Sunday, 9 November 2014

Doctor Who Season 8: End-of-term report

And so, just three months after Peter Capaldi met his adoring public for the first time as Doctor Who at the Deep Breath premiere in Cardiff, we've had the opportunity to enjoy his entire first season. None of this split-season nonsense - a full batch of 12 episodes to give him a run-in, and what a season it has been. Spoilers  follow.

Here's my review of the episodes in transmission order:

Deep Breath (8) - An accomplished introduction of Capaldi, and by the end we were in no doubt (if ever there was any) that we're in safe hands. The scenes of Clara in the clockwork robot's lair are very tense, as is the meeting between Clara/The Doctor in the restaurant. Great direction by Ben Wheatley, and by using THAT cameo and surrounding The Doctor with the Paternoster Gang this helped the transition. It looked and felt very different to what we were used to.  
Into the Dalek (7) - Fab Dalek spaceship action and some great battles. The inside of the Dalek itself didn't quite feel right, as evidenced by various bits of cheap tubing. Sam Anderson makes a great intro as Danny Pink (we'll be seeing more of him!)

Robot of Sherwood (5) - I love Mark Gatiss as a writer, but this one just seemed a bit inconsequential. The bickering between The Doctor and Robin soon grew very tiring, and even if Clara looked great in her flowing robe, this just didn't work for me. It could have been any Doctor playing this one and the resolution with the golden arrow just felt lazy. 

Listen (9) - Now this is more like it. Moffat doing big, creepy ideas. Addressing the monster under the bed, some timey-wimey science and a flashback to The Doctor's childhood, What's not to love?  

Time Heist (6) - Ocean's 11 in space, or sci-fi Hustle, the premise is sound and familiar, and this rates as one of those solid episodes that just sits there, filling the season's quota. Keeley Hawes is notably OTT, but The Teller is a fun monster with the ability to turn your brain to soup. The ending is just a variation on the previous season's Hide and was anyone really surprised at the identity of the mastermind behind it all?    

The Caretaker (6) - Less The Lodger/Closing Time and more like his Sarah-Jane Adventures, Gareth Roberts' Grange Hill with a robot is actually more fun that it initially promises thanks to some clever dialogue and a great performance from Ellis George as rebel school kid Courtney. Danny really comes into his own here, which helps divert you form the pretty rubbish big bad - the Skovox Blitzer

Kill the Moon (7) - Taking the show completely into the realm of fantasy (the Moon is an egg?) this boasts such huge conceits that it wins points for its cheek. Great monster, nice cool supporting performance from Hermione Norris, an allegory for abortion and The Doctor showing his ruthlessness. Wow!
Mummy on the Orient Express (8) - No-one expected this to be good, so what a treat that it not only ticked all the right boxes but also proved to be a rollicking adventure with a cool high concept idea (the clock ticks down on-screen as the monster sees you) harking back to old Who. And a great new writer in the form of Jamie Mathieson.

Flatline (8) - Proving that he's no one-trick pony, Mathieson's other script this season again confounds initial fears that it's going to be a ho-hum Earth-set filler. Instead we great some neat ideas about a 3D menace, some amazing CGI effects, comedy gold around the shrinking TARDIS and a cool hero moment at the end. Spooky and fun.

In the Forest of the Night (5) - Frank Cottrell Boyce's fairy tale about a magic forest just didn't work for me. Not enough jeopardy, some very dodgy animal CGI, a reset switch and a general lack of pace - this was the season's lop point for me. And what was it with the missing sister appearing from behind the bush at the end? WTF
Dark Water (9) - Loved this. Great pace, a fantastic reveal, a labyrinthine plot, some huge shocks and a wonderful performance from Michelle Gomez as Missy. This is what cliffhangers were invented for - a story that fully deserves its long running time.

Death in Heaven (8) - Inevitably, this cannot match the power of the first-part, mainly because the big surprises and twists have been revealed. Great set-piece on the plane and in the graveyard, though not happy about the Brigadier Cyberman. Just seemed a bit macabre. The final departure is very well done, with the double-lies of Clara and the Doctor meaning that they are both in a bad place. Really not looking forward to the Santa meets Alien Christmas special.

Average season score – 7.2

I loved Capaldi. He’s just wonderful as The Doctor. He hasn’t set a foot wrong all year. Jenna Coleman has also been given the chance to shine as Clara – right from Deep breath and up to her departure. Has this been at the expense of developing The Doctor? Maybe, but it also meant she could become more than The Impossible Girl. Kudos also to Sam Anderson as Danny Pink, the man with demons who paid the ultimate price. 

In all, a solid season with plenty of evidence that even at 51 this programme is still willing and able to take risks.    


  1. Broadly agree with your summary, although obviously I'd rate some higher and some lower. While I didn't enjoy all the eps this year, I did appreciate the experimentation with different styles of storytelling; something we arguably haven't seen since the first couple of years of Hartnell. The series is again trying to find out what it is and what it can (and can't) do. As a consequence it fails from time to time. Having said that, when was the last time anyone talked about, say, Casualty or Holby in the same terms DW is talked about (let alone caused a frenzy when leaked to the internet).
    Glad to see much less of the sonic screwdriver as a magic wand, and a Doctor without a catchphrase.
    PC is a joy and for such a dour old sod is incredibly funny ("the glass is only this big, but there's this much sugar" was genius). Conversely he's also great at the big dramatic moments; the "Gallifrey" scene was almost distressing to watch. I'm always a bit uncomfortable when the BBC promotes this series as "Drama" (I'm one of few who actually agreed with Stephen Fry when he made this point and was roundly lambasted for it), but scenes like this go a long way to showing I'm wrong.

    1. Absolutely. The Gallifrey scene was heartbreaking. Just can't imagine Ecclestone, Tennant or Smith being that good.