarily evocative (it’s fun to hear him sub in on “Shada” but it’s clearly written for a different Doctor). But he’s as archetypal a Doctor as we’ve ever had, fitting the role perfectly in a movie that didn’t deserve him, and I like him a lot.

Ninth Doctor (Eccleston)
If I’d never seen Doctor Who before, or at least hadn’t bonded with the show so thoroughly as a kid, I probably would have been enchanted by Eccleston’s portrayal. As it is, I can usually put that part of my brain to sleep and enjoy his episodes just fine. But back when I first saw him in the role I was appalled. He embodied everything I feared about a revival of the show: that the essence of it would be lost in an attempt to make it cooler. After a parade of eccentric, big-haired misfits in flamboyant dress (and, to be fair, one blond cricketer), we suddenly had a regular fella who wouldn’t look out of place anywhere short of a formal event. Short hair, basic jumper, leather jacket, no-nonsense manner: he could have been playing the Doctor’s butcher younger brother, maybe, but I couldn’t quite buy him as the man himself. Since then, of course, the new show has given me plenty of reasons to trust its choices, and while I think all the subsequent Doctors have been back on brand, I see the merit in the choices made for the Ninth Doctor’s persona and can accept them as a necessary step. This hasn’t helped me feel comfortable with what I’ve gleaned from Eccleston’s quick exit from and comments about the show, both of which added to my impression, right or wrong, that he was slightly embarrassed about the role and held it at arm’s length. So I don’t dislike his Doctor, the way I dislike Hartnell’s: I just hold him at arm’s length.

Tenth Doctor (Tennant)
When David Tennant popped out of the TARDIS in “The Christmas Invasion,” talking fast, charm turned way up past the point of good taste, sword-fighting the alien villain, and then eventually ruining a woman’s career with barely a second thought, I definitely did not like him one bit. This was a time when I still didn’t trust this new show (see Eccleston, above) and even as late as “Army of Ghosts” I was still making up my mind about the Tenth Doctor. But when I finally opened my heart to the new show, it was during Tennant’s run, specifically the mostly-terrific (with several massive exceptions) series 3, featuring the sorely underrated Martha, that spectacular Master reveal, and the best new series story to date (“Human Nature / The Family of Blood”). The faults I still find frustrating about the Tenth Doctor are also his most understandable: can I blame him for falling in love with Rose, or for becoming too eager to change tragic history, or for resisting regeneration with all his might on two separate occasions? No one writes good people making unattractive choices like RTD, and if “I don’t want to go” seems undignified next to “I will always remember when the Doctor was me,” maybe it’s also a lot more honest. And it’s hard not to love a Doctor who gives his name, rank, and intention as “The Doctor, Doctor, fun.”

Eleventh Doctor (Smith)
I was a confirmed fan of Matt Smith’s Doctor from the first five minutes of “The Eleventh Hour.” So many other actors have played the Doctor effectively, but almost none of them have made the role so thoroughly their own. Even when appearing in a mediocre story — and Smith was saddled with way more of those than he deserved — the Eleventh Doctor was never less than fascinating in almost every scene. It helped that physically Smith was so perfectly suited to portray a batty old man in a young body, could turn on a dime between the two apparent ages, but what it really comes down to is that he’s a brilliant, endlessly inventive actor. At least I assume he is: I haven’t been able to bring myself to see anything else he’s appeared in since, perhaps fearing some spell will be broken. His Doctor’s joy at the universe seems likely to be the default setting for the Thirteenth Doctor as well, if the end of “Twice Upon a Time” is any indication, and that’s exactly as it should be.

Twelfth Doctor (Capaldi)
It’s been lovely knowing that an actor as talented, thoughtful, and warm-hearted as Peter Capaldi was at the TARDIS controls. There’s a lot I found appealing about his era; the stories seemed richer and more interesting, the show got visually darker and often emotionally darker as well, even the costumes took a stylish turn. I didn’t even mind his initial “bad with humans” persona…up to a point. It’s true that you can only go so far with this before it turns from endearingly crusty to outright cruel, and that’s not a great look for the Doctor. As much as I love the classic series — and Capaldi’s subtle but spot-on Tom Bakerisms — I realized you can’t go home again, and I’m more excited to see the optimistic, cheerful Doctors than the older, wearier ones. Plus I never, ever need to see the Doctor play guitar on top of a tank again. Ever.

Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time”

I did, in fact, watch this twice. The second time I was sitting in the theater with my girlfriend, a non-fan / casual fan at the most. She laughed at the jokes and we both cried at the end, during the Christmas armistice scene and when Jodie Whittaker appeared.

That any of this just-OK coda worked at all for people who haven’t been watching the Twelfth Doctor’s era was kind of a relief. Of course my girlfriend had no idea who Rusty was, and I for one would not have minded seeing him relegated to the same introduced-and-forgotten Dalek scrap heap as the so-called “Skittles” quintet from “Victory of the Daleks.” She did recognize the name “Lethbridge-Stewart,” but although she’s seen a few Hartnell episodes, I still had to explain that the First Doctor was not typically, as shown here, a routinely misogynistic creep.

I’ve never been fond of the First Doctor in the first place, and David Bradley’s resemblance to him physically and vocally wasn’t much closer than Hurndall’s in “The Five Doctors” had been, but I have to admit that I started buying the performance by the time the opening credits were finished. I don’t know if the retcon sexism was a reaction to the criticisms Moffat used to get (“see! look how far we’ve come since the Sixties!”), some sort of lead-in to the regeneration, or what, but Capaldi’s reactions sold those moments to me just fine.

In hindsight it shouldn’t have been surprising to see Moffat rolling out tropes he’s used before — the archive of the dead (from “Dark Water”), the last-minute-time-travel visits (from “Let’s Kill Hitler”), and of course the threat that’s not evil, just misunderstood (take your pick). By now I’ve lost track of what actually happens when you die in the Moffat universe, and I’m trying not to probe too deeply into the question of why the Testimony contains memories from past Doctors, since (a) regeneration isn’t death, and (b) this implies a 3D-rendered glass woman from a late-90s CDROM computer game came and visited each Doctor during his regeneration scene and extracted all his memories without anyone noticing. Even more mysterious to me is why it was necessary to use this device in order to bring back Bill, who is (and remembers being) a posthuman puddle-woman traveling the stars with her girlfriend, or indeed Clara, who is an undead person traveling the stars with her immortal pal “Me” in their own TARDIS. What is the point of the two of them having transcended finite human existence if you have to bring them back as anthropomorphic snow globes?

The most important question of the story, though, might be: why didn’t the Twelfth Doctor want to regenerate? The implied answer is fatigue, specifically battle fatigue: he’s tired of losing the people he loves, of fighting the endless war on the evil that his first incarnation believes should logically win every time. I would have expected this feeling from the Doctors closer to the Time War. Then again, this is the first modern Doctor to have seen all of his companions die: first Danny Pink, then Clara, then River (spending her last night and my favorite Christmas special with him), and finally Nardole and Bill. Even Missy dies on his watch, though he doesn’t know it (and we know she’ll be back in one body or another), and then there’s what happens to Osgood and the Brigadier in “Death in Heaven.” It’s been a surprisingly brutal few years when you add it up. My initial hypothesis was that he was ready to lay his burden down in “Time of the Doctor” and got a new regeneration cycle he didn’t really want, but maybe the loss of so many companions since then is a more concrete explanation for the death wish.

It was excellent to see Bill again, as much as I lamented the missed opportunity to bring back Susan to help two versions of her grandfather through his regenerations (and why not bring back both?). Mark Gatiss turned in a lovely performance as the Captain, making a character I initially felt would be superfluous into one of the highlights of the story. I wasn’t so keen on the pre-regeneration valedictory — even as a child, the “children can hear my name” bit would have made me gag — but I was very keen on the post-regeneration line. Sometimes two words say more than an entire speech, especially when spoken by this particular new Doctor. I’m already a fan.

