And here on the 53rd anniversary of the first airing of Doctor Who is the final installment of my analysis of the revived series of Doctor Who.
1. Heaven Sent is most likely the best piece of acting Peter Capaldi has ever performed and one of Steven Moffat’s best written stories. Murray Gold also outdid himself on the music. The score from this as good if not better than the vast majority of popular classical music. It was creepy, compelling and thought provoking. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. This is probably in my top 3 Doctor Who’s ever and is Chris’s number one.
2. Flatline is easily one of my favorite’s from series 8. It was written by the fabulous Jamie Mathieson, who also wrote for Being Human. Clara was at her best in a Doctor-like role. The idea of the 2D universe was a compelling sci fi concept. The special effects were all excellent. I also quite liked the location of Bristol. I don’t remember any previous DW episodes being set there and I just quite like Bristol as a city. I enjoyed the miniaturized TARDIS concept. I liked seeing the TARDIS’s last ditch defense as well. It explored the concepts it set out thoroughly and properly. It was just very creatively and well put together all around.
3. Mummy on the Orient Express was the episode that really started to sell me on Capaldi as the Doctor. It was also another excellent episode by Jamie Mathieson. Mathieson did the best of all the series 8 writers to give Capaldi scripts that really made him feel like the Doctor. Chris and I had both been quite excited for him to take on the role as we are both big fans of him as Malcon Tucker in the Thick of It, but it took longer for him to feel like the Doctor than it did for previous Doctors for various reasons. He was properly Doctor-y by this one. I also started to quite like Clara just as she was thinking of leaving. She, of course, didn’t go. I am glad she stayed. Her character had some bumps along the way, but I think it was from here that her development got more interesting when she really embraced the lifestyle. The episode itself was visually lush, had a compelling problem, a mysterious baddie in the background and a host of interesting passengers aboard the train. I always look forward to watching this one. It has a very classic feel to it. Highly enjoyable and well crafted.
4. Last Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas episodes ever. It is both properly scary and properly Christmas-y. Nick Frost was an excellent Santa. He was hilarious, jolly and had a bit of an edge. I really liked them playing around with dreams within dreams and whether or not Clara was old. The dream crabs were a great idea. The one off characters were all ace and I even nearly enjoyed Danny Pink. A great episode.
5. The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion was a fantastic story. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. I liked how they brought back Osgood. It felt organic and plausible. I especially liked how long this story had clearly been planned as it is based off the treaty that was being established in The Day of the Doctor. The only thing I can actually fault this episode with is not actually going to New Mexico or Central Asia to film. It was obviously Spain and Wales, but even so, a great story. Jenna Coleman rose to the occasion of her fourth Doctor Who character, Bonnie the Zygon. She really is a very good actress. UNIT with Kate Stewart at the head were great fun. I nearly always enjoy them. The Doctor’s anti-war speech was one of Capaldi’s finest moments and a defining moment for his Doctor. I loved the ending with the surprise of a brand new Osgood duo. Fantastic!
6. Under the Lake / Before the Flood is an excellent story. I really enjoyed them playing around with the bootstrap paradox. Capaldi and Clara were also at the height of their time together. They really started to gel this series. He now fully feels like the Doctor and she has thrown herself into travel in a way she never could while Danny was still alive. The idea of the ghosts was properly creepy. The cast were excellent. I really thought all actors involved brought something significant to the table. In particular, I liked Cass as played by Sophie Stone and O’Donnell as played by Morven Christie. An excellent set of episodes, easily Toby Whithouse’s best work on DW to date.
7. The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar is one of the many great multi-episode stories from series 9. With Danny gone, Clara is much more free to embrace the time traveling lifestyle and she does. She jumps into action as soon as she notices something unusual in her daily life and is off helping UNIT immediately to solve the crisis. This episode has several locations, all excellent. I enjoyed revisiting Skaro and a young Davros. The issue of ‘if you encounter someone who will grow up to bring misery to millions as a child, what do you do’ is a compelling problem that is well worth revisiting on a time travel show. The interaction between both the Doctor and Davros and Clara and Missy was all fabulous. It was also interesting throwing Clara in a Dalek, as we got to see how their speech processes work a bit more. An excellent start to series 9.
