Sunday, 9 November 2014

Doctor Who Series 8 Review

Well the series is over now so it's time for some thoughts!

Episode one was Deep Breath and, as I said at the time, this was a great opening episode which firmly put to bed any of the stupid notions that Capaldi was too old for the part or whatever nonsense stupid, largely teen fandom could come up with. Perhaps surprisingly for a cinema outing from an established cinema director (Britain's latest enfant terrible Ben Wheatley) the opening half of the episode is somewhat visually lacklustre but, once the script starts to step up a gear or three, the visuals settle and we can sit back and enjoy it all. And there was much to enjoy most notably a splendid chemistry between Capaldi and Jenna Coleman's Clara - a character who had thus far been something of a story arc/plot device rather than a fully rounded multi dimensional person. Capaldi's Doctor has made Clara a companion to be reckoned with.

And we really are up and running now. Episode Two Into The Dalek was perhaps the best Dalek story since Dalek from Christopher Eccleston's debut series. It also captured everything I liked about this latest Doctor; he's cynical, seemingly uncaring and has some incredibly dark matter of fact humour. This was the episode that put me in mind of Hinchcliffe era Tom Baker, not just because of the grim humour but also the 'all you need is a good idea, it doesn't necessarily have to be your good idea' approach (the ep basically rips off Fantastic Voyage after all) and that's a good way to go for the Twelfth Doctor.

Mark Gatiss' Robot of Sherwood injected some much needed light humour and mischief into the series after the two previous heavy and dark opening episodes. A gorgeous romp with some great in jokes and the chance for Capaldi to show his grumpy comic side made this a more traditional family friendly Who episode. Three weeks in and Clara has emerged as a strong and likeable character far removed from her debut alongside Matt Smith. Jenna seems to be having great fun and is looking gorgeous too.

And after the light relief of episode three came Listen, the season's first foray into mature chiller territory. I love these kind of Sapphire and Steel episodes that are ostensibly aimed more for teens or adults, dealing with the strangeness of nursery rhymes and 'villains' so good and obvious you wonder why no one has done them before. Capaldi's Doctor showed signs of late era or fan fic McCoy here; the insatiable curiosity almost getting the better or him and indeed everyone else. Some lovely touches like the Doctor as a child and the barn from the 50th anniversary episode marked this out as an important ep as well as a deeply enjoyable one....and no story arc/Missy interruptions! One of the best.

And where does one go from one of the best? Um, one of the disappointing. If Listen felt like New Adventures McCoy, then Time Heist was like a DWM comic strip perhaps from around the Colin Baker era. In fact at times it did feel like a Sixey ep, albeit it one with a budget Grade era Who could never hope for; I could totally see Baker being emotionally detached whilst Peri (rather than Clara) got attached to the Psi character. A traditional corridor runaround, big and colourful it felt a bit like a sci fi Hustle and was helped immeasurably by the guest appearance from the divine Keeley Hawes and Jenna Coleman's gorgeous wardrobe.

The Caretaker was a great bit of fun as we've come to expect from Gareth Roberts and his 'undercover' Doctor eps. Seeing the lighter side of Capaldi's interpretation again, last properly witnessed in episode three, made this episode a fun affair though not without emotional heft as Clara found the two men in her life meeting for the first time. Also notable for returning us to the Missy/afterlife story arc.

A base under siege ep...set on the moon? Excuse my Troughton fanboy yelps of pleasure. Unfortunately, this season's most anticipated episode proved to be a deeply unsatisfactory one. Kill The Moon was little more than a heavy handed abortion analogy, and not a very well depicted one at that. Deeply disappointing, this was an episode that - despite its Alien or The Thing chills - felt it was profound and mature simply because it was dealing with a dilemma. It wasn't.

And we're back! Mummy On The Orient Express proved to be a lavish, beautiful to look at/well designed riff on Agatha Christie and overlooked 70s pan euro chiller Horror Express. You got the feeling the eclectic cast and first rate script helped this episode zing along with a pleasing return to the promised Hinchcliffe-esque approach to Who being evident in the occasional, seemingly heartless actions of The Doctor. And he even had Jelly Babies! I loved this.

