Final Review // A Look Back At Doctor Who Series 8 from #SRCZ
Sunday 23rd November 2014 marked the day that Doctor Who turned 51 and what better time to look back on the latest series about everyone’s favourite Time Lord from Gallifrey. So let’s travel through space and time to see what Peter Capaldi’s first sting as Doctor Who had to offer...
Let’s start with the man himself. When the BBC first announced Peter Capaldi - at the time best known as potty-mouthed Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It - he was, along with first Doctor William Hartnell, the oldest actor to play The Doctor. A lifelong fan of the show, Capaldi promised to bring something different from his predecessors, David Tennant and Matt Smith. He said his Doctor Who would be darker and definitely not a “boyfriend Doctor”. So how did he do?
Well, pretty...no, wait….spectacularly well. WIth his “attack eyebrows” and aversion to hugs, Capaldi’s Doctor is definitely darker than his immediate predecessor. There’s a thread of moral ambiguity to the character that’s woven throughout this series. From the first episode, we were left in no doubt that this Doctor could possibly be capable of some pretty dreadful acts as he and the Half-Face Man debate the true nature of each other’s character before the Half-Face Man ends up dead. Or not. But more of that later.
Capaldi has settled in to the role with such ease that he’s already become the favourite Doctor of many fans, and with some justification. He plays the 2,000-year-old Time Lord superbly and brings with him a wonderful grouchiness that masks the man who, after all, has spent most of his long, long life trying to do the right thing. This incarnation is extraordinarily logical to the point where you’d almost wonder if he had any feelings at all. In the very good Mummy On The Orient Express, he coldly (you could say callously) pumps those whose life is ticking away by the second for information that could help him defeat the monster on the loose, even when those doomed people rail against their oncoming deaths. It’s difficult to watch.
But this Doctor is not completely cold and we have glimpses of kindness, even love, behind the frown-y facade. He’s also hugely fun at times and Capaldi is clearly having a riot with the role he always dreamed of playing. His weekly insults to companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) are fabulously rude and he’s as lithe and lively in action sequences as any young pretender to the role. Witness his Superman-style dive from an exploding plane towards a waiting TARDIS and any concerns about the actor’s age are dispelled in a flash. Oh, and he does good running, too.
Bizarre love triangle
This Doctor may not be a “Boyfriend Doctor”, but that doesn’t mean there are no complications in his relationship with his companion. Series 8 saw the introduction of Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), Clara’s fellow teacher from Coal Hill School. A damaged former soldier and wonderfully awkward suitor, he is a man whose past in the army haunts him as he tries to make a new, more positive life for himself.
While Danny may not have become a fully-fledged member of the TARDIS crew, he is a welcome addition to the programme and provides a moral foil for the Doctor and for Clara’s diminishing moral stance as her travels with The Doctor change her and the way she reacts to the situations she finds herself in.
The Doctor regularly dismisses maths teacher Danny as “PE” and is particularly scathing on a number of occasions of soldiers. This is possibly one move too far for this incarnation of The Doctor as his previous selves were very fond of the old Brigadier, Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. If The Doctor’s total rejection of soldiers and their saluting, warmongering ways is a sour note (this is the man, remember, who ended the Time Lords and the Daleks in the Time War), then it works in a way as Clara’s relationships with the two men in her life unfold in a manner that suggests throughout that it can’t end well.
We see in Listen that Clara’s travels through time have meant that she has had a significant impact on both the young Danny Pink and a young Doctor; two boys, each of them lonely and away from home and family. Danny and The Doctor’s meetings with Clara as young boys shape their futures and the men they become. Its startling stuff and bold storytelling.
The three-sided relationship is ended cruelly when Danny is killed by a car just as Clara is declaring her love for him. As Clara manipulates The Doctor into doing anything to bring Danny back to life, he is brought back to un-life as a Cyberman as part of Missy’s machinations. With cruelty and irony in equal measure, he begs Clara to kill him in order to end his pain until The Doctor stops her from doing so to save her soul from the act. In Danny’s (and Samuel Anderson’s) finest hour, he saves the world by sacrificing himself in the manner of a brave and selfless soldier.
Even after this, The Doctor, understanding the depth of her feelings and her grief, gives Clara Missy’s bracelet that will allow one person to return from the Afterworld. Of course, Danny Pink, refuses to take this chance, instead giving the bracelet to the young boy he killed as a soldier; and so ended Danny Pink and the very human love triangle that brought such heart to this series.
