Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
The obvious place to start this review would be with Peter Capaldi. There were worries as soon as the news for an older Doctor was announced (although every new Doctor comes with a fair share of unsubstantiated complaints), and as the first episodes rolled around, it must be said that there was something slightly off about the tone of Doctor Who. Season Seven left the show in such a jovial and light-hearted state that it took a few viewings to truly appreciate the nose-diving into darker waters that the show wanted to take. It didn’t help that certain episodes, namely the one with Robin Hood, seemed more fitting for Matt Smith that Capaldi’s interpretation of the character. However, eventually it got to the point where Capaldi made it look like it was the last few seasons of Doctor Who that had been doing it wrong all this time. Peter Capaldi became the powerhouse that the writers were convinced he would be. He grounds the show, keeps it locked in the place that Steven Moffat wants it. He becomes just as fun to watch as Matt Smith had been. It begins with some subtle self-mocking (the best gags involve his eyebrows in Episode One and later, when he admits his new costume change makes him come across as an angry magician), but eventually we are captivated by anything he does, helped by a strong script and sure-footed direction. Hopefully, Capaldi’s reign on the show will be a long-lived one.
However, for me, Capaldi’s strength isn’t the major success of this new season. For me, the more important and impressive improvement comes from the script. A lot of new writers are floating about the season this time around and I think that they make the eighth season a much more agreeable one than the last two attempts. Doctor Who seems much more experimental this time around. Sometimes, Doctor Who got a little too generic, with a chosen time stream, a monster influencing a point in history and the Doctor defeating it. Truthfully, Doctor Who has a much wider range than that, and finally the writers seem to cotton on to that notion. Episode Four is unlike anything we have seen from Doctor Who before and it is the highlight of the season. Another episode breaks away from drama to discuss real social topics, never wavering from the sense of fun that Doctor Who should have. Steven Moffat seems to be pushing the boundaries of Doctor Who, exploring exactly what this show is capable of and it works terrifically, making Doctor Who that show that demands you recommend last night’s episode to any of your friends.
Then there’s Clara Oswald to talk about. I consider her the best companion out of the modern Who era, as she is strong and independent, yet never becomes intrusive to the Doctor’s character arc, as we could argue Rose Tyler and Amy Pond were. Others have argued that Oswald suffers from a lack of actual character, but thankfully, Moffat changes that here. She has a fully functioning character arc and we leave each episode wondering how Clara’s journey will be affected by what she just experienced, giving every episode a deeper and more important resonance. It says a lot about the writers that they trust the audience enough to break away from the action and adventure of Doctor Who to simply cut to a scene where Clara has a date with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson is another actor worthy of praise here). Because the show has enough confidence to properly pace and revel in those moments rather than racing through them to get to the next explosion, we end up enjoying them as much as we enjoy the alien side of things. Clara’s relationship with the Doctor is a much more interesting one this time around too. Before, although it was never brought up, the show was fuelled by the potential of romance between Clara and the Doctor. Although it was never stated, it was hard to ignore the fact that the show was being led by two attractive, young stars. With Capaldi, we cannot do that anymore, and, as a result, we get a much more entertaining focus. The back-and-forth banter between the two, the Doctor usually accidentally insulting Clara, is fun to watch and just as powerful as any probable love interest down the line. My one criticism here would be that the first half of the season gets too caught up in the fun relationship between the two. Episodes 2 through to 6 almost become the Doctor and Clara show, as the script features more jokes than tension. They are fun to spend time with, but lasting power is sacrificed for a couple of cheap jokes.
I don’t think the show has quite made a full recovery from Season Seven just yet. The writers are definitely heading in the correct direction and over half of the episodes hit the mark perfectly. Their depiction of the Mummy on the Orient Express will haunt the viewers for quite some time. The finale was a bit of an odd one. My problem with it was that after the season spent so long pushing different approaches to the episodic nature of Doctor Who, the end two-part story went back to the same old, explosive adrenaline rush. It wasn’t a bad ending by any means with one of the better villains coming back from the dead and the ‘heaven’ running plot being adequately explained. It just felt a little by-the-numbers, compared to the rest of the season, although it does hit some emotional points, especially with the resolution to Clara’s season arc and one moment where the Doctor’s hopes are crushed by an old foe. In short, this season was good – great, in fact – but we haven’t seen the best of Moffat/Capaldi just yet.
Final Verdict: Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat make a surprisingly effective duo with Season Eight taking the show to new and exciting places.