I’ve now been writing about every season of Doctor Who since Moffat took over. It’s had plenty of ups and downs, and I’ve dwelt on the downs a lot, but the truth is I’ve enjoyed the ride overall. Here are few of the things I think the Moffat era deserves praise for:

  1. Boundary-breaking regenerations. Mels to River, the Master to Missy, and the Time Lord in “Hell Bent” all paved the way for Jodie Whittaker, as well as the Doctor of color we will someday get, even if it takes until the show’s second revival.
  2. Continuity reset. I wasn’t initially thrilled about the “universal reboot” in “The Big Bang,” in part because I was no longer clear on how much of Season 5 actually happened, but in hindsight it theoretically allows for anything about the past, present, or future of the show to be different from what’s come before in small or large ways. For a show that’s been running this long, this is practically a necessity.
  3. The end of the Time War. The Doctor couldn’t carry that on his shoulders forever. Moffat wrapped up that chapter as well as anyone could have.
  4. Audacious storylines. Even when I haven’t loved the moves Moffat made, I have to give him credit for taking huge, bold risks with the show and the types of stories he wrote. I hope his successors show half his creativity.
  5. Worldwide popularity. Even though I saw “The Five Doctors” in a theater as a child, I never would have expected to go to the movies in order to watch season premieres and Christmas specials. I loved the show as a cult phenomenon, but being able to walk into stores and see TARDIS merchandise everywhere does not bother me one bit.

And now a quick look at a few things I’d like to see (and not see) in seasons to come:

  1. Quick, traumatic regenerations that don’t destroy the TARDIS. Regeneration feels like way more of an event if it’s not dragged out over two hours. And PLEASE let the next Doctor be smart enough to put the TARDIS into park and just redecorate without setting the whole control room on fire.
  2. Grownup companions who leave for good reasons. Way less hero worship of the Doctor. Fewer companions who have to die (or “die”) before they leave the TARDIS. Even just Martha’s “it’s time” is enough.
  3. Cheerful, optimistic Doctors. Even when I enjoy “dark Doctor” moments, I must admit they’re not as good as the alternative. Grouchy from time to time is fine. Cruel is not.
  4. A sense of adventure and exploration. It’s hard to seek out new life and new civilizations on Doctor Who’s budget, even in the 21st century. But it sure would be fun to see new places and new cultures, not just new monsters.
  5. Much less introspection from the Doctor about herself. In any other show it would be crucial to explore the main character and figure out what makes them tick, have them grow and learn about themselves, center and drive the drama from their character. But this is effectively an anthology show that’s run for more than 50 years and needs to sustain itself after that. The main character is, in many ways, us: our love of adventure, of leaping between genres, of looking for problems to set right, of trying to leave things better than we found them. There’s only so much this can change in a dramatic way without destroying the longevity of the show, and only so much it really needs to be interrogated.
  6. Humility. The First Doctor is spot on about how the speeches and the boasting are ridiculous. More wisdom, less bombast.
  7. Uncool should be cool again. The fezzes and bow ties worked because they were dorky things the Doctor thought were cool. The sunglasses and guitars didn’t because they were “cool” things the Doctor thought were cool. The Doctor is never more charming than when he or she is obsessed with something everyone in the world doesn’t already love.

Doctor Who seasons, ranked

I’ve always found it difficult to choose a favorite season of Doctor Who. It seems natural to favor the ones that feature your favorite Doctors and/or companions, but even so every season is a mixed bag. If you pick a season with your favorite story in it, odds are you’re taking a few duds in with the package deal.

Of course it’s a silly question in the first place, since once a season is broadcast you can watch it in any order you choose. But if it weren’t for silly Doctor Who questions we’d have no Doctor Who questions, so I ranked all 36 seasons. I used math! And spreadsheets! I may not have used them “correctly,” but I’ll spare you the details of my methodology and include them as a footnote after the ranking, so those of you with lives can skip them. I will, however, summarize with caveats:

  1. The system I used assigned each story points based on a four-value scale, ranging from “I don’t like this story and don’t care if I ever watch it again” to “This is one of my favorites.”
  2. Stories I’ve never seen, never listened to audio for, and don’t recall the novelisation of — that is, stories I effectively “don’t know” — were given the same value as the ones I didn’t like. This means a lot of 60s stories were rated perhaps unfairly low. I’d worry about this more if not for the fact that — don’t tell anyone — I generally don’t enjoy the 60s stories very much, as a rule. That rule has many exceptions, but by and large, I am a philistine who is indifferent to pure historicals, bored by black and white, and hostile to Hartnell. He is my least favorite Doctor by a considerable margin. So even if I had seen reconstructions of the missing stories, there’s a good chance the seasons would stay where they were anyway.
  3. My ratings were generally subjective — I wasn’t trying to rate the absolute quality of the story, or whether I would recommend it to anyone, but whether I personally enjoy the story and would watch it again eagerly. I might have given your favorite story a zero, and I might consider a story you loathe to be reasonably pleasant entertainment. So if you’re thinking of using this as a guide of some kind, which would of course be the highest praise, keep in mind that my tastes, though not especially idiosyncratic (I love the 70s), are mine and you might not share them.

Shall we begin?

36. Season 3 (Hartnell)
It’s probable I’m shortchanging this season, since the fact is I’ve only ever seen one story in it, and that’s The Ark. I own two more of them on DVD (The Gunfighters and The War Machines) but haven’t dared to sit through them yet. I’ve listened to all of The Daleks’ Masterplan. You get the idea. Maybe someday in the future they’ll discover enough of the missing episodes that I’ll fall in love with Galaxy 4 and The Savages, or finally get what everyone loves about the crazy epic Masterplan. In the meantime, technically, this is the bottom. Something has to be.

35. Season 23 (C. Baker)
The Trial of a Time Lord has a pivotal place in Doctor Who history. I know it has a special place in some people’s hearts. I’ve watched it many times, over and over. It has its moments. Just not very many.

34. Season 2 (Hartnell)
A crucial season in the show’s history, with plenty of fascinating stories we’d be much poorer without: The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Web Planet, The Time Meddler. This season would rate much higher if I enjoyed these stories as much as I admire them.

33. Season 21 (Davison)
The precise moment when my feelings about the show change from a sense of unlimited, glorious possibility to a sense of crushing, leaden, Sawardian gloom. Even McCoy and Cartmel couldn’t quite lift the mood after this.

32. Series 8 (Capaldi)
I’m surprised this one ranked as low as it did, but yep, in hindsight it turns out I just didn’t much like most of these stories. Fantastic finale, but most of what led up to it was just okay.

31. Season 4 (Hartnell / Troughton)
You’ll notice a pattern here, which is that even the Dalek stories people love don’t get my pulse racing above a slow trot. Even so, I suspect some of the other stories would lift this season higher if I could only watch them in their entirety.

30. Season 10 (Pertwee)
Even a bad Pertwee season is pretty enjoyable, but this one is weighed down by (yep) 12 episodes of Daleks or the lead-up thereto. The highlight for me is of course The Green Death.

29. Season 1 (Hartnell)
It seems unfair to judge the show’s very first season by the same criteria as everything that built on it, but the unvarnished truth is that the spots of brilliance are buffered by stretches of tedium. The fantastic first episode is followed by three grueling segments about cavemen. The startling weirdness of the Daleks is stretched out over seven uneven parts. The genuinely impressive variety of stories in this first season is offset by the fact that there’s only one I unreservedly like, and it’s the two-episode bottle story that doesn’t outstay its welcome. At least I’ve seen all but one of these stories, so that helps. Sometimes you get points just for showing up.

28. Series 7 (Smith)
I remember really liking this series, but when I look back and rate it, the numbers speak for themselves. There’s Hide and The Crimson Horror, but there’s also A Town Called Mercy and The Rings of Akhaten. There’s The Name of the Doctor, but also Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. What with 7A and 7B, and the inclusion of two Christmas specials, there are more distinct stories here than in any other season/series of the show, plenty of room for lots of ups and downs. Though I didn’t count them in the ratings, at least this year ended with Day of the Doctor, which was wonderful, and Time of the Doctor, which…er…at least it ended with Day of the Doctor.

27. Season 24 (McCoy)
This season is a lot of fun. It may be the most fun Doctor Who has ever been. And generally my philosophy is that fun Who is the best Who. But with only four stories per season in the McCoy era, a lot is riding on each one, so here’s where the math put it. Truth is, there’s equal fun to be had in stories with more to offer, though I’m looking forward to revisiting Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen sometime soon.

26. Season 26 (McCoy)
It’s not Doctor Who’s fault I thought I was outgrowing the show at this point (only to later reverse this process, obviously), but it might explain why Curse of Fenric didn’t do much for me. The sound and lighting problems the show was plagued with at this point didn’t help, making fairly decent stories look and sound like bad community theater. Then again, maybe some of the blame for that goes to the direction; more dynamic choices surely could have helped Ghost Light appeal to my teenaged self.

