Quick Thoughts on Doctor Who, Season 8
Friday, September 19, 2014
The best start to a season that Doctor Who has ever had
I’ve been setting up this blog (and working) for the past few weeks so I haven’t had a lot of time to actually start writing. And it’s been killing me, because during this time I’ve been watching (and rewatching) what might possibly be the most interesting season of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. I’ve been itching to write about it, but I’ve only really got the opportunity now. So, I’m going to quickly give my thoughts on the first four episodes and the season so far, and we’ll really dig deep in an episode on Saturday, when Time Heist airs.
I was really excited about this episode - new Doctor, in theaters, extended runtime, what’s not to like? As it turns out, plenty. But there’s a lot that’s good in this episode as well, and at the end of the day it turns out to still be an episode I enjoy.
For a brief recap, the newly regenerated Twelfth Doctor crash lands out of a dinosaur in Victorian London, where he quickly gets embroiled in an investigation of clockwork droids trying to become human. This is done by killing people and harvesting their organs, so obviously the Doctor is not okay with this, and eventually saves the day in a rather ambiguous fashion. Meanwhile, Clara (and the majority of the audience) is dealing with the fact that the Doctor has changed.
I’ll start with what works. Peter Capaldi is amazing. While he can definitely be hard to understand at times1 the alienness of this Doctor is right up what I want from the character, and that coupled with the gravitas of the acting really adds tension to the story. We really were becoming too familiar with the Doctor. Now he’s realistically a potential threat again. The episode uses this to great effect — when the Doctor threatens to kill someone in this episode and offers them a beer before he has to do it, you actually believe this Doctor will do it. Eleven had moments where he could play scary, but it’s just normal for Twelve. Post regeneration Twelfth Doctor interactions with the droids are the best parts of the episode.
Unfortunately, most of the episode is not that. Most episodes, I wish we had more time. This one, I felt like it dragged on and on. There’s a lot of Clara and the Victorian gang simply babbling. Sometimes about the Doctor, and in a few painfully long scenes about Clara herself. To some extent this is supposed to be funny, and to another extent this is supposed to help the viewers “get over” the fact that the Doctor has grown old. Well, it’s not funny, for sure.
The Doctor changing gets a lot of script time in this episode and it’s all really awkward. It’s as if Moffat decided he needed to talk directly to the teenage fandom of the show, and not in any subtle manner. Characters (including the Doctor himself) repeatedly utter lines such as “I’m not flirting, by the way” and “I’m not your boyfriend”, and it’s terrible from a story standpoint because it’s totally forced. I get that there were concerns from the show runner that the mindset of some fans needed to be changed so that they wouldn’t quit the show, but please, make those attempts off camera, or integrate them with more skill.
Finally, never ever ever ever interrupt a new Doctor’s debut for an old Doctor interlude. The phone call between Clara and Eleven was wrong for many reasons, but primarily it prevents you from internalizing the change in the Doctor. When you watched The Eleventh Hour, the Eleventh Doctor owns that story. The Twelfth should own this one. I started watching the show under Matt Smith’s run, and so he’ll always to some extent have played my canonical Doctor, but I was (and am) totally buying Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Having Matt Smith show up in the debut ruins the effect. What’s worse, he didn’t add anything. Got sucked into the “not your boyfriend” story and rephrased his words from Trenzalore.
I sound like I hated this episode, but really, Peter Capaldi is awesome, and so this episode is saved.
Into the Dalek
While the last episode was a brief remix of The Girl in the Fireplace, this episode is almost exactly the same as the Ninth Doctor episode Dalek. Unfortunately, the Ninth Doctor episode is better than this, if only because it came first, but Into the Dalek is really good as well.
The best parts of the episode actually have nothing to do with the Dalek, as it turns out. The Dalek story is serviceable enough - the Doctor believes that the Dalek might be good, and therefore a candidate for receiving his help, whereupon the Dalek reverts to being a Dalek once again. So the Doctor and Clara work from the inside to attempt to restore the good Dalek. In between, other Daleks blow things up and eventually they all get killed off by the “good” Dalek.
The real power of this episode comes in the examination of morality, really. There are quite a few interesting questions raised throughout the episode - is a Dalek who hates the Daleks really a good Dalek or just a Dalek with the wrong kind of hatred? If the Doctor has the same hatred, as far as the Dalek can see, what separates him from the Daleks? Do the Daleks, despite all the terrible things they do, deserve to die when we know now that there is potential for some kind of Dalek rehabilitation? Truth be told, this episode didn’t make me scared of the Daleks again like some claimed it would, but when Rusty the Dalek decided to kill off all the other Daleks, I did actually feel sorry for the Daleks as they died, and I never thought that would happen while watching this show.
The episode punts on answering some of these questions, generally claiming that it’s enough to try to be a good person, even if at the core you might not be. This is in some sense a callback to the opening of The Day of the Doctor, and we can accept that, to some extent. I was curious, however, in examining why the Doctor both dismisses the level of care he has as well as questions his character. None of the Nu-Who Doctors in the past have ever really been cold as a personality trait, and I wonder if it has a little to do with how the emotional toll of trying (and essentially almost failing) at Trenzalore has resulted in a Doctor who is bitter and cynical on the outside as a shield.
Solid episode of Doctor Who. I do wish they’d give the Daleks some rest though.
Robot of Sherwood
I thought this episode would suck. I was totally wrong.
This isn’t a very complicated episode. On some level it’s just a fun adventure for the Doctor and Clara, and on another level it’s a allegorical take on what the Doctor represents to the people who know of him, in universe and out2. Either way, it’s downright enjoyable to watch, and rewatch. There’s not much more else to say.
If it weren’t for the next episode, I’d say this was a canonical episode of Doctor Who.
Back in the olden days of Doctor Who, 50 years ago, the show was actually designed to be a kids program. The Doctor would travel in time, back and forth, exploring history and potential futures, educating about the past and deliberating on issues that might affect the future. There weren’t supposed to be any monsters on the show at all.
Then, the Daleks happened. On the second episode, no less. And people realized that you could be educational and still have monsters, and that monsters turned out to make the show really really fun. Over time, the monster free episodes were phased out, and now, every episode of Doctor Who, historical or not, has a monster at its center. It’s led to some great episodes.
So it’s rather interesting that this episode, an episode that I might dare to call the best episode the show has had since 2005 and probably earlier than that as well, is centered around the idea that sometimes, there is no monster. Just a nagging doubt in the back of your mind that something is out there, deep down. We’re talking about an episode devoted to the impact of fear, and how it shapes us based on our reactions to it. We also see what makes the Doctor special - it’s how he reacts to fear by accepting it, making him stronger, guiding him to never be cowardly.
Beyond that, the episode is just downright well made, well acted, well paced. It’s slow enough that you think it runs for longer than 45 minutes but you’re always engaged (and occasionally very apprehensive). It covers three different time periods and sheds valuable insight on Clara, the Doctor, and Danny Pink. Just… a perfect episode of Doctor Who. We’ll be talking about this one for a while to come.
I’m hoping to get a review of some sorts up every night I watch new television (only new television for now, at the rate I binge watch old television I’d have three reviews to write every day). This is still an ambitious attempt given how many shows I watch3 so who knows. There should only be at most two a day.
It took me FOREVER to get used to an English accent but four years later I got it down. Now I have to start over with the Scottish. ↩
Actually, the episode is littered with gags referencing the debate external to the show. Even stuck a jab at the sonic screwdriver in there! ↩
Tuesday nights with Agents of SHIELD and Person of Interest will NOT be fun. Except I love those shows. ↩