DOCTOR WHO: Series 8 (New Doc on the Block)
On August 23rd, with much anticipation and excitement, The Doctor made his long-awaited return; the first episode for the newly regenerated Time Lord. The 12th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, was the topic of much heated debate on the internets during the show’s hiatus. I chose to adopt a “wait and see” attitude and once again put my trust in the show’s casting geniuses, which so far, had done an outstanding job with their selections.
The series premiere, “Deep Breath” was a fantastical tale woven by Steven Moffat. Set in Victorian London, it features a T-Rex, cyborgs, and the return of the Paternoster Gang. A dear, old friend makes a surprise, emotion-eliciting reappearance as well. The episode’s conclusion introduces the enigmatic, “Missy” (Michelle Gomez), as The Doctor’s nemesis for the series. By the end of this nearly 90 minute rollercoaster ride, I felt confident that everything was going to be alright and all doubters would be subsequently silenced.
And then something happened…
My week-long “Who-high” was put to the test in the next two episodes. “Into the Dalek”, which introduces soldier-turned-school teacher, Danny “P.E.” Pink (Samuel Anderson) paled in comparison to what preceded it. Episode 3, “Robot of Sherwood” was an even bigger disappointment. I was starting to get a little worried.
“Listen” went a long way to allaying any fears I had about the quality of the stories. This episode had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, and hit all the right notes that good science fiction should possess, at just the right times. Once again, I was confident that my favorite show would be heading in an upward direction after a couple of anomalies. Once again, I would be proven wrong.
What followed over the next six weeks (half the series) was, what I am at pains to say, were some of the most lack-luster Doctor Who stories since the show’s regeneration in 2005 (and yes, I’ve seen “The Rings of Akhaten”). Were they horrible? Not entirely. There were a few good moments sprinkled in here and there, primarily dialogue-driven. This stretch of episodes really had me shell-shocked and by the conclusion of episode 10, “In the Forest of the Night”, still in disbelief, I found my enthusiasm gone and my disappointment unequivocal. Could the series be salvaged? As it turned out, yes. Yes it could.
The two-part finale, “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” reignited the fire that the past six weeks worth of mediocrity had all but extinguished. Part one begins by reminding us of the old adage, “Look both ways before crossing”, and climaxes with the startling, true identity of Missy revealed at last, just as a shiny, old foe reemerges from its watery tomb. Part 2 also delivers the goods. The skillful way in which Steven Moffat integrates certain events from series past into this episode is nothing short of brilliant. Nice job on the opening titles as well! Tributes to the past abound; the heartwarming homage to the late Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart from the classic series) was particularly stirring. By the time the curtain falls on series 8, Earth has once again been saved, but The Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman) end up going their separate ways. Whether this is forever remains to be seen. Only Santa knows.
Just what will The Doctor want for Christmas?
The bottom line:
Of the twelve episodes, I thought eight were merely passable; the plots by-and-large weren’t very appealing. It also seemed a bit too frequently for my liking, that superfluous visual effects were emphasized, perhaps in an effort to compensate for these marginal stories. Or maybe it was more noticeable to me because of that. Doctor Who has always been about the story, and the majority of them didn’t stack up to what had come before. Another area the series fell short of expectations was in the ancillary characters. Whether they were one-offs; “Journey Blue” in ep.2 or “Maebh” in ep.10; or recurring roles; Mr. Pink or Coal Hill student, Courtney Woods (Ellis George), I found them flat, lacking in substance, and I simply didn’t care about them.
They can’t all be Madame du Pompadour, Brian Williams, or Wilfred Mott, I guess.
So, what was good? The premiere and finale were extremely well written and inventively executed. The same can be said for “Listen”. The dialogue throughout the series was quite good, with trademark banter throughout. The clever nods to the show’s past were also an enjoyable plus. And as for The Doctor himself? I thought Peter Capaldi’s treatment was spot on. He was far and away the one consistent bright spot from start to finish and I, for one, definitely think he is a “good man”. From his interaction with Clara, to his dealings with various creatures and foes, I feel he did a very commendable job in his debut, and I would be content seeing him in the role for years to come.
Greg “CyberBrigadier” Randolph