Simon Ridgway; Stuart Manning / BBC

Take Your Pict Of Doctor Who Season 10 Themes

The Doctor and companions solve a historical mystery while treading familiar ground.

It's always nice to see Doctor Who airing an episode written by a woman, but Rona Munro isn't just any woman. The last Doctor Who she wrote was called "Survival," it aired in 1989, and it comprised the last regular episodes for over a decade and a half. Let's hope this week's outing is not followed by a similar hiatus.

Actually, it turns out that an old-school Doctor Who writer can crank out a new episode that's very much of a piece with the other episodes we've seen this year. How well does this story of second-century Scotland touch on the key points raised during this season? Let's look at those points and find out.

Doctor Who S10-y Element Present?
Vault? What Vault?
"I never go anywhere," the Doctor told Bill when they met in this season's first episode, and it wasn't until later that we realized he was serious, having promised to guard a vault for...well, indefinitely. Now, between one thing and another, his wanderlust has returned with a vengeance. Maybe it was boredom, maybe it's Bill, maybe it's just that the BBC cameras keep popping round expecting an adventure. Whatever the case, the Doctor needs less and less motivation to abandon his sacred post lately. In this case it's to settle an argument with Bill over what happened to the Roman Empire's Ninth Legion. (Spoiler: they were both wrong.)

Nardole Is A Fashion Plate
It's not like Nardole is ever going to blend in; even in the regulation all-black ensemble he wore in "The Lie Of The Land," he's a memorable figure. So Doctor Who's costumers have traditionally made the most of his distinctive look, most frequently outfitting him in a distinctive orange toggle coat, but occasionally kitting him out like a Chinese mandarin or something. This week he pads incongruously out onto the heath in a dressing gown and flannel pajamas, looking for all the world like a rotund Arthur Dent. But within a matter of days, he's gone native, adopting not only the rough robes of his Pictish hosts but also their dramatic scrollwork face painting -- rather striking in conjunction with his Napoleon Dynamite spectacles. He also gets big points for loudly wailing that the Pictish deedly-deedly music used to lure the monster is ""worse than jazz!"
Bill's Sci-Fi Knowledge Comes In Handy
Usually, the Doctor has to explain to his companions why traveling in the TARDIS allows them to understand languages they've never heard before. But he's not around when Bill encounters her first Roman soldier, and she hears him speaking English while he hears her speaking Latin. Thus she's able to figure it out for herself, which may be a first. On the other hand, this is the second week in a row she fell through a hole, so.
Monster Of The Week
With the exception of last week's Ice Warriors, many of this season's enemies have been new ones that we're unlikely to see again. This week's photovorous tentacle-critter from another dimension certainly seems to fit that bill. On the one hand, it has glowing, prehensile feelers, and its effects on the collective skeletons of the Ninth Legion certainly explain why no Roman bone fossils were ever found (though their armor is another issue). On the other hand, it can be held at bay by torchlight refracted through ceramic coasters on sticks, which is less cool.
This may be Doctor Who's most diverse season to date, with a range of multiracial guest actors, a scientist with dwarfism, and the Doctor's first openly gay companion (though I have questions about Turlough). This week, Bill thinks that being in the past is going to make it tricky to explain her sexual orientation. But since she's among a squad of Roman soldiers who look like a boy-band in plumed helmets, they find her almost quaint for limiting her attractions to one gender, notwithstanding the fact that it's her own. If only today's dudes could always be as cool about getting shut down as Lucius is.
Colonialism Again
Star Trek has social justice; Doctor Who has colonialism, going all the way back to 1971's "The Colony In Space" and probably even earlier. This season's episodes "Smile" and "Empress Of Mars" explored colonialism in different ways, with the latter seeming to be a more direct take on some of the damage committed throughout history in the name of the British Empire. Which is fine; take as long as you need to work through that. This week we're reminded that long before the sun stopped setting on British soil, the sceptered isle found itself on the receiving end of imperialism courtesy of the guys who were disrupting that industry at the time. Colonialism may not have been invented on the British Isles, but as we learn from Kar, there was clearly a time when people who lived there weren't huge fans of it.
The Doctor Brokers A Peace
If peace were easy, we wouldn't need the Doctor. And even he can't always pull it off successfully (see the Silurians) or permanently (see the Zygons). But here he negotiates a cease-fire (or, given the time period, a cease-hack-and-slash) between the few survivors of two forces that very nearly wiped each other out. Not only that, they join together in battle against the invading horde, forever. This is an even better outcome than last week's English-Martian alliance, and certainly more satisfying than the peace-by-reset-button effected in "Smile."
The Doctor Attempts an Ill-Advised Self-Sacrifice
For someone who started this regeneration as such a cranky curmudgeon, the Doctor's selflessness seems to be bordering on a death wish this year. First he gives his space helmet to Bill in "Oxygen," thus exposing himself to raw vacuum and blinding himself for the next couple of episodes. Then he tries to forbid Bill from swapping Earth for his life with the Monks. Now he volunteers to spend the rest of his lives singlehandedly defending an underground dimensional breach. In the latter cases, he's overridden. But if he keeps this up, his luck has to run out. Maybe even at the end of this very season, or after a Christmas special or two.
Missy Makes Progress
The Doctor has apparently graduated her to a sort of work-release program, letting her out of the vault in exchange for some overdue grease-monkeying aboard the TARDIS. Even if she's locked out of the controls, I'm sure there are any number of ways she could ruin the Doctor's (and Bill's, and Nardole's, and another third of the universe's) day from such a position. But the Doctor wants to believe she can be rehabilitated for any number of reasons, from their long-ago genuine friendship to the fact that, as long as she's his prisoner, so is he effectively hers. Let's hope she's not just running the longest of long cons here. But let's hope even more that she hasn't taken up crying just because she's a chick now.
9 / 9
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