Flatline was a much scarier and satisfying enterprise than the much vaunted Kill The Moon. Another 'how come they've never done this before?' moment occurred with the shrinking dimensions of the TARDIS and there was an air of Survival in that the chips were down in a sunny but dreary humdrum corner of England. That said, some of the chasing figures did look a bit like the old Aha video Take On Me!

OK, I might be biased because writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce is a favourite of mine and went to school here in St Helens, but this was a truly remarkable fun and thought provoking episode of Who choc full with great character led lines (notably the quirks of Coal Hill's schoolchildren - proving just how good a writer FCB is for kids) It takes a writer not normally associated with Who to produce something so distinctive and from a different perspective - we've seen it before with Richard Curtis and Neil Gaiman - and FCB gave us a sweet, dense and beautifully crafted script that held a truly unique vision. A great ep for Gaia theorists or fans of Blake, this is a true highlight of series 8.

The first episode in the closing two part finale, Dark Water reminded me a little of Revelation of the Daleks in that it had a very blackly comic take on death and the business of death, albeit with Cybermen rather than Daleks. I must admit my dad had called Missy as The Master very early on, and it was something I was slowly hedging my bets on too but I was a little disappointed that we were proven right. The gender swap does rather feel like a nod towards the tiresome 'can't we have a female Doctor?' brigade and I think I'd rather have seen her play The Rani, especially as this new regeneration for The Master hasn't changed his/her personality one little bit. As much as I love John Simm I never really rated his fruitloop interpretation of the role and Michelle Gomez, playing the role exactly like her Green Wing character, offers us nothing new other than...well, bluntly speaking, tits and a vagina. I did enjoy Chris Addison's prissy almost Pythonesque turn and the little in joke to The Thick Of It when The Doctor produced his credentials. Perhaps inevitably, this episode drew complaints and I can see why. The notion of the earth's dead still being able to feel and being harvested for Cybermen is a particularly unsettling one.

Oh dear. The curse of the two parters holds once again. This had to be the most disappointing end to a promising season ever. Capaldi's debut was right up there with Matt Smith's but this sorry episode really did him no favours. It was wearying, tasteless and frankly boring. An unholy mess in fact. So many things wrong with it. I hated the death of Osgood, a character who was tailor made to appeal to young fans watching (especially as she was a fan herself) Gomez's fruitloop turn continued to bore because we've seen it all before, not just with her previous performances, or Simm's take on the role but also Moffat's other arch villain, Sherlock's Moriarty. The Cybermen were once again reduced to being heavies, totally underused and the whole love conquering cyber conversion thing has been done before with that James Corden episode. I get that introducing The Brig and giving him the send off the show never did when Nicholas Courtney was alive was a lovely touch, but on further consideration it was a bit unsavoury. No one wants to think of The Brig as becoming, physically at least, a Cyberman do they? No one wants to think of their loved ones becoming the enemy at all frankly, and I can see why this storyline is getting complaints. Yeah from an adult POV you can believe its an overreaction to complain, but let's consider this is a programme kids are they feeling about the notion that their dead grandparents or what have you have risen from their graves to become Cybermen? In the week it was revealed Peter Capaldi sent a grieving child a beautifully sweet video message (once again proving what a lovely man he is) you can't help but consider how off this story actually was, and how it will be received by the children. Like Kill The Moon before it, as well as many other previous storylines since the show has come back, it tried to be mature but ultimately came across as deeply naive. 

Those episodes in order of greatness?

1. Mummy On The Orient Express
2. Listen
3. Forest of the Night
4. Into The Dalek
5. Deep Breath
6. The Caretaker
7. Robot of Sherwood
8. Flatline
9. Time Heist
10. Dark Water
11. Kill The Moon
12. Death in Heaven 

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