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Doctor Who Season 8 Review (SPOILERS)!


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Art by Stuart Manning

Artwork by Stuart Manning

First things first, since this is a Retrospective Review of the latest season of Doctor Who, it will contain SPOILERS.

After a series of inconsistent visuals advertising from the BBC, I’ll be using the consistently terrific retro episode posters created by the talented Stuart Manning. You can check out his work on Facebook, here: https://www.facebook.com/stuartmdesign.

Before we begin, a little background. I’ve been a full-on Doctor Who fan since it’s triumphant return in 2005. Eccleston sold the character to a new generation, as well as to people my age who grew up with the dying light of the show in the 80s under the otherwise great Sylvester McCoy. Eccleston made way for Tennant who, after a shaky first season, won me over and conveyed The Doctor with perhaps the greatest gusto since Tom Baker. After the weak storytelling of his farewell (but an impactful final 20 minutes) Matt Smith began his lighter, clumsier and arguably more loveable tenure. As his three full seasons progressed the tricks became muddled and the finales less successful. After missing the mark with Amy and Rory’s goodbye, things picked up when Jenna Coleman’s Clara became a series regular. Capping off an inconsistent season seven, (amazing 50th Anniversary aside, a cinema experience I shall always treasure) Matt Smith’s final moments were overstuffed but saved, once again, in the final hugely sincere regeneration scene.

With the snap of a head, the mighty Peter Capaldi was on-board and so begins our exploration of how season 8 impressed me more than ever.

 

doctorwhos8_01S08S01: Deep Breath
Things began maniacally, and really rather well. Almost immediately this longer episode allowed for the kind of pace we’d not seen in years. Slower, with time to savour some excellent dialogue, the drama may not have moved along as swiftly as it could but we were introduced to this new, angrier Doctor in greater depth than we’d been afforded before. Missy was introduced, along with the first major clue (in truth, a red herring) as to her identity. A strong start, though a story that has become a little forgotten now the entire season has aired.

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doctorwhos8_02S08S02: Into The Dalek
One of Britain’s darkest indie movie directors Ben Wheatley returned to helm some pure, Saturday night sci-fi. The Doctor and Clara were miniaturised and set off on a Fantastic Voyage inside a Dalek that had forgotten how to be bad. This new Doctor continued to be a spikier, less tolerant fellow and Clara stepped closer to the fore. For my money this was a simple, brilliant Dalek story that reminded us of their power while driving home the darkness and danger that follows The Doctor wherever he goes. Occasionally shaky production did not detract from great, efficient storytelling.

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doctorwhos8_03S08S03: Robot of Sherwood
Suddenly, the season remembered to be silly. Each year, Mark Gatiss has written at least one episode of Doctor Who. While they’ve all been watchable, I’d never felt any of them really worked as well as they could have. Then came this cheerful, comedic romp through every Robin Hood cliché you can think of. Among my friends, this episode divided us completely. Some hated its lightweight predictable story, while I loved the humour and brevity. Capaldi has proved many times in his career, particularly during the peerless The Thick of It, that he can do comedy. He excelled here and this remains a high point of the series.

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doctorwhos8_04S08S04: Listen
Danny Pink, the third side in this season’s crooked love triangle, takes centre stage. In a tale that spans his, and his descendant’s lives we’re treated to a Moffat script that stripped the show down to its purest level. The monster under the bed, the origin of The Doctor’s pacifist ideals and a return to The Barn last seen in the 50th Anniversary special. A hugely effective episode, despite it’s potential paradox (AKA, the Moffat Loop).

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doctorwhos8_05S08S05: Time Heist
After the previous week’s intensity came another romp. A fun episode with a great, alien villain (of sorts) and a delicious performance by Keeley Hawes. A fun bank robbery story, but perhaps a little too light to fill this slot after such a weighty episode the week before.

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doctorwhos8_06S08S06: The Caretaker
Here we are again, finding ourselves firmly in divisive territory. An episode much more interested in bringing Danny and The Doctor together than in progressing a story. The interplay was great fun, but this soap opera disappointed many fans who prefer the show when it perhaps rightly concentrates on the sci-fi.

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doctorwhos8_07S08S07: Kill The Moon
Bravery, silliness and darkness. Now there’s a cocktail. This was, in my opinion, a very strong episode straddling the line between barking mad and grittily affecting. Having learned from his mistakes in one of Tennant’s final tales The Waters of Mars, The Doctor leaves the humans to decide their own fate. Clara is pushed too far, the future of earth is changed forever, the moon hatches, lays an egg and flies away. Nuts, stupid but bold and a conclusion preceded by a contemplative story about life and choice.

