Another year’s come and gone, and new Doctor Who seems to have just slipped on by. And like every season we choose our favorite episodes, get confused why others don’t like your favorite episodes, and complain on the web. Many enjoyed the season, many hated it. Some of the stronger episodes ended rather poorly. Some episodes with glaring plotholes or wonky science get overpraised, where other tighter-scripted stories are under appreciated. In some areas we got exactly what we wanted, in others exactly what was expected, and occasionally weren’t nearly as whelmed as we’d have liked.
But alas. This isn’t a scathing review of Series 8. Nor is it an outright appraisal. This is merely an examination of the many themes running throughout the season.
Doctor Number Twelve:
When it was originally announced over a year ago now that incumbent Doctor Matt Smith would be stepping away from the TARDIS after three years, speculation ran amuck as to whom we might be getting next. Many expressed their desire for a female Doctor. Others wanted a more classic Doctor, old and crabby. Some wanted a dark Doctor – the Doctor Colin Baker was originally intended to become. And still others petitioned that David Tennant be the next Doctor.
But Peter Capaldi stepped out ahead. I for one noticed this immediately as a stroke of genius casting, but others weren’t as on board as I was. An older Doctor than we had ever had, who’s already appeared in previous episodes of the series, as well as Torchwood? And so we took the long wait for the new series. Finally Deep Breath rolled around, a 75 minute spectacle written by Showrunner Steven Moffat, which had a brief theatrical presence similar to last year’s The Day of the Doctor special. It introduced us to an entirely new take on the Doctor. A Doctor with some serious attack eyebrows.
Not quite the grumpy grandfather that was William Hartnell, nor the cruel companion-harming Doctor that was Colin Baker. But he was dark. Oh so dark. And brooding. And clever. Peter Capaldi made the role his own quicker than any New Who Doctor to date (a defense can be made for Eccleston). As seen in Into the Dalek, he was adept at proclaiming speeches and monologues. His feverish stares, often breaking the fourth wall, dug right into your soul. He wasn’t afraid to allow others to die so that he could accrue more time to find a proper solution, as seen throughout the series, but perhaps most memorably in Mummy on the Orient Express.
A new trait for the Doctor happens to be allowing his companion and others to come to their own conclusion. In his mind he was helping them grow as characters. But when it came to Clara in Kill the Moon, he put a decision far too grand in her lap, and this drove her nearly to the point of leaving him. What he meant to be caring and considerate, was to her the complete opposite.
The Doctor also makes it very clear early on that he has little respect for soldiers. Whether he believes they make poor companions, or simply the fact that they remind him too much of himself and his past as the War Doctor. He denies Journey Blue the chance to travel with him in the TARDIS because of it. He has a hard time believing that Danny Pink is an altogether good man due to his soldier past, and calls him PE during, as this must be the only position he’s capable of assuming in a school after being in the military. In Death in Heaven the Doctor also jokes that he thinks constant saluting must lead to concussions, as that would explain thousands of years of military decisions. The Doctor doesn’t think he’s a good man, which is a tragic thing for the Doctor to ponder. In Robot of Sherwood he tells Robin Hood that he is no hero, which goes along with this idea of self-loathing.
Capaldi isn’t all dark and brooding however. He does come across that way, but he frequently proves he has more heart than not – it’s just hard for him to show it. He’s not a hugging Doctor. Even after Clara betrays his trust in a grievous, and previously unseen way at the beginning of Dark Water, the Doctor forgives her and wishes to help her. Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor has quickly climbed the ranks in many a fans lists of favorite Doctors. I’d put him in my top three, easily.
Impossible Girl No More:
Although we all have a place in our hearts somewhere for Clara Oswald/Oswin Oswald/Clara Oswin, the overarching theme of Series 7B being that Clara was the Impossible Girl was something many fans took umbrage at. Not only were many tired of the format that each successive companion was now the most important person in the universe, the fact that Moffat essentially placed her in each of the Doctors respective timelines didn’t sit well with most folk. As much as I love The Name of the Doctor, I too found this a big step in the wrong direction. But with Series 8, Clara has all but abandoned the Impossible Girl monicker and is now a very normal human being, with very human problems.
She keeps her day job at Coal Hill School, and in many ways this school teacher setting is as much a part of her personality as is Danny or her time in the TARDIS. This is experimented with heavily in Gareth Roberts The Caretaker, where the Doctor actually swings by the school to become the caretaker. (Unfortunately Ian Chesterton doesn’t make a cameo, and now that boat has pretty much sailed.)
What with the Doctor now being an easy 25+ years older looking version than his previous incarnation, with an even more alien disposition, Clara is no longer capable of viewing the Doctor as the lovable boyfriend that she saw in Matt Smith. Vastra smacked that idea out of her head right away in Deep Breath. And with that emotional block now cleared, she feels more at ease in choosing to find a normal life partner. In comes the handsome new teacher and ex-soldier, Danny Pink, who quickly steals her heart. However, life with the Doctor along with life on earth begin tiring her out. She must make a decision. And odd enough she chooses both. Clara hit a fork in her life she just couldn’t cross, until she had no other choice.