25. Series 10 (Capaldi)
Here’s another year I thought I really enjoyed, and yet here we are. Bill is one of my favorite companions of all time, and of all the Moffat seasons, this is the one I felt most at ease with, like it finally had nothing to prove and no agenda beyond a good story. What drags it down is that the Monk trilogy is almost entirely dreadful; most of the episodes are good but not great; and the Wikipedia article I’m using to divide the seasons throws Mysterio in here like the one red sock staining the whole wash.

24. Series 6 (Smith)
It’s a year of extremes here. On the one hand there’s The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex, and Closing Time. On the other, there’s a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

23. Series 5 (Smith)
One of my very favorite Doctors, saddled with some of my very least favorite stories. If you could round up all of my favorite Matt Smith stories into one year, you’d have an absolute powerhouse, but instead you’re left marveling at how talented he was at making even the total dogs enjoyable. Most of them.

22. Season 6 (Troughton)
Not a bad placement, especially considering my reprehensible lack of enthusiasm for Sixties Who. The ranking might even go up when I finally get around to watching The Dominators. Then again, given its reputation, maybe not.

21. Season 20 (Davison)
Stories rise and fall in my list of favorites all the time, but I feel pretty confident in assuming that this is the only season of Doctor Who that will ever contain TWO of my all-time top 5 stories. If it were all as good as Snakedance and Enlightenment, this would be the season to beat.

19. Series 4 (Tennant)
This is one of a very few ties in my ranking. It’s an impossible choice. I’m going to let it stand. This year is slightly less consistent, with more moments of true genius (Midnight, Turn Left, and if I’m being generous, Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead) and more moments of embarrassing nonsense (the Sontaran two-parter, The Doctor’s Daughter, and that awful finale)…

19. Series 2 (Tennant)
…whereas this year is a little more bittersweet what with the love story, and a little flatter what with the lower highlights and the run of just-okay stories. But then there’s Rose and Mickey, and Sarah Jane and K9, and that lovely innocence the show still had back then. I can’t decide. I am so, so sorry.

18. Season 15 (T. Baker)
This is a pretty low ranking for a season featuring Image of the Fendahl, one of my very favorite stories of all time, and a batch of other stories that all things considered are pretty decent, if not impressively ambitious. It’s just hard to get as excited about them as I’d like; as the money ran out, the stories got beiger and beiger.

17. Series 1 (Eccleston)
I’ll have more to say about Eccleston’s Doctor if I ever get around to that Doctor ranking I keep writing in my head, but this is about the stories. It was a pretty solid first year, even if it took me a while to warm to it. Kicking things off with Rose and The End of the World was part of why I stuck around long enough to put up with an actor who seemed determined to play the role as the Doctor’s younger, butcher brother.

16. Season 5 (Troughton)
Even I must admit this was the most formulaic season in the show up to that point, and it probably would have ranked much lower if not for the rediscovery of The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear, two splendid and very strange stories I’d never paid any attention to before but promptly fell in love with.

15. Series 9 (Capaldi)
I find a lot of New Who to consist of only mildly engaging stories made watchable by great performances and a string of terrific moments. This year was the opposite: startling premises that by and large demanded attention, almost but not quite hobbled by some questionable performances and deeply embarrassing moments. All the bits where the Doctor is playing guitar on a tank, for example. Nevertheless, with the exception of Sleep No More, there’s something enjoyable about each story here, and it ends with the best Christmas special and the best River Song episode since the first one.

14. Season 22 (C. Baker)
As a whole, this is one of my least favorite times of the show: an abrasive Doctor with a borderline abusive relationship to a whiny companion, striding through grim bloodthirsty Sawardian slaughterhouse plots. It’s everything Doctor Who shouldn’t be. And yet there’s something bold, brash, outspoken, and capable about the Sixth Doctor that makes him considerably more appealing in hindsight (and in isolation), and though most of these stories range from bafflingly bonkers to horrifically bleak (the sublime Two Doctors colliding the two to great effect), only Timelash seems to have nothing interesting going on (and even that has Paul Darrow). Every other story was doing something almost unprecedented and undeniably memorable.

13. Season 16 (T. Baker)
My favorite segment of the Key to Time is the third. The Stones of Blood is almost certainly a top ten story for me, helped considerably by the time a young encyclopist watched it in the dark at his grandmother’s house after everyone else had gone to bed. It would have been a hide-behind-the-sofa moment for me if I hadn’t been sleeping on its pulled-out bed: I was convinced that at any second the Ogri were going to come smashing through the porch windows and crush me or drain my blood. To be honest, nothing else this year has anything like the same hold on me, even the critical favorite The Ribos Operation, but it’s all done with such brio and nothing is less than all right.

12. Series 3 (Tennant)
This is the year I finally got on board with New Who, and perhaps not coincidentally it was the Seventh Doctor New Adventure Human Nature, adapted for the Tenth Doctor, that did the trick. Though this year includes a few mid-series stinkers, particularly that insane Dalek two-parter, Martha is a breath of fresh air and the reveal of the Master is still one of the new show’s biggest triumphs. No New Who series before or since has felt quite so exciting or laden with potential, or come closer to fulfilling it.

11. Season 12 (T. Baker)
The first Tom Baker season must have felt pretty exciting and laden with potential as well. It’s easy to forget that aside from Ark in Space (which has far worse creature effects than most of its fans are willing to admit), this season consists of a somewhat corny robot King Kong story, an inexplicable and largely pointless diversion about a Sontaran doing unethical experiments, a desultory Cyberman installment, and a story about space Hitler that saddled every future Dalek story for the next decade and change with his pruny ranting gob. On paper this shouldn’t have been much to write home about, but each of these stories is full of moments that transcend the initial concept. Robot immediately if unintentionally defines the new Doctor’s character by throwing the essence of the last five years at him and barely denting his hat; Revenge of the Cybermen features those frightening Cybermat poisonings, and even The Sontaran Experiment raised the stakes on Sontaran malevolence from merely kidnapping scientists. And as for Genesis, well: it’s a Dalek story, and there’s quite a bit of dreary running around, but it’s legendary for a reason.

10. Season 18 (T. Baker)
It’s easy to poke fun at Christopher Bidmead’s season of Doctor Who as a supposed “return to science” that’s full of magic, or at new producer John Nathan-Turner’s mandate to rein in the jokes while putting question marks all over the Doctor’s clothing. But with the single exception of Meglos, there isn’t a just-OK story in the bunch, and the show has only very rarely made the universe seem as strange and wondrous as it does in Warriors’ Gate and Logopolis. Other seasons are more fun, but few have ever been as opulent, mystical, and ominous as Tom Baker’s last.

9. Season 25 (McCoy)
I have a sneaking suspicion this is a trick of the math. Until I did this exercise, I would never have expected this season to break the top ten, much less to beat out multiple seasons of both Tom Baker and Matt Smith. Thing is, stuff like The Happiness Patrol is the reason I’m glad McCoy’s Doctor exists, and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is cut from similar cloth. I’m less enthused about Remembrance of the Daleks, an above-average story about the most overrated Doctor Who monster, and Silver Nemesis is unendurable. But on a four-question test, every answer counts for a lot — it’s easier to bomb it, but it’s also easier to ace it.

8. Season 11 (Pertwee)
If Ark in Space’s bubble-wrap and styrofoam monsters make watching it an exercise in leaping imaginative gaps, Invasion of the Dinosaurs is the boot camp obstacle course. In order to enjoy Malcolm Hulke’s still-chilling story of an evacuated city hiding a gullible “back-to-Eden” cult brainwashed by government and military officials, you have to make a heroic effort to overlook the unbelievably awful dinosaur effects. Or you have to read the novelisation, as I did countless times as a kid. It’s easier to appreciate The Time Warrior’s marooned Sontaran, or Planet of the Spiders’ pouncing arachnids. It’s not peak Pertwee, but even if you write off Exxilon and Peladon, you’ve still got three veritable classics…and Sarah Jane Smith to boot.

7. Season 19 (Davison)
I don’t mind admitting this is almost entirely a matter of nostalgia, even more so than the unashamedly subjective ratings I’ve used for other seasons. I’ll defend Kinda to the death, and feel very sure about the wondrous strangeness of Castrovalva, but I’m under no illusion that my love of Four to Doomsday and unaccountable affection for The Visitation and Black Orchid are in any way based in objective quality. Earthshock is overrated, Time-Flight impossible to underrate, but otherwise this season came to my local PBS station at just the right time for me to fall in love. Adric included.

