Doctor Who season 8 (series 8 depending what side of the pond you’re on) suffered from a series of highs and lows, twists and turns, that left me longing for seasons of past despite loving the characters. By the end of the season, I felt lost confused and very uncertain about how I felt about the season as a whole. The lows felt relatively low, but the highs felt relatively high. The character work set it apart, yet I still couldn’t come to terms with how I felt at the end of the season. I’m still not fully sure and I’ve had more than a week to mull it over.
Let’s start with what the season did right. For one, their best decision the entire season was casting Peter Capaldi. Something came to life in Capaldi’s eyes that traveled through his entire performance. He made the 12th Doctor shine and despite his gruff I loved him. He was different and less lovey dovey. Now, don’t get me wrong the 12th Doctor was incredibly caring. Those he felt deserved his care were always taken care of, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have a strange way of showing it. The 12th Doctor came off as a grumpy old man who called you by the wrong name, but was still sad when you didn’t come trampling over his lawn. He had this exterior that was up, keeping people away. You could sense that he was always thinking. Always devise a plan of what to do next. He was a delight to see on a weekly basis if only to see him flit around the screen irritated and belligerent. If come to really adore his portrayal as the Doctor, though I must admit he slowly moved from aggressively grumpy to only pleasantly grumpy as the season went on.
Clara was another major bright point on the season. Her previous stint as a companion was plagued by her existence as the impossible girl. As a result, she was less of a person and more of a mystery for the Doctor to figure out. It was a fun mystery, but with it solved and seeing how she really was the impossible girl, it left her a number of possibilities for her character to explore. Unfortunately, that wasn’t touched on at all, which was likely necessary based on the series desire to move from being more serialized to more episodic. Despite this little fumble with losing some potential from her character, this season made an effort to make sure that Clara was more than just a mystery, but that she was a person and a rather interesting one at that. The season gave Clara the chance to really stand up to the Doctor. In some ways, she felt much like Donna did as she was a companion to the 12th Doctor. She cared for him deeply, but she wasn’t afraid to call him on all of his bullshit (and there was plenty). Clara as a character grew into a person that could stand up to the Doctor and as a result she became a more interesting person. This new found bravery to not stand around for shenanigans led to an interesting story line with the Doctor as she worked out whether traveling with the Doctor was a good thing.
Much of this questioning didn’t begin until after Clara started letting Danny Pink into her life. I liked Danny Pink. Danny never really went on adventures with the Doctor. At first I was very afraid that Danny was going to turn into Mickey 2.0. In some ways, he unfortunately did, but there was a very big difference. Where Rose was completely enamored with the Doctor and the life so much to the point that any pleas from Mickey fell on deaf ears, Danny and Clara were different. Danny and Clara were really in love and Danny didn’t feel that sort of jealousy towards the Doctor that Mickey did. Instead, he was more concerned with Clara’s safety. Ultimately that’s all he wanted for her, not that she goes on these trips. He was more concerned that Clara would be left in trouble due to the Doctor’s flighty nature. And The Doctor was very flighty, often leaving Clara behind to fend for herself (though I believe it was more a statement of his confidence in her even if it didn’t seem that way). It was interesting to see that progression of their relationship. Danny the former soldier who saw the Doctor for what he was, a man willing to command from the sidelines and send his people to battle in his stead. A man willing to risk lives to save his own. While the Doctor saw the soldier that only reminded him of how awful they could be and what he’d done. It led to a very bitter but interesting relationship to follow. However ultimately, both wanted what was best for Clara. That was the one thing that could make them somewhat put aside their differences.
While the characters and relationships that we followed this season were really top notch, not everything was. There were more than a few episodes that I ultimately wish I could erase from my memory forever due to their quality. More than just a couple episodes failed to deliver truly engaging stories or feel really worth it at the end of the day. That unfortunately is what happens when there is a shift from serialized to episodic. With more individual episodes standing alone, there are more chances and opportunities for episodes to falter.
The most egregious problem with the season was a lack of weight on a number of episodes despite the proclaimed incoming destruction. Danny’s involvement this season kept us more closely on Earth and less off on new planets and places. That in itself is fine. The real problem actually comes when we are told episode after episode that if this event succeeds the whole world can be destroyed. To which Clara would respond, but we’ve seen the future and the Earth was here, so that can’t possibly be true. And then the Doctor would respond with his normal answer about how time is malleable. That the future isn’t fixed and Earth very well could be destroyed. And every single time the Earth would be saved. Honestly, one expects the Earth to be saved on the show, so the tension is often lower in these situations. However, when the entire Earth is repeatedly threatened to this scale and always thwarted it grows stale. To make it worse when all is saved, it often felt like the weight of what happened was lost. What is the point, when the decisions people make to save or leave the Earth are unimportant.
Another downside of the season was the lack of original enemies that were introduced. Not once did we face a threat that was so dire that they felt like a new big bad. Instead, we faced Cybermen (at least in a different capacity), we faced the Master now going by Missy. We faced daleks. There was no introduction of some creature truly compelling that we hadn’t yet seen like the Ood or the Silence. They were ultimately forgettable and that is unfortunate when it comes to Doctor Who.
Where does Doctor Who go from here?
The end of the season was nice and bottled up, yet completely uncertain. The Doctor and Clara have parted ways, each lying to each other to spare their feelings. It felt sad, final, yet unresolved. Where do they each go from here? It’s not really clear. Hopefully the Christmas special will give us a better idea of what is to come.
That said as for content for the next season, I hope to see more of our curmedgeonly Doctor in all of his glory. There’s something refreshing to having a snarky and a bit gloomy Doctor especially after two runs of very chipper upbeat Doctors with Tennant and Smith. I’d like to see him get a bit more grumpy in the likes of how he was midseason. Hopefully next season will also bring us an introduction of a truly great new creature to enjoy. And finally, I’d be particularly pleased if Doctor who went with a more blended season. The episodic nature worked, but it still felt a bit lacking in that another two parter set that upped the stakes in a more realistic way would have been useful.
What did you think of the season?
Check out the Doctor Who season/series 8 gallery here.