Television Review: Doctor Who Series 8 – My Verdict on Peter Capaldi’s first year!
Doesn’t time fly? It seems incredible that, after all the waiting and anticipation, Peter Capaldi’s first year at the healm of the TARDIS has come to an end! It’s been interesting to see a new era of Doctor Who begin and with such a fine actor in the title role. After reviewing episode one in early August after the world premiere (Deep Breath premiere review), it seemed appropriate to look back at series 8 as a whole. So, after rewatching all 12 episodes again, here are my thoughts and ratings for each one.
1. Deep Breath = 7.5/10
Overall I like this episode and enjoy it more each time although I still think it’s too long and there are parts I don’t like. Clara’s initial reaction to him irritates me – she has after all seen every Doctor and understands what regeneration means, so her attitude feels a bit odd. The most frustrating aspect for me remains the episode’s use of elements from The Girl In The Fireplace. The direct references to this, although amusing, didn’t make it less annoying that this was a partly old idea being reused. I do however think it’s a solid start for Peter’s Doctor, with some great scenes and lines and his relationship with Clara grows over the story. The introduction of Missy in “heaven” is intriguing (love her implying her Scottish voice is because of the new Doctor), although after a while I found these cutaways rather annoying. There’s teasing and then there’s being irritating, when the same scene is effectively repeated again and again. Lastly, I loved the end – having Matt’s Doctor pass the baton on to Peter’s in such a lovely, moving way was very very nice indeed.
2. Into The Dalek = 5.5/10
This was my least favourite story of the year. I wasn’t overly fussed about it on first viewing and although enjoyable, I haven’t changed my mind after watching again. It starts well with the Doctor again facing a Dalek, I liked the introduction of Danny Pink and the awkward conversation with Clara and it was interesting to see the colder aspects of the Doctor’s personality so soon after number 11. Plus it contains one of my favourite lines: “I’m his carer. Yes she cares so I don’t have to.” However, for me personally, there were too many echoes of other episodes – the chained up Dalek from series 1, sliding in to the slimy depths of a creature from The Beast Below and above all the miniaturisation element which was done to death throughout series 6. It made the story feel a bit too recycled and dull for me.
3. Robot of Sherwood = 6/10
Clearly the most silly episode of series 8, which almost feels like a pantomime on screen, this is another ridiculous tale from Mark Gatiss. It is a bit weak and childish, but on the other hand, episodes like this help remind me that Doctor Who is a children’s/ family show and so sometimes I think it needs an episode this mad. Identified by most as the weakest of the year, I prefer this to Into The Dalek simply because it is light-hearted fun and is less of a recycled episode than episode 2 (although the gold circuits did remind me a bit of The Fires of Pompeii…) and it was nice to see Peter Capaldi able to have some fun in the role. We’ve encountered famous historical figures in Doctor Who before but I liked the idea of someone we all think is a fictional legend actually being real. You never know, maybe like Robin Hood the Doctor is real and out there after all!
4. Listen = 9/10
A superb episode, which was just as wonderful on second viewing. I’ve felt Steven Moffat’s writing has been way below par for a while and yet this episode finally has him back to the standard of years past. He’s given us creepy before (e.g. Blink, shadows that kill) and Listen is up there with the best of New Who. As RTD’s Midnight proved so brilliantly, some of the creepiest stories as those which leave work to the imagination and aren’t fully explained. As well as being a dark and creepy story about the creature under the bed and our fear of being alone in the dark, Listen also weaves a beautifully poetic tale of helping people gain strength from fear. Jenna Coleman is excellent here, showing her character’s kind heart with Rupert and then the young Doctor, which is a very clever plot twist – the moment she grabs his foot is fantastic and I loved that the Doctor’s inspiring words to Rupert actually came from Clara. Plus the reference to the barn from the 50th was a nice addition. The date scenes are a bit annoying, but overall I loved the balance of the episode. It also raised the question still unanswered – if Orson is related to Clara, then is she pregnant at the end of the series?
