Doctor Who Series 8 Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Season: Series 8 (New Who)
  • Episodes:  12
  • Discs:  5
  • Network: BBC
  • Cast:  Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

Doctor Who gets a new Doctor – Peter Capaldi with Series 8, however Steven Moffat is still the show’s “showrunner”, what in the US would be termed the executive producer. I had looked forward very much to seeing a new Doctor, because I never really warmed-up to Matt Smith. And this wasn’t just not liking Smith because he wasn’t Tennant. I’ve seen all of Doctor Who, all now twelve Doctors, plus John Hurt’s The War Doctor. I have my favorites – Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, and David Tennant, but I don’t really dislike any of the Doctors. I see each actor as emphasizing an aspect or different aspects of the Doctor’s personality.

Series 8 starts with an extended episode, “Deep Breath”, which was shown in movie theaters around the US. I saw it in the theater and on BBCAmerica. Re-watching it on DVD I was reminded just how good the script was. There were a lot of references to “The Girl in the Fireplace”, of course, because the service robots / androids were basically the same as the one’s in “Girl in the Fireplace” and the ship they originally came from was sister-ship to the Madame de Pompadour. But the episode made a point not only about the robots being, as the Doctor puts it, “a broom” (“you have a broom and you replace the handle, then later you replace the brush – is it still the same broom?”) which had obvious connections to the Doctor who’s having trouble with his regeneration. However, unlike other regeneration crisis stories (which have occurred since Pertwee), where it’s the Doctor who’s having an issue figuring out who he is – or the Doctor is actually physically sick, such as he’s half-conscious, in “Deep Breath” it’s Clara who has the problem. She literally cannot see that Capaldi is the Doctor, and her first reaction is to tell Mde. Vastra and Jenny to “change him back”.

There are some obvious issues with this. First, ever since the show came back in 2005, the show runners, both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have emphasized the role of the companion, and shown the companion to be a POV-character for the audience. Now, watching Doctor Who when I was young, I always wanted to be the Doctor, not his companion, (but I always wanted to be Sherlock Holmes not Watson, or Batman not Robin, too. Maybe it’s just wanting to identify with the hero not his entourage.) Though I also prefer stories that have a strong duo or ensemble cast. But that’s me.

But in “Deep Breath” with Clara saying “he’s not the Doctor, bring back the Doctor, change him back, etc” it makes her look somewhat stupid. Clara saw him regenerate – and she still doesn’t get it? There have been more than one companion on Doctor Who who didn’t actually see the regeneration – but they still get that the Doctor is still the Doctor. The Brigadier, doesn’t actually see Troughton become Pertwee, but he accepts that Pertwee is the Doctor. He then sees Pertwee become Tom Baker, and not only accepts him immediately – but from that point on, he’s able to recognize the Doctor on sight, no matter who the Doctor is. In Mawdryn Undead, that the Brigadier doesn’t not recognize Peter Davison not because he’s “not Tom Baker” but because of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect (he meets himself and it short-circuits his brain). Though Mawdryn Undead is also the story where somebody got the dating of the UNIT stories completely wrong. Sigh.

So, in “Deep Breath”, Clara can’t accept that the new Doctor is the Doctor. From a character standpoint, that makes her look dumb because she saw it happen – and she still can’t believe it. But it’s also an issue in a meta sense, and Steven Moffat is a very meta writer. That Clara, the audience POV character, cannot accept the new Doctor, is Moffat’s slap-in-the-face reaction to his prediction that fans won’t like Capaldi. Moffat makes a lot of assumptions – fans won’t like Capaldi because he’s older, they won’t like him because he’s Scottish, etc, etc. That both puts a lot of weight on Capaldi’s shoulders (In effect, setting him up to fail and then on top of it saying, “And if the show tanks it’s all your fault.”) But it really undermines the audience and fans too – suggesting that they are too dumb to understand regeneration (they even use the term “renewed” instead) or that the audience is too fickle to also like a new, and older, Doctor.

But I was extremely excited to see a new Doctor, because I never really liked Matt Smith. But what I found was that, though I do like Capaldi’s take as The Doctor – I really, really don’t like Moffat as a showrunner and I want him gone. When I see him in interviews and doing PR for his show, he always seems very smug – but at the same time, he seems to really talk down to and not appreciate the fans. And it’s the fans and the audience – even the casual viewing audience that keep the show on the air and stronger than ever in terms of popularity. There’s other things I don’t like in what I’ve seen from Moffat (both on Doctor Who and occasionally on Sherlock).

