Tonight I wanted to do something a little different, and actually talk about something rather than abstract stuff as I have frequently.
As fate would have it, the past week has given me some time to let the recent finale of Doctor Who's 8th (rebooted) season sink in.
I came back to Doctor Who after a pretty lengthy absence. Somewhere in the midst of season 7's first half (in 2012), I'd lost interest and stopped keeping up with things - and by that point I was already forcing myself to sit through some of the episodes just to see Rory die again and again or Matt Smith's Doctor find a new way to reset everything again and again.
The premise of a new Doctor sounded like great news to me, and rekindled my interest. And, simultaneously as I started the new series, I decided to go back and watch all of those episodes I hadn't yet seen.
Funnily enough, these turned out to be some of the best damn episodes of Doctor Who I'd seen in years. Matt Smith made a complete switch for me, from being an okay Doctor to a very memorable and likable one. The stories got better, to the point that nearly every episode in season 7's second half was interesting to me.
It occurred to me that this is a trend with Doctor Who, with every new Doctor. It's true of David Tennant just as much as it is Matt Smith: Things get better in the later seasons.
I'm not sure why this is exactly, but it just is. Maybe it takes a while for each Doctor to really come into their own. Maybe it's the companions become more interesting later on - not saying I didn't like Rose or Amy, I did, but their characters and stories did become kind of repetitive after a short while. Or maybe, everything just gets more exciting when each Doctor has a few seasons of continuity under their belts which can be drawn from.
I kept this thought in mind, as I watched most of 13th Doctor Peter Capaldi's premiere season unfold.
In my opinion, the season premiere was easily one of the best episodes of this season. Deep Breath was an elongated episode, and aside from introducing Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, it gave us the chance to see how confusing it can be for a companion when their warm and friendly Doctor suddenly dies and is reborn as a colder and more detached version of himself.
The episode saw the return of the Paternoster Gang, following up on the events of the last season finale and specials, and featured an alien menace that killed beings for individual body parts to build organic bodies for its people. There was also a dinosaur, just because.
The thing I thought was cool, was that the antagonist was the Clockworks, a Steven Moffat-created villain from back during David Tennant's run. Originally robots from the future, these more modern Clockworks have grown to become more human and less robotic. Even still, it couldn't prevent them from being evil monsters.
Deep Breath had many memorable scenes, and is one of the best introductory episodes of Doctor Who I've ever seen - right up there with Eccleston meeting Piper and yelling, "Run!", and Smith having fish sticks and custard with a young Amy Pond. It served as a nice opener to the series, and introduced a strange new character that could meet with people who crossed paths with the Doctor after they died.
...And this was actually probably my least-favorite episode of the season. Into the Dalek, it seems, was there just for the sake of giving us a new Dalek episode for a new Doctor. The Doctor meets up with some people who are trying to fix a broken Dalek, and to do so, they get hit by a shrink ray and go inside of the Dalek's body.
Some things about the episode were cool, such as the way the Daleks are shown to have a system of nano-antibodies that swarm through its body and kill intruders who draw attention to themselves. Or the way comparisons were drawn between the Doctor and the Daleks, with the Dalek in question telling the Doctor that he would make a good Dalek.
But I can't help but become annoyed by some of these military episodes of DW, where 'soldiers' are played by scrawny young men and women. I get that this is the future and all, and maybe any old person can be trained as a soldier... But there's no muscle, no intensity there... And it almost feels like the casting people pick any old person off of the street or go to fan conventions to select the folks for these roles.
Likewise, the episode just felt like filler. It didn't feel like the Dalek-introduction episode that Capaldi's Doctor deserved. But, I am almost certain there will be more chances for him to do battle with the show's most iconic villains. As it stands, certainly not the worst episode of DW ever, though.
I know I'm gonna catch some flak for this, but gosh-dernitt, I kind of liked this episode. I wouldn't say it was a stand-out episode of the season, but it wasn't bad. At least the actors they chose really looked the part - for Robin Hood, his Merry Men, and the Sheriff of Nottingham - and that's more than I can say for the people who were in the previous episode.