6. Season 9 (Pertwee)
Ultimately, though, 70s Who is still my favorite Who. I don’t win any points for original opinions here, but I do win points for being right. Even the 70s trad loyalists might question my love of The Mutants, but I really can’t understand why. Then there’s the time travel enigma of Day of the Daleks, the charm of The Curse of Peladon, and the terrific imprisoned-Master scenes of The Sea Devils. Even the goofy Time Monster is at the very least unforgettable. It’s a time of excellent quality control for the show, and if that sounds like a boring virtue, watch this season again and imagine a 21st century year this consistently entertaining.

5. Season 8 (Pertwee)
The Master has returned more often than he (or she) really should have over the years, to the point of becoming something of a joke half the time, but in the beginning he was marvelous. Colony in Space might be a slog, but the other four stories here range from quite good to fabulous.

4. Season 17 (T. Baker)
Among classic Who fans there might not be a more divisive season. It’s when Douglas Adams took over as script editor, for better or for worse, and though City of Death is the undisputed highlight (and my boringly uncontroversial favorite story ever), a lot of the other stories are looked down on by many fans on one side of the divide as silly, cheap-looking, and full of self-indulgent Tom Baker horseplay. However, I’m on the other side of the divide, and I have to tell you that everyone else over here is way more fun. Even the Dalek story has its moments, and everything else including the no-longer-really-lost story Shada is music to my eyes and ears. It’s as 70s as season 18 is 80s, it’s as fun as season 18 is serious, and it features my favorite TARDIS team to date in the Fourth Doctor and Romana. The show probably could never have continued like this for long, but this brief moment was enough.

3. Season 13 (T. Baker)
Features three ironclad classics: Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, and The Seeds of Doom. Includes two more solid adventures: Terror of the Zygons and Planet of Evil. Throws in one dodgy underdog, which was my very first Doctor Who story in novelisation form and thus — you guessed it — skates in on nostalgia alone: The Android Invasion. The truth is it probably doesn’t get better than this; exactly halfway through the original run of the show, here’s the actual peak. My personal math puts two other seasons just a little higher — one for its achieved ambition, the other for its consistent intelligence — but honestly? If you’re a New Who fan and you’re going to watch just one season of the classic series, this is the one you should watch.

2. Season 14 (T. Baker)
A season that says goodbye to one of the Doctor’s most beloved companions, introduces one that’s even more interesting, and finds time in between to finally, properly introduce the Doctor’s home planet. Masque of Mandragora and Face of Evil are good, Hand of Fear and Deadly Assassin are great, and Robots of Death and the controversial Talons of Weng-Chiang are among the best the show has to offer. What could this team have done for an encore?

1. Season 7 (Pertwee)
A radical departure at the time, but now so classic it’s often considered reactionary. It’s hardly the most varied or colorful year in Doctor Who, none of the stories make my top ten (as much as I like them), and many of the elements that make the show what it is are missing (until Inferno). It’s where the show basically becomes Quatermass for a while. It doesn’t quite seem right to put it at the top. And yet these four stories are top-notch in terms of quality and as exciting as they come, setting a tone which is allowed to relax in later Pertwee years and a template that drives the show energetically forward. Miffed by the unerring quality, I tried docking Ambassadors of Death a notch for being slightly less eventful than the other three, but it narrowed only the size of the lead, not its certainty.

The math, if you’re interested
I listed every Doctor Who story, divided into seasons according to the Wikipedia article. This led to some slightly counterintuitive groupings of Christmas specials in seasons I didn’t think of them as being part of. I grouped Hartnell episodes into single stories as we (and the DVD range) typically think of them today, and lumped Mission to the Unknown in with The Dalek’s Masterplan. I treated most New Who two-parters as single stories, but I did split Utopia from The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords. In Series 9 I treated Girl Who Died / Woman Who Lived as a single story, but I treated Face the Raven, Heaven Sent, and Hell Bent as three separate stories. What can I say — it made sense at the time.

I treated the Tennant specials (The Next Doctor through The End of Time) and the Smith specials (Day and Time of the Doctor) as separate seasons, and did not count them as part of the overall ranking. If you’re curious: the Tennant specials would have turned the Season 16 / Season 22 / Series 9 tie into a four-way, and the Smith specials would have fit in right between Season 11 and Season 19.

I tried a few different point systems in an attempt to find interesting ways to distribute the weights and see whether a season with a few favorites and a lot of lousy stories would beat out one flush with worthy but not unusually appealing stories. I’m not sure I ever found the answer or indeed understood math well enough to accomplish that goal, but in the end it felt satisfying to take a chunk out of the Fibonacci sequence and weight the ratings that way. Thus:

  • 0 points went to each story I thoroughly dislike or have never seen
  • 3 points went to each story that has something I like in it
  • 5 points went to each story that I generally like and would be pleased to watch again immediately
  • 8 points went to my absolute favorite stories of all, the ones I feel true affection for

For the record, 66 stories earned the “favorite” rating. They were as follows.

  • Troughton: The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear, The Invasion
  • Pertwee: Spearhead from Space, The Silurians, Inferno, Terror of the Autons, The Claws of Axos, The Daemons, The Mutants, The Green Death, The Time Warrior, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Planet of the Spiders
  • T. Baker: The Ark in Space, The Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom, The Hand of Fear, The Deadly Assassin, The Robots of Death, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Image of the Fendahl, The Stones of Blood, City of Death, Nightmare of Eden, The Horns of Nimon, Full Circle, Logopolis
  • Davison: Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday, Kinda, Snakedance, Enlightenment, The Caves of Androzani
  • C. Baker: The Two Doctors
  • McCoy: The Happiness Patrol, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
  • Eccleston: Rose, The End of the World, Dalek
  • Tennant: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, Army of Ghosts / Doomsday, Gridlock, Human Nature / The Family of Blood, Blink, Utopia, Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, Midnight, Turn Left, The Waters of Mars
  • Smith: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone, The Lodger, The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex, Closing Time, Hide, The Crimson Horror, Day of the Doctor
  • Capaldi: Dark Water / Death in Heaven, The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion, The Husbands of River Song, Thin Ice, The Eaters of Light, World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls

Blade Runner 2049

The one thing a Blade Runner sequel absolutely had to be was visually beautiful: architecture, wardrobe, cinematography, atmosphere. That mission is handily accomplished by 2049. It’s a gorgeous film. Despite the odds of living in squalor or in a dangerously polluted or radioactive part of the planet, the future looks incredibly stylish. If there must be another attempt to film Dune (or a first attempt to film Neuromancer), I would happily trust this team to handle it.

The scenes feel underpopulated even when they are crowded with people. You’d almost think the LAPD station was deserted most of the time apart from the chief, Officer K (Ryan Gosling), and a single doomed forensic examiner. Likewise the story is straightforward and streamlined. It never really feels like a noir, even though several key motifs are there on paper: the eccentric rich, colorful consultants, trips to the underworld, questions of parentage, femmes fatales. Are the institutions corrupt? One is concerned with maintaining the social status quo, the other in obtaining legitimately valuable intellectual property, but neither seems exactly venal in that noirish way.

And sometime in the last hour or so it turns decisively away from noir to a more optimistic, revolution-oriented story. Perhaps the times demand this; it’s not fashionable to accept the noir axiom and thermodynamic law that entropy increases, corruption always wins, and we must take our small victories where we can and duck out of sight before the hammer falls. 2017 audiences are literal-minded and moralistic; depiction of evil unpunished is read as endorsement of that evil. Fiction is a voodoo doll, stuck with pins in the childish hope that the stories we tell will curse our enemies in real life. It’s laughable to think that the writers of noir fiction felt they lived in the best of all possible worlds, or that they believed one detective trying to do good could bring down an empire. This loss of sophistication on the part of audiences explains the ending of Blade Runner and the ending of Blade Runner 2049. But for anyone who doesn’t really care about this film being noir, this doesn’t matter much, and maybe 2017 needs hope more than sophistication, even if that hope is vague and somewhat contradicts the exposition that opens the film.

There are, however, two significant problems that, however much I admired the film’s execution, limited the appeal of its concept for me. The first is that this is yet again the only android story that seems to exist: they’re just like us! Viewed as allegory, this is perhaps the only morally sound approach to the theme: the slave and the master are one flesh, and the one must not be forced to serve the other, etc. If androids represent the working classes and the downtrodden, to emphasize their inhumanity seems to endorse these class divisions. But viewed as science fiction, this is the least interesting direction to take; why not explore the ways in which androids would be unlike us? What could we learn about the way our abilities and limitations have shaped us by seeing the ways those of different types of beings have shaped them? We can still respect them as our equals without taking the condescending position that every android’s highest aspiration is to be human. With the exception of Ex Machina (and probably Futurama), we see this over and over and it’s devoid of further interest.

