Hey, everyone, did you miss me? Did you think I’d died because of how awful my finals week was that it wouldn’t even allow me to watch my precious Doctor Who? Wait, no, none of you even noticed? Okay, fine whatever. Here’s some Doctor Who, brought to you by Neil Gaiman and the slowest-buffering video player ever.
The Doctor brings Clara and her charges, Angie and Artie, to the future and the greatest amusement park in time and space! Or at least it used to be. Now it’s just a very crappy film set for the American Government to use to fool its people into thinking science still happens. There we meet some folks who have found an old Cyberman chassis and used it to make a chess-bot. Except really it’s just Warwick Davis hiding out and controlling it.
The kids complain about being bored while the Doctor detains them from leaving on account of strange insects. He tells them to absolutely not wander off, which, you know, is basically Gallifreyian for, “Please wander off and find something interesting for the Doctor to investigate because he’s actually a little sociopathic.” Over on the “moon,” Clara and Warwick (whose name is Porridge, but like, c’mon, it’s Warwick Davis) discuss the eradication of the Cybermen, which he feels oddly regretful of- not so much for their death, but for the burden of having destroyed a civilisation. Meanwhile, the Cyberman chassis awakens and begins an upgrade.
Clara finds Angie hanging out with the platoon sent to clean up the rest of the amusement park. Angie seems to be a bit resentful of Clara spoiling her fun. Oh and by the way, the upgrade was a resounding success! The Cyberman is no longer subject to the laws of the fourth dimension! He kidnaps Angie. The Doctor leaves Clara in charge of not getting the planet blown up while he goes off to find the kids and some weird insects.
The Doctor finds them soon enough and we’re treated to some exposition about how the Cybermen have been scavenging pieces for decades in order to rebuild themselves. They no longer need human bodies to upgrade, which means this is the perfect opportunity to capture the Doctor! But he can’t be fully converted- he manages to block access to a portion of his brain, and in a Gollum-esque schizoid dialogue sequence, he and his Cyber-self agree to a chess battle for control of his mind, and presumably the universe. Clara, meanwhile, keeps the platoon from blowing anyone up and holes them up in a crazy castle from the amusement park.
The Doctor catches an advantage in his schizophrenic chess game and runs to find Clara and crew. They’ve suffered a minor setback in the destruction of their captain, but hey, at least the planet is all in one piece! The Doctor explains the less-than-optimal situation on his end (i.e. the children are half-cyborgs, the Cybermen are coming with an army to destroy the planet and take over the universe, etc) and has them tie him up to finish off his chess game. While the CyberDoc invades our normal Doctor’s mind and spills the beans to Clara about her being an “impossible girl” and all that, an army of Cybermen comes to destroy the rag-tag platoon and Clara stupidly lets the CyberDoc destroy the trigger for the planet-bomb. Well done. Also, her brilliant plan to electrocute the castle moat did not go so well.
Over at the chess match, the Doctor sacrifices his queen to save the children, even though it will mean he’ll be mated (in the bad way) in five moves. The Doctor counters that it was a great idea, because it will actually allow him to win in three moves. CyberDoc gets pretty upset by this, wondering how that’s possible, and as the Cybermen close in on Clara and the platoon, they slow down and eventually shut off because CyberDoc redirected all their computational power to figuring out how the Doctor could win. Obviously, the Doctor was lying, and he can’t actually win the chess game in three moves, but he can win the more important game: the game of life.
To add to the convenience factor, turns out Warwick Davis was emperor the whole time, and was just kind of hiding out on the planet because he didn’t want to be. So he basically has master override powers, which he uses to activate the bomb, have them teleported to his mothership, and safely watch the destruction of the planet and the Cybermen. That, my friends, is what we in the business call a “Deus ex machina.” I mean, most episodes sort of have that element but this was like… Eagles flying through Mount Doom levels.
We close with a touching scene about the oppression of loneliness. Clara says he doesn’t have to be lonely, so Porridge proposes to her. She quickly passes down the opportunity to become Empress of a thousand galaxies, which seems a little hypocritical of her but whatever. The Doctor drops the kids off, the Emperor flies away, and everyone grows a little bit on the inside.
There were some good moments here but I did not find this episode nearly as enjoyable as Gaiman’s other episode. It was hard to resist the allure of the TARDIS come alive. Plus they’re still trying to make me care about Clara and really I don’t that much. She’s spunky I guess, but really hasn’t got much going on in the way of personality, and every week they’re just like, “o0o0o0o Clara, the impossible girl,” but we never get any closer to figuring out what that means and my patience has worn thin.
Next week: Will we learn the Doctor’s name? Hopefully not because that kind of ruins 50 years of lore.