|Posted on November 19, 2014 at 2:45 AM|
Doctor Who Series 8
It's a new year of Doctor Who as we dive into the world of Series 8 starring Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as The Doctor and Clara respectively. There's also a guy named Danny Pink who doesn't have a lot to do but he's around too. He's alright.
Anyways, with all the new stuff, there's a lot to talk about, but the best way to do it is to just dive into the episodes as our infamous Doctor is regenerated and his Tardis is spit out of a giant dinosaur in Victorian England...yeah welome to Doctor Who folks. Dinos in London with bad digestion. Here we go...
I have to be honest, as far as “New Who” goes and from the few I’ve seen from the older series, the first episodes with a new Doctor really aren’t all that great. Only Matt Smith’s did I feel actually “work” in introducing him, new companions and a pretty cool monster on top of it. I have respect for the 9th Doctor’s first episode, it had a lot it had to handle, but it’s also really uneven and I didn’t like Rose (and still don’t) and well…at least it’s not the 10th’s introductory episode because that was just all-around awful and he was barely in it.
So me saying that I didn’t like this episode is kind of par for the course. It is also uneven. It also has a very uninteresting villain. It also doesn’t quite have the character chemistry down (and one might say that as far as The Doctor and Clara go, they don’t find that chemistry until much later this series). As much as I liked the setting and seeing the old gang again, it never really works in terms of plot and only, barely, works in introducing the new Doctor.
Now Capaldi, in what little he has here, is pretty great. He has some memorable moments, two in particular: his self-discovery in the alleyway with a drunk and at the end as he quietly contemplates if he has to kill the villain or not and takes a drink. They set him up pretty well: he’s not manic, he’s not funny, he’s darker and more brooding. As much as I like that for the rest of the series, and though this sets it up fine, he also doesn’t quite fit here. They never do, though. There’s too much to do and explain and to give exposition with a regenerated new character to really have anything interesting to say or do other than the basic information.
As a story, it just doesn’t come together. It has a bunch of ideas but doesn't manage to weave them well. The characters have moments but they also don’t feel entirely in-line here. It’s exactly what I expected a first episode with a new Doctor to be because I’ve only seen one that actually works.
Final Rating: 2 out of 5
Into the Dalek
Now here we go. We’re doing something new and different. We have more time with this new Doctor and get a better feel for him, which is great. This is kind of an old-school throwback episode, I found: The Doctor and a group of people go into a dangerous situation and they start dying one by one and he has to get them out of it.
I love the set up here, unlike the first episode which really didn’t have one. I like we see more of the Doctor, this particular Doctor, and his mindset and train of thought. Oh, he’s certainly different: more snarky, more cynical, the ego is still there but now isn’t hidden by mania and fast-talking. We’ll talk more about the Doctor specifically later, but at least, here, he actually has something to do.
Unfortunately the story just doesn’t really work, particularly the solution to the problem of this Dalek and why it’s even important or why the Doctor even wants to get involved if he’s already gritting his teeth at the thought of doing anything.
And that’s where we kind of get our first look into what this season of Doctor Who is going to be: this new Doctor versus everyone else. This season, as this will show, is about personal relationships and character development than it is adventures in time and space when we get the first look at the new relationship between The Doctor and Clara and introduce Danny Pink who seems like a likable enough guy but never really gets to a good point of being the next interesting second companion like a Rory. This episode, though, doesn’t do the Doctor’s misguided relationships well as more future episodes will show, but it’s also a pretty harmless second episode that gives us a better looks into his mindset.
Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Robot of Sherwood
Ah, here’s something a little lighter. The show needed it at this point. Badly. Robot of Sherwood isn’t a very memorable episode, but it’s used well in terms of pacing out this series so it’s not a constant barrage of 12th Doctor Dark self-loathing egotistical junk. Oh, well actually that’s here, but the tone is better. The “feel” of this episode, despite a problematic final 15 minutes or so, gives the sense it was a little more thought out and more interesting than the previous two. More importantly is that the character chemistry feels more on-point and interesting and the Doctor cracks a little wise when needed.