8. The Husbands of River Song is a lovely and fitting end to River Song’s story. The singing towers had been a long time coming, first mentioned in 2008 in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead. They actually look a lot the sort of thing you’d find in Arizona. I very much enjoyed that just for this one time, the tables were turned, and the Doctor finally met River far enough down her time stream that he knew something she didn’t, his new face and his new regenerations. We learned quite a lot about River in this. She wasn’t especially faithful to the Doctor, but much of this was out of not thinking he really cared. She finally found out that he absolutely does. That was a beautiful moment as was the reveal that a night on Darillium lasts 24 years. Very well written. This in theory could have been Moffat’s last episode and it would have been quite a suitable one. That said, I am looking forward to getting one more series from him in 2017 before he moves on.
9. Listen is one of the strongest stories from series 8. The Doctor appears to be going a bit mad(der), travelling alone too often, and becomes obsessed with the idea that there is a creature perfectly adapted to hide and therefore, we could never be alone and never know it. His attempts to find this out take us to some unexpected places, meeting a great grandson of Clara’s that was probably unwritten from time happened considering the end of series 8, in addition to going to the end of the universe and to the Doctor’s childhood. The music for this was superb. Murray Gold just keeps getting better.
10. Hell Bent had so much to follow, being the conclusion to both one of the best series of Doctor Who and following the best episode of Capaldi’s tenure. I think it did quite well considering. The first time we watched it I remember being a little disappointed, but I think that was because it would have been nearly impossible to top Heaven Sent. Upon re-watching, this was a very solid episode in its own right. I enjoyed being back on Gallifrey and finally finding out its fate in addition to a bit more about the Doctor’s past. I also think Clara got the ending she deserved and I liked that after all that waiting, Me finally got what she wanted as well. I really hope Clara never comes back because it would really damage the quality ending that she got. I mean, she is now an ageless time traveler. If she came back in 5 years looking even a bit older, it would take away from the ending the gave her. Moffat seems better at leaving characters in the past than RTD was, so hopefully her ending will be maintained.
11. The Woman Who Lived featured some very spot on acting by both Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams. Their interaction was also excellent. It tackled the difficulty of being a immortal (or nearly so in the case of the Doctor) in a world of people who live for a tiny fraction of your life span. The actual plot was less interesting than the conversations that the Doctor had with Ashildr, now calling herself simply “Me.” Maisie has the rare depth of someone her age to portray someone centuries older. I hope that this writer, Catherine Tregenna, is invited back. Not only was this a great episode, but she managed to write some of the only episodes of Torchwood that I like other than series 3.
12. Time Heist was fun. In a series that was in many ways excessively serious, this was refreshing. I tend to enjoy a well done heist movie or series, so getting the Doctor to do what turned out to be quite an ethical bank heist was very enjoyable. The three characters introduced, Psi; Saibra and Madame Karabraxos, were all very well crafted and believable.
14. The Girl Who Died is an excellent episode. It introduces the exceptionally talented Maise Williams as Ashildr, a clever young girl living in a Viking village. It would go on to be the start of her part in the series 9 story arc and it was a great start. In addition to enjoying her performance immensely, I liked the Doctor going further back into human history than he typically does.
15. Into the Dalek felt like an attempt to reconnect with the original series in some ways in terms of how they shot it and the sort of music used. The Doctor had the most visceral hatred of the Daleks he’d had in a while, which made sense in light of spending centuries under siege by them on Trenzalore. It was interesting exploring the idea of a good Dalek and seeing the interior workings of such an odd entity. It was also interesting seeing more of Clara’s new dynamic with the Doctor. She is much less in awe of him. They seemed to be more on their way to becoming equals with their own strengths. I quite liked when he said that Clara was his carer, that is, she cared so he didn’t have to. There were two strong one off characters in the form of Journey Blue and her Northern Irish uncle. Not a bad start at all for Capaldi.
16. Face the Raven had a few flaws, but was mostly a good episode. I found it odd that Rigsy suddenly moved to London and was Me’s choice to trap the Doctor. He felt a bit randomly thrown in. I also felt Clara’s death scene was way too long, but that said, I think it was a good death and I liked the idea of a trap street even if it did feel very much like a rip off of Diagon Alley. I liked the idea of Mayor Me looking after aliens on earth. I thought that was believable and, of course, Maisie Williams was as amazing as ever in this one.
