I have to admit, I’m so excited about posting my first review on this new blog. I’m double-excited because it’s all about my new favorite show–and triple-excited because it’s all about my new favorite show’s first season with my new favorite Doctor!
My last Doctor Who review focused on Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two*, starring Matt Smith (AKA Prince Philip in The Crown) as the eleventh incarnation of the time-traveling Doctor, and Jenna Coleman as his new companion Clara Oswald. By the time I finished Series 7, the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and Eleven’s final Christmas Special The Time of the Doctor, I was very fond not only of Clara but of the Doctor himself.
But there’s only one way a show like this can last for 50+ years: the same guy can’t play the Doctor forever. So…he “regenerates” every few years. He’s usually injured (often in an act of self-sacrifice) and regenerates into a new body–which means we say goodbye to the previous actor and hello to a new one. After getting so attached to Eleven, I didn’t want to say goodbye! But my curiosity was piqued by the cliff-hanger conclusion of The Time of the Doctor when Eleven transformed into Twelve in front of Clara–so I got Doctor Who: Season 8* and Doctor Who: Complete Series 9* with some of my birthday money.
And all my fears were completely groundless.
Someone: “So when did you fall in love?”
Me, dreamily: “Oh, when he started raving about ‘attack eyebrows’ and being Scottish in a late-Victorian alleyway.”
Matt Smith is wonderful. No doubt about that. And he is my first Doctor–I’ll always love him! But Peter Capaldi is incandescently brilliant. He blows all your expectations out of the water. His Doctor is much older, more serious, more socially-awkward–but he’s also more emotionally vulnerable, and still very, very funny. Don’t be fooled by that flinty front or those eyebrows: he’s actually got a heart the size of Texas. And trust me: he is just plain COOL. I screeched when he beat Robin Hood in the archery tournament. (Oh yes, that did happen.)
Series 8 is all about Twelve coming into his own and navigating his relationship with his best friend, Clara Oswald. As for Clara, she really doesn’t know at first if she can keep traveling with him. He just seems so different from the quirky sweetheart she knew–and yet she knows, deep down, that he is the same person. But then she’s also got a new boyfriend, and that causes major problems.
Throw in a whole story arc involving the Doctor’s longtime nemesis and fellow Gallifreyan, the Master/Missy, and this series was loaded with tension and character development.
Sometimes this did get frustrating, for two reasons:
Number One: I’m not a fan of love triangles (sorry, non-Doctor/Clara shippers, but I don’t know how else to describe the whole Doctor/Clara/Danny problem). At times I even wanted to smack Clara a la Edna Mode because she made some very stupid decisions in this situation. (*Edna voice* You–are in love–with the Doctor–pull–yourself–togethah!!!)
Number Two: I found the story of Missy’s Army of the Dead rather disturbing on biblical grounds. Obviously, souls cannot be filed away in a database to be resurrected as Cybermen soldiers. The fact that Missy portrayed the database as “the afterlife” only made it more creepy. This wasn’t an issue for most episodes, but it did escalate in the two-part series finale. When my sister watched it I only showed her the most important scenes in Part 1 and moved on to Part 2, which was much less icky.
However, both the Doctor and Clara’s character development were outstanding. Doctor Who, like Star Trek, is a character-driven show: the episodes’ independent plots may be loosely connected by an over-arching story or mystery (in this case, Missy’s Cybermen army), but each one is driven by the same characters and their own emotional journeys.
Series 8 begins with the Doctor wrestling with his new, abrasive personality, wondering if he really is a good man–but ends with him cheerfully accepting that he’s just “an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning!” The very fact that he agonized so much over whether or not he was a good man proves that he is one. He’s not perfect. He may be a Time Lord with a massive intellect, but he’s still limited, still finite, still prone to terrible blunders. But so long as he is never cruel and never cowardly, he will always be a hero.
And while the Doctor learns how to balance between heart and head, logic and emotion, truth and compassion, Clara learns how to truly help, trust, and love him even when neither of them are being very lovable. Clara makes some really dumb moves in this series: she tells way too many lies, lets her emotions get the better of her, and totally misdirects her anger when tragedy strikes. (To be honest, I think a lot of this is mostly just Steven Moffat having to rewrite her whole story after Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman turned out to have such smashing chemistry and everybody realized that any other boyfriend figure was *ahem* totally unnecessary–but I digress.)
That said, Clara quickly realizes that Twelve is not Eleven, and that he needs her desperately. “She’s my carer,” he says. “She cares so I don’t have to.” Of course, that’s rubbish. The Doctor cares very much. But Clara definitely brings out the softer side in him. She is the McCoy to his Spock. As you might expect, this does lead to some epic shouting matches, but it also leads to a greater understanding of each other. By the end of the series Clara and the Doctor can practically finish each other’s thoughts, and even when she betrays him in a horrific way and asks him why he still wants anything to do with her, his reply is simple and honest:
Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?
It’s a mind-blowing moment because you realize, quite abruptly, that the Doctor really will do anything for Clara. And as we see in the series’ cliffhanger conclusion, she will do the same for him.
Series 8 was full of good old-fashioned fun (“Robot of Sherwood,” “Flatline”), nail-biting suspense (“Listen,” “The Mummy on the Orient Express”) and some unfortunate weirdness (mainly “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven”)–and in spite of some caveats, I really enjoyed it. But here’s your sneak peek for my next post: Series 9 was incredible, and I haven’t cried that hard for a TV show since last year’s Call the Midwife.
But apparently people have been crying over Doctor Who for years, so I’m nothing unusual. As the Doctor would say,
Ah, there is nothing new under the sun!
(*pauses a beat*)
Above it, on the other hand…