However, another interesting take – both on the robots in “Deep Breath”, that the Doctor calls “a broom” and how the Doctor views his regeneration, is that by the end of the episode we do really understand what Clara’s lack of understanding is doing to the Doctor – and how her just up and leaving him would very much hurt him. I nearly cried when the Doctor talked about Clara seeing right through him and not seeing him. And, that tied back to Vastra talking to Clara through her veil – and Clara saying, “wait, when did you stop wearing your veil?” and Vastra responding, “When you stopped seeing it.” In other words, Clara began to accept Vastra for who she was, which allowed her to really see Vastra. Clara needed to really see the Doctor and accept him as the same person he always was, though he looks different. The phone call from the Eleventh Doctor, though a bit dicey in the logic department (how could the Doctor know that he’d need to call Clara or when and where to call her?). It made sense that Capaldi’s Doctor would remember the call – he made it, but how could Smith know? All I could think was somehow Capaldi’s Doctor sent a message to Matt Smith’s Doctor – which would explain him knowing his own future. That does, however, fly in the face of all the other multi-Doctor stories (The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, and the Two Doctors) where it’s clearly stated that the Doctor wouldn’t remember the events in his future once he “returned” to his past. But Capaldi’s reactions in that last scene just really got to me – it was brilliant!

Another aspect of “Deep Breath” was it introduced Missy. When I saw the season originally on BBCA, I really disliked Missy. I thought the interruptions with Missy made no sense whatsoever – but having seen the season finale “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven” – “Deep Breath” made a lot more sense. The introduction of Missy really did work. Her later appearances were, “meh”, until the finale, but the introduction does actually work.

The rest of the season is very episodic and almost seems to check off a list (we have to have a Dalek one, and a scary one, and an SF/space one, etc), but having said that – I quite liked several of the individual stories. I enjoyed “Robot of Sherwood”, because, like Clara, I’m also a Robin Hood fan – I’m a fan of that legend. And I caught the reference in the title to the brilliant series, Robin of Sherwood as well as the tonal references to the classic movie The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and Olivia deHaviland. And watching it again, I did notice that it was very sunny and warm-looking, which the Doctor states doesn’t look right for Nottingham Forest (makes perfect sense for Southern California though), so I do wonder where it was filmed, and since it was probably the UK – just how they got so lucky in the weather (or did they digitally grade the image to be brighter? Digital grading is usually used to make film darker, so I don’t even know if it can be used in reverse.) There was a lot of humor in the story, and using primitive technology to make a digital circuit was something we’d seen in “Fires of Pompeii”, but I felt the rest of the episode was so different it didn’t feel like a copy or a story stealing from a previous one. And the end was wonderful – and I don’t mean taking down a rocket ship with a bow and a golden arrow. I just loved Robin’s last conversation with the Doctor.

Robin: “Is it true? That in the future I am forgotten as a real man, I am but a legend?”

Doctor: “I’m afraid it is.”

Robin: “Hum. Good. History is a burden. Stories make us fly!”

Doctor: “I’m still having a little trouble believing yours, I’m afraid.”

Robin: “Is it so hard to credit? That a man, born into wealth and privilege can find the plight of the oppressed and weak too much to bear? Until one night he is moved to steal a TARDIS and fly among the stars, fighting the good fight. Clara told me your stories.”

Doctor: “She should not have told you any of that.”

Robin: “Well, once the stories started she could hardly stop herself. You are her hero, I think.”

Doctor: “I’m not a hero.”

Robin: “Well, neither am I. [long pause] But if we both keep pretending to be… perhaps, others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end.”

I really liked what that conversation had to say about stories, about heroes, and even how it showed the Doctor who had seemed almost prejudiced against Robin at the start, certainly dismissive of him, that he could finally see they had something in common.

“Listen” started as a very spooky episode, reminiscent of Classic Who, in a sense – until Clara grabs the Doctor’s ankle in the barn – and tells him it’s all just a dream. Yet again, we’re back to “Clara, Clara, Clara”, where everything is about her. Also, I didn’t understand why the Doctor would be sleeping in a barn, or why his parents’ house would even have a barn. We’ve seen Gallifrey before, and I don’t remember seeing a lot of barns.

Which is not to say I don’t like Clara or Jenna, the actress. I actually quite like Clara and I really like Jenna – she’s working with what she’s given, and Moffat has a very tight control over even his writers and directors – micro-managing them, and telling them how to do their jobs (watch the special features, it’s clear that Moffat micro-manages everyone, even Mark Gatiss, his partner on Sherlock and a long-time Doctor Who writer). The “Clara always provides the answer / Clara always saves everyone” is almost like what I’ve heard people say about Wesley on Star Trek the Next Generation, even the actor playing him – Wil Wheaton said, publically, on several occasions – “stop having Wesley save the ship every episode!”  It does a dis-service to the character of Clara to make her in charge most of the time.