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doctorwhos8_08S08S08: Mummy on the Orient Express
Another new writer, and an even more impressive episode. A brilliant premise (a mummy that no-one else can see, that kills you in precisely sixty-six seconds), slickly executed. One of the episodes I’ve rewatched most this season, it managed to centre on Clara’s desire to leave but also bring The Doctor himself back into the spotlight. Solving the puzzle without letting his hearts rule his head, the audience is reminded of the intelligence this character is capable of even if it took Clara to remind him how to be a little more human, once again.

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doctorwhos8_09S08S09: Flatline
Shaky effects work in the episode’s later, three dimensional menace aside this was a very effective story. Inventive 2D killers, great slapstick from Capaldi trapped inside his shrunken TARDIS and Coleman continuing to hold episodes together with charm and ease. A brilliant standalone episode, with a dash more Missy and the “Hermit Crab TARDIS Hand” is surely a classic animated GIF trend already?

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doctorwhos8_10S08S10: In The Forest of the Night
By this point, the highlight of the season for me. There were plot holes, rushed elements of the story but an innocent, child-like (never childish) tone that represents a show like Doctor Who at its best. The idea of the forests reclaiming the earth overnight was great, and every bit as barmy as the moon being an egg. Some of the visuals it provided were dreamlike, beautiful and the ancient Firefly creatures gave me chills. The resolution was, perhaps not for the first time this season, a stretch too far but it left me with my favourite quote from this season: “If you remembered how things felt you’d have stopped having wars, and stopped having babies.”

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doctorwhos8_11S08S11: Dark Water
The finale begins!  How do you follow up a beautiful episode full of hope?  You write a story underpinned by a premise so dark the BBC received over 100 complaints in the UK!  Blimey Moffat, the dead can still feel after they’ve died and every cremation is a torture?  Um, bit much?  Still, as uneasy as this idea made many people feel, the episode gave us more Missy, a intriguing story, Danny’s “death” and the best reveal of the Cybermen I’ve seen in years.
So how about The Mistress?  I saw this move as Moffat coming the closest he’s ever likely to silencing his critics on charges sexism. For some time, it’s been levied on Moffat that he can’t write, or isn’t interested in writing, good female characters. In my opinion, this season saw Clara leave behind her Impossible Girl gimmick and become a fully rounded character. A strong, capable woman with depth, a life, a personality. When she reached the limit of her abilities, we empathised with her. When she tore The Doctor a new one, he deserved it. The culmination of this increased investment in his leading female characters was taken further still by The Master returning as a woman. And what a woman!  Bananas, brilliant and impossible not to watch.

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doctorwhos8_12S08S12: Death in Heaven
Danny is dead and the “Afterlife” is emptying. Clara tells a lie powerful enough to change even the show’s opening titles. The Doctor is swiftly appointed President of the World as he channels Tom Baker’s line delivery with a Cyberman on the fuselage!  London landmarks spew forth armies of cloud pollinating robotic death and the story distils down to a grand yet personal level. Flashbacks to this season’s exploration of who The Doctor is ring true as The Mistress offers him an army, to do with as he sees fit. The Doctor finally learns that a soldier’s duty can be every bit as powerful and unshakeable as the deepest expression of love. A respectful and honourable conclusion, aired the day before Remembrance Sunday when we all give thanks to those who fell in war.
By far my favourite ending to a run of Doctor Who was Tennant’s last, full series. The two-parter with Davros, only I rewatched it recently and after a few years of Moffat’s tone I was less impressed. Fun, entertaining but lightweight.
Even though I may watch it in a few years and find it flimsy and trite, season 8 ended better than any series has since 2005. The reassuring culmination of Moffat’s style maturing, and shedding clutter over four years.

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Capaldi had me on-board as soon as this season began. His age, I think, lends the character a more immediate authority. His temper and lack of human understanding is more entertaining as well as a greater force to be reckoned with. It also gives his softer moments all the more power for that contrast. Season 8 has divided opinion, lost long-term fans and disappointed newer “fans” who watched for the cute, huggable Doctor of the past few years. I’m left having, for the first time since 2005, enjoyed every episode of this season.  The show has darkened with age and, two weeks before we mark the it’s 51st birthday, shows no signs of losing me as an admirer.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be returning to Doctor Who soon to review the UK Collectors Edition of the season 8 blu ray boxset. Delayed by a week, due to the classification of its finale being increased after the complaints received.

 

Artwork by Stuart Manning.

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A Brit who doesn’t drink tea. A software engineer that doesn’t like coffee. Shunned by my peers I retreat to the cinema, or the TARDIS, to surround myself with all things nerdy! My teenage years were George Romero and Anime obsessed, while these days my walls are covered in screen prints and bookcases full of blu ray.