DOCTOR WHO: Series 9 Review
As someone who was admittedly excited for the era of the twelfth Doctor to begin, I was also quite vocal regarding my disappointment and disillusionment with the result of his maiden go at the controls of the TARDIS. That wasn’t a slight against Peter Capaldi, but rather the stories themselves. Following the underwhelming, Alien-esque “Last Christmas”, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was in store for more of the same.
Readers please note:
If you’re familiar at all with my previous reviews, you’ll know I try to make them as spoiler free as I possibly can, sometimes to the point of being overly vague, all the while trying to keep your interest. If you know the formula of Doctor Who, you know that nothing can stay the same; it must constantly change and evolve.
There is a certain inevitability when someone, be it the Doctor or the companion must move on.
A hallmark since Steven Moffat took the helm as head writer and executive producer has been the blockbuster, thrill ride first episode, and this was no exception. The two-part premiere, “The Magician’s Apprentice”/ “The Witch’s Familiar” brought back not one, but two classic foes; one of them as viewers had never seen before. While maybe not the strongest of storylines, there were some nice touches throughout; notably Daleks of the past and present, and the return to Skaro. I could have done without henchman, Colony Sarff (which I thought initially was “Callin’ Me Soft”. British accents!). A “hybrid” is alluded to and becomes a main story-arc throughout the duration of the series, with some interesting misdirection along the way. The Doctor’s “confession dial” is a recurring element, as are his “axe” and the thankfully short-lived sonic sunglasses.
The next pair of episodes, a futuristic ghost story, “Under the Lake”/”Before the Flood” follow.
A military team at an underwater base in the future is being picked off by an alien and their dead leader in ghost form. This story had a creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere and I was pleased to see some better development of the ancillary or “one-off” characters over the last series, in this case the mining team (the majority of it at least), though Clara’s performance in the first part seemed a little too gung ho to me. Part one of story three, “The Girl Who Died”, set in a Viking village, introduces Ashildr, played by Maisie Williams. By episode’s end, Ashildr has become immortal (a hybrid perhaps?), courtesy of the Doctor’s lifesaving intervention, which would have consequences not only for Ashildr (later “Me”), but for the Doctor, and Clara as well. Part two, “The Woman Who Lived” gives insight into Me’s life, now 800 or so years later and the effect being immortal has had on her perception of life and death, and its impact on her psyche. I wasn’t really a fan of these two. I didn’t really care for Ashildr and the alien “Mire” had a quaint 70’s or 80’s feel that wasn’t impressive and seemed out of place. The Ron Perlman Beast-like, “Leandro” was another big miss for me.
“The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion” deals with the aftermath of the thwarted Zygon attack on Earth (The Day of the Doctor). 20 million Zygons are now living on Earth, disguised as humans, but the treaty allowing them to do so has been broken, and it’s up to the Doctor and Clara to save humanity (again), this time with UNIT’s help. Ingrid Oliver returns as Osgood, though her true species (a hybrid perhaps?) is not divulged. Jenna Coleman, in a dual role, did an exemplary job and Capaldi really delivered the goods, especially during his anti-war speech in part two. The only stand-alone story in the series, “Sleep No More” is next. A space station orbiting Neptune in the 38th century is our port of call this time round where a nightmarish, duplicitous rollercoaster ride awaits us. The horror elements integrated into this episode had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, despite the pretty big stretch in regard to what the monsters actually turn out to be. The story and pacing were well done enough to overcome what could have been a pretty egregious error in judgment on the part of writer Mark Gatiss; lest we forget “Robot of Sherwood”. The series finale, consists of three parts; “Face the Raven”, “Heaven Sent”, and “Hell Bent”. Joivan Wade reprises his role of “Rigsy” from series 8. The Doctor and Clara must save him from certain death, but all is not as it seems. Ashildr/Me, working in concert with unknown partners, plans to lure the Doctor into a trap, and by episode’s end, companion and Doctor say what seems must be that heartswrenching, final goodbye. Coleman gives a strong performance and Capaldi really shines in the episode’s final scene. In “Heaven Sent”, the Doctor, now teleported to a labyrinthine, water-locked castle, must evade a shrouded creature while trying to figure out both his escape, and if at all possible, a way to save Clara, even if that means sacrificing himself countless times over four billion years. Peter Capaldi gives another masterful, emotionally charged performance. Part three, “Hell Bent” takes us from a certain, familiar diner (now in Nevada), to Gallifrey (I know!), and to the end of the universe in the quest to save Clara. The immortal Ashildr/Me awaits the Doctor and Clara at the end of everything, having lived through the life of the universe. For those who don’t yet know the outcome, I will only say it was a great, satisfying ending filled with some thoughtfully done touches, and some excellent nods to the show’s long history.
So, how does Doctor Who: Series 9 compare to its predecessor? If I’m being nitpicky, I wouldn’t mind a new intro, but on the positive side: the writing and direction of the episodes was stronger, more engaging, and more entertaining from start to finish than last. The supporting casts were improved from series 8. Jenna Coleman was generally good, though at times seemed a little uneven. The undeniable highpoint is Peter Capaldi; his performances, most notably in the series’ second half were fantastic. He’ll make you laugh and cry, sometimes in the same scene. This was a great bounce-back year for Doctor Who. Let’s hope Steven Moffat and company can “take the long way round” and stay on this upward trajectory.
Run you clever boys and girls,
Greg “Hell Sent” Randolph