“Time Heist” is clearly this season’s attempt to do a Caper Film, and it somewhat works – it even works when you know what the real goal of the heist is – and part of it sets up “In the Forest of the Night”.

“The Caretaker” was interesting in that almost the entire focus of the episode seems to be the conflict between Danny Pink and the Doctor. It’s at this point that the season does, in some ways, seem to resemble a sitcom (“This is Clara, a school teacher, and this is her boyfriend, Danny, and this is her ex-boyfriend who’s now her “crazy neighbor” the Doctor”) – that aspect of it, and of all the “Let’s base several stories on Earth, and show that Clara is continuing her normal life in between rushing off with the Doctor.” I mean, to me, that almost felt like she wasn’t a real companion then – leaving the Doctor to be very lonely.

“Kill the Moon” just made no sense – no sense at all. Even Clara’s choice of a method of communication is a bit dim – since the electric companies could over-rule what anyone decides individually. Having a Pheonix born from the moon was cool-looking, but it made no logical sense whatsoever.

“Mummy on the Orient Express” was another of my favorite episodes this season. It was really, the first time, we see the Doctor having a major role in the story. Clara gets locked in a storage closet for most of the episode, so she’s not really doing anything. And the end was a bit open-ended, which was both weird and a good way to further reflect on the Doctor’s character.

I didn’t really like “Flatline” because I felt the end was highly out of character for the Doctor. Since when does the Doctor commit genocide (other than, OK, yes, the occasional Dalek army)? I liked seeing Capaldi insist he was the protector of Earth (though again, we’ve seen that before, in “The Christmas Invasion”, Tennant’s first story) but to do that and completely destroy an entire other dimension of intelligent beings? Why?

“In the Forest of the Night” was weird the first time I saw it last year. This time around, I did still think it was more like a Torchwood story – but it was still cool to have that message of the “weird, alien trees are actually helping not invading” – which, in general, is more common on Doctor Who in some way, shape or form, than the previous story, which was “they are alien – kill them.”

“Dark Water”/”Death in Heaven” was pretty awesome. It was just awesome. Finally, everything gets wrapped up from the season (all the little Missy snippets, even the nonsensical ones now at least work in context) and it’s a complex story. Osgood’s end was frightening and upsetting – but I heard she’s coming back anyway (I’m guessing Missy’s gadget was a teleporter not a disintegrater ray). I was very glad to see Kate survive (I love Kate, I really do. She’s a great character). But Danny’s death I found very upsetting. And Missy’s treatment of the Doctor too. I found myself crying at the end of “Death in Heaven”.

I’d say that the overall theme of Series 8, wasn’t Missy – it was, “Who is the Doctor”? A concept that Moffat seems to be totally obsessed by. Remember all the “Doctor Who? Doctor Who? Doctor Who?” references throughout the Matt Smith era? But going over all the very diverse stories here, there is a common thread – and that is, who is the Doctor? Because he has a new face, does that make him someone else? (Deep Breath) Yet another Dalek telling the Doctor he’d “make a good Dalek” (Into the Dalek), cynical scientist (Robot of Sherwood), scared old man (Listen), honorable thief (Time Heist), Caretaker and Protector of Earth (The Caretaker), Disinterested bystander (Kill the Moon), Detective (Mummy on the Orient Express), the good scientist (In the Forest of the Night), stuck in his box/ Protector (Flatline), and then the season finale, which, really, brought up the Doctor’s old friendships – the Brigadier, Kate Stewart, Missy/the Master.

Doctor Who Series 8 comes with a full disc of extras, commentaries, and Disc One (“Deep Breath” only) contains several extras as well. It’s highly recommended. Do buy it and enjoy!

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Doctor Who “The Snowmen” (Christmas Special 2012)

  • Title:  ”The Snowmen”
  • Series:  Doctor Who
  • Cast:  Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Richard E. Grant, Ian McKellen (voice), Catrin Stewart, Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey

This is definitely my favorite Matt Smith Christmas special, but then I was somewhat disappointed by the previous two:  ”A Christmas Carol” (predictable, as is anything inspired by the Charles Dickens short story; though the fish in the fog were, um, whimsical – and impossible) and “The Doctor, A Widow, and the Wardrobe” (which just irritated me).  But, seriously, I really liked “The Snowmen”.

