I have made no secret of my ambivalence about the new version of Doctor Who — I recognise that it isn’t for me, and clearly people do like it, and yet I still can’t quite get over its combination of fun, creative episodes, strong performances, cringe-inducing schmaltz and absolute disregard for the basics of plot construction.
But this one has Vikings in, so let’s have a look.
The opening is a fun little bit of business, but I confess to being unreasonably annoyed by the horned helmets. Goofy-looking ornate helmets were OK when you did them in 1964 (or ’65, whatever), but in 2015 it is literally the one thing that everyone knows about Vikings.
The houses of the Viking village are OK, which makes me wonder if they filmed it at some kind of open-air museum and then added a bunch of dipshits in studded-leather jerkins. Also, the Vikings thump themselves on the chest like primitive warriors do in every TV show ever.
Aliens show up in actual wobbly, goofy power armour and do a Valkyrie bit. I am legit astounded that they did not make them sexy lady valkyries. There is a mid-episode cliffhanger — does this show have ad breaks? It doesn’t, right? Anyway, Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones is in it and she doesn’t have a lot to do initially.
Guys in early medieval outfits necking vials of glowing stuff makes me think of Terminus.
Anyway, the baddies are apparently “one of the deadliest warrior races in the galaxy,” a field which, as a colleague points out, is getting pretty crowded.
It seems petty to quibble about these characters identifying themselves as “Vikings,” which is of course a much more complicated term. But then we all use it generically even when we say we shouldn’t.
There’s a runestone in the background of one shot that’s painted in bright primary colours, which is a nice touch — but then there are wooden dummies with Roman helmets on them. So it’s got these little touches that are quite clever, but most of it is just panto.
The plot hinges on the Vikings having a load of electric eels in some buckets, which is impressive considering that electric eels only live in South America. Again, it seems churlish to complain, but this is the kind of kiddy science and kiddy history that used to be the only thing Doctor Who could kinda-sorta get right. I guess they do do some schoolkid science with an electromagnet.
I wonder if you could make a list of all the Doctor Who villains who have snarled “what trickery is this?!” at the Doctor.
Everyone is very happy at the end considering all their dads and husbands and brothers and neighbours were rendered into a testosterone-laden slurry yesterday. But I guess not dying is important.
There is a completely uncalled-for Giant Emotional Moment, of course, and a last-minute twist that is not set up at any point earlier in the story. It’s like they write them as they film them. Look, guys, I am not an award-winning screenwriter, but here’s a thought — when you have an idea for a shocking revelation, that’s cool. Now go back and put in some words in the script earlier that make it seem like you didn’t just pull it out of your asses. It’s easy and it’s fun! Like, if you are going to use a device that has miraculous powers, maybe mention its existence before your main character suddenly and inexplicably remembers it right at the end. For instance, he could refer to that technology when describing the alien race who created it. See how easy and fun that was? Now you try it!
Doctor Who historicals have always been about blending science fiction with historical adventure stories, more or less, and this is no exception. It would have been nice to be able to say that the modern show, with its huge budget and prestige, was doing a better job of the history than the show in the Hartnell era, but no such luck.