“I don’t think I know who The Doctor is anymore…”
I’m not sure I do either, Clara. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a massive Doctor Who fan since the reboot, I loved RTD’s era with Ecclestone and Tennant and feared the worst at the end of The End of Time, despite even back then knowing that it was a rather crappy ending story for Tennant. However, when Matt Smith arrived on the scene with Gillan’s Amy Pond beside him I forgot any worries I had and with Moffat at the helm of clever story-lines and arcs that require the audience to think and watch closely to what is going on Smith and Moffat’s era just got better series by series. Of course there were episodes during this time I thought were duds or just naff but these were few and far between and even with Smith emotional Christmas 2013 exit I still trusted Moffat completely to make the show work in his absence and was actually ultimately looking forward to see Capaldi take the helm for a very different feeling Doctor. Right now, I am feeling lacklustre about my favourite show which hurts me to say but here is why.
Let’s kick off at the start of series 8, Deep Breath, I was ready for something epic. There had seemingly been a lot more hype over this series than there had been previously (bar the 50th Anniversary) so I couldn’t have been alone. The episode, coming in at 76 minutes (one minute longer than said 50th Special) was even being shown in cinemas to mark the occasion. I was expecting big things. Sadly the only thing it really did deliver on was the technical side, directed by Ben Wheatley recently famed for film Sightseers but perhaps otherwise known for his work on Ideal, the episode itself looked nice, as did the follow-up… But is that what you really want from a Doctor Who episode? It’s not what I go into it thinking about, it’s more of a bonus, as long as the content itself is thrilling. Deep Breath drags. It took a long time to get anywhere and when it did (roughly 20 minutes before the end) it felt pointless having watched the initial 50 minutes. It was tedious enough that I don’t really remember what went on prior to the restaurant scenes. At the end we did have this series’ story arc set up for us, which is engaging but I’m losing the will to feel pumped for it because of the lousy content that props it up so far. The Paternoster gang (aka Vastra, Jenny and Strax) also feel more than worn out. It was nice the first time they got an outing and were used as supporting roles in a couple of stories where you can go ‘oh yeah it’s them’ but this FIFTH appearance by them went beyond their constituency and really need a rest now, or, if you really have to bring them back give them a show to replace The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC. Trying to create controversy with a lesbian half-kiss and implied same-gender relationship and reminding is boring. No-one in this day and age cares and when it is rammed with lines like ‘I love Madame Vastra’ that can work in different respects but you ultimately know that it’s not meant platonically is as annoying as Lucy Spraggan bringing up her lesbianism every week on XFactor.
Week 2 saw The Doctor and co. literally enter a Dalek. The idea itself was nice but, and you’ll say I’m never happy, felt like we were plunged into it way too quickly. Everyone wants to see a good Dalek story, we haven’t really had many good ones, although I am a big fan of Asylum of the Daleks. Unfortunately, this was not it. It did show us more of the new Doctor’s character and how he is a very different man to ten and eleven (more on this later) but this was nowhere near enough to save it. The episode had a very stagnant middle section and became too cliche.
Robot of Sherwood was a big surprise. From the ‘next time’ trailers I really had lost all hope, and maybe this is the best way at the moment. I went in with such low expectations that by time it had finished I was shocked at how good it was. It was fun to begin with, and that might be its only drawback, it reminded me of some early Tennant episodes but did its job to entertain. Everything seemed to work nicely and simply in the episode and we got a great side of Capaldi’s Doctor. Was series 8 finally back on track?
Episode 4 and Listen had almost completely regained my faith in Doctor Who and Moffat. Most of my criticisms had fallen away after this stunning horror-esque piece that stands alone against having to reinforce the story arc. It was confusing and beautifully so right up until the final 3, maybe 4 minutes where everything came together in a headachingly quick way. The complaints of the opening two episodes feeling like a horrible tracing of Sherlock had dissolved and I was on a high with how great this episode was. I say it was a standalone piece, however, with Moffat’s games in past series like the simple but effective ‘continuity error’ in series 5’s Flesh and Stone and the ending in the ark on Gallifrey I wouldn’t be massively surprised if it means more than I originally thought.
Time Heist was an episode I was looking forward to with Keeley Hawes’ involvement. It ended up feeling like Doctor Who meets Hustle and was only an Adrian Lester appearance away from becoming just that. It was a decent enough story and I liked the opening with none of the characters remembering where or what they were doing. The twist to who set them up was all too predictable however after a great scene showing a hooded figure with an obscured voice reminded me brilliantly of Saw. A pattern begins to emerge – I look forward to an episode, it doesn’t go the way I had hoped. Ultimately, a let down by time the end credits rolled.
The Caretaker looked bad! Great news! By my own hypothesis, it should be great viewing! Wrong. Apparently you can never tell. A robot killing machine driving around the halls of Clara’s school was like a set up from a Sarah Jane Adventures story and felt like it too. It was flat and dull with very little good to draw from it other than Capaldi’s performance yet again. The point of the episode I thought was maybe for us to get to see a little more of Danny in coming episodes along with the TARDIS gang but apparently it was not and instead we were treated to the delights of Courtney Woods, sarcasm of course. A pointless character and a horrible, annoying little ‘companion’ that will make you want to rip your eyes out your sockets and cry silently in a corner wishing everything could be as perfect as Eleven/Amy/Rory/River. The moments where Danny confronts The Doctor were captivating for all the right reasons and I really thought this was an insight of things to come. It was not.
This week we were treated to an extra and most definitely unneeded dose of young Miss Courtney Woods as she became the first woman to step on the moon. Joy. When you think the episodes cannot get any more tacky the team currently working on Doctor Who decide to throw Kill The Moon our way. It was another episode where I ashamedly went into it thinking ‘oh, this one looks good actually’ and of course, was dealt a very rough hand… And quite rightly so. How dare I think I can cheat the system and enjoy an episode of this once goliath show. Although not actually being the ‘worst’ episode this series, the choice for winner of that category has some real contenders already, Kill The Moon is going to get the biggest laying into from me, probably because it is freshest in my mind. Let’s start with the basics, the moon was an egg. It was an egg that was hatching and The Doctor apparently couldn’t intervene, I still am not sure why, perhaps I missed something through scoffing at the whole completely naff idea. The spiders were bacteria that had grown to the sizes of dogs, why? No reason needed apparently, they just had. Anyway, cut a long story short, the moon hatches because Clara allows it to happen that way and then some giant space bird just flies off leaving the sky moonless. My favourite moment then comes about in the form of our dear new friend Courtney who tell us that ‘another egg has been laid’ in its place, rendering The Doctor’s whole speech pointless about how this event makes the human race dominate the skies etc. I for one hope that Courtney stays on into future episodes/series and points out obvious stuff that is happening off-screen for the audience’s benefit so there is no further need for CGI – something that has also become incredibly tacky as of late. Back to the creature that ‘flew away’ from the moon/egg using ‘wings’ – how did it fly? There’s nothing the wings can push against to ‘fly’ so how does that work. I mean yes, I could make comments like this throughout the 8 series but now I feel the time, when episodes are as bad as this that I can bring such subject matter up. Another bug bear is how I practically lost my shit when the random panel flew up from a desk and fitted the window that had been blown open perfectly making the whole segment yet again pointless. At the end of the episode Clara goes mental on The Doctor and basically ends up rage-quitting and telling the doctor to leave earth and never come back. I really just sat there and thought ‘please Clara… please don’t leave… I want you to die a horrific death’. No, seriously now, I can feel her angst in this scene because Capaldi’s Doctor has been a shit from the start with very little compassion and continuously left her to seemingly die and drive herself to the very brink of insanity at thinking so, so maybe this was her final straw. Although in defence of his action this episode where he leaves it to the humans to make the choice Clara should know about a previous time where The Doctor ‘took charge’:
It’s a real shame that the standout moment from The Doctor in series 8 has come from Capaldi’s predecessor still in the fields of Trenzalor.
There are redeeming factors about series 8, just not enough to save the series so far. Peter Capaldi is a great Doctor, he is certainly different and I do like how harsh and strict he is, the series is a lot darker because of it. I do feel that just as Clara was starting to work as a character alongside Smith’s Doctor she’s been unstabalised and next to Capaldi it all seems very awkward. A new setup on board the TARDIS may help rectify this. I don’t like the dynamic of The Doctor keep dropping in and out of Clara’s life. It worked at the end of Amy and Rory’s story because of what was happening in their lives but with Clara it seems unnecessary, so bring Danny Pink on board for some dynamic tension and have the team together in the TARDIS from start to finish of the episodes. It’s annoying to have these picking up scenes beginning every episode.
However, I do have trust in Moffat. He has delivered throughout the Smith era and in Sherlock too so I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, something clever is happening in these episodes where he is co-writer that we just can’t see yet. It’s a long shot but I do like to hope.
Stupidly I am looking forward to the next episode. No Clara appears to be present so I can see if my theory about the chemistry between the two holds out and it’ll be cool to see Capaldi hold out on his own with no ‘balancing’ character for his actions.