The other problem is that Blade Runner did not need or even invite a sequel. Its story was complete. Even if you feel it was slightly overrated as a film, there was really nothing more to tell. 2049 continues the story with as much dignity as possible, except that it substitutes for the existential “humanity” of androids in the original a more biological self-determination. Worse, it answers the question no one really needed answered: what happened to Rachel and Deckard? Even if you were desperate for that answer, it’s hard to believe this was the most interesting answer to it. Arguably it has the effect of diluting the original in much the same way that Prometheus and Covenant have diluted Alien, or that (I have to imagine) Love Never Dies dilutes Phantom of the Opera.

Despite the film’s glacial pace, every frame is beautiful enough that the 164 minutes feel like 124 (you know, a reasonable length of time for a movie, especially one with this simple a plot), and most of the performances are quite good. I never quite believed Robin Wright, and Jared Leto is a ham playing a ham, but Harrison Ford is magnetic (if not quite the same character he played before), and I did not regret finally seeing my first movie starring Ryan Gosling. There are even two genuine jokes. So even if it’s an unnecessary film, it’s not an unpleasant one. Let’s just leave it at one sequel, though, huh?

Dreams, fantasies, and middle fingers

I am home. I’m REALLY glad to be home. I watched four movies on my four flights.

One was Don’t Think Twice (not to be confused with Don’t Look Now). It’s the movie where Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs are in an improv troupe in New York and they land auditions for a fictionalized SNL. It was good, though it was also very depressing, because it’s very honest about how shitty I think being on SNL would be and also how shitty not being on SNL would be. My heart goes out to you friends who are making comedy their career. Also I think I hate movies about my jobs, i.e. tech and improv. Tech never feels right onscreen (no, I haven’t watched Silicon Valley yet, I’m sure it’s great) and improv doubly so. Improv just has to be live, I think, or it has to look scripted, or it has to have Greg Proops. It’s so uncomfortable otherwise. You have to be in the room or it’s nothing special.

The other three were basically the same movie, a male fantasy of omnipotence and of giving the establishment the finger. My least favorite was Taken, which Liam Neeson supposedly assumed would bomb and I could see why. He only pulls it off because he’s Liam Neeson but he is miscast. I know! It’s his iconic role now! But let’s face it. The “particular set of skills” bit is ok, but for me the high point is where he has to tell his daughter “they are going to take you.” Genuinely harrowing. After that it is a big old power fantasy and the awkward spectacle of a dad forced to tell a sheik’s majordomo to purchase his daughter. For kicks imagine this starring Jim Carrey.

Then there’s Escape from New York, a very silly film. Now I know where Metal Gear Solid got its protagonist, but video game Snake is an actual character whereas Snake Plissken is maybe an assault rifle in wrestler pants, or (oh, I get it now!) a snake that occasionally hisses out a belligerent phrase. He doesn’t really do anything other than Be Tough until the last scene of the film, which is where the Fuck You Mr. President happens. The prison city idea felt like it could have been more interesting than it was, but with this many stars — including Harry Dean Stanton and Lee Van Cleef — who cares, really. Dumb but occasionally fun.

Which brings us to Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s ostensibly “James Bond, but fun again,” and it sort of succeeds, but it has to jam in an awkward training / competition middle act that hopefully doesn’t need to happen in the sequel. Colin Firth is fabulous, and his protege is appealing, and while it wasn’t a great movie it was entertaining enough that I want to see the next one. Question marks in my mind about Samuel L. as the lisping squeamish billionaire in vulgar American clothes who serves McDonald’s as a gourmet meal, and his Algerian right-hand woman; for a series supposedly reexamining the “posh British superspy” idea, it’s a little iffy to make your only POC characters (bar one) the villains. But SLJ is having so much fun and is note perfect (except for that dopey lisp), so if he doesn’t mind then maybe I shouldn’t either.

I certainly did not expect to see Kingsman slaughter a churchful of bigots, or indeed a roomful of the 1%. Most satisfying fantasy purge since Mars Attacks!

James Bond themes, ranked

Recently I found myself lamenting the sorry state of James Bond theme songs in the 2010s, and how overhyped I find “Skyfall” in particular, but after some discussion of the matter I realized I owed it to this most vital and urgent of topics to do my homework and listen to them all again before delivering the definitive ranking. So I did, and here is that ranking. The rules were opening themes with vocals only, meaning we needn’t discuss Dr. No (much better simply to watch it!).

But I will offer special mention, before we begin, to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. Like the film, it’s something unique and special in the Bond franchise and need not be sullied in some petty contest. Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time In the World” is also peerless, but because it closes the film (with deep irony) rather than opening, it too escapes being ranked. Lucky thing, because between the two of them they’d wipe the floor with a lot of these clowns.

22. “Die Another Day”
There’s the germ of an idea in here, but it’s buried in the detritus of Madonna’s yoga period and bears no relation to anything, as far as I know. I haven’t dared to sit through this film yet so for all I know it’s 100% relevant. The problem is that even if the lyrics fit, the “melody” doesn’t; not only is this a bad Bond song, it’s a bad Madonna song, which is unforgivable.

21. “All Time High”
Anemic and forgettable. I have the same problem with the film, about which all I remember is the trailer, from which the line where Bond asks about a woman’s tattoo (“that’s my little octopussy”) was seared on my preadolescent brain.

20. “Another Way to Die”
The first one on our list that is in the vicinity of being an actual Bond theme. Its stop-start jerkiness is more frustrating than exciting, and though Jack White and Alicia Keys have some good qualities on their own, somehow they cancel each other out. Not the blandest of the Craig themes, but the least successful.

19. “The Man With the Golden Gun”
A stab at rewriting “Goldfinger” by returning to the “watch out for this guy!” genre, and perhaps the only song ever recorded that could make Christopher Lee sound goofy. Lulu does her best, but this is perhaps the only Bond theme too embarrassing to listen to.

18. “License to Kill”
It’s not the worst song, but — despite using the title as the chorus — it’s a little too mellow not just for its lyrical content but also for the film itself, wherein Timothy Dalton gets put through the wringer and Felix Leiter gets fed to sharks.

17. “Writing’s On the Wall”
Sam Smith has a very pretty voice and this is a fairly pretty song. It would sound much better on a Sam Smith album than it does trying to amp us up for a Bond movie. For that purpose, the lyrics don’t cut it, the mood is all wrong (even for the morose, sullen Craig era this is too much), and the chorus anticlimactic. Next.

16. “From Russia With Love”
In revisiting the Bond themes for this ranking I was surprised this had lyrics and qualified for the list. I hadn’t remembered them. You probably won’t either. It’s old and it sounds classy and romantic, which is about the only advantage is has over Sam Smith’s tune. That and being followed by the splendor of From Russia With Love, obviously.

15. “Tomorrow Never Dies”
I’m kind of shocked to be ranking a Sheryl Crow song this high on the list, but I must admit this is a credible Bond theme. The mood’s right, the lyrics have the right idea, Crow sounds pretty decent. It’s nothing special, but it works.

14. “Live and Let Die”
It’s awkward, isn’t it? Do you hear what I’m talking about? That wordy lead-in that just can’t wait to get to the chorus, but has to set it up like the least funny joke ever? The way the song doesn’t really know what to do with itself after that chorus and just starts noodling around in a vaguely aggressive manner? If this weren’t written by McCartney, how would anyone take it at all seriously? It’s clumsy, daffy, and a little embarrassed to be itself. And yet those two things — the pedigree and the unpredictability — are enough for this to stand out. Barely.

13. “You Know My Name”
One of the few things holding Casino Royale back from total perfection. There’s a brashness and testosterone to this that seemed a daring break with recent history at the time, and with someone other than Cornell on vocals, this might almost have worked. But if there’s one thing that Bond categorically can never be — and Cornell, sadly, couldn’t not be — it’s grunge.

12. “Skyfall”
Vastly overrated, but I admit it’s the only Craig-era theme that works. It’s humorless, turgid, and dull, but the sound is right, it’s grand and voluminous, and there’s nothing out of place. To be Bond it should also have been sexy, but one could say the same of the film it precedes.

11. “Goldfinger”
Also vastly overrated, most recently by me, but when I listened again, I had to admit this is among the dorkiest of Bond themes. Like its film, though, it’s absolutely iconic, to the point where being “good” is almost beside the point. Both are as quintessentially Bond as it is possible to be, even though they are hardly representative of the whole franchise. At least 90% of Austin Powers’ DNA comes directly from this source (and most of the rest is Moonraker).