5. Time Heist = 6/10
For me this is an average episode, mainly because I suspected the Doctor was the Architect all along and the fact that I find Keeley Hawes’s character a bit weak and two dimensional. I do like the characters played by Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner and there are some great lines in here (love the Doctor’s reasons for why Clara needs high shoes on and comparing himself to a magician!), plus it’s yet another fab outfit for Jenna Coleman. However I just find the plot a bit dull, predictable (two mates needing reuniting was also done recently in Hide) and at the end of it I can’t help wondering what the point was.
6. The Caretaker = 7/10
This is an enjoyable episode, although I can see why some may think otherwise. It’s the first time we see Peter Capaldi’s Doctor attempting to fit in to the human world and his turn as the caretaker makes me smile. Matt’s bumbling non-human approach in The Lodger frustrated me following on from the 10th Doctor, who was clearly pretty in tune with human life and customs, making 11’s lack of them unbelievable for me. 12’s slightly clueless, alien attitude on the other hand works – he’s been slightly less human as 11 and we’ve already adjusted to Peter’s Doctor’s personality so his behaviour makes perfect sense. I love his scenes with Courtney – honest despite what he’s saying being bonkers and his assumption Clara’s new man is a bow tie-wearing geek! Samuel Anderson does well here in my opinion. Unlike Mickey and Rory, he is not going to run blindly after Clara and his attitude towards learning her secret is far more mature. Despite knowing now where the series is going in the finale, I still find the Doctor’s vehement harshness to Danny’s soldier past a bit jarring as he hasn’t been this harsh to other military people (and has at times encouraged military service e.g. Planet of the Dead), so this feels engineered simply to fit the finale. Oh and geeky location spot – I can’t watch this without thinking of Sherlock’s His Last Vow, which clearly used the same location for the drug den!
7. Kill The Moon = 7/10
Although it’s received mixed views online I quite like this episode. Leaving aside the mad idea that a newborn would be able to lay another egg immediately, I tend to like the slightly claustrophobic stories where just a small number of characters are stuck together in difficult circumstances. I still like Courtney and enjoy her banter with the Doctor. Plus the Doctor leaving them to make the decision was something new and quite shocking, emphasising more and more how different he is from numbers 10 or 11, who I find it hard to picture taking the same action. Jenna Coleman is again fantastic here and her final angry confrontation with the Doctor is very believable. Despite its story flaws, it’s still quite enjoyable for me.
8. Mummy on the Orient Express = 9.5/10
This is definitely my favourite episode of the series. The story is interesting, scary, wonderfully paced and filled with great characters and dialogue (including some great nods to the past, e.g. the call to the TARDIS about something on the Orient Express and Are You My Mummy? for a start). It also moves the Clara/Doctor relationship on, as we see Clara struggle with the tougher aspects of travelling with him, especially this new version, who appears to be far colder and at times heartless than the last one, before realising she can’t give it up. The central themes of the series that come together at the finale are also present (soldiers and the cost of war, whether the Doctor is a good man). We also see Clara developing more of the Doctor’s traits as she lies to both Maisie and Danny. As Frank Skinner’s Perkins notes, travelling in the TARDIS can change a man, something he can’t sign up for but something Clara can’t give up, despite the hard decisions it may bring. Definitely one of the best of New Who.
9. Flatline = 9/10
Another brilliant episode. The concept was exciting and creepy, with The Boneless being a fab monster. We’ve had the enemy under the bed and here’s the one in the walls! I also loved the hilarity of seeing the mini TARDIS, which despite the tension of the episode brought a dash of humour and silliness to some scenes (Peter’s little dance when he has moved the TARDIS is fab). Plus the Doctor gets to do his best hero speech so far. I know some people have been frustrated that this series has had the companion taking centre stage rather than the Doctor, which again happens here, but I quite like it (I admit my fondness for Clara over Amy perhaps helps me form this view). The series has slowly, brick by brick, shown how being with the Doctor changes you and here, as the Doctor sees how good Clara is at being him, we see him try and make her realise that being the Doctor is not necessarily a good thing as he continues to struggle to understand if he is a good man or not.
