The most important thing in this episode is the Doctor getting his guitar out and playing along to the theme tune. This needs to happen every week, from now on. The monologue on the ontological paradox, I wasn’t so sure about. Doctor Who has always been very inconsistent in the way it handles time travel – although Eugene and I once spent two hours trying to reconcile it on Fusion Patrol. But a couple of weeks ago I criticised Steven Moffat for not being clear how time travel was being handled in The Witch’s Familiar, and this did rather effectively pre-empt any predestination irritation that might have distracted from the conclusion of the storyline.
Mixing in a new location was a good way inject some freshness into the two-parter, and the cold-war era soviet appurtenances were splendidly eerie. O’Connell registered so little with me last week I was surprised when Tony Jones speculated about her as a possible companion over on Red Rocket Rising – but from this week’s all too brief performance I can see he saw what I missed and I am convinced she would have been brilliant. Whithouse has form creating good potential companion characters (cf. Rita) that never get to fulfil that role. I wasn’t so keen on all the allusions to Mr Saxon et al. (I thought this stuff would’ve been sucked through the cracks in time from series 31) but it was good to see Whithouse taking the opportunity to give another outing to the splendid Tivolian race (from his best episode to date).
Capaldi was on absolutely coruscating form, and the writing suited the twelfth Doctor much better than in last week’s episode. Did he sacrifice O’Connell? It’s nicely ambiguous. Will he do anything to save Clara? We have no doubt. And while I’ll never be a big fan of rubber-suit monsters and the modern equivalents, casting such a tall villain for the Doctor to square up to nicely emphasised his stature (though apparently it may not actually have been the brilliant 6’3” Peter Serafinowicz inside that thing). In fact, I thought the Fisher King looked pretty good, as these things go.
All in all, a two parter where the conclusion exceeds expectations is a very satisfying thing. There’s plenty of action. The Doctor is purposeful, vehement and ingenious. It’s timey wimey, but in a clever way (the only false step I noted was inexplicably late arrival of O’Connell’s ghost) and yes, the dead Doctor is a cheat again, but with the twist being foreshadowed twice it’s hard to find grounds for complaint unless you actually feel that the Doctor dying is the only authentically dramatic resolution, despite it putting a bit of a damper on the show’s future…