10. “Moonraker”
Gasp! I know! Ignore the lyrics: this is a gorgeous tune. Let’s just leave it at that and move on.

9. “Thunderball”
Not generally my thing, but I have to admit that Tom Jones hits the mark pretty solidly with this one. McCartney complained a bit about having to write a song featuring the phrase “live and let die,” but that’s nothing compared to working around a non-word like “thunderball”! A good meat and potatoes Bond theme.

8. “Goldeneye”
Here’s where we really get into the good stuff. I find Tina Turner’s vocal here just a little too easy to lampoon, but it’s got all the right elements: sultry, elegant, and dangerous. If the lyrics aren’t making us a little worried that maybe this time someone will actually manage to retire James Bond permanently, the theme isn’t doing its job. I have to wonder a bit about the transition from “watched you from the shadows as a child” to “it’s a gold and honey trap I’ve got for you tonight.” Scandalous!

7. “For Your Eyes Only”
For a Bond theme, this is almost too innocent (though the less said the better about how that tone fits with the movie’s running gag where a teenaged figure skater has a crush on Moore’s 54-year-old Bond), but as a song, this is one of the triumphs of the 80s, riding the line between schmaltzy and transcendent. You know it’s on the good side of that line because when you sing it in the shower, you feel like you’re flying, even if you substitute the irresistible mondegreen “the wild abandoned sodomy.” My ambition is to sing it that way in karaoke and see if anybody notices.

6. “Nobody Does It Better”
We are into unassailable classic territory finally, starting with this Carly Simon ode to Bond’s lovemaking skills (and maybe spy skills too, but let’s not kid ourselves). It makes Bond sound mellower than some of the tunes I ranked lower, but to introduce a film called The Spy Who Loved Me, why shouldn’t it? Ironically, five people do it better, but this is still a respectable showing for 70s Bond.

5. “The Living Daylights”
I’m willing to concede that personal taste and history play a role in getting a-ha up this high; I loved the band, and I loved the film, the first to come out at a time when I was (by my parents’ standards) old enough to watch it. It’s one of the few Bond themes that manages to work just fine as a pop song in sequence on a record (Stay On These Roads, in this case) without sounding out of place or comical, and provide an exciting, driving intro to the film. If I rate it below its immediate predecessor, it’s only because a-ha are a little too cuddly to sound quite dangerous enough.

4. “A View to a Kill”
Duran Duran, like a handful of acts that for some unjustifiable reason have never provided a Bond theme (Bryan Ferry, Portishead, Goldfrapp, and Barry Adamson), were basically born to do this. Half their songs sound like Bond themes as is, and most of the videos from Rio looked like miniature Bond films. A more natural fit of band to Bond you won’t find on this list. Those punching orchestra hits that were all over dance music in the mid-to-late 80s date the arrangement a bit, but it’s a minor complaint. This and “Daylights” will probably always be my favorite Bond themes, but there are three I consider just a touch better if I’m being objective.

3. “The World Is Not Enough”
I have a theory about the ideal Bond theme. It showcases a female singer who is Bond’s counterpart, his anima perhaps, a woman just as capable and devious and deadly as he is, smoky and sexy and maybe just a little bit sinister, a vision of who he would be if he were not so scrupulously dedicated to protecting the interests of his country. Basically, not to cheapen it with this analogy, she’s the Catwoman to his Batman. There may not be a better example of this perfect storm than “TWINE.” Garbage have the same thing going that Duran Duran did, where half their songs sound like Bond themes already, but this song takes the whole thing further. In my mind this song is Shirley Manson (well, the character she’s voicing) talking directly to Bond: “look, if you gave up this whole spy gig, with your skills and mine, we could own this sorry little planet.” It’s compelling, it sounds fabulous, it’s mysterious and sensual. This is one of the few Bond movies I’ve never even bothered to watch, but the theme: it’s a jewel.

2. “You Only Live Twice”
The theatrical arrangement and Nancy Sinatra’s vocal on this are wonderful but maybe just a little quiet and unassuming; it’s early days for Bond and no one knows yet that a Bond theme is “supposed” to thunder into the room like an elephant in combat boots. Based on this elegant, sinuous tune, maybe less is more. It’s modest, and it’s gorgeous, and it way outclasses the film that follows. I’ve heard at least one brilliant cover of this, which cemented my love for it. It’s not the most bombastic Bond theme, but it might be just about perfect.

1. “Diamonds Are Forever”
This one is perfect. It’s got everything “The World Is Not Enough” had, including a singer named Shirley, plus twice the charisma, four times the glamour, and six times the sex appeal. It’s an intriguing intro to the film, it’s got that rolling thunder we expect from a Bond theme, it’s got that Bassey magic, it’s got everything. It’s this song — not “Goldfinger,” not “Skyfall” — that should serve as the template for future themes if anyone knows what they’re doing. It’s timeless: forever, forever, forever.

Doctor Who: “The Doctor Falls”

There’s so much happening here, and so little. We could talk about the eerie use of proto-Cyberman corpses as scarecrows. We could talk about how fast those lifts are, and whether the Doctor’s claim that the Cybermen would be able to work out how to stop them before they made it to the TARDIS really holds water. We could talk about the apple as humanity’s original weapon. We could talk about the oblique reference to a Doctor Who Magazine comic written by Grant Morrison that presented the Voord, villains of the 1964 adventure “The Keys of Marinus,” to be evolving into Cybermen. We could, and probably should, finally give Nardole his due, that never-quite-explained somewhat-Cyberized-himself Frankenstein’s-monster of a non-human con man turned quiet hero, Matt Lucas nailing the role as he has all season even when he’s just hilariously deadpan muttering “shuttle craft.”

But in the end this boils down to three people. So let’s talk about them.

1. Missy
“I loved being you….And I will always miss it.”

Was Missy “reformed”? No more and no less than you would expect. Something changed in her, that much was clear, but up until the very end her past self maintained a grip on her present, and probably every instant the two of them were together and most of the instants when they weren’t, she was conflicted. Gomez plays all this with excellent subtlety, just looks and line readings you’ll miss if you blink. It’s probable Missy doesn’t know until the moment she sticks her (sonic? really?) umbrella in the ground and beckons the Master over for a hug that she’s going to stab him in the back. And it’s probable that the Master doesn’t know until she declares her intent to betray everything he’s chosen to be that he’s going to shoot her in the back. After all, Missy’s mere existence is the proof he survives the stabbing, so why would he cut short his own future…unless it means he stops being himself?

It’s remarkable that we get what sounds like a credible explanation of the Master’s escape from “The End of Time” — this hasn’t always been a courtesy we’ve received. He’s often escaped from what seem like certain death traps without accounting in any way for his survival. So no matter what he says about the “full blast” of the laser screwdriver, and regardless of the fact this really is the “perfect ending” for the character, it’s more than likely that the admonition to carry a spare dematerialization circuit isn’t the only precaution Missy retained from her previous death. I’d put the odds we’ll see her again, in one incarnation or another, at about 98%.

2. The Doctor
“I can’t keep on being somebody else.”

I’ve never been in the camp that enjoys criticizing the behavior of a 2000-year-old effective immortal who spends most of his time saving short-lived humans from apocalyptic situations. It’s become a cliché to complain about the Doctor’s arrogance, or his hubris, or his alien sensibilities, or his habit of putting his best friends in mortal danger. But it’s hard to deny that the Twelfth Doctor has, even compared to his more self-castigating prior selves, given this camp a lot of ammunition.

He promises to save Bill, but he can’t. At least he admits it. He pushes down whatever grief and guilt he’s feeling over her condition because there’s a pressing crisis: first the Missy/Master situation, then the Cybermen preparing to invade level 507. And maybe it’s better this way — maybe no scene where he looks her in the blank Cyberman eyes and apologizes for ignoring her reluctance to participate in Missy’s test, apologizes for thinking his braggadocio could talk the janitor out of shooting her, apologizes for leaving her downstairs for ten years while he taught the room about black hole physics, or for taking the lift when he could have taken the TARDIS, or even just for leaving her alone in the barn, would ever be enough. But Moffat’s a good writer, Capaldi’s a good actor — they might have pulled it off.