Clara begins to lie to both the Doctor and Danny about her goings on. And lying in itself becomes a pivotal motif throughout the series. Never more so than at the end, after Danny dies and she’s ready to move on with her life. It’s a tragic ending to the season, but brilliant, as she lies to him so that he thinks she can move on happily. He too lies to her. Clara goes from being entirely Impossible, to a very realistic, flawed, and human character. One with major trust issues, one that lies due to her own uncertainty, and one that loves and leads two lifestyles that can never be one.
Was Danny Pink a Companion?
When it was announced that Samuel Anderson, a relative unknown, would be taking a stab at a recurring and substantial role in Doctor Who, it was instantly assumed he’d become the next companion, or even a companion to the companion. (Are they even called companions anymore? Throughout the series they’re frequently titled assistants). And with each successive episode we wondered when exactly Danny Pink would officially join the crew. Well. It never happened.
But from the beginning Danny showed a level of intelligence, a degree of loyalty, and an air of courage so strong that he really could have been a great companion. When he first shows up in Into the Dalek, and we find him still broken up from his past in the military, we instantly fall in love with the character. His awkward moments mixed in with his general bashfulness make his scenes realistic, funny, and endearing. Many still never bought into the love brewed between Danny and Clara however, perhaps a byproduct of the way she deliberately lied to him. And although this kind of double life is something that’s once in a lifetime and one you can’t easily give up, it doesn’t excuse Clara’s actions. Despite her lying however, it never struck me as a personal slight to Danny, or the absence of love requited on her end, but a lack of commitment, at least until it was too late. Surely Danny always showed he loved her, always protective, and never once did he scold her, despite all her failings as a partner.
On top of his loyalty to Clara, he was great with kids. Selfless even. In the Forest of the Night solidified him as someone who can easily round up kids, take care of them, and have them enjoy his company. Clara mentions to the Doctor that Danny would never leave those kids until they were safe and with their parents. This is mirrored in the fact that, instead of saving himself, he saved the Afghani child he accidentally killed all those years ago, asking of Clara that she get him to his parents.
It was pretty tragic what did become of him in the Nethersphere by the time Dark Water came around. I found the ending to his arc as a character very depressing. Sometimes depressing is good however. Will we see more of Pink? Being that he died, burnt himself in the atmosphere, and then gave up his chance of reincarnation to save another, it’s unlikely.
Old Foes, And New:
Throughout the season is sprinkled a slew of returning villains and monsters, but even more new ones. Some were put to excellent use. Others not so much. The monsters that’ve incessantly shown up at least once a season throughout all of New Who, the Daleks, take no exception to this season. They blast into the second episode, Into the Dalek, but with a twist. The Doctor and Clara are presented with a damaged Dalek. So damaged it’s become good. They must journey into the Dalek to fix… something. This was a very interesting, and very fresh take on the old Dalek paradigm, and one easily enjoyable. But really, give ’em a rest Moffat.
The Cybermen too make their return, but with a twist. Instead of assimilating the living, they do so with the dead. Whether or not this has “made them scary” again is up for discussion. To this day I believe the best usage of the Cybermen is found in the Second Doctor’s Tomb of the Cybermen. Other than that, it’s worth arguing that no story actually gets better when the Cybermen arrive.
Another “return” would be the clockwork droids in Deep Breath, but with a twist. They too are in search of parts, but they’re from the sister ship of the S.S. Madame de Pompadour. This perhaps was the most welcome return for me, as they had changed enough from their debut in The Girl in the Fireplace to reinvent themselves. You didn’t need to have prior knowledge of them to grasp their intent and enjoy the episode.
Along with those returning foes are new ones. Perhaps the most effectively frightening was the one we didn’t even get to see in Listen. But the most effective conceptually would have to be the Teller in Time Heist. What a gorgeous rubber suit. Of course the Foretold from Mummy on the Orient Express was expertly realized also, with the added creepiness of impending death after 66 seconds of its presence. So too were the Boneless well done, found in Flatline, capable of bridging 2 dimensions with 3, and vice versa. Series 8’s new monsters rarely disappoint. Unless you count the robots in Sherwood.
A New Title Sequence:
With series 8 we’re introduced to the most radical change to the title sequence since… I don’t know. Sylvester McCoy. Interestingly, it was actually YouTuber Billy Hanshaw who inspired the drastic redesign. After Moffat saw his fan made Intro online, he got in contact with Hanshaw to help helm an official title sequence. This marks the first time a fan made video has directly impacted the title sequence. I wonder what this means for the future of the program, as fans prove themselves more and more talented.
With a new Doctor and title sequence comes a new rendition of the genius Intro theme tune, as concocted by composer Murray Gold, who’s been the composer for the program since it came back in 2005. I happen to like the new theme, although it’s not as loud in the beginning as it should be. Sometimes it doesn’t sound right coming soon after the opening episode stinger. But again, fans are never happy with the current rendition of the theme tune.
