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Doctor Who – Season Ten: The Review

Channel: BBC One

Recurring Cast: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas

Who would have thought that Doctor Who, a family show on BBC One would become Britain’s most influential source of left-wing propaganda? After Season Nine’s top episode, where the Doctor sits down the humans and an impossibly evil enemy and tries to get them to stop seeking revenge and just talk, Season Ten resurfaces with renewed political vigour, as almost every writer appear with a light-bulb moment and a grudge about a current social issue. Of course, Doctor Who has always been a very left-wing show with a lead character who promotes peace, unity and looking out for the little guy. Season Ten sees Doctor Who shake off the subtlety and writes episodes purposefully designed to discuss political topics. Humanity learn that they are not as superior as they think they are from Victorian conquerors and Roman invaders, as well as future human colonists, being lectured on humanity’s assumed ownership. It is hard to not see the comparisons in Brexit being stamped all over the Doctor Who scripts right now. While I like that Doctor Who is pushing itself as a show, Season Ten could be argued with overdoing it a little. While political activists might be clapping their hands with joy, the family show aspect to Doctor Who is slipping away into obscurity. This has always been the biggest problem with this show: figuring out which one of the main sub-groups of fans to appeal to the most, a show that often see-saws from sickeningly child-friendly to mildly horrific (Episode 11 sees brain dead patients begging for death), to politically complex as this Season has. Then again, Season Ten does have moments of genius that derives from this line of thinking. Pearl Mackie makes for a wondrously diverse companion, both black and homosexual. While the first episode tackles her sexuality head-on, the rest of the season plays her differences in more interesting and small ways. Her race is cleverly brought up in episodes where she travels to the past (something that it would have felt weird not to do and also provides a nice self-reflective tone on how far humanity has come), and her lesbian tendencies are played on with some nicely-timed jokes. One gag involving the Pope is a brilliant piece of comedy and a broad slap to the face for anyone hoping that Doctor Who would play nice for the censors. On the whole, Bill’s race and sexual orientation is played smartly, implying that it is, or most definitely should be by now, the norm. It helps that Pearl Mackie is a tremendous actress, really cranking up the emotion in the right times. The final episode, which sees her situation take a turn for the unexpected, really hitting home the finality of the moment.

And while the political side of Doctor Who might niggle some, when it escapes that side of things, it must be said that the episodes are a lot better written than they have been in some time. Few episodes ring false, if a few are a little uninspired. An outing where the Doctor, Bill and Nardole (Matt Lucas is a lot stronger than you would expect him to be – a surprising treat for this season), are running out of oxygen in their space suits, finds neat tricks to up the stakes beyond another generic episode. There are some mid-season villains in the form of the Monks. While some inconsistent writing beats make a few of the meatier moments fall flat, it must be said that these villains hit the sinister beats you crave Doctor Who to meet. Their method of invasion is eerily amazing and if the ending to their story, echoes some of the earlier ‘alternate reality’ episodes but done half-heartedly, at least it takes the discussion to an interesting place. The main thread of the episode, however, is down to the return of Michelle Gomez’s Missy, Capaldi’s main foe. Her first appearance is remarkably well done, as she meets Capaldi beside an execution block. The chemistry between the two sizzles. While Tennant and Simms were isolated forces of acting brilliance during their confrontations, you feel that Capaldi and Gomez would work without the other to bounce off of, creating this wonderful sense of symmetry to their scenes. The finale takes this to ultimate extremes. If you haven’t found yourself privy to the major comeback at the end of this episode, try to go in blind. There are four major shocks buried in the two-part story and all of them were spoiled by either BBC announcements, casting news being leaked or the show’s own ‘Next Time’ segment. It is a shame, because the episode only really hits you half as hard as you want it to, when you know the surprises waiting on the other end. It is hard to blame the actual episode for that though, a well-written series of shocks, emotion and drama. Look out for Capaldi’s monologue about ‘just being kind’.

Final Verdict: Doctor Who’s tenth season is a smartly written ride, albeit one prone to over-indulging when it comes to political rants.

Four Stars