What we get instead is the final culmination of a death wish that’s been building all season, manifesting in his attempted self-sacrifices in (e.g.) “Extremis,” “Pyramid at the End of the World,” and “The Eaters of Light.” The Doctor’s decision to stay on 507 and burn along with it is about doing what’s right and decent and kind, yes, but it’s also his inability to live with himself. This is the second companion in a row (that we know of) who’s effectively died on his watch, performing a small act of heroism she didn’t realize would be fatal, and while he doesn’t consciously remember Clara, there must be a level on which he does. This is not out of character for him — it’s basically the same doomed last stand in a bucolic little town he took in “The Time of the Doctor” — but it is, in some ways, as selfish a move as any, this unsung final charge intended to be the last help he gives anyone, ever.

If he’d given in and regenerated, he could have helped the “Waltons” for many more years than Nardole will be able to. He might even have worked out a way to get to his TARDIS. He could have saved many more people on more worlds. But he’s had enough. He’s lived too long, failed one too many of his friends, this time a young woman who wanted nothing more than to learn and to love and be loved, and who got her heart burned out of her chest for doing nothing more than being human. He knows, as we know, that if he changes now, he’ll become a different man (or woman), remember these things as if they happened to someone else, start fresh and maybe never stop.

We know that has to happen. But he doesn’t want to face it. And right now, I don’t want to either.

3. Bill
“I don’t want to live if I can’t be me anymore.”

Last week I left the similarities between “Dark Water” and “World Enough and Time” as an exercise to the reader. Did you do the exercise? We won’t check all your answers now, but the most obvious one has to be “one of the few black companions we’ve had receives a fatal trauma and is held captive by the Master until they can be converted into a Cyberman.”

I’ll admit, I expected this to be undone. It seemed cruel, and not nearly as unusual as it should be, for this to happen again. Mickey and Martha fared relatively well, but the Moffat era has been less kind to companions of color; even Mels, Amy and Rory’s childhood friend who turns out to be their daughter, is shot dead by Hitler a short time after she first appears (to regenerate into Alex Kingston, but still). I’m not sure it’s my place to say that this is an objectively troubling trend, but I’m troubled by it personally, and hoping (though not expecting) Chris Chibnall to be the showrunner who finally remembers that companions used to choose to leave the TARDIS like mature adults and don’t have to be killed off.

It’s all the more dismaying to see this happen to a companion as thoroughly appealing as Bill. If there’s any division among fans between those who love Bill and those who hate her, I’ve apparently only heard from the first faction. Making a character everyone loves, on purpose, is almost impossible. If the intent was to make her so likeable that her fate is a total gut-punch, they’ve succeeded, and it’s a testimony to excellent scripts, certainly, but also and perhaps first and foremost to Pearl Mackie.

Thank goodness Moffat has Bill under the illusion that she’s still human, or we might have lost out on a terrific last performance by Mackie. Her anguish as she slowly realizes she’s been turned into a literal monster is all the more heartbreaking as we imagine each of her lines as everyone around her hears it, in the Cybervoice. I said last week that her situation was sad, and it gets worse the more you think about it: she has the one act of heroism (pointing out she’s the only human in the room so she’s the only one who gets shot), and that’s it — she doesn’t even get all the credit for sticking it out ten years in the nightmare hospital, since we don’t know to how much she’s acting under the Doctor’s “wait for me” mental suggestion. That’s something I could have done without — it’s his biggest mistake, pacifying her when she could have taken action of some kind, and it robs her of any credit we might have given her for having faith in him. Then she gets to be taunted by the Master, kept in the barn like a horrible secret, shot at by Ma Walton.

And yet — I said last week she was resilient, and we keep seeing it here. She doesn’t succumb to the Doctor’s death wish and make a suicide run at a bunch of Cybermen, zapping as many as possible before they overwhelm her (even though arguably that would have been pretty spectacular; and since all the Cybermen are connected, and Nardole is a computer expert, was there never any thought of sending some kind of signal from her brain back through the net to infect them? Maybe the same image of her mom that defeated the omnipotent Monks in almost exactly that same way? Oh well). She sticks with the Doctor and Nardole, until she’s able finally at the end to find him on the battlefield and, with a little help, save his life. He doesn’t deserve her. He never has. He’s lucky to have her.

But she’s luckier to have someone else. The one remaining fear I had from last week — that Bill, our first lesbian companion, would also be the first companion of the new series denied a happy romance in the end — was fortunately premature. This ending makes me wish even more that “The Pilot” had taken just a little more screen time to flesh out that relationship between Bill and the girl with the star in her eye, but better late than never. Like Clara and Me, Bill and Heather are now effectively immortal, traveling the universe without the Doctor for as long and as far as they want to. They could be human again — according to Heather, “it’s just atoms” — but given what they’re apparently capable of now, human seems such a small thing to try and be.

This is a strong contender for the saddest ending for a companion we’ve had since the new series began. But an equally strong contender for the happiest.

“Is the future going to be all girl?”

“We can only hope.”

Doctor Who: “World Enough and Time”

Let’s cut to the chase: this is the best episode of Doctor Who since at least “Dark Water,” whose plot it resembles in numerous ways best left as an exercise for the reader. I’m not complaining in the least. To grapple with all the terrific moments here, let’s turn to a structure I’ve used in the past to tame more hyperactive event stories, and which I’ll use this time to allow us to linger and stretch time at the very edge of the Capaldi era and indeed the Moffat era. Everything we’ll miss is here, and it’s glorious.

0:00 – 5:00
Well, now we know why the word was Capaldi had already filmed the regeneration. Stating the obvious: his hair’s much longer (perhaps more Pertwee-esque than ever before) or at least less styled, and there’s no context whatsoever apart from the snow, so this could be happening pretty much anytime and anywhere. The only immediately apparent reason for it to happen right now is to tease the possibility (for around 3 minutes) that he’s regenerated into Michelle Gomez. It looks like this is going to be another reluctant regeneration, too. Eccleston and Smith were sanguine, but Tennant and Capaldi are choleric in death.

The ship and the black hole are pretty spectacular, but we’re so used to this sort of thing in movies we might not notice how great it is in a show with this budget.

“Time Lords are friends with each other, dear. Everything else is cradle-snatching.” Well, she would want to be his only friend. But it helps reinforce why he’s going to such lengths to reform her. Capaldi is perfect with his feet up eating crisps while she goes through a test only somewhat reminiscent of (again) the most recent episode of Sherlock.

“You’re probably handsome, aren’t you?” echoes the Fourth Doctor in “City of Death” telling the Countess Scarlioni “you’re a beautiful woman, probably.”

5: 01 – 10: 00
This banter about the Doctor’s name is also perfect. They tease it back and forth until the Doctor finally confirms that it’s absolutely the name he goes by because he likes it. So not his real name, but still pretty much his real name, with the “Who.” When I miss Moffat, it’s going to be for cheeky moves like this. Just like that, it’s canon, everybody!

It’s not entirely clear why the blue janitor is so afraid of the proto-Cybermen coming up in the lifts, since all they do is take Bill away. Perhaps he’s just trying not to add to their numbers.

Oh, sorry, so yeah, that’s the first spoiler. But obviously we’ve known they were coming since the start of the season, and if you missed them then, you saw them in the Next Time trailer. So yes: Cybermen.

10 : 01 – 15 : 00
It’s simple, but it works: Missy is, as she was originally conceived in 1971, the Doctor’s dark mirror, his evil twin, but his mirror and his twin nonetheless, hence he’s soft on her and wants nothing more than to give her one more chance. So many human nightmares get undeserved leeway for exactly the same reason. Love enables monsters. It’s awful, but it’s our nature.

Bill has clearly been given a lot more background on Missy offscreen. Back in “The Lie of the Land” Missy was a woman the Doctor was inexplicably keeping imprisoned, but now she’s someone Bill wouldn’t trust with a cupcake.

More canon-rattling: the Doctor implying he might not have been a man in his Academy days, suggesting that either William Hartnell wasn’t the first Doctor (doubtful for too many reasons to list) or that the Doctor’s memory is getting seriously fuzzy in his advanced age. Bill’s “Time Lords” zinger is the perfect capper.

15 : 0 1 – 20 : 0 0
The pair of clocks is too much information to take in without pausing, but it sets up the time differential between the two ends of the ship. And here we have the first appearance of Mr. Razor, who appears to be cut from the same shambling idiot cloth as that one in Babylon 5.

Hospitals are always scary (see also “The Empty Child”). They’re even scarier when the patients are so wrecked that they can’t say they’re in pain, they can only type it.

2 0 : 0 1 – 2 5 : 0 0
This is why I love two-parters. 45 minutes forces a breakneck pace. 90 minutes gives you enough time to build mood, and suspense, and let Bill discover slowly and with utter dread that the only reason she can no longer hear the patients typing “pain” is that the nurse has turned down the volume.