17. Robot of Sherwood was great fun. It is probably the best thing Mark Gatiss has written for Doctor Who. I enjoyed seeing Clara more free to be young and interested in other men now that she no longer fancies the Doctor. She had good chemistry with Robin Hood. He was ably played by Tom Riley. Ben Miller was also an ace Sheriff of Nottingham. I did find all the ‘but you are a hero, Doctor’ thing a little over the top, but I can see why they are exploring this particular idea now with the Doctor feeling pretty low about himself after having to cope with another extended war.
18. Deep Breath was was better than I remembered thinking it was. I think at the time, it felt very dark and it was a very abrupt change in style. I remember Chris saying he felt like they shot it in a totally different way from previous series. I think after 2 years of Capaldi, I am more used to it. As a result, I enjoyed it a lot more. I think at the time it was also a bit shocking seeing an onscreen Doctor of the modern era so confused. For all the previous Doctors of the revived series, the Doctor had always been very much in control, while this Doctor had amnesia and more general confusion, being unsure who was who and not realizing that Clara was a young woman, and not, for instance, a potato headed Sontaran. The Paternoster gang were great again, although, I must say, I sympathized with Clara more than Vastra with her whole self righteous rant at Clara about the Doctor’s mask. The Doctor may well have taken a young looking form to be more accessible at a vulnerable time in his life, but then, I don’t think Clara was just a bastard to be confused and upset. Her Doctor went from being a jolly young looking man to dying to coming back as an angry old Scottish man in what for her was the course of a very unsuccessful Christmas lunch. I can see why she didn’t cope especially well. The Doctor aged hundreds of years on Trenzalore in the Time of the Doctor. I believe he experienced post traumatic stress for a second time. This meant he changed massively in what for her was less than an overnight change even. I can see how this would be traumatic and probably wasn’t mainly about him becoming a bit less fanciable due to the age difference. If someone I knew changed that much in the space of a few hours, I’m not sure I would have done much better than she did.
19. Dark Water / Death in Heaven is a story I have very mixed feelings about. I always really enjoy part one, Dark Water. It started off well. It ended in a way that didn’t make loads of sense though. I felt like it didn’t get as well developed as Moffat’s stories usually are. We never really figured out how Missy was able to harvest souls at death and keep them around in her pretend heaven. We never learn how she managed to make the Cybermen near invincible by allowing them to revive dead bodies and take on these minds of the dead. That said, it was enjoyable watching Clara in her attempt to fool them into thinking she was the Doctor. Missy, of course, was great fun. I really enjoyed her take on the Master. Danny was annoying to the last though. I felt for Clara losing her boyfriend, but he didn’t get a lot of extra points because he was possessive and negative to the bitter end. I still don’t agree that the Doctor is like a general. I think the Doctor / companion relationship is one of actual trust usually rather than a military style affair even if some of the results are the same. I will go into the bulk of the problems with Danny below, but one does need mentioning in regard to this episode in particular. He managed to annoy me one last time by not coming back from the dead when given the chance. I am not sure sending a little boy who was long dead to his mourning girlfriend to go find his very foreign parents who had probably come to terms with his death was the right thing. Bringing himself back would have been acceptable because there was still a Danny shaped hole in his friends’ lives due to his death being so recent. They could probably accept him coming back in light of the recent events, but I think bringing back that little boy instead was actually a bit cowardly and probably didn’t help anyone that much. I think even in the Doctor Who universe, it would mostly freak people out if their dead child came back years later, still a child when they had aged and life had gone on. They might not even believe he was real and he could become a kind of outcast and have a horrible rest of his life. I also didn’t like that they felt the need to let the Brigadier end his story as a Cyberman. I get what they were going for, but I think he deserved better. Let him live on through his daughter, who I am grateful they didn’t kill off. Osgood’s death really bothered me at the time, but that was because I didn’t know there were two of her. That was actually something that turned out to be a clever turn and a proper long game stretching from the Day of the Doctor until the series 9 Zygon story. I liked the dark water concept. I also liked Doctor Chang. I was genuinely sad to see him go, much more so than Danny.