Heaven Is a Hard Drive:
One of the most curious things running throughout all of series 8 were the very random glimpses into “Heaven”. Or “paradise”. Or even “the promised land”. Regardless, it’s where all seem to end up once they die. The first time this showed up was in the premiere episode Deep Breath, at the very close of the story. Missy introduced herself here, and throughout the rest of the season we get little glimpses here and there. Sometimes it’s Seb that shows up to greet the newly departed. But “Heaven” isn’t quite the proper term for it.
Rather, we learn its true name is the Nethersphere. By the time Danny shows up to said Nethersphere at the end of the season we still know essentially nothing. When we get our first glimpse into the vast openness of it all it is, frankly, a gorgeous concept. The Matrix meets Inception. All the dead, stored into this one gigantic orb. Soon to be released unto the world as an army of dead slaves in the form of Cybermen.
One thing of note is that they have iPads in the Nethersphere. iPads actually make their way through much of Series 8, including certain scenes with Missy. In passing, Seb makes a comment that this is due to Steve Jobs joining them in the Nethersphere. I laughed aloud.
Oh Missy, You So Fine:
The big reveal this season however isn’t the Cybermen invading the tombstones, but their controller Missy. Since Michelle Gomez’ character was put on the Series 8 roster as the unknown “Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere,” fan speculation ran rampant. I too gave my theories. Perhaps it was the return of the Rani? What if it was actually the Valeyard, or the promised third visit of the Black Guardian? But the answer was far easier to come by.
Missy is short for Mistress. Because she couldn’t well have kept calling herself the Master. Yes. Finally. We get a Time Lord regenerated into a Time Lady. This reveal comes only moments after she kisses the Doctor, which begs the question: has the Master always had feelings for the Doctor, or do the sexual dynamics change with the turning of gender in regeneration? This is definitely a lengthy debate, one with no answers, but a lot of speculation. And that’s all it’s meant to be. Fuel for fire.
Missy’s plan was simple. Use the vast quantity of dead as leverage over the living by transforming them into Cybermen. Once this is accomplished, give them to the Doctor as an army to use at his bidding. The Doctor of course refuses the offer and shoots it down as crazy.
But despite the gimmick of sex change, I really don’t mind this incarnation of the Master. Her plan DID make sense, albeit being completely nuts. It’s plain to see that in her deluded mind this gift of Cybermen is exactly what the Doctor would want. Perhaps she does wish to go in search of Gallifrey with him. But no. The Doctor knows this isn’t the friend he grew up with all those years ago on Gallifrey.
She is proper cruel too. She kills because, as she self proclaims, she’s bananas. She gets off on it, on the chaos. And that’s probably the best way to describe Michelle Gomez’ incarnation of the Master: chaotic. When she kills Osgood that really surprised me. Certain characters you often assume to hold immunity can very well die in a second with Missy around.
Christmas, Season 9, and Beyond:
With the season now finished and behind us, we can still find plenty to look forward to. Several areas that this season touched upon but never truly capitalized on are still left up in the air. With Capaldi confirmed for Series 9 and Jenna Coleman confirmed at least through the Christmas special we can expect more great things are coming our way.
One of the glaring plot points for me this season was actually Orson Pink. How can he exist is Danny dies? Is Clara pregnant? And if she is pregnant, how does the last name Pink get passed down? This might actually be a plot hole if left unexplained.
Gallifrey is still missing. Although Missy gave the Doctor coordinates to find the long lost planet, it turned out to be false information – something the Doctor should’ve realized due to the fact that she’s bananas. But that’s something we’ve been building towards since at least The Day of the Doctor, with the Doctor realizing The Moment actually saved the planet, instead of killing it. I expect this will be the running theme throughout series 9.
We never found out who frowned the Twelfth Doctor his face. It was mentioned in an interview way back when Capaldi was cast that Moffat wanted to make the fact that Capaldi’s appearances in The Fires of Pompeii and Torchwood matter in the context of the Doctor’s current regeneration. Hence the reason, in Deep Breath, Capaldi makes such a big deal about his reflection. After this we don’t get much closure. We can expect this to be answered, if not next season, then sometime soon after. Probably by the time Capaldi chooses to leave.
Who the heck is Gus? On Mummy on the Orient Express it was Gus that gathered that team of elite scientists, professors and doctors together onto the train to learn the secret of the Foretold mummy. We never do figure out who this Gus guy is, or why he’s such a jerk. It’s never expressly mentioned to be Missy. But at the same time Gus knows the number to the Doctor’s TARDIS, as does Missy.
Will we be getting news of a new companion sooner rather than later? If Clara is indeed pregnant, that’s as good a reason as any to stop traveling, and she’s already said her disjointed and lying goodbye. Peter Capaldi also expressed his desire in an interview to get a new TARDIS. I hope not. He rocks that TARDIS set much better than Smith ever did. Oh well.
All in all, Doctor Who remains my favorite program another year. Long may it live. But here’s a question for you guys: The show is already run primarily by major fans of the series… Would the production quality be aided positively or negatively if (hypothetically) the BBC was removed from the equation and the series was crowd funded on a yearly basis? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.