It was cheesy and weird, but I liked that about it. Watching an iconic character like Robin Hood match wits with the Doctor and seeing their different approaches to situations was comical. And I liked that the show took liberties with history by suggesting that maybe Robin Hood really did exist, but someone wrote the book about him.
Not true at all, but a novel idea nonetheless - this could open the door to making other fictional characters such as Sherlock Holmes real in the DW Universe. Do I smell a Sherlock-Doctor Who cross-over?
This was another really stand-out episode from the season, right up there with Deep Breath. Listen will likely see its events revisited later on since much in the episode was never completely addressed, as with many other episodes of this season, but I think this was one of the first episodes of the season that felt like it could really stand strong on its own without serving as part of an arc.
The episode began with The Doctor spending a lot of time alone in the TARDIS thinking, while Clara began dating her co-worker Danny. The Doctor comes to the conclusion that there is someone or something watching him whenever he is alone, and that he needs to listen for it and find out what it is.
The Doctor uses Clara's direct mental input to the TARDIS to lock-in on a memory and take the TARDIS to the time and place of the memory, resulting in them landing in the childhood of Danny instead of Clara since she was thinking about him. Another attempt takes them to the far future, where they meet a man who looks oddly similar to Danny and may be a descendant of his.
But the real kicker of the episode is when we get a glimpse into The Doctor's personal childhood, as a loner on Gallifrey. Clara is the first companion who the Doctor technically meets, hidden under his bed when a group of adults come to check up on him overnight. Clara reassures the Doctor, and helps contribute to shaping him into the man who he eventually becomes. The episode concludes that there never really was anything there when the Doctor was alone, except for maybe his childhood fears.
Time Heist was kind of a cool episode this season, one of the better ones. The way it was structured was different, and it made me feel like this was Doctor Who-meets-Ocean's Eleven.
The Doctor, Clara, and two other people wake up in a room with a briefcase, their memories erased - by the memory worms from the Snowmen special! They are given an objective - to break into a secure bank and steal something. But the bank is guarded by a powerful monster who can use psychic powers to liquify the brains of dishonest bank patrons.
I liked the guest characters in the episode - Psi and Saibra. Psi is an expert hacker with a computer database built into his brain, and Saibra has the ability to transform to look like whomever she touches. They use their abilities to help the Doctor and Clara on their mission, so Psi can recover the memories he deleted and Saibra can get an antidote to do away with her powers and be able to touch people without changing.
It's kind of disappointing that Saibra lost her powers, since they could come in handy like they did during the episode. Both she and Psi would have made some interesting future companions for the Doctor.
The Doctor ultimately went to the bank to help the monster, whose mate is locked away within the bank. Another happy ending!
I think by episode 6, halfway through the season, I had come to a realization: Peter Capaldi's Doctor was not really all that dark and mysterious as had been advertised. Cold, maybe. Unsure of himself, yes. But one thing he was for certain, was funny as hell.
The Caretaker was one of my less-favorite episodes of the season, but it still had its moments. I guess I would rate it somewhere alongside Robots of Sherwood. From a series arc perspective, the episode was important in showing the progression of Danny as a main character, and his interaction with the Doctor. It also had the Doctor doing some new things, more so than many of the other episodes of the season.
Most of the episode focused on the Doctor taking a job as a custodian at Clara and Danny's elementary school - primarily to use the opportunity to stop an alien living under the school, but also to be obnoxious and snoop in on Clara's personal life.
Something that was funny and at the same time reflective was the way in which the Doctor hoped and assumed Clara was interested in the scholarly man who looked somewhat like the 12th Doctor, and completely shrugged off someone different for her like Danny. In a way, it made me not so certain that the Doctor didn't want Clara to have feelings for him after all, though maybe he really did just want to make sure she found someone good for herself.
One thing I liked about this episode was that The Doctor used a lot of different kinds of tools and inventions that he'd never used before. He made several tracking devices and placed them around the school, he made a device for teleporting the monster somewhere else, and he whipped up a fancy James Bond-esque watch that lets him turn invisible. If nothing else, this episode certainly serves as a reference point for showing that this new Doctor is quite an engineer and likes using more gizmos than the usual sonic screwdriver and psychic paper.
Seeing the Doctor take on the role of a reluctant caretaker to rebellious children was also fun. While I look forward to seeing Capaldi's Doctor in more serious situations, these lighthearted encounters will be memorable ones.