First, I really liked Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax.  I liked them so much I’d watch a spin-off about Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax set in the Victorian Era where they solve crime.  OK, yes, it’s a bit unbelievable that nobody noticed a lizard woman and a Sontaran in Victorian London, but somehow I just really, really loved those characters and I hope to see them again.  I know Madame Vastra and Strax were in “A Good Man Goes to War”.

I also loved, loved, loved Clara.  So much better than Amy Pond.  Now, I’m not one of the very vocal “Amy-haters” one finds on-line and at IRL conventions.  But, overall, Amy wasn’t one of my favorite companions, and I can’t even put my finger on why I didn’t like her (other than her life making no sense whatsoever).  I liked Rory better, and I thought he made more sense as a companion.  But I digress. Point is, I like Clara… in all her forms:  barmaid, governess, slightly insane Dalek, you name it.  I recently re-watched “Asylum of the Daleks” and actually enjoyed it more than the first time I saw it.  I hope Clara returns.  And, I hope Moffat doesn’t make her life too complex, like he did with Amy Pond.

I did have a question though – as soon as the Ice Governess pulled Clara off the cloud and into the sky… why didn’t the Doctor run to his TARDIS, disappear, and re-appear to catch her before she hit the ground? In the swimming pool if necessary.  After all, he’s done it before to save Dr. River Song.

So who is Clara?  How will she return?  Will she return? (The previews for the rest of Series 7 suggest she will).

The other part of the special I found very interesting was the Great Intelligence.  The Doctor at one point remarks, “It sounds familiar.”  It should – it did to me too, so I looked it up.  Here’s what I found:
Great Intelligence:  Entity from another dimension, which was exiled into ours, and condemned to hover between the stars and without substance.  It eventually took over Padmasambhava’s mind.  It planned to reincorporate itself and conquer Earth, when its gelatinous substance flowed through a pyramid gateway.  In spite of its robot Yeti, the Intelligence’s plan was thwarted by the Second Doctor, Jaime, Victoria, and Professor Travers in the mid-1930s.  The entity was banished when the Doctor held it in check mentally while Jaime and Thomni smashed its pyramid. (The Abominable Snowmen)
Thirty years later, Travers reactivated a robot Yeti’s silver sphere, which led the Intelligence to launch a new attack, this time in the London Underground.  It was again opposed by the Second Doctor, with the help of Travers, Jamie, Victoria, and Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart.  The Intelligence plotted to drain the Doctor’s mind, but the Doctor secretly reversed the polarities of the device, and would have turned the tables on his enemy if Jaime had not unwittingly wretched the device from the Doctor’s head at the last minute, thereby releasing the evil entity. (The Web of Fear)
Quote from:

Lofficier, Jean-Marc.  Doctor Who:  The Universal Databank, pp. 168-169, London: Doctor Who Books, Imprint of Virgin Publishing Ltd.

I also loved both the idea of the Doctor keeping his TARDIS up in the clouds, both physically away and separated from the world – and mentally and spiritually separated from helping people.  The Doctor has become cold indeed.  The new interior design I love, though, it’s so reminiscent of the late-70s/early-80s council rooms (prior to the stacked white boxes in the interior of the TARDIS council itself).  Clara climbing the staircase to “nowhere” reminded me both of “Jack-and-the-Beanstalk” and Mary Poppins.  Actually, Clara, as the magical governess, reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins.  OK, yes, Poppins was a nanny, but still, especially with the umbrella the Doctor gives her.  Very much Mary Poppins.

So who is Clara Oswin Oswald, really?  Is she a future Doctor?  A future River?  River or Amy’s future child?  Jenny – the Doctor’s Daughter?  And will she be back? I hope Mr. Moffat answers these questions!

UPDATE (9/6/2014):  The above review was written immediately after seeing “The Snowmen”.  As we know, Clara became the Doctor’s companion, and is the 12th Doctor’s Companion as well.  In terms of Moffat making her life too complex, we do have the “Impossible Girl” storyline which was wrapped up with Moffat turning Clara into a Mary Sue who spends her entire life saving the Doctor.  However, Series 8 seems to have forgotten entirely about that plot thread.Thank goodness.

Oh, and one more point, although the first story to feature the Great Intelligence, The Abominable Snowmen is still missing and presumed destroyed; the second, The Web of Fear is available on DVD.  The Doctor Who Missing Adventures (original paperback series) novel Downtime, also features the Great Intelligence and the Yeti (as well as Victoria, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith, and Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter).  My review of Downtime is on Goodreads.