I suppose the only downside here, other than the silly ending as mentioned, is that there’s a set up for a mystery and big reveal but it really never comes. Instead we get a rather dull robot story that the Doctor more or less “called” in the first ten minutes. Thankfully, the chmistry between Claray, The Doctor and Robin Hood, played wonderfully by Tom Riley, is more than enough to make this a passable episode despite being rathe unremarkable.
There’s not much to say, really. The entire episode is rather straightforward and pretty harmless for the most part, the lighter touches are needed by this point and they work.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
I’m not sure why Moffet insists we need to strengthen Clara’s importance to Doctor Who lore more. I mean, she’s already been there and done that. There was an entire arc with Matt Smith that was all about it, and this all feels completely pointless. Stuff like Listen could be good if the episode didn’t insist on her value because everything up to the final scenes are some of the best Doctor Who stuff you could ask for in this episode.
Because Listen could have been great rather than just “pretty good.”
The first thing to note here is the directing by Douglas Mackinnon. He dipped is toes in a few past Doctor Who episodes, but his work in Series 8, as will be shown, is fantastic. In fact, though I like the “lore” this episode weaves and the great performance by Capaldi, who really comes into his own as The Doctor here, I would say the way it is all directed and put together and shot is fantastic. It’s dark. It’s a little scary. It’s also very patient with its actors.
Listen’s story managed to do a lot in just an hour. You have a bit more Danny Pink and Clara stuff, you see the strain that Clara and the Doctor’s relationship seems to be having as Clara, quite obviously, wants to have a different life than the one she’s been thrust into - setting up her overall arc in the Series. Best of all is you have a unique mystery the Doctor obsesses in solving, something we haven’t seen Capaldi do yet: be very “Doctor-y” in his desire for knowledge and figuring something out. There were hints, but here he’s all-out seeking a truth.
Of course, is the big “reveal” at the end seems to fracture a lot of people about it. It’s a big episode in that it’s a very personal one for The Doctor. Again, this is another Moffat script that starts incredibly well but simply doesn’t know how to end and wrap it up. There is so much good in the episode that the reveals and how its all handled makes this disappointing. What works really works, but what doesn’t really doesn’t.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
There’s probably a really good Doctor Who episode here in Time Heist. Somewhere. It has the set up and it has the elements: Clara and the Doctor are forced to team up with to strangers with unique abilities to rob a bank while having a time-travel twist. That sounds like a helluva pitch if you ask me.
But something happened that is hard to really nail down. The script isn’t as nearly as clever as it thinks it is, and it never really nails its reveals as sharply as it should. In fact, the entire reveal of what is actually happening is a predictable one, and there’s not enough of an emotional core or character stuff, as some of the other weaker-plot episode have, to really lift it up.
So we’re left with a lot of mediocrity. I think director Mackinnon here again does the best he can, but something isn’t clicking on the story and plot level much in the same way it didn’t click with Into the Dalek. The Doctor, also, seems to have taken a step back as a developing character here. HIs motivations just doesn’t gel with what the entire Series 8 had been working with thus far.
Time Heist is wasted potential with little to work with. It’s not the worst episode of this Series, however.
Final Rating: 2 out of 5
This and the following episode seem to be pretty devisive, and it’s easy to see why. Both start strong and both end poorly. Thankfully, both have some great character stuff that really works to their benefits. Here, it’s a little lighter. After the melodrama of Time Heist and before the serious tone of Kill the Moon, it’s nice to have a little lighter story.
And best of all is this is the first time I really, really loved Capaldi’s work. He was also good in Listen, but it was lost underneath all the plot. Here it’s straightforward and entirely on his shoulders, and he really makes it work. In fact, every episode from here on out his Capaldi really as his character. He’s top-notch for the final half. Yes, even that awful episode we have yet to get to. You can see him working his character up to this point, but here it all really seemed to come together as we get it front and center.