I've read that a lot of people really didn't like this episode, with some calling it the worst of this season. I don't really agree. I don't think it's nearly as bad as Into the Dalek, and there were some things I really enjoyed about the episode. Mostly, that ending.
Okay, so the thing that really did bother me about the episode was the way the answer to everything was to do nothing. And the Doctor was going to leave an important decision in the hands of Clara, and ultimately she was about to make the wrong choice until he intervened. It was a good setup for showing that Clara is a bit of an uncertain person, and it gave her good reason to be mad at the Doctor for being so detached and thoughtless of her feelings.
I wasn't bothered by the show taking liberties with the moon being not really a moon at all, but an egg waiting to hatch into an awesome space-dragon. I thought that was the coolest part! Before the show actually confirmed this information, the thought had crossed my mind - so I guess I liked that the writers' heads were in the same place as mine. It also would be cool to see this creature again, sometime during Capaldi's run. It calls to mind the Star Whale, the creature who the 12th Doctor saved in episode 2 of his run.
The spiders being not spiders at all, but germ organisms was also cool. Seeing the girl kill one with disinfectant was kind of like seeing Mickey kill the Slitheen with salt. I don't think it was necessarily a stand-out title from the season, but it was a decent one.
This was a stand-out episode of the series, in my honest opinion. I really ended up liking Mummy on the Orient Express, it was a clever little episode. It felt kind of like a strong solo episode, and I didn't predict anything that was going on so it was kind of surprising. It also gets a thumbs-up for Clara lookin' mighty-fine!
So basically in this episode Clara is about to leave, but comes with the Doctor for one last hurrah. They go to the Orient Express for a relaxing final outing, on a train that travels through space. Of course, the train just so happens to have a monster aboard - a mummy that appears every couple of hours to kill someone, and can only be seen by the person who it is about to kill.
Several people die until it's realized that most of the passengers and boxcars on the train are computer simulations, and a computer program named Gus is challenging a group of the most intelligent people in the galaxy to figure out how to stop the mummy. The Doctor discovers that the mummy was a soldier, and stops it by surrendering to it, freeing the soldier from its endless mission and using its cloaking technology to teleport the passengers safely off of the train.
Clara can't get over the thrill of traveling with the Doctor and decides to stick around.
So far a lot of cool new villains have been introduced this season. Dalek anti-bodies, the Doctor's fears, a monster that can turn your brains to soup, a space dragon and a soldier in futuristic gear that looks like a mummy. Flatline introduced another really strong contender with a creature that can bend the dimensions, turning fat, 2-dimensional objects into 3D ones, and vice-versa.
The monster does this by blending in with its surroundings, and creating murals and paintings, then swallowing up its victims and turning them into a background decoy to prevent suspicion. It saps the energy of the TARDIS to gain this power, in the process causing the TARDIS to become physically smaller on the outside, and draining its shields. In this episode we get to see the TARDIS in its basic form!
Clara takes on the role of the Doctor for most of the episode, while the Doctor acts as her guide and pocket companion. Seeing Capaldi's face peeking out of a tiny TARDIS doorway was comedy gold, and really gave us more insight into the technical details of the TARDIS and how it works. At the end of the episode little is learned about the new dimensional enemy, and the Doctor has no choice but to angrily banish them away with force, unable to communicate effectively with them.
Flatline was another really cool, kind of creepy episode from this season. I'd rank it up there with Mummy on the Orient Express and Time Heist, at least.
This was really one of my least-favorite episodes of the entire season. I didn't dislike it as much as Into the Dalek... Maybe I actually liked it about as much as Kill the Moon? I don't know. The thing is, it felt like this episode had some serious loose ends.
Things I did like about this episode... Okay, there were a few. Danny being very heroic was probably pretty high up there. I think by this point, I'd grown to really like his character. Tigers are no joke, and that seemed like a smart way of fending one off. Not an animal expert or anything, but still.
I liked that trees are shown to have many more important roles according to DW, as a powerful shield that can grow to massive heights and pump the atmosphere with oxygen, to protect it from destructive cosmic forces. It sounds crazy, but then there is much we don't know about life and the universe, so it's another embellishment I liked - maybe as much as the moon being an egg that a dragon hatches from.
