By Charlie Higson
The stage was set for the new series, the 50th anniversary had passed and people were sadly but gratefully saying goodbye to Matt Smith’s Doctor. Many fans were lost along the way during the Smith era. The show was launched in the USA, bagging millions of new dedicated viewers but casual viewers became increasingly alienated from the show. Heartless writing and nonsensical story telling was too much for many, and season 6 and 7 are now considered the worst since the show’s return in 2005. Season 8 was an opportunity to go back to basics; stay simple, ease people in and introduce novices to the show. So, has it worked? Is Doctor Who back on form and heading in the right direction?
When bringing on a new version of the Doctor, a balance of change and conservation has to take place. Moffat’s Eleventh Hour (Series 5, episode 1) did this perfectly. We don’t want to see the same old things over again but we want the show to keep true to its core.
The obvious way that the new tone is set is with the main character himself. Matt Smith was silly and playful on the whole, but capable when it came to the deep thundering intensity required be the Doctor.
Immediately, we were given Capaldi’s Doctor, tumbling out of the Tardis in delirium, proving to us in the first half hour that the whimsey and clownishness of Smiths era was behind us. I can’t help but feel that should Capaldi’s Doctor have met Smith’s, he would have promptly smacked him upside the head and told him to calm down. Capaldi reminded us that It was time to start telling people to shut up again. Episode one of season 8, ‘Deep Breath’ lands somewhere in the mediocrity scale for story telling but does excellently for introducing the new Doctor. He brought anger and energy to the role that was reminiscent of Eccleston, with a bravado and temper that was something quite his own.
Capaldi has interacted with characters in a way that was unfamiliar. Early episodes saw Clara dealing with this change in a way that mirrored the viewers response. Subtly though, Capaldi managed to feed in a soft spot that was buried beneath 15 feet of insufferable bastard. He has certainly avoided the Colin Baker effect. Baker was infamous for creating an arrogant and volatile Doctor who was hated by most (often blamed for the original cancellation of the show). Capaldi does much of the same, but he’s a loveable bastard, a fine art to pull off.
The series has felt less directional, as was intended. Contained adventures were considered the way to ease new viewers in. As far as stories go, this season has been considered generally stronger that the previous two. Easier to follow and perhaps more imaginative. Episodes such as Flatline and Listen are now considered by some as amongst the best since the shows regeneration bringing forward fantastic pacing and fear back to the series.
The general arch of the show led to a rewarding reveal in the two part finale, but along the way it felt tacked on and familiar. A little mysterious scene here, a vague reference to evil there, that’ll do it. Admittedly, Moffat purposefully refrained from plummeting into a complex story arch for the sake of new viewers. Perhaps he took the hint that the utter nonsense of seasons 6 and 7 were, as stated, utter nonsense.
Episodes that were received less warmly in this series weren’t terrible (besides ‘In the Forest of the Night,’ every season needs one god-awful ep.). Episodes such as ‘The Caretaker’, ‘Robots of Sherwood’ and…*shudder* ‘In the Forest of the Night’, just fell flat for the same old reason. Great concept, awful execution. Reasons for this can be writing, casting, directing, nothing in particular that can be identified clearly amongst the mess.
One element that remained lacking up to the end of season 7 was Clara. Poor, two dimensional, annoying Clara. I for one was not too excited to spend another season with her. Writers had their work cut out for them to make her an actual character, instead of a potato that occasionally got in trouble. Season 8 certainly sent Clara in the right direction, landing her with a starkly different friend to the sweet, foolish boyfriend she had travelled with before allowed us to see her develop and change. This immediately gave her depth. Writers also chose to bring in a love interest, which could certainly have been done better. Once again the audience was being told what was happening, as opposed to shown. Clara meets man, he’s kooky, they love now, oh ok alright then. Very forced.
Clara did show a lot of promise in the moments she was given space. At many points in the series she was left to deal with problems totally alone. Here she proved her tenacity and integrity. Ending the season I feel thoroughly on Clara’s side. Nonetheless, it is time for her to go. Moffat has a habit of keeping companions on past their welcome. Hopefully season 9 will bring on someone new (rumoured new companion: Rose Leslie).
So the show is generally going the right way. I’d give it a B+, 7.5/10 or 17 pinkies. Its got a hell of a way to go yet. It was perfect for introducing novices to the show, whilst making enough references to the past to keep Whovians satisfied but we still need more heart. Once or twice we were given characters that we could get along with, but none that we loved. We aren’t back to the form of seasons 1-5, but we’re getting there. There is so much that can be done, but it still feels that each writer is fannying about with their own ideas, and from there inconsistency spawns. Matt Smith certainly deserved better during his run, let’s hope we don’t feel the same way at the end of Capaldi’s.
The two part finale revealed a certain future for the Doctors space-time escapades, and Moffat has admitted some foresight for the development of season 9 (I know, Moffat, foresight, not often brought together in one sentence). So, this viewer remains mostly satisfied and hopeful for the future.
Next time I will explore the top 5 ‘things’ that happened in this series, as well as the bottom 5 ‘things’.