Last year saw the first season of Doctor Who featuring Peter Capaldi in the title role. I didn’t see it, though. After the abysmal 2013 episode that said goodbye to Matt Smith I cried “Uncle!” I couldn’t take the heartbreak anymore and decided I’d wait and see if season 8 was worth my time before signing on.
The general consensus was that, while still no great shakes, the excesses of seasons 6 and 7 had been rolled back and there was a return to just straight up stories with little overarching plot. So I went ahead and started checking it out.
I like Capaldi, but I didn’t think I wouldn’t. He’s a type of Doctor I’m glad we have, and he’s an actor that can pull it off. While certainly more “dark” than the previous two, he’s also not leaning into that “Oncoming Storm” thing that got so tedious. I like that he’s back at arm’s reach; the Doctor is not your friend and not your dad.
It took me a while to figure out how I feel about Clara, but I think I finally figured it out. I like her when she’s with the Doctor. She’s a fairly run-of-the-mill companion in those cases and does the job about as well as any of them. When she’s on her own, though, my brain just starts to shut down. She’s worse than dull, I find her actively annoying as a schoolteacher or girlfriend to Danny Pink, who I also find pretty uninteresting. There’s no chemistry to them, alone or separately. I have no idea why either would be interested in the other.
On the other hand, Courtney is great.
So here are my thoughts on the first seven episodes of this season. There will probably be spoilers but this stuff is a year old, so who cares.
Deep Breath – A deep breath is what I had to take because I knew we started out with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, the trio of characters everyone except me seems to adore. Sure enough they did their usual thing, while the Doctor did his usual post-regeneration thing. The mystery was just kind of there, but that’s par for the course on a Doctor’s first episode. This one really felt like a throwback to one of the Awful Seasons with not only the Paternoster Gang but things like the dinosaur that serves no purpose, an unnecessary retread of a former Moffat episode, and a lot of unsolved mysteries to go “ooh” over and wonder what that’s going to turn out to be even though we know the answer is usually “not much”. Missy makes her first appearance here and while she was already spoiled for me, I was also glad to find out she wouldn’t be popping up regularly like a certain eyepatch woman we all know and ultimately forgot about. The episode wasn’t terrible but it was one I knew I just had to get out of the way.
Into the Dalek – As pal Dave T. pointed out, yes, a lot of this was a repeat of 2005’s “Dalek” but then again 2005 was nine years ago so maybe that’s not a bad thing. Despite the sort of hokey premise (why exactly do they have to be teeny-tiny? Can’t Daleks be opened for repairs?) I actually liked the way it played out. I loved the Doctor’s dialog that showed he only half pays attention to what he’s being told, though I thought the handling of “hating soldiers” being this Doctor’s Thing was a bit heavy handed. All in all I liked this one.
“So you escaped from Castrovalva…”
Robot of Sherwood – I loved this episode. It was so much fun; absolutely dumb but having a great time anyway. Even the golden arrow was charming and endearing. I was actually astonished that they managed to get James Stoker to play the Sheriff of Nottingham. In fact, it seemed to me like there were a ton of Fifth Doctor references, with nods to “The Visitation” (the setting, the androids), “Kinda” (the circle of mirrors), “Enlightenment” (the Doctor flat out says the prize he wants is “enlightenment”), and the aforementioned “The King’s Demons”. I thought this one was a hoot, and it’s more of what I’d like to see in the show.
Listen – Does Doctor Who finally have its own “Darmok”, an episode which seems to be rich with meaning until you think about it for more than twenty seconds? I’m overstating it, possibly, but boy did I dislike this episode, and it wasn’t helped by the suspicion that it was praised to the heavens after it aired. It starts out with the Doctor postulating a life form that has perfected hiding. Well that’s a good start, though we already have a term — camouflage — and several examples of this to work from. Then there’s a bit where we go visit young Danny Pink and there might be something in his bed. We don’t know! But we can’t look at it! We leave that and go into the future where we see Old Man Pink (I know, it’s not him but a descendent) who is the last living being in the universe except what if there’s something outside! And then the Doctor was a fraidy cat when he was a wee babby. And that’s the end. So was there a creature or not? I’m okay if there wasn’t, but was there? What kind of “ultimate hider” shows up wearing sheets and rattling chains the moment someone suspects it’s there? What was the point of seeing Li’l Doctor? What was the point of any of this? “Listen” used the same elements as “Blink” (monster affected by looking at it) and “Midnight” (an unknown invisible entity) without being anywhere as good as either of them. A lot of faff and nonsense.
Time Heist – I’ve mentioned how everyone loves a good heist story, so I was really looking forward to this one and it turned out to be…well…just not very good. It’s basically a situation that would normally be a breeze for the Doctor, what with owning a TARDIS and all, but which he decided to overcomplicate for himself. An argument could be made that he’s putting on a show for Clara, but even so he still comes up with a lousy heist. It’s tough to sell me on an impregnable bank if you have air vents you can literally kick out and crawl through. When we got to the end I did like what the ultimate goal of the heist was and how the Doctor got involved with it, but that still didn’t make the rest of it fall together any better. This just seemed like it should have been better than it was.
Do not operate a motor vehicle while looking at this picture, as drowsiness may occur.
The Caretaker – I always like episodes when the Doctor has to pretend to be a perfectly normal human. It’s a somewhat tired gag for the show, but it always makes me laugh. And I liked the interactions with Clara here just because it brought something interesting into her non-Doctor life, even if that interesting thing was the Doctor. The plot takes a backseat to more Clara and Danny stuff and it turns out they zzzzzzzzz, When I wake up, Courtney is introduced and the Doctor talks to her and I’m happy.
Kill the Moon – After hearing my reactions to the previous two episodes, Pal Dave T. suspected that I’d really hate “Kill the Moon”. On the contrary, I liked it. Is the main premise of it a little dumb? It is. Is the resolution of it a lot dumb? It very much is. But the way they commit to it and ride it out was really well done. It was finally a decent moment for Clara, telling off the Doctor for his handling (or non-handling) of the situation, and it was a kind of Doctor-companion conflict we haven’t really seen. Also, there was Courtney. I can’t really explain how I was able to get past the goofy nature of this story and not others. I guess it’s because goofy qua goofy isn’t really a problem, except when there’s not much else to go along with it. And was there Danny Pink in this? I think there wasn’t, and that was also a plus. Oh, and did I mention Courtney?
So far, somewhat tepid, though some nice moments. Sadly, there isn’t much truly memorable here. I’m reminded of season five when, ignoring the stupid season arc, the individual episodes just seemed flat and undercooked. Capaldi is an actor that can rip meat off the bone with his teeth; give him something to work with here.