Ah, there it is. There’s that moment when you know a season of Doctor Who is fully under way. That moment when you, as the viewer of Doctor Who, uphold one of the show’s oldest and longest-standing traditions. That moment when you recite to no one in particular the lines that may just sum up Doctor Who better than any other:
“Wait a minute. None of this makes any damn sense.”
Yes, it’s the nonsense episode, a tale as old as Who. At least once a season (and only once, if it’s a good season), you can expect to sit through a story full of energy, strong visuals and even engrossing moments, but by the time the explanations start flying, you can’t help but notice how rushed, silly and pointless they really are. This one was so bad that we couldn’t shake the feeling that the wrong shooting copy of the script, based on a much earlier draft of the story, somehow wound up in the production team’s hands when it came time to shoot this one. What started as a haunted house story took a turn so absurd that it rendered the first 30 minutes practically irrelevant as a set up. The creepy, alien-like elderly man suddenly turns on a dime and becomes a little boy, just as the childlike woman suddenly decides she’s an adult and in charge. Nothing about this episode worked, from the character beats to the story itself. Why do the space lice only need to feed every 20 years? What exactly do they do and why do they do it? They consume people? But also the wood in the house consumes them? But also they control all wood, including the trees outside the house? And they kept a woman live for 70 years by eating people and/or letting the wood eat people, which thereby turned the sick woman into wood and made her think that her son was her father?
Also: high-pitched music something-something. And even though we saw their bodies literally dissolve in front of us, all of Bill’s friends are hale and hearty by the end – and somehow in possession of full memories of what just happened, which means every single one of them will be in therapy for the rest of their lives with the worst cases of post-traumatic stress disorder the British psychiatric community has ever seen.
Yeah, this one was both silly and dumb. The only reason we’re not more annoyed at how badly the story was written comes down to the truly entertaining chemistry between the show’s two principals. Granted, even that had its problems here. While it’s refreshing to have a companion who doesn’t want her whole life to revolve around the Doctor, Bill’s reluctance to introduce him to her friends and the “this is the part of my life you’re not in” comments really didn’t scan, given their short, explosive history together. Bill may not succumb to the kind of wide-eyed hero worship of past companions, but the idea that she’d wave him off after he’d shown her the limits of time and space seems a bit … off. “Yeah, thanks for the space trip and the time travel, but you’re embarrassing me, grand-dad.” Not quite. The only thing interesting about these interactions is how they allude to the Doctor’s own granddaughter Susan, and the implication that Bill reminds him of her. We sincerely hope that’s just a bit of emotional seasoning on the part of the writers, and not some indication that Bill has some sort of secret past or connection to the Doctor. We also sincerely hope that this lackluster episode is only a slight wobble on the part of the show’s creators and not an indication that they’ve run out of steam already.
Then again, declaring the current season to be the Worst One Ever is the other longstanding Doctor Who viewer tradition.