The Caretaker takes place on present day Earth, and I always enjoy those. I think it’s because it’s easier to relate to than the fantasy and sci-fi elements of going to other times and planets. Here it’s all familiar, and maybe that comfort level is why everyone seems to have their A-game on. The Caretaker is a more irreverent and light episode as The Doctor tries to solve a mystery while pretending to be the Caretaker (janitor) as Clara’s school.
Of course the plot still kind of gets away from it here, but all the Doctor-Clara-Danny dynamic works…until the end.
The Caretaker could have been a great episode, but for some reason we have a really weird ending here that, as seems to be the case this year, makes it all underwhelming and dissatisfying. They trick the monster by working together, but it’s all so stilted and contrived, and it has Danny doing a really awkward flip that feels so out of place…something just doesn’t really work in this scene and maybe it was the bad writing all along, or the director didn’t know how to shoot it. It’s messy.
It does end on a stronger note, though, with again the Series 8 strength: character development. We get the first indication that Clara and The Doctor’s relationship is strained because Danny Pink flat-out calls The Doctor out on his bullshit. And that’s going to make waves to…
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Kill The Moon
Oh Kill the Moon. I don’t know a lot about Peter Harness, the man who wrote this one, nor do I know a lot about the director, Paul Wilmshurst. What I do know is that Kill the Moon doesn’t work. It just doesn’t.
Initially I was fine with it. Sure, the heavy-handed metaphor about women’s rights and abortion was like a sledgehammer to the temple, but Doctor Who has done that before with its themes and messages so I was fine with it. But man, it just gnawed at me over time because there’s a lot I want to like about Kill the Moon but actually loathed the more thought put on it.
For starters, the setting. I love isolated space stuff with suspense. Some of my favorite Doctor Who episodes like Waters of Mars and The Satan Pit come to mind. I also loved Capaldi here, who shows that dark edge that we’ve seen throughout (sans Time Heist) and really puts it all on Clara’s shoulders. I liked that too because that leads to Clara confronting The Doctor on his BS and nobody has really done that for the most part.
I mean, The Doctor has always treated humanity both with love but also with a bit of contempt. He’s always had an ego. He’s always never full “gotten” interpersonal relationships, and this calls him out on it. Of course, it did mean he did a very un-Doctory thing to make it happen, and that’s why this one, like The Caretaker, is so devisive. You already had the unsubtle themes, now you have The Doctor forcing Clara to make a choice. That’s…kinda shitty.
I love she called him out on it. Seriously, Jenna Coleman sells the hell out of that, but it means he had to do something pretty awful. Is that worth sacrificing? He’s a darker, certinaly more cynical Doctor but he would never sit there and say “well, good luck. See you later.”
It’s a tough call, but I’m willing to let it slide. I won’t let slide, however, the dumb ending and lack of subtle themes. Those were just way overboard, so we end up with a middle-of-the-road episode that had some great moments here and there with its failings in its final Act.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5
Mummy on the Orient Express
Oh, thank God. Finally I can type about the first legitimately great episode of the series.
That’s not to say I haven’t been enjoying it so far. It’s simply been inconsistent. The actors have all been great, but the writing has been pretty much all over the map. Mummy on the Orient Express, from top to bottom, just feels so refined and polished and well done that it is one of the reasons Series 8 wasn't a complete dull experience. Written by Jamie Mathieson, who also wrote the best episode of the season (coming up), we have a classic Doctor Who set up: Doctor and Companion arrive someplace with some interesting characters and bad things start happening.
No big “reveal” or needing some big “twist” where you write yourself into a corner, it’s all pretty straightforwrad and relies on character chemistry and solid acting. That’s great Doctor Who in my book. Mummy on the Orient Express is just a wondefully fun yet sincere little episode that doesn't try to be too big and settles firmly on solving a mystery. This mystery, amazingly, doesn't let you down. It all builds and builds to a great reveal and ushers in one of the best Doctor Who writers that I hope will stay around for more to come.
And boy is Capaldi great in this episode. Even better is that it asks big questions about The Doctor. No, not "lore" or "history" but who he is as a person: the entire crux of Serial 8 in a nutshell. Does he care that people are dying? Is he willing to sacrifice? Is he just toying with us because of his own curiousity?