10. In the Forest of the Night = 7/10
I enjoyed this episode quite a lot. The story is something a bit different and it’s nice to see more of Danny, who we have still not really got to know well (which seems odd in light of the finale). Visually I loved seeing this version of woodland London and it was nice to not really know the reason for the invasion immediately. Yes, the idea is a bit bonkers and the end with the daughter suddenly reappearing was a bit too cheesy, but it was fun and allowed us to see more of Clara & Danny together. I still find Danny’s attitude refreshingly mature – all he wants is honesty, something Clara has been using less of as the series has gone on. I also really enjoyed the scene in which Clara tells the Doctor to leave. By this point I think the relationship between number 12 and Clara has found its stride and is something quite different from recent Doctor/companion relationships.
11. Dark Water = 8.5/10
So we reach the finale and I thought this first part was pretty darn good. The opening sequence with Clara and Danny on the phone was very poignant. I could see it coming a mile off, but I still felt sad for Clara, as I imagined how awful that must be. The episode then seemed to take an unexpected turn at the volcano. Teasers had possibly suggested Clara was a baddie, but this scene was much more interesting and Jenna and Peter were excellent. It’s also lovely to see the Doctor opening up and acknowledging how much he cares for her. I do wish the Cybermen inclusion had been kept under wraps. I knew but had it not been in the teaser I imagine many would not and the teardrop logo, doors and windows were a clever hint. Samuel Anderson tackled Danny’s confusion at his new state well, making me feel incredibly sorry for him. Then of course there is Missy, who is wonderfully cruel and funny. I was not annoyed by the final reveal (perhaps because I’m not really a classic Who fan) and was left feeling very excited for the finale.
12. Death in Heaven = 7.5/10
My biggest problem with the finale was, for me, it didn’t live up to the strong start of Dark Water. There were too many little things that annoyed me, such as why does Danny take Clara to a graveyard of all places? Why doesn’t anyone recognise the Cybermen from the battle of Canary Wharf? Why get on a plane when the sky is filled with dodgy clouds? Plus there isn’t a shopping centre outside St Paul’s (yes I know that’s picky!). There is however lots to enjoy. Osgood is a great character – fun and intelligent. I’d much rather she’d survived than Kate Stewart, who I still find rather two dimensional and dull. Her “death” initially impressed me for doing the unexpected and her survival annoyed me for chickening out. Danny’s fate was sad, but his last scene with Clara lacked some emotional weight due to the lack of him in the series as a whole to make us really care too much. I also really did not like the Doomsday rip off – the ghostly voice calling Clara’s name and someone unable to cross through (heck it even looked like the same bedroom as Rose!) and although honourable, I found Danny’s final sacrifice a bit naff. I did however love the final cafe scene – wonderfully performed by Peter & Clara as she shows what a good liar she has become despite saying earlier she’d never lie to him, as each of them lies for the supposed benefit of the other. The inserts of the Doctor’s fruitless trip to Gallifrey’s location is also superb. I only wish they’d held off a few more moments before the Christmas teaser broke the mood created by that poignant last scene. Finally I can’t forget Michelle Gomez’s incredibly brilliant performance as Missy. She’s superbly insane, cruel and funny too and is a great match for the 12th Doctor. I certainly hope she’s back very soon!
So summing up……., I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series overall, particularly once we hit episode 4 and it seemed to find its feet. Peter is a fantastic Doctor, bringing a fresh slant to New Who that is exciting to watch, as the Doctor comes across as slightly colder, until moments of genuine affection shine through. Although a couple of stories have bored me a bit, the standard of the episodes as a whole have been above average, with some of my favourites since 2005. Series 4 remains my favourite, but series 8 is in my view the strongest since Steven Moffat became show runner, with decent stories as well as a great actor who is a joy to watch. Roll on Christmas as we see whether outstanding questions are answered – is this the end for Clara and the Doctor (I assume so)? Is Clara expecting Danny’s baby (I assume so – there’s Orson 100 years from now and a post it in her flat referencing 3 months, not to mention the Doctor saying she is a mess of chemicals)? At least we don’t have too long to wait!
Doctor Who: The Complete Series 8 is out on DVD in the UK on 24th November 2014 and the Doctor returns as usual on Christmas Day!