Most importantly, I liked how this episode showed Clara and Danny in a different light. Clara was shown to be more irresponsible and thoughtless, while Danny was shown to be very protective of the kids and mature in his relationship with Clara. By the end of the episode, I think I was convinced that Danny is capable of being a good man for Clara. I was also convinced that there is more going on with Clara than meets the eye.
I didn't like how, for the second time this season, the answer to the problems was just to do nothing. Cutting the trees down was the problem, do nothing and let the planet handle it. Destroying the moon isn't the answer, let it hatch first to see that the shell will harmlessly break apart and the dragon will fly away withing ravaging the planet. I think it is in mankind's nature to do something, to be part of our lives and our fate. One episode where nothing was the answer was okay, but two so closely together? It just seems like too much of the same idea all at once.
What I liked least was, ironically, the thing I liked most about Kill the Moon. That ending. The episode has a little girl with problems seeing and interacting with strange forest faeries, and at the end of it all, her long-lost sister turns up inside of a bush. I'm all for happy endings, but I felt like there was no real rhyme or reason there. Hopefully there is more to that, but if there isn't, I'm okay with just moving along and forgetting that part of the episode... Much in the same way humanity will probably forget about those trees ever magically sprouting.
The first part of the series finale. Okay, the finale was pretty good, actually there were things I liked about both parts of the final episode. I don't think either episode was really the best that the season had to offer, however. But as far as dark and sad, I think these were two of the darker, sadder episodes of the season.
Dark Water begins with something rather unexpected. Clara calls Danny, Clara finally professes her love for Danny, Danny crosses the street, Danny is struck and killed by a motor vehicle. Ouch. Clara yet again experiences a drastic change in personality this season.
This leads into an epic scene of betrayl - Clara blackmails the Doctor into throwing away all of his TARDIS keys if he won't take her to the afterlife to bring Danny back from the dead. This turns out to be a test of the Doctor's, a hologram he created to see how Clara would react, and she failed. It was a bit disappointing, but you've gotta admit - throwing away TARDIS keys can't keep the Doctor out of his TARDIS - especially when he can open the door with the snap of his fingers!
The Doctor agrees to go to the afterlife to get Danny back, however, forgiving Clara for her outburst. The Clara-Doctor friendship rekindled, the two travel to the site of Danny's afterlife using the TARDIS memory link from Listen. There they find the deceased relaxing underwater in the seated position, and the mysterious Missy character from throughout the season introduces herself as a robot guide for the afterlife... Only to confirm it's a ruse shortly afterward.
An afterlife worker explains that the deceased are placed in something called dark water, through which only organic material appears. A short while later, it's revealed that the bodies of the deceased are actually turned into Cybermen, and the dark water is used to hide that little piece of information. Honestly, that was a freaky part of the episode - didn't expect the dead people to be Cybermen!
Missy shows up and kills one of her assistants on the spot, and then releases the Cybermen outside of the building. When the Doctor and Missy step outside, he finds himself in London. Missy then reveals that she is his old nemesis, The Master. How? What? I don't know. Last time we saw the Master, he died. Then he was brought back to life by a cult, and then became a power-hungry zombie that needed to kill people and absorb their energy to continue living. And then, he sacrificed himself to save the Doctor from Rassilon. And was apparently trapped with Gallifrey in time-lock.
The final episode of the season. It was, again, a pretty good episode, though probably not the best episode of the season. It was really a mixed bag - a lot happened, much of it which we have yet to see explained.
The episode begins with a wild and, to some extent, not fully-clarified opening wherein Clara announces that she is the Doctor, and Clara Oswald never existed. Though she later writes this off as a lie, many other oddities surrounding Clara have yet to be cleared up - I'll come back to that in a few moments.
Meanwhile the Mistress causes rainstorms to appear over graveyards and mortuaries, causing the dead who come in contact with it to turn into Cybermen. An army of Cybermen begin to overtake Earth, outnumbering the living.
Danny ultimately became a cyberman, regardless of whatever decision he made to be cremated or not, though a part of him hasn't been activated yet which stops him from feeling anything. Danny rescues Clara from other Cybermen and tasks her with activating the switch and putting him out of his misery.