That's some big stuff but all done so subtly and intimatly that it makes me wish every episode was like this. It's a taught and suspenseful episode that literally has a ticking clock but manages to have wonderful character stuff with The Doctor and the passengers on the train - it's a great balance and, honestly, how Doctor Who episodes should be. That and the next one, that is.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5
Flatline is nearly a perfect Doctor Who episode. Seriously. And it doesn’t even have a ton of The Doctor in it. It's is like a person you’re dating: it starts great, builds up wonderfully, then the next thing you know you’re having awesome sex.
Ok, that’s a horrible analogy, but that’s the sense of great pacing and ultimate satisfaction put into this second episode written by Jamie Mathieson. It’s a great script with the characters at their very best and it brings in a unique monster into the mold and does some very creative and inventive things we really haven’t seen yet.
First, Clara is center stage. Now by this point we can all agree that Clara’s tale is pretty much over and her being in Series 8 is more for a transition reason than a story one. She’s fine, but her arc as the “Impossible Girl” under Smith's tenure is told and done and there’s really not a whole lot else for her to do. Well, they found her something to do by midway of this Series and especially in this episode (the next few episodes not so much but we’ll get to them). Here she has to, essentially, “be” the Doctor. She has to think on her feet and act as he does.
Capaldi is almost entirely in the every-shrinking Tardis (shrinking on the outside because physics, I suppose). Capaldi alone on the Tardis being The Doctor is an absolute joy. From this little “gimmick” of the shrinking Tardis, we have a ton of puns and jokes and sight gags that feel so natural and funny despite the serverity of the situation at hand. From the “Two-Dis” device to Clara magically pulling a sledgehammer out of her purse to the Tardis being “cute” as she lugs it around. The interplay between her and the Doctor in this manner has shown that the chemistry between Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi is terrific as they really don’t even spend a lot of time in the same shot. It’s just sharp writing and great dialogue between them.
Then you have the uniqueness of the monster themselves. Flatline plays with perspective and expectations and toys with your mind, and that genius falls not only on the writer who had to think of it, but on the visual direction and special effects as well. A simple pan on a wall changes your perspective and completely messes with your head as everything is “flat” and “2D.”
So, not only do you have a solid story, good character chemistry and a great hook, you have one of the most visually interesting Doctor Who episodes of recent memory.
And best of all…it’s fun. I mean, a lot of fun. Mummy on the Orient Express had a bit of fun, but not nearly as much as this one yet still manage to keep it all with a level of sincerity. Look how much fun The Doctor is having.
This is the first time we really see him like this…
Oh, it’s still The Doctor being all pissy for the most part, but those little flashes and the interplay between Coleman and Capaldi really round the whole thing out for him. He’s having fun. We’re having fun. This is the most fun I’ve had with Doctor Who for a long time.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
In the Forest of the Night
If everyone pretty much agreed that Mummy and Flatline were the strongest of the season, everyone also seems to be in agreement that In the Forest of the Night is the worst. In fact, it’s one of the worst of any Doctor Who episodes or serials because of many reasons. For one, it’s filler. Obvious filler. It wants to be character-centric but it really doesn’t have anything interesting to say about the characters and nothing really interesting for them to. There’s an occasional moment here and there but overall it never does anything with them
For two: kids. Kids on Doctor Who rarely work, if ever. Sometimes its the actors, but really its just the way they’re written. They’re either super obnoxious and invasive to the story or they just add absolutely nothing at all to even being there. Usually both. Here they’re both.
For three: there’s a forced “meaning” to the plot here that never works and you think it might do something interesting with the characters, but then it brings in the forced resolution that pretty much undermines it all. And it’s a poor resolution, folks. Oh man. “The kid has powers” is all it ends up being and everyone works together to tell the rest of the world (the world) to not hurt the trees.