At this point I still hadn’t recognized the actor playing Mr. Razor.

2 5 : 01 – 3 0 : 00
It’s profoundly sad, what’s happening to Bill. It’s not just that she’s had a hole blown through her chest and had it filled with a Cyberman chest unit. It’s also that she’s spending months, years, mopping the floors of a hospital where the patients eye an open window with naked desire to escape (one way or another), and where her only company is perhaps the most evil person on the entire ship. She doesn’t know about this last bit yet, but otherwise she’s holding up extremely well under the circumstances. She may well be the most resilient companion we’ve ever seen.

30 : 01 – 35 : 00
The Big Finish audio play “Spare Parts” was, until now, the closest thing we had to a Genesis of the Cybermen. The world it suggested was much like what we see here: a drab underworld of the poor and destitute, shuffling in rags for scraps.

35 :01 – 40 :00
I’m pretty sure it was right around the time Mr. Razor puts on the burgling mask that I realized who he was. It should have been much sooner, though, since the presence of John Simm was of course the other thing we’ve been spoiled about well before now. His goatee is a throwback to Masters of old (Delgado in the Seventies, Ainley in the Eighties), as is his penchant for disguise. It wasn’t uncommon for him to use a name that either meant “Master” (e.g. “Magister”) or was an anagram of “Master” (e.g. “Estram”). And of course, an anagram of “Mister Razor” is, er, “Master Rizor.” “Masterizer”? “Master Ziror”? Well, nobody’s perfect.

Missy knows too. She’s nervous. Only one person could make her this nervous: herself.

40:01 – 45:00
So: Mondas. The tenth planet in our solar system, out beyond Pluto, and for some reason Earth’s exact twin, only inverted: another dark mirror. (If Missy is the Doctor’s dark mirror, Razor, in a sense, for a moment, in her semi-reformed state, is hers.) Mondas and its bizarre cloth-faced Cybermen appeared before once and only once, in 1966’s “The Tenth Planet,” at the end of which story the First Doctor regenerated.

And so we learn that not only did the Master help create the Cybermen (after escaping from the events of “The End of Time,” before regenerating into Missy), but that he also converted Bill into one of them long before the Doctor ever met her, ever decided to take her on as her tutor, ever reluctantly decided to bring her along on the TARDIS, ever promised not to get her killed.

I mean, next week looks like it’s going to be at least as manic as “Death in Heaven,” with a whole bunch of Cybermen blowing up in gratuitous ways, but for the moment, we’re left on a cliffhanger that’s as harrowing as we’ve ever had. There’s a very real chance that Bill will be the only new series companion to date who will die and stay dead.

I’m utterly dismayed. And I can’t wait till Saturday. This is how Doctor Who should be.

Doctor Who: series 10 penultimate rankings

Per tradition, it’s the end-of-series rankings, minus the finale.

10. The Pyramid at the End of the World
I’m sympathetic: this episode had to clarify the nature of the Monks, provide a credible way for them to hold the Earth to ransom, and maneuver Bill into a corner where she’d have to agree to their demands. On paper it does one and a half out of three, while on screen it substitutes action figures for characters and doesn’t seem to have any idea how bacteria work.

9. Empress of Mars
A better-than-average Gatiss episode, with an interesting role to play in Ice Warrior history, but still hamstrung by the performances, the posturing, the thin plot, and the fact that the Doctor and Bill are spectators and little else.

8. The Lie of the Land
Not really all that good in its own right, but satisfying as a middle finger to the dreadful setup. Nothing could have paid off the absurdity of the Monks, so why not spend 35 minutes or so watching the season’s best actors play off one another?

7. Smile
Gorgeous visually, and it’s wonderful to watch the Doctor and Bill getting to know each other. In hindsight, though, it’s hard to shake the awareness that it relies on the humans and the robots being pathetically stupid, and I can’t get the shot of the robot with pound signs in its eyes out of my head.

6. Extremis
The beginning of the season’s biggest waste of time: three episodes of a thoroughly nonsensical monster. This one is a mess, but it almost works.

5. The Pilot
I had to take off points for the “fattened” bit, the having-it-both-ways threat, and the underdeveloped relationship, but otherwise this gets a respectable passing grade as one of the loveliest season openers in quite some time.

4. Knock Knock
The most purely entertaining story of the season in my book. It has its flaws, including yet another unlikely reset button ending, but on the whole this is an underrated diversion.

3. Oxygen
A rock-solid idea, maybe only one character-focused revision away from being a match for “Thin Ice.” The “end of capitalism” promise might have been a bit too on-the-nose (and entirely at odds with even recent continuity), but the “suits are trying to kill us” joke is so real it’s almost not funny.

2. The Eaters of Light
An almost retro adventure that seems a little at odds with the tone and structure of new Who, yet fits right in thematically. There are more sophisticated and better-structured stories this season, but the texture of this one appeals to me so much that only a perfect grand slam could knock it out of the top spot.

1. Thin Ice
An all-too-rare Doctor Who story that manages to mix sociopolitical commentary, entertaining spectacle, a historical setting, and character development for both the Doctor and his companion without breaking a sweat.

Doctor Who: “The Eaters of Light”

Given the harmonious relationship between classic Who and new Who — a distinction with less and less meaning every year — it seems unbelievable that Rona Munro is the only writer to have written for both phases of the show. Her last effort was in fact the last classic episode ever aired. “Survival” was a solidly enjoyable Seventh Doctor story featuring a mysterious link between worlds, a proud race of female warriors (who happened to be bipedal cheetahs), and a theme about overcoming one’s baser, warlike instincts so that enemies could come together to do better things. It also featured the Master, his nature being altered (in this case toward savagery rather than away from evil) by the planet of the Cheetah People. It’s remarkable and strangely comforting to see such strong links between 1989 and 2017, especially as we draw toward the end of another era.

“The Eaters of Light” has plenty of rough spots. The titular creatures are refreshingly old-school in nature, hungry monsters to be fought rather than overliteral technology, Oedipal weirdoes, or the violence of capitalism, but like so many new Who antagonists, they raise so many questions there’s no time in 42 short minutes to answer. The locusts manifest as tentacled dragon/lions, running on four feet like any Earth animal, so how do they get to the sun, much less the rest of the stars? Perhaps the one we see is too wounded and weakened to fly like its siblings in the portal, and must absorb light to recover its full powers and give it strength to roam out of the immediate area, but why is it feeding only off the absorbed light of humans? Why not tuck into the trees and grass, which are surely as full of light as we are? Why not just wait till morning (of which there are at least two in the course of the story) and soak up some rays directly? And just how much longer are a handful of Romans and Celts going to be able to postpone the inevitable, if the tradition is all but forgotten in the modern age of children playing among the stones? I haven’t done the math, but this is surely a finite solution, as the Doctor points out.

Then there’s the Doctor himself, in a curiously prickly mood. He’s not quite his Season 8 self, but he’s far ruder to Kar than seems appropriate, even before he learns what she’s done to put the universe in danger. Her home may be a “muddy little hill” but it’s difficult to see how she’s in the wrong for taking a risk to defend it from invaders, “indoor toilets” or no. And though Bill ought to know better than to challenge a Time Lord on his history based on a single book, it’s a little gauche for him to brag about having lived in it.

Still, it’s a lively little story with a good heart to it and plenty of fun moments. I enjoyed the Chekhov’s popcorn, even though it was easy to see it coming. I liked the bit about what the crows say, and why they say it. While I don’t think we needed yet another situation where Bill has to rebuff a crush by letting him know she’s gay (would it have killed them to give us one more episode where a cute alien girl falls for her instead?), I loved the ensuing conversation about how liking both boys and girls was an ordinary thing for the Romans. And most importantly, there was Munro’s take on the role the Doctor plays in the lives of those he encounters: translating their words to one another, so that they can hear the childish limitations they place on themselves and learn to rise above them.

It’s remarkable that, even though both the Romans and the Celts are subject to Historical Figure Formality and tend to orate a bit more than they plainly speak, this episode seems more alive with actual characters than some of the flashier others this season. For better or worse, it also feels more resolved, not with the realignment of a status quo for an unseen next chapter, but with the creation of a legend. I’m glad new Who does a lot of things in new ways, but there’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned ending once in a while.

Of course, while the end of the story is old-fashioned, the actual end of the episode is not. I have my suspicions about where this Missy thing is headed, but when the setup of this series arc gives us intense scenes like that Doctor/Missy tête-à-tête, I’m content just to indulge it and see where it goes.