The episode marked the return of UNIT, taking both the Doctor and the Mistress into custody. The Doctor is informed that he is now the President of Earth, a title created specially for him when the world is faced with dire circumstances. The Mistress taunts the Doctor by telling him she knows where Gallifrey is, but won't tell him. She eventually frees herself and kills most of the crew members by summoning Cybermen to blast holes in the plane.
Clara convinces the Doctor to help her turn Danny into a full Cyberman. The Mistress then gives the Doctor a bracelet to have control over the Cybermen, so he can have his own army. The Doctor, reflecting on the type of man he is, determines that he isn't a good man or a bad man, but an idiot with a box. He decides to give the bracelet to Danny, since he is keeping his promise to protect Clara even in death, and Danny leads the Cybermen to fly into the atmosphere and self-destruct.
The Mistress gives the Doctor the coordinates to Gallifrey, telling him it's in the original place it had been. After this, she is abruptly killed by a lone Cyberman. The head of UNIT, who is found alive, recognizes the Cyberman as her father, the deceased Brigadier-General from the original series of Doctor Who. He, too, heads off to self-destruct.
The episode ends with Danny getting a chance to come back to life, but using the opportunity to revive the young civilian boy he killed in the war. Clara hides her unhappiness and lies to the Doctor, telling him Danny is alive and they are well. The Doctor lies and says he found Gallifrey, when in actuality the Mistress seems to have lied yet again about the coordinates. The Doctor and Clara part ways, and the Doctor is abruptly stopped by Santa Claus (played by Nick Frost), who confronts the Doctor and realizes that he and Clara aren't truly happy.
Peter Capaldi's first tenure as The Doctor was a very different kind of trip. While there were similarities to previous seasons, it felt wholly less warm and fuzzy than the Tennant and Smith years. And yet, at the same time, perhaps the Doctor doesn't seem nearly as different as I had thought he would be. He isn't a completely stern and rude Doctor. And despite his insistence that he is not in a relationship with Clara, he still seems to hint at the idea of wanting one from time to time. There is much to like about the 13th Doctor, and yet, it feels like we've barely scratched the surface of this man's range as the Doctor. Let's not forget, this was only his first tenure - if history has proven anything, it's that season 9, 10, and beyond will likely be even better.
Clara, too, has been a surprisingly pleasing companion in her second full season. I know not everyone would agree with me on that point, but it seems like there is a lot to her character. In fact, I feel like we still have a lot of mysteries to solve involving the 'Impossible Girl'. Firstly, she has been all over the Doctor's time-stream, and she has visited him in his childhood - right now she has had a greater impact on The Doctor's life than any other single companion. Secondly, we still don't know why River Song was able to communicate with Clara last season despite being dead. And, perhaps lastly, we still don't know entirely why The Mistress went to elaborate lengths to introduce The Doctor to Clara. There is more than meets the eye to Clara. Also, proclaiming she is the Doctor? That was still kind of weird. Definitely see the show needing more time with Clara, at some point or another.
A lot has to be explained about The Mistress, for example how he became a she, or how he is even still alive. Wouldn't Rassilon have dealt with him? A lot remains unclear there. And I think it goes without saying that we haven't seen the last of Missy. It almost feels like the Master will be part of a longer plot with Capaldi's Doctor, much in the same way the original Master bumped heads with Tom Baker's Doctor at key points in his run. So for now, maybe we shouldn't think too much about those gaping plot-holes, because they are likely this Doctor's 'cracks in the wall' which will take some time to explain.
Much of this season was also meant to reflect on older episodes, as I understand it. A lot of this stuff goes right over my head, mostly because I'm unfamiliar with the original series, and also because I try to just focus on the present. It's hard to tell what piece of information will come up again at some later point in this show.
I think looking forward, there is a lot to expect from season 9. New companions, new monsters, the return of more classic enemies, another seasonal arc, and hopefully some other surprises. Speaking of this season's arc, I guess a lot still remains to be explained about the place where souls were being stored in the afterlife. A lot will have to be addressed.
One thing's for sure, Series 8 went by way too fast. But at least we'll have the Christmas special to look forward to soon!