For four: That last part above about the trees? Boy, that’s as heavy-handed as Kill the Moon’s abortion. Already forced into the story, it's also very, very heavy on repeating that fact. Subtlety was not the strong suit of this and the previous episode, which is too bad because, conceptually, they might have been cool. They just didn’t have the story to go with it. Here it's with an environmental message that tries to make a big, soapbox point but, again, it can't do it if it doesn't have a story. At least Kill the Moon had a story and a concept, this episode is, literally "walk around and talk a lot, oh and there are some wolves for five seconds to inject at least a little bit of conflict."
There's a couple of spots of good character stuff, notably with Danny Pink/Clara (Clara, in particular, is kind of bad this episode however as she seems to have backtracked from the development of Kill the Moon), but it all becomes kind of lost. Oh, and one more thing on the kids. Look, they've been kind of around all along in Series 8 but they're intrusively bad here. I don't know why, but Doctor Who cannot do kids well. In an episode already full of problems and where very little actually happens, having them constantly be stupid didn't help.
Final Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Dark Water //Death in Heaven
So basically the whole Clara saying “I'm the Doctor” was only there to be in the trailer, because you know what happens with that?
Nothing. At all. It’s never mentioned again…
And that’s what’s wrong with Death in Heaven and Dark Water. When it’s with Capaldi, it’s great. When it’s trying to throw other stuff in that we, quite honestly, don’t give a second thought about, it’s rough. Hard to watch, even. It's bad enough it's just another Cybermen story, which we just had at the end of the previous Series, but it also undermines the one other good thing about this two parter...
No, not in-jokes.
Ah, there we go.
The story is poor, but boy does Missy make it fun and interesting. We've seen her in spots throughout, but here we get the full reveal, which most called, and Michelle Gomez is just fantastic as her. In fact, what Capaldi is with restraint and small flashes, Gomez is with unrelenting insanity. She is having fun. The writers are certainly having fun with her. In fact, she pretty much makes the finale watchable.
Because when she or Capaldi aren't around, this two-parter is pretty damn awful. For starters, the reveal and motivations are never clear for Missy or her purpose. She "wants her friend back" yet that sudden approach seems to come out of left field. Then she has this thing with a bracelet that can control all the cybermen except two because...well because the plot says so I suppose...and then you have this overlong, overly-melodramatic-even-for-Doctor-Who-standards finale in a graveyard where a lot of people say stuff then they don't and the Brigadier shows up and gives a salute.
If it sounds I'm completely disinterested in this episode, it's becaues I was and I am. Like many of the even the bad episodes, there are flashes of really great stuff happening, but it's just a hot mess of over indulgence - something Series 8 really hadn't done since the first episode to be honest (and something very much because of Moffat's insistence to start and end "big").
While it was nice to see a few characters back, though briefly, and that all the Doctor's doings in the past have actually led to something in terms of his place on Earth, it all feels so matter-of-fact whereas everything with Danny and Clara is never really set up well and certainly not ended well.
Actually, Danny's journey never really feels complete. He kind of just "was" and despite a lot of stuff written about him, and his family, in one episode, you're not going to be feeling much for Clara and him when the ending starts kicking into gear. It's like it's telling you this is emotional but it doesn't feel that way.
So that's the finale...kind of a cold, uninspired end that is dissapointing because the series really needed to finish strong. It had some great moments here and there, but not enough of a complete package. At least Missy and The Doctor keep it all interesting.
The Series Overall
Series 8 had more hits than misses, but there’s no denying that the misses are big-time misses. I feel we saw one of the very best Doctor Who Episodes this year but also one of the worst. Everything else kind of fall sin the middle and doesn’t really offer much outside of fleshing out Capaldi’s Doctor (see below) and the character interaction.
The characters were the strength. Yes, even Danny Pink because we kind of need that “anchor” to reality even if he didn’t have a ton to do. The format was what I found most interesting. While there is an “overarching” story, it’s done it small bits until the two-part finale. There’s not constant narrative and we’re given a lot of one-shot episodes that Moffat and company kind of adopted during the first part of Series 7 only done far better here.
That’s a good thing, because when you have standalone stories not bowing to needing to explain the larger story, you have episodes like Blink or Flatline. As good as Matt Smith was, the writing often just got ahead of itself and never ended up going anywhere. A lot of buildup. A lot of promise. A lot of “that’s it?”
