There are many who complained about Steven Moffat, but at this point, I think we have to face the fairly unpalatable realisation that Moffat's biggest mistake was appointing Chris Chibnall to replace him. Churning out his fourth episode (and having co-written the fifth), it would not be unfair to say Chibnall's scripts have been...workmanlike. They do the job, but they lack the concept of a Moffat or Davies script. Imagine that meeting between Moffat and Davies when Tennant took over.
"You'll be doing the fifth episode, Steven, and I want it to revolve around Madame du Pompadour."
"Done deal, Russell. I'll set it on a spaceship."
"Steven, I said Madame du Pompadour."
"Yeah, it'll be a spaceship with time windows that look onto Reinette's life, and the Doctor will be able to step through into them."
"Right, right...I like it. And...what is the point of it?"
"There's these robots and they are going to harvest her. But they look like French nobles. And they're clockwork."
"Bloody hell, Steven. That's mental. I love it. Jam packed...what more could you put in it?"
"Well, I want to have the Doctor crash through a mirror on a horse..."
What happened with this one? Was Chibnall watching Red Dwarf and including bits that he thought worked well? A pregnant man, an alien chasing the crew, something that eats power...Truthfully, this episode would have been great as an episode of Red Dwarf, not least because it would have reduced the character number to four. And that's important, because what's becoming more and more apparent is that Chibnall, having given himself three companions, really doesn't know what to do with them, especially when he packs out the additional cast. This episode he sidelines Ryan and Graham to deliver the pregnant's man baby in a plot thread that presumably fills up the extra time the episode now occupies. Annoyingly, Ryan has again slipped down to my least liked companion...for god's sake, stop being a dick, Ryan and maybe give Graham a break. Ryan is becoming a really unlikable character.
While the Doctor's companions sit around swapping some fun dialogue but generally contributing little, we are given the aforementioned pregnant man, the two medical staff, a famous general, her robot consort and Doc Brown. I won't lie - I've watched the episode twice, and I can't honestly tell you the names of the characters (I think maybe there was a Ronan and a Moberly, but I'm not certain). They've all got their secrets, which seem a little irrelevent at the end of the day, and there's no denying that there has been social messages of sorts in recent episodes. The reason I say that, is because when characters turn up with their issues, a part of my brain is wondering what sort of social message I should be looking out for. Truthfully, I'm not sure what the messages were or even if they existed. But the pregnant man who wants to give up his son, the military poster woman with the disease she can't reveal, Doc Brown being rude to an android, and the nurse who lacks confidence, aren't obvious examples of social messages. Use protection? Nobody's perfect? Don't be a racist? Believe in yourself? I can't help but think the entire episode would have worked so much better if the TARDIS had simply materialised on board an empty spaceship which was being attacked by the Pting, and the crew had to work out what was going on and how to stop it.
Which brings us to the Pting.
I watch these episodes twice before I write these reviews - once first thing in the morning, and once in the afternoon with my children. Despite the fairly standard sci-fi tropes of the last few episodes, my children enjoyed the tension and were a little frightened of the spiders last week. This week they openly laughed at the Pting; laughter which only increased as the creature had a bomb explode inside of it and floated into space. Now, while I blame Chibnall for the ordinary writing, I have to place some of the blame at director Jennifer Perrott's door as well. There is literally no tension in this episode at all, and very little surprise. The death at the end is signposted so clearly that my six year old didn't even raise an eyebrow when it happened.
This episode was a waste of its cast, it really was. Jodie Whittaker is proving herself a great Doctor, while Bradley Walsh is consistently brilliant, and Madip Gill and Tosin Cole can be great if given something to do. But this episode didn't deliver. Again this lacked the DOCTOR WHO-isness that something like "Rosa" delivered, and given the common link so far is Chris Chibnall, it's hard not to put the blame at his door.
We're halfway through the series now, and by this stage Eccelston had brought us to tears while talking to a tree, Tennant brought us to tears as he lost his love and found Sarah Jane, Smith had debuted in the best debut episode ever, and then freaked us out with the Weeping Angels taking on THE RING, while Capaldi had fought with Robin Hood, confronted a good Dalek and panicked about the possibility of a creature that could hide perfectly. As of yet, Chibnall has yet to allow Whittaker the opportunity her predecessors had. And that doesn't bode well for the thirteenth Doctor's future.