So season 8 has ended and looking over the last 12 episodes, did it justify the anticipation (and worries) – after Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor in August 2013?
Well – yes-and-no, firstly Capaldi’s appointment as the new Doctor was more hotly debated than when they employed that floppy haired young ‘other guy’ – in 2010.
Back then, the argument was over whether he was too young at 26 to fill the role. This time around, the argument was over whether the new guy was too old – at 55 (Nu Who had never ventured above 40-years old prior!).
Capaldi’s strong performances throughout could only have helped convinced all but the stauchest neysayers, as to his worth in the role. Frankly, the guy was a revelation. Serious, comic, action. He could do it all.
Capaldi has given this Doctor a new air of mystery and stand-offish-ness, coupled with his unpredictable nature and old-man eccentricity. This Doctor, is the closest to a harkback from the classic years – Nu Who has ever had.
His appointment was one of the (few) things, that Moffat got right this season and I really hope he sticks around for a few more years and develops further.
Next – companions. Well season 8 boasted two of the most divisive companions to ever step into the bluebox; Clara and Danny Pink. When we talk about what makes a good (usually American) series tick, we talk about the character “arc” and “journey”. What about Who’s?
Well for some, Clara was a strong female, with attitude and self-assurance but for others, a highly annoying self-centred bore, hogging the screen like a Klingon. I’m with the latter.
It didn’t help that season 8 anchored most of its events around her character, with the sensible intention to free up the Doctor to take more of a fluid side role. However, it betrayed the Clara character’s lack of direction – or general likability.
Danny Pink, (or “Plank” as I referred to him for being so wooden!) had the opposite problem. He was neither likable or unlikable. He was so painfully one-dimensional, that I began wondering if this was an intended (if unfathomable) thing.
When Planky died and came back as a Cyberman, in Dark Water/Death In Heaven. I didn’t know if I was supposed to care, or whether this was supposed to emotionally underpin the Clara/Danny relationship – and series 8.
Clara and Danny’s relationship, which initially made for an interesting new plotline and spawned some watchable manoveuring and dialogue in The Caretaker; soon threatened to undermine the whole Doctor/Clara relationship.
This relationship, which was so expertly redrawn in Deep Breath; following the Doctor’s regeneration and change – from the boyfriend to uncle. Was not given the chance to (deep) breathe and develop. As the mopey – “Danny Pink won’t be happy that Clara was travelling with another man” angle, which kept on spoiling any comraderie between the two principal characters.
I get that this was a transition season and Clara was on her way out and required a mounting plotline – as to why. However, they could have achieved this aim around midseason, with a storyline to write her out. It would have made a good mid-season cliffhanger too, freeing up the second half for the Doc to get on and do what he did best – be centre-stage. Maybe then, it would have felt less like the ‘Clara show’.
It wasn’t just a hit-and-run that was guilty of killing Danny Plank. A lack of acting ability, poor lines and nil-characterisation were just as guilty. Talking of poor characterisation, season 8 insisted on featuring a large cast of Coalhill school children. No problem with that, if done right.
Principally amongst these; were Maebh from Forest Of The Night and Courtney from The Caretaker and Kill The Moon. Maebh wasn’t given enough yo emote with the audience. Courtney, seemed to give the writers a mental block and was written as an annoying 80s Grange Hill stereotype. After being attacked by a killer moon-spider and locked in the Tardis for safety, she asked the Doctor if he “had any DVDs”. WTF really?
Moffatt did get the casting of the Missy/Master right though, with a gloriously bonkers performance by Michelle Gomez. John Simm just wouldn’t have worked and Gomez OTT psycho-take on the role was the only thing that could unsurp Capaldi’s commanding steel grip on the series. It worked and it was nice to see the Master return in such memorable form – if that is who it really was!
The Daleks and Cybermen both got a look in, in this series too and attempts were made to redefine both monsters. The Daleks had a more successful turn in Into The Dalek with a trip through the innards of a “good” Dalek. The Cybermen on the other hand, were given Iron Man makeovers but were largely there as background scenery – to the Master’s plot.
