Last week I reviewed Doctor Who: Series 8, Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Twelfth Doctor. As promised, this week I’m delving into Doctor Who: Complete Series 9*, Jenna Coleman’s last season as Clara Oswald.
Series 9 wowed me from the get-go in ways that Series 8 hadn’t. In fact, it felt much more similar to Matt Smith’s final season and Jenna Coleman’s first. The Doctor and Clara’s camaraderie was on shaky ground for most of Series 8, but after a triumphant reunion in Series 9’s opening Inception-style Christmas Special, they’re finally on equal, complementary footing again.
And it’s awesome.
Series 9 is composed mostly of two-parters with only three stand-alone episodes, if you count the bookending Christmas Specials. And except for “Under the Lake”/”Before the Flood,” which have some pretty spooky overtones, they’re excellent! The moral dilemmas of “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witch’s Familiar” (don’t worry, no actual witches involved), for example, are not only believable but beautifully resolved. Plus, we get to see the hilarious villain Missy again (she is way too much fun) and DALEKS!
“Doctor Who meets A Bug’s Life” is the best way to describe “The Girl Who Died,” which I really enjoyed; its sequel, “The Woman Who Lived,” isn’t quite as sharp, but still fun and critical to the complex, tragic character development of Ashildr (the Viking girl seen above, played by Maisie Williams).
“The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion” is my favorite two-parter. It’s just good storytelling. The parallels to current events are obvious but tastefully handled, the high stakes are balanced well with alternating humor and emotion, and the Doctor’s passionate speech at the end is one of my favorite scenes ever.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara are closer than they’ve ever been. She makes him cue cards so he’ll know how to respond appropriately in emotional situations; he helps her students with school assignments; he fights tooth and nail for her; she refuses to let him face any danger alone. The guy who once insisted he “wasn’t a hugging person anymore” now literally sweeps her off her feet in unexpected hugs and she cuddles him while they’re at the Tardis console. When he thinks he’s about to die she bellows down the phone at him, “If you love me in any way, you’ll come back!“–while he tells her to her face that one day the memory of her will hurt so much he won’t be able to breathe.
However you want to define it, the Doctor and Clara do love each other–and it affects everything they do. (And I mean, she did admit he’s the only man besides Danny Pink who she would ever marry, so…there’s that.)
possibly romantic fluff, however, are overshadowed by the coming of an ominous Gallifreyan legend, the Hybrid. Nobody really knows what it is except that it’s the combination of two powerful warrior races that will “stand over the ruins of Gallifrey and unravel the Web of Time, breaking a billion hearts to heal its own.” What–or who–is the Hybrid? Is it half-Time Lord, half-Dalek? Half-human, half-Mire, like Ashildr? Or is it not just one person, but two? A Time Lord and…a human?
This question finds its answer in the epic three-parter conclusion: “Face the Raven,” “Heaven Sent,” and “Hell Bent.”
I already knew Clara would sacrifice her life for Rigsy, an old friend from Series 8, in “Face the Raven”–but that didn’t mean her death was any less shocking. As Clara prepares to take Rigsy’s wrongfully-imposed death sentence she urges the Doctor not to take revenge, to be brave, and to be “a little proud” of her. He can hardly speak, and for once there’s nothing he can do; he can only kiss her hand and beg her to stay with him. But Clara knows she can’t stay this time. She whispers goodbye, walks out into the street, and faces her death with quiet courage. I cried and cried. It was devastating.
Turns out there are more powerful forces at work, though, and the Doctor ends up trapped in a mysterious castle in an unknown universe for a very, very long time. I really don’t want to spoil the reason why–I don’t even think I could without a long-winded explanation of Gallifreyan traditions–but suffice it to say I have never, ever, watched anything like “Heaven Sent” before in my life. It was so well-done, so intricate, and so original, I could probably watch it three or four times and still catch something new.
(Can I just say, too, what an incredible actor Peter Capaldi is? I already knew he was good, but he was absolutely breathtaking in this one.)
After the otherworldly mysteries of “Heaven Sent,” however, we go straight into the grand finale, “Hell Bent,” in which the Doctor finally finds himself back on his home planet and does everything he can to get Clara back. It’s an emotional roller-coaster from beginning to end, with the Doctor at the end of his rope, chaos on Gallifrey, Clara’s return, and stunning revelations–but it ends with the Doctor and Clara getting to save each other one last time. And it’s right and it’s good…even if it’s bittersweet.
We learn who the Hybrid is, and we learn why it–or rather, they–are so dangerous. But we also get to see the Hybrid heal its own heart, just as the prophecy foretold. It’s an appropriate end, in my opinion, for the Clever Boy and the Impossible Girl, both of whom have been sacrificing everything for each other since the very beginning.
I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting my personal collection of Doctor Who DVDS for many years to come. I know there’s a lot more of the show out there–50-plus years’ worth!–but I’ve already laughed and cried and scolded and critiqued and fallen just a bit in love with (*ahem*) Certain Characters…and whenever I do that, it usually means I’ve found myself a good story.
So even if the Doctor and Clara’s tale is all I ever get to see, I’d say it’s been well worth the emotional investment.