20. Sleep No More is one of Mark Gatiss’s better attempts at a Doctor Who episode. I liked Reese Shearsmith as Gagan Rassmussen, the mad scientist turned puppet of his own accidental creation. I wasn’t quite as into the other characters, but he and Capaldi were good enough to make up for the rest of the characters being lack luster. I actually wouldn’t mind revisiting this world and this story as the Doctor actually didn’t save the day this time. I wouldn’t mind Gatiss getting another crack at this to finish the story. That said, it was still easily the worst episode of Series 9, but mainly because the others were all uniformly amazing.
21. The Caretaker had a lot of problems. The main problem is also my biggest issue with series 8: Danny Pink. What on earth (or any other planet) did a certain Ms. Oswald see in him? I can see why the Doctor doesn’t like him. He is incurious, quick to judge and horribly possessive. He also demonstrated a total lack of understanding in friendship. I mean, he was so emotionally thick he couldn’t understand that there were non-romantic ways to love someone, that Clara loving her friend the Doctor dearly didn’t mean she didn’t love Danny properly as a boyfriend. He seemed to just have no concept of why she would want to travel through time and space for free and see amazing things. He was like the annoying mum character who automatically hated the Doctor and time travel that the RTD era always seemed to require. Also, there was a dead obvious reason she didn’t mention she traveled through time with an ancient alien who sounds Scottish: he would have thought she was crazy or a liar as most people would. Most people would require proof for such extraordinary claims. If he hadn’t died and she had been my friend, I would have recommended she dump him. He’s cute enough and he can be nice, but the incurious possessive combo is not attractive in the slightest.
22. In the Forest of the Night had quite a few problems as well. The whole thing about the trees felt, frankly, unbelievable. The story about the little girl’s lost sister coming back also made zero sense. I had no level of belief that in an age of social media that everyone would just forget the trees either, even if they had in the past. Danny carried on being a possessive person of little imagination. I suspect he was intended to have PTS, but I didn’t appreciate him assuming that just because he was ready to settle down and be in one place that Clara should be satisfied with that. There is a time for that in most people’s lives, but it varies greatly from person to person. The Doctor’s interaction with the children was interesting, though they were still mainly annoying. I did like the music in this one though even if it didn’t hit a lot of other positive buttons.
23. Kill the Moon was complete rubbish. It is probably the worst episode Steven Moffat has let by on his watch. I can just about forgive the author, Peter Harness, because his series 9 two parter was genuinely great. This was terrible though. Half of it was his fault, and half Moffat’s I suspect. The moon is not an egg. The moon could not be an egg. Eggs also do not increase in mass. None of this made any sense. Sci fi should not generally negate reality, but add to it, or at least come up with a better way of negating reality if it must. No one I knew believed the egg thing for a second. That is the bit Mr. Harness is probably responsible for, but Moffat is in charge of the story arc. I found Clara getting that angry with the Doctor unlikely. I get it was rough day, but I think the Doctor was right and Clara had little point. I was amazed that was her breaking point. With all the other things she’d done, it didn’t feel organic to me. And bloody hell, Courtney. The last child the Doctor interacted with that I enjoyed was a young Amelia Pond. This isn’t because either the 11th or 12th Doctors are bad with children. The children written have just been mainly annoying. This was also an episode that took itself very seriously for how utterly unbelievable the concept was. Nope. I love Doctor Who, but this is down there with Fear Her and 42 for top 3 worst episodes of the modern era.
Series 8 had a lot of problems. It did have moments I very much enjoyed, but I hope they are done being quite so adult. I don’t watch Doctor Who for crap romances between school teachers and I certainly don’t watch it for drama about bad boyfriends. That plot over the course of the series was not to my taste at all. I also felt it took Capaldi longer than I expected to really get his footing. He is a brilliant actor and had some great bits, but I felt it wasn’t really until about 2/3 through that he properly felt like the Doctor. I enjoyed series 9 over all a great deal more. Series 5 and 9 are probably my favorites over all. There was not a single dud in either. I also much preferred the version of Clara who was slightly mad and fully committed to time travel rather than the Clara who snuck around to appease an unimaginative and controlling man. I’m looking forward to getting one more series from Moffat and I do hope Capaldi sticks around for ages. Now that he’s in his groove as the Doctor, he’s an absolutely brilliant one, one of my favorites and definitely Chris’s favorite. Here’s to another 53 years 🙂