Episodes ranged from the scarily excellent Listen to the god awful Robot Of Sherwood. It was such a mixed bag of a season and the filler episodes really detracted from a good premise (The Nethersphere).
It really needed an underlying midseason climax, such as season 6’s baby River/Hells Deep plot tieup. But unwisely instead, chose to go for a season full of unconnected (apart from a brief nod to the Missy/Nethersphere) one-epi fillers, which mostly didn’t work; Robot Of Sherwood, Caretaker, Kill The Moon, Flatline and Forest Of The Night.
Infact, Kill The Moon and Forest Of The Night (living forest) showed that Who still had a credibility line which could be broken (for a science-fiction show). The moon/flea/new moon angle, could become Who’s “jump the shark” moment.
I was most unhappy with the notion of a dead Brigadier in Death In Heaven, as a Cyberman. It felt like a desecration of a beloved character, for a cheap twist. They should just have let some aspects of the old show lie.
Listen was the standout episode of season 8, a taut and bold psychological horror which dragged in a clever motivational spoiler from the Doctor’s childhood. The thing under the covers in the boys home and the open ending, left the viewer wondering if there had really been a monster present – or not.
Time Heist another fun bank-heist filler, inspired by Ocean’s Eleven; which was helped by the very credible threat of the Teller’s psychic attacks and the sexily mysterious Madame Karabraxos.
Mummy On The Orient Express was another, bound by the simple premise of bringing the Doctor back centre-stage for an opulent 1920s mystery murder tale – set against a ticking clock on a space train.
The flow of Season 8 really suffered from the lack of consistency, due to different writers writing different episodes. A good example of this was Robot Of Sherwood which stood out like a sore thumb and didn’t fit the overall tone aspired to.
On a character level, Clara seemed to have not grown as a character from season 7’s exploits, despite doing something no other companion had ever done. By living the Doctor’s entire timeline in The Name Of The Doctor and gaining the best understanding of who this Timelord really was. Seemingly, she was more interested in holding down a mundane job and spending time with her new dull boyfriend – than continuing to see the wonders of the universe.
The sum total of season 8 was a working-up to a meeting between the 13th Doctor and the new Master, who was controlling the Nethersphere (a Timelord piece of technology) and sucking up dead people’s souls for later use in her Cyberman project.
It didn’t disappoint and the two sparked off each other nicely. The Doctor for once, was almost entirely lost for words as Missy re-enacted a bizarre/riveting cross between Mary Poppins and Silence Of The Lambs.
Out of the two finale episodes; Death In Heaven was the better episode over Dark Water. Free from all of the leaden plot explanations that Moffat attempted to crowbar in.
The Beeb also undermined Death In Heaven by the post-credit teaser, following Dark Water; which basically gave away the secondary twist; that the Cybermen were in it.
The tone throughout season 8, commendably – was alot darker than season 7. At times, parents were complaining that this was too scary for kids and that the hour later start time (half 8) was too late for most young children (video plus anyone?).
However, despite this welcome dark touch. Season 8 would inexplicably wallow in some of the strangest and most childish moments of the entire Nu Who run. The Doctor walking the shrunken Tardis on his hand in Flatline. The moon-flea in Kill The Moon. The whole of Robot of Sherwood.
So in summary, season 8 was a transition season between Smith and Capaldi and Clara – as outgoing foil. It could be forgiven for this as it had to set the scene – maybe for later greatness.
Despite this, it suffered from a worrying level of fluff filler and one-dimensional characters. At times, it seemed to bounce between intense horror and childish pantomime with jarring regularity – as if unsure what the core audience wanted.
Capaldi was excellent, Gomez was also good. Clara was less good and Danny and the rest of the characters easily forgettable. If Who can learn anything from this bold intentioned experimental season – it is as follows.
This Doctor – doesn’t need another 20-something hottie female as a companion. The dynamic has changed and Who could just as easy have a different companion every week (like Frank Skinner’s turn).
It has been average but I would wager that better is to come, now that the Clara shackles have been shaken.