The Doctor and The Tardis Trio encounter Mary Shelley on a significant night.
It’s 1816 and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Lewis Rainer), Lord Byron (Jacob Collins-Levy), Mary Shelley (Lili Miller), her sister Claire Clairmont (Nadia Parkes), and Byron’s physician Dr. John Polidori (Maxim Baldry) are at Byron’s vacation rental, Villa Diodati. There have been a number of storms this year due to it being the year without a Summer. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) shows up during such a storm along with Ryan, Graham, and Yaz (Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh, and Mandip Gill). After they arrive, Percy Bysshe Shelley goes missing and his room is covered in gibberish and strange symbols. Strange figures then appear throughout the house, the walls start moving, and dead body parts start moving on their own.
The Doctor realizes that these events are caused by a high-tech security system. She manages to prove it just as a figure starts to appear within the house, revealed to be a half-complete Cyberman (Patrick O’Kane). This appears to be the Lone Cyberman that Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) warned the Doctor about in “Fugitive of the Judoon,” but the Doctor chooses to stay and confront it. The Cyberman is revealed to be named Ashad and that he is hunting for the Cyberium, the substance that the security system is protecting. Ashad time traveled to the villa, but his power was drained. He uses the electrical storm to recharge himself, setting out to find the “guardian,” revealed to be Shelley.
The Doctor and the rest of the house find Shelley, who had found the Cyberium previously. The Cyberium is apparently the accumulated knowledge of the Cybermen. His gibberish was apparently calculations. Ashad threatens to kill Shelley, so the Doctor absorbs the Cyberium from him. Ashad then threatens to destroy Earth, so the Doctor gives him the Cyberium, despite Jack’s warning not to “give it what it wants.” The Doctor and the Tardis Trio depart, using Percy’s scrawlings to follow Ashad. The experience inspires the writing of Frankenstein.
Okay, this was a solid build up to the last two episodes. It continued the plotline of the Lone Cyberman started in “Fugitive of the Judoon,” while also being a classic “historical celebrity” episode, and the ending is the perfect antepenultimate cliffhanger. So, right now, the finale could well involve Cybermen, the Master, Doctor Ruth, and Jack Harkness. I know it probably won’t have all of those resolve in this series, but dang, that would be a ride.
This episode did a lot of things right that others in this season didn’t pull off well. First, the pacing was great. It had a cold open to set the atmosphere, the Doctor and crew arrive, then we’re slowly given more and more clues that something is very wrong here. The reveals of the secrets are given the proper amount of weight and reactions by the cast, which is something they have sorely lacked at this point this year.
The moments revealing the essences of the various characters, too, were well done, focusing more on showing us who they are rather than telling us. I particularly love the moments of Lord Byron trying first to seduce the Doctor with his confidence, only to hide behind Claire when he thinks he’s in danger. While Lord Byron’s behavior (he was typically not considered a coward), as well as Claire’s response to it, don’t correspond with their historical personas (she was pregnant with his child at this point and didn’t seem to hate him until after she gave birth), the changes made the episode more interesting.
I also loved that, at the end of the episode, there were still more mysteries, including whether or not Graham saw an actual ghost. It really fit the Gothic theme. Overall, just a solid episode to set up for what I hope will be an explosive finale.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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