Sweet FSM! A 12th Doctor ep that actually surprised me by being better than expected! How novel!
Spoilers follow, highlight to see... unless you have a hand-held device. Then just scroll down a bit 'cause I don't know how to hide text other than using this deprecated font tag thing.
Still there? You were warned...
The episode starts with snippets of the double-life Clara is leading by romancing Danny Pink when she's not jaunting off on adventures with the Doctor. She's told the Doctor she's dating someone but not who and she's certainly never told Danny about the Doctor.
Finally a day comes when the Doctor brushes off Clara, claiming he has to go "under cover". In typical Doctor fashion, he explains nothing.
Predictably, he shows up at Coal Hill School (where Clara and Danny are teachers) as the new caretaker: "John Smith" (homage to his alias from the Pertwee days).
The Doctor is tracking a deadly robot-alien killing machine that is in the area for REASONS. It kills a policeman and poses a threat to "the entire planet" in typical show melodrama.
The Doctor behaves as erratically as usual, which offers great comic moments, both from Capaldi's Doctor and from Coleman's Clara as she tries to cope with the Doctor being right in front of her during her work hours... and in front of her new boyfriend.
The Doctor makes his way across the campus of the school, laying "time mines" to deal with the alien. During these encounters, he and Danny Pink meet. The Doctor learns Danny used to be a soldier and flips into his uniquely Capaldi-era overreaction against soldiers (conveniently forgetting his friendship with Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, Sergeant Benton, and others from his U.N.I.T. days). In short, the Doctor and Danny don't get along in a contrived prejudice the Doctor holds that's apparently going to be a theme this season.
Danny notes there's something off about the Doctor and that Clara seems to know him.
There's a few sitcom-esque misunderstandings for a bit that quickly get brushed-aside as the Doctor leads the alien back to the school using an invisibility-watch he's created to trap the alien with his "time mines".
Things get complicated when Danny's decided to investigate the Doctor's doings and disrupted the placement of the time mines... the alien nearly kills Danny and is sucked into a time vortex... just not far enough away.
The Doctor and Danny have the normal conflict that happens when the Doctor's plans are disrupted. Danny is shown the TARDIS and told the Doctor is an alien. He leaves to process and the Doctor prepares for the alien, which is due to return in three days due to the time mines being disrupted. Clara, in the meanwhile, tries to balance the two people in her life and get them to get along.
Cue ahead to some serious Clara-Danny conversations that are predictable. Meanwhile, a troublesome young student who has "future Companion" written all over her meets the Doctor and they sort of bond in a surprisingly-good mix of chemistry while the Doctor prepares for the return of the alien killing machine.
The alien returns early, in the middle of parents' night, disrupting Clara and Danny's jobs.
The Doctor has Clara act as bait for the alien killing machine as he prepares a gadget. There's a sudden, unexpected twist to the final confrontation that has Danny swoop in to distract the alien and buy time for the Doctor to finally deactivate the alien robot killing machine.
There's a terse, manly truce between the two men over Clara. The Doctor takes the teenage kid on a jaunt in the TARDIS, causing her to throw up (hilariously). And we get another hint of the over-arcing "paradise" story that is too stupid to mention.
Overall, the story was a tremendous improvement over the ENTIRE previous offerings of the season. The banter was solid and amusing. The dynamic between Capaldi's Doctor and Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink is surprisingly-good for being so contrived. And Clara seems to be settling into her own a bit.
I'm liking that the stories are less-reliant on the magic-wand Sonic Screwdriver and going more into other sci-fi gadgetry of the Doctor's making. The show really needs more random inventions and less of the Sonic Screwdriver being the end-all super-gadget.
The monster was a nice touch, being both weird and threatening.
I could do with less of the relationship stuff. Honestly, these last few seasons have felt like Moffatt thinks he's still writing for "Coupling" instead of a science-fiction program. I've no objections to romance in the show, but I'm old-school in feeling it really shouldn't be a focus.
I still think this weird "Promised Land" over-arcing plot is ridiculous. Otherwise, it felt like an improvement.
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