The BBC have declared series 8 of Doctor Who a triumph, with Steven Moffat announcing:
"the miracle has happened again – the nation has taken a brand new Doctor to its heart"The whole press release read like something from Malcolm Tucker's department of spin. I don't think it was quite the triumph the BBC claimed it to be, but it certainly showed promise and presented some of the most memorable episodes we've had in recent years.
Series 8 started with a massive fanfare. A joint television broadcast and cinema release for Deep Breath presented a fairly decent opener and introduction to the new Time Lord. Having lost a modest amount of sleep concerning Peter Capaldi's appointment, my fears were eased with a solid first performance, something that was a definite theme throughout the entire series - no matter what you thought of the episode, it was hard to fault Capaldi. He set about establishing his version of the Time Lord by peeling back the layers on the character we'd known for 50 years. On the odd occasion he's even giving us a few new ones which have been a delight to discover. I must admit however to struggling with fully understanding him in the opening few episodes, was that just me?
The big question on my lips was how would the Doctor, in his current incarnation, get along with Matt Smith's impossible girl, Clara Oswald? Well, it's been an experience on an unparalleled scale - complicated, tense, confrontational, exciting and traumatic. It's a relationship that has been to the brink on more than one occasion with the Doctor seemingly hell bent in testing his companions resolve. They have butted heads as the series has gone on and the question of the Doctor's morality has been raised again and again. He reversed the tables in Kill the Moon by leaving a critical decision in her hands, preferring to let fate run it's course and relying on a 'humans' common sense (dangerous occupation. I mean he's met us, right?). We are so used to the Doctor saving the day that this type of behavior was baffling, and forgive the pun, alien to us.
But this was Capaldi's Doctor through and through. He can be distant, abrupt, arrogant, unsympathetic and cold hearted. He's a mixture of Colin Baker and William Hartnell, but there is also a whiff of Patrick Troughton's and small traces of both Tennant and Smith, all wrapped up in Pertwee's brand new clothes. Yet the Twelve Doctor does not belong exclusively to a combination of the previous incumbents, which is probably the brilliance of Capaldi's tenure so far.
More intriguing is the amount of time that the Doctor has not been the main focus of episodes. He has been absent from proceedings at crucial times in multiple stories (not just Kill The Moon), leaving Clara to hold the baby, so to speak. This has proved difficult to digest for some fans, the growing concerns over "Clara Who" not aided by the Doctor often appearing to be little more than a link or thread to the unfolding drama, and merely resembling a bystander at times. Perhaps this was a conscious decision, one which allowed greater flexibility for the type of story Moffat wanted to tell this year. At times it's worked well, but if I'm completely honest it has been slightly annoying at times. Never more so than with Clara's love interest, Danny Pink. A character who seemed to have a completely pointless story-arc, and one I feel we would've been all the better for never having met.
As a result of Clara's private life and taking charge in multiple stories, Jenna Coleman has without question suddenly become integral to the show, appearing on an equal footing and often overshadowing the Doctor, especially in Flatline where he remained trapped in the tiny TARDIS. Then there was In The Forest of The Night where the Doctor seemed almost a peripheral figure, and the aforementioned Kill the Moon where he went totally AWOL for a good chunk of the proceedings.
Moffat's idea may well have been to see Coleman's character off with a bang, by allowing us to see her contribution through different eyes and via a different perspective, but surely the low key goodbye in Death in Heaven wasn't it? After becoming so integral to the series, surely she merits a more fitting larger exit? How/If that plays out in the Christmas Special remains to be seen.
In terms of the "Darker Doctor" which we were promised for months before series 8 began, I have to admit that I was expecting a lot more. This has been a little unsatisfying after all the hype, my fault possibly but I was expecting a more sinister edge. Up until now we've only seen flashes of this side, but perhaps that was the intention? It does seem that as series 8 went on the stories themselves became darker in theme. So maybe this year has slowly established the change and prepared the audience, with Moffat expanding the theme in Capaldi's second term. Possibly free from "his carer" his darker side will be let loose more frequently.
But there is a danger of Doctor Who losing its younger audience along the way. Dark Water proved to be a controversial story, I know of some parents who would not allow their little mites to watch it. If the show goes to far in that direction then I'm sure the BBC would be fearful of damaging a prized asset and golden goose.
Another recurring aspect of series 8 was that the baddies often seemed to be easily dispatched, Daleks and Cybermen seemed eager to pack their bags and neither posed a realistic threat to the Time Lord. If anything has to change in the next batch of stories then I hope it is that. I also felt that some of the episodes were a bit too busy, with too much to be told within the boundaries of the allocated time slot.
But I don't want to sound like its all been a let down, far from it. Capaldi has been fantastic, even when saddled with weaker scripts. I wasn't a fan of Robot of Sherwood nor In The Forest of the Night, but Kill The Moon, Listen, Mummy of the Orient Express and Time Heist all went a long way towards establishing Capaldi as a Doctor to be very excited about. One who demands your attention and has the potential to be the definitive Doctor of the modern series - as long as he sticks around for a few more years that is.
I was initially blown away by Dark Water and Death In Heaven, but I've recently read a fair few comments on discussion boards concerning the finale, and after watching it a second time I have to agree that although it was very good it wasn't quite on the money. I'll skip over Missy purely because I've used up most of my superlatives in other articles, but I will say that Michelle Gomez managed to pull out a great performance just when it was needed, elevating those closing chapters with some banana's brilliance.
Overall, series 8 was full of very memorable moments, some interesting story ideas and themes, but not all of them perfectly executed. You could never accuse series 8 of not trying so let's not judge it to harshly. Instead, with Peter Capaldi confirmed for series 9, let's look forward to what is to come.
Overall score for series 8: 7 out of 10.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter