Season 8 of Dr Who recently finished. It saw the show rejuvenate itself and reach new heights.
A month or so before Dr Who returned this summer, I opined to a friend that I wasn’t really a Dr Who fan anymore. It was just the methadone for my Sherlock addiction. I suspect what drove this feeling was the fact (and it pretty much was a fact) that by the end of its seventh season it had come to feel rather tired. It felt like it was not only running out of ideas but also of ways to repackage old ones.
What a change the past 12 episodes have been. A new Doctor, a new Clara and a fresh approach made it unmissable telly. Here are some of the ways it topped all its predecessors.
Oh and be warned:
1. The Best Doctor
Ecclestone, Tenant and Smith played the Doctor; Capaldi is now (for me at least) the Doctor. He inhabited the character and his millennium of flaws, hopes, contradictions, wisdom, insecurities and memories. Previous Doctors oscillated between light and shade. Capaldi didn’t need to because he could be both at once. We should not have expected no less from the man who brought us Malcolm Tucker: an awful blend of hilarity and hate. Capaldi’s Doctor is essentially the inverse still: still a figure of both tragedy and farce but this time amounting to a mighty angel not a nasty little demon. He’s a creature so lofty that his at once absurd, intimidating and inspiring. That’s a lot for an actor to convey but Capaldi did it faultlessly.
2. The Best Companion
Now here’s something I didn’t expect to be writing. Last season’s Clara was the worst companion new Who had given us. This time round she was the best. She was no longer a puzzle to be solved masquerading as a manic pixie dream girl. Rather she a fully developed character. And quite a character at that!
Gone was any sense that the companion was the Doctor’s human pet. Clara came to as to being the Doctor’s equal that any human is ever going to get. She was even able to pass for him when necessary and to put him in his place if that was likewise required. At one point she remarked “you’re not my boss, you’re my hobby”, at another warned him that “if you speak for me again, I will detach something from you” and most pointedly condemned his decisions during “kill the moon”. She was not angry with him prior to show how things really were. He took one view, she found that morally repulsive. And the show never did anything to undermine the validity of her viewpoint.
The character and Jenna Coleman’s superb acting (where was that last season!?) were sufficiently strong that they overcame this run’s main weakness: Danny Pink. He seemed intriguing at the start and he was noble at the end. However, in between he was bland at best and dislikeable at worst.
3. The best/worst monsters
Since Dr Who has returned its best monsters have been those built around a single idea: the Weeping Angels (‘don’t blink’) and the Silence (‘you can’t remember’). By contrast, many of the weakest episodes are those which have tried to restore classic monsters like the Sontarans and Cybermen to their past glories.
The writers seem to have noticed this and we had a slew of successful conceptual monsters: robots you have to hold your breath to escape, a Mommy which kills you after 90 seconds, fear itself and most chillingly creatures which exist only in two dimensions.
4. The Best Big Bad
What do you get when you cross Heath Ledger’s Joker with Mary Poppins? Michelle Gomez’s version of the Master it turns out.
I think comparing Missy to the Dark Knight’s villain makes sense because the secret to both is that they are so unhinged that we’re denied the comfort of being able to guess what they might do next. Rather than maniacally pursuing plans to conquer the universe like Simm’s Master did, Gomez has the more alarmingly personal mission of fucking the Doctor up. Witness, for example, her cruel lie about knowing the location of Gallifrey
And the scene where Missy kills Osgood (*sob,sob*) had the same gasp inducing nastiness as the Joker making a pencil disappear. It was probably the darkest moment the show has given us so far.
5. More consistency
Dr Who has always been a difficult show to be a fan of. Giving up 45 minutes of your life to watch an episode has always been a gamble. You might get pure genius like Blink or Midnight but you were equally likely to have to watch excruciating flops like the Curse of the Black Spot or Love & Monsters.
Season 8 broke this pattern. Sure there were weak episodes but they at least had redeeming features. Kill the Moon was the bottom of the barrel. It was spoilt by unnecessary lunar spiders and an unwanted terrestrial teen. But it did set up the important and effective moral clash between the Doctor and Clara which I mentioned earlier.
And more importantly such quality control failures were rarer than they had been in the past.
Dear Stephen Moffat and BBC Wales,
More of this kind of thing please! 🙂