So, we've had two "bad" episodes in a row, how does this one fare?
If I had to sum up this episode in a sentence it would be: Starts off good, then goes weird but ends up excellently. My only complaint (and I might as well get this out of the way straight away) is the jerky switch from the story the set in the past to the story set in the future. We come back from helping Mr. Pink's younger self in the past to the date that got completely messed up at the start of the episode and you think "ok, this weeks story got done a bit quicker than I thought, but at least it was good and we get some interaction and character building time for Pinks and Clara" then BOOM Spaceman! Not episode breaking, but jarring all the same (oh and loving the budget saving costume re-use, that space suit has been used in "The Impossible Planet", "The Satan Pit" and "The Waters Of Mars").
So, now lets get on to the stuff I liked about this episode, of which there is a profusion. Kicking off with the start, that opening monologue was perfect in every way, shape and form. Capalidi sold it like it was on sale. And the pay off at the end, with the writing on the blackboard worked so well.
The dinner scene's were well executed as well. This director's obsession with the jump cuts usually annoys me, but this time it worked, showing the date as it happens and the aftermath for Clara was a neat fit and didn't spoil the flow (this also worked in the last scene as well for the same reason). We also got to see nice interaction between our two human leads, the awkward conversation, the jokes and the mess ups. Mr. Pink is certainly a very interesting addition to the line up and his reactions to Clara's two miss-haps make me even more interested in his character, what happened to this guy? What did he do as a soldier exactly? I know we can assume he killed people and he has guilt from that, but is there something else? Did he kill a civilian perhaps? Also, why is he so touchy about a) being made fun of (or thinking he's being made fun of in this case) and b) being lied to?
Then we have first section of the story, the bit set in the past. Up until the spaceman dropped in I thought they were actually doing a Mr. Pink backstory episode, but it wasn't to be. But this scene was pretty damn good. There were bits where it set you up for a mystery or a scare, then caught you of guard with a joke (the disappearing coffee for example) which was a great tactic, tension and release but not in the way you expect. Plus the bedroom scene its self was very scary in places, it reminded me of "Hide" from the last series (which was one of the best episodes of that series btw). They never do explain what it was under the covers though, given how the episode ends we have to assume that it was another kid. However, my sister came up with a pretty neat little theory which, whilst not entirely plausible and not having any basis on anything that was shown in this episode, I like enough to want to share with you guys: Maybe the creature under the covers was a projection of the fears of Rupert and the Doctor. As I said, it doesn't explain how the projection could be solid, or steal the covers, but it's nice and creepy and less mundane than "it was another one of the kids" 'cause that's boring.
Anyway, now it's time to talk about Clara. Ok, so, before this series started I said that one of the things I wanted most of all was more development for Clara because I just don't care about her. Well, this episode actually managed something incredible, the scene with the toy soldiers actually made me think "hang on, Clara is actually good in this scene". And then the end of the episode cemented the fact, this episode made Clara Oswald a companion that I liked. Hopefully it would just be this episode, but she's finally got some meat on the proverbial bones of her character. Sure she's no Donna, but she's proven to be at least a near equal to the Doctor in many respects here, at least enough to be able to make him obey her after he explicitly says he doesn't follow orders.
The we have Capaldi. His character came into its own as well in this episode. His Doctor is a very interesting mix of characteristics from the First and Third Doctors. He has their arrogance, their condescending natures with a dash of Pertwee's charisma and a pinch of Hartnell's age and experienced intelligence, topped of with his own gruff delivery, awkwardness and a bit of insanity that was present in his immediate predecessors. His banter off of Clara is improving, especially when it is against Clara rather than with her (example, when he appears in her bedroom and makes a crack at her about her make-up). Also, he looks positively evil when he grins.
And finally, we get to the end of the episode. That was an excellent pay off. Nice way to explain why the Doctor was so desperate to find out what was under the bed. You could just imagine this sitting in his mind for all those thousands of years, then, when it clicks into place (the start of the episode), he'd go literally to the end of the universe to find out why. It's interesting that they managed to time travel back in time to Gallifrey, does beg the question, why hasn't the Doctor done something similar before or why doesn't he still get summons from the Time Lords of the past, back when they decided that they'd use his as a cosmic yo-yo when they needed a problem sorting out, but Moffet is prone to trampling continuity, so I guess that one can slide (plus try and get your head around time travel continuity, try and put all of the Doctors encounters with the Time Lords and the Daleks in non- time travel chronological order rather than his personal time-line and then wonder how any of them know what's happening where and when).
So yeah, good episode. I'll have to watch the first episode back to judge whether this one was better or not, but it was certainly a big improvement on the last 2.