Doctor Who and vikings can’t fail to entertain (I must get around to my review of Dark Horizons) and the gentle pace of this witty and engaging tale affords time for drama, dancing and some Nordic banter in the atmospheric setting of Cosmeston Medieval Village. On the strength of his previous episodes, Mathieson is very good at giving the Doctor very traditional bits of business to do – and that’s the case here, whether it’s reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, or preparing to patronise the natives with his yo-yo as a set-up to being undercut by Holy Grail Odin. I guess that gave him a taste of how Mr Prosser must have felt about the Vogons.
It’s refreshing not to have the Doctor facing up to his impending mortality (even if he dwells a little too much on Clara’s). I wouldn’t mind an episode or two where the Doctor shelved the introspection – just for a change as much as anything – but I was quite satisfied with the explanation of why the Doctor has got Caecilius’ face. (Presumably the Doctor took Maxil’s face to remind himself to be more abrasive and rude…) We still don’t know why John Frobisher has also got Caecilius’ face – apparently an explanation exists, though who knows if we’ll ever hear it.
While the Doctor isn’t facing his death, there’s some serious reflection here about home, and exile; something that is seemingly becoming a preoccupation. Meanwhile Clara is again doing her proxy-Doc bit negotiating with the Mire.
The episode is perhaps not as immediately satisfying as the well-crafted and fast-paced Flatline or Mummy, but I think it’s one I’ll enjoy more on re-watching. So many of the little details are so right. Incidentally, while the Doctor seems disdainful of task any less significant than the survival of mankind, I prefer the small scale stories – the ripples, not the tidal waves. And I appreciate variety, so while I’ve liked the substantial pair of two-parters this season opened with, it’s nice to have a stand alone episode. And this is self-contained – I doubt anyone will be fooled by slapping the words “to be continued” at the end. There was no cliffhanger, and a caption cannot make this part one of a double (especially when next week’s is by a different writer). The next one may be a sequel, and feature the (welcome) return of one of the characters. But this story has no need for a continuation to be appreciated in its own right.