So, in terms of structure and pacing out this series, it was all solid with good variety and not having to be beholden to the whole Missy/Nethersphere/Dark Water/Cyberban fiasco we end on.
That being said, as is often the case lately with Doctor Who, the standalone stories kind of write themselves into a corner and never quite end as well as they begin. Time Heist, for example, was a really cool idea completely fumbled and Deep Breath was a dull and strangely paced debut - not as bad as David Tennent’s first episode but nowhere as good as Smith’s. Kill the Moon was another that had a ton of potential that never really went anywhere, The Caretaker did the same as well as it ended on a dull note and the finale was just a melodramatic mess that made little to no sense whatsoever.
Now “not making sense” is a Doctor Who staple, but here it’s more apparent because we linger on it for so long. I mean, the final 20 minutes of “Death in Heaven” was damn-near unwatchable. Thankfully we see an angry Doctor, which I loved:
And in a way that anger kind of reflects my own view of the entire Series 8. It was frustrating. The Doctor and Clara were great, there were some inventive and interesting things happening, but overall the Series was let down by mostly mediocre writing and an uninspired finale. It was saved by Capaldi more than anything because...
The Doctor Overall
After the three Doctors that, more or less, shared a lot of traits, we needed a shakeup. We needed something new. The first bit: making the Doctor older. Great choice. That gets a lot of stuff out of the way (The Doctor being over sexualized a major one). The next bit: write darker. Less mania, less fluttering about the Tardis with catch-phrases and winks. It was time for something different…and this shot kind of sums that up perfectly:
"I've got the horrible feeling I'm going to have to kill you. Thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would."
There’s something mature about that - something different. The show set the stage early and, mostly, stayed true to this new mature and adult Doctor. He’s not “darker” per se, he’s just less juvenile. More Serious. More sincere about who he is as a person than simply wizzing off to adventures.
Now I’m not a big Who Historian or anything, but I do know that this is more of a throwback than it is something “new.” Because Doctor Who is so reactionary, or was, in regards of its Doctors from one to the other, it’s interesting to see the stark contrast from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi and the reaction of fans who never experienced it. I’ve only read about the changes from the grounded and antagonistic Pertwee era to the looney Baker era then to Davison who’s fifth Doctor was extremely empathetic.
Capaldi is a reaction to the previous three Doctors on the “New Who” era, and it’s what the series needed. The final season or so of Matt Smith was just not working. There were some great stuff, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of run-of-the-mill stories that really didn’t do anything interesting and the “Impossible Girl” arc just never landed right with me. I think there’s some cool episodes, certainly, but that overarching plot and the over-importance of Clara as some “savior” was just overwrought and, as usually with Moffat, overwritten.
So we pull it back, let it settle in, and we end up with a Doctor who seems like he would roll his eyes at the sheer thought of going overboard with stuff. And Series 8 never really does that. It shows more restraint even when if writes itself into a corner. The only “big” episodes were the first and last three while everything in between seemed to be on a solid level of just trying to tell good stories.
The Doctor during all that kept it cool and precise. Never too personal, but there was always something underneath those old eyes. Capaldi gives a layered, nuanced approach - only revealing bits and pieces of an angry man or a sad man or even a happy man. This Doctor is more bold, takes more risks, but also cares. The problem is that he doesn’t want to show it. He doesn’t want to get “attached” anymore and go through having to leave a companion in another dimension or time or have their memories scrambled.
And that’s why the final scene with his goodbye to Clara is so damn good. It’s perfect and sums it all up nicely. We saw the darkness and seriousness early on, as he tells who he is is:
And we see the final reasoning behind all that with this:
That’s an arc worth applauding. That's a Doctor and performance worth applauding even if the scripts and plots weren't up to the level of the charactel. Capaldi elevated a lot of mediocrity this season and his chemistry with Coleman, and the exploration of The Doctor and his realtionship to Clara and other people, is the high point of a solid but not a "wow" first Serial for a new era. Thanks to Capaldi, though, I'm excited in the direction it could hopefully go in the future.