Lies underpin this series throughout as Clara becomes increasingly embroiled in living a double life. With moments of humour as she pings from adventures with The Doctor to dates with Danny, Clara’s lies to both men take their toll on all three of our protagonists. Throughout the series, the viewer feels that Clara must reach a point where she has to decide which life to choose as it becomes increasingly clear that she can’t sustain both.
But that choice is taken from her with the devastating death of Danny. Even after his final death as a Cyberman, Clara’s lies continue as she allows The Doctor to believe that Danny came back from the Afterlife and that her future with him will be a happy one. At the same time, The Doctor lets Clara believe that he has rediscovered Gallifrey and a future with his fellow Time Lords. They part on these lies, only for The Doctor to be halted as he leaves by the appearance of Santa Claus! I know! We’ll have to wait until the Christmas special to see how that one pans out.
The Missy/Master Masterstroke
The brilliant Michelle Gomez as the mysterious Missy was introduced in the very first episode as the Mad Mary Poppins of the Nethersphere. Being spoiler-avoiders here at SRCZ Towers, we avoided all speculation as to who she could possibly be for as long as possible. Even as the events of penultimate episode Dark Water unfolded, we entertained (just for a nano-second) the possibility that Missy was a new incarnation of The Rani, an old renegade Time Lord (Lady?) villain (played on television by Kate O’Mara). But that was soon blown out of the water with the gob-smacking revelation that Missy was The Master. It was the best cliff hanger since Matt Smith episode The Name Of The Doctor ended with the staggering words “Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor”.
It was an internet-melting revelation with many a fan tearing up their subscriptions to Doctor Who magazine in disgust. ‘The Master as a WOMAN!’ people cried. Well, it wasn’t as much as a surprise as that. Showrunner Steven Moffat has often said that Time Lords can change gender and Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife made reference to this back in 2011. Either way, the revelation of Missy as The Master was truly a masterstroke from Moffat.
Gomez played the role with gleeful malice; she brought along the unhinged narcissistic Master played by John Simm in the David Tennant days, but she also gave us her own unique, malevolent take on the role. Over a fantastic two-part series closer, we were treated to a malevolently murderous Master who wanted his/her old playmate back because the Universe was just no fun without The Doctor to enjoy it with.
The series may have ended with Missy turned to dust by the Cyber-Brigadier, but it’s certainly not the first time The Master has died, so we’re more than hopeful of a return of the magnificent Gomez in the role.
Eschewing the fairytale feel of the Matt Smith era, series 8 set its own tone in terms of tales and production. While there may not have been an episode to rival Blink, Turn Left, The Doctor’s Wife or Vincent and The Doctor in being an instant, fan-pleasing, Top 10 classic, what we have seen in an almost uniformly high standard in terms of writing and direction.
If Frank Cottrell Boyce’s highly-anticipated In The Forest Of The Night left us feeling angry and disappointed, the rest of the run was fantastically well done, from the well-executed opener Deep Breath through to that finale. Some highlights for us at #SRCZ Towers were Douglas Mackinnon’s Listen and Being Human writer Jamie Mathieson’s excellent Flatline.
While most episodes were stand-alone in terms of story, the ongoing theme of Clara taking on an increasingly Doctor like role was superbly done throughout leading up to her almost convincing claim to actually being The Doctor in Death In Heaven. In a first for the programme, Jenna Coleman’s name appeared before Capaldi’s in the opening credits and her eyes replaced his in the graphics. One for Coleman to tell the grandkids, I imagine.
In her first series of Doctor Who with Matt Smith, the character of Clara Oswald never felt complete, which was no doubt hampered by her storyline as The Impossible Girl. However in series 8 and pitted against Capaldi’s Doctor, for the first time we see a fully fleshed out Clara, prepared to take on the role of resident TARDIS grown-up with a scowly Time Lord as a companion. The progression of Clara’s character has been one of the great joys of this series and it will be a real shame to see her go when Coleman moves on in her career.
The final verdict
All-in-all, series 8 has been one of the best since Doctor Who was revived by Russell T Davies back in 2005. Capaldi was born to play television’s most iconic role and he has been well-served by great stories and top class directors. Roll on series 9 and the Christmas special.
Doctor Who: Complete Series 8 is released on DVD from November 24th 2014 and will no doubt already be on your bucket list if you enjoyed this series!