We’ve come so far, that it feels like a lifetime ago that I sat down to watch the first episode of Doctor Who‘s ninth series, with that familiar mixture of excitement and trepidation; hoping against hope, but expecting to be disappointed.
Actually, that familiar disappointment hasn’t come. There haven’t been any out-and-out bad episodes, or even any mediocre ones. The odd one or two which hasn’t worked has been a noble failure, in that I could see what it was trying to get at, and it’s failure was not any real disgrace to the series, simply experiments that did not quite pay off.
And along the way, we have had a few episodes which weregenuine greats, up there with the likes of “Midnight”, “Blink” and even old greats like “The Genesis of the Daleks”.
The question now is whether the season finale can finish on that high note, or whether the dying chord will let the whole thing down.
I won’t say just yet whether that’s a good thing or not, save that me putting off my review for this long either means a very good episode or a very bad episode.
And I want it so badly to be the former. I have loved this series so far, even at its lowest ebbs. It has finally seemed to grow into the promise that the role has always had waiting in the wings. An irascible but loveable Doctor, with some meaty writing to get his teeth into, and even the ever annoying presence of Clara hasn’t been able to keep it from greatness.
So is this the crowning glory, or the long-feared stumbling block?
There are a number of classic Who villains of whom I have never seen what the fuss was about. The Cybermen are one. Given how clunky the buggers are, you’d think you could escape them by simply walking at a brisk pace. Or failing that, by sprinkling some water over them and waiting for them to rust.
The Zygons are in a similar camp for me. I get that shapeshifting aliens are scary, but it sort of spoils it when they have to keep the person alive in order to remain them. Or maybe I was spoiled by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Anyway, series nine has been on a bit of a roll so far, so let’s see if they can repeat it with the Zygons, shall we?
It occurs to me, setting out to write this review, that although both Peter Capaldi and David Tennant are Scottish, only the former has been allowed to keep his accent in the role of the Doctor. I am astonished that this has yet to feature in an angry press release from the SNP, actually.
So hiting the midway point, where are we? Surprisingly, with an unusually good series, so far. That might not be everyone’s view, and granted I am a fan, but I haven’t written any episodes off yet, and usually by this point I would have expected at least one review to consist mostly of sighs. But that hasn’t happened yet.
Of course, my very stating that in the preface of a review has doubtless jinxed it. But here goes (Allons-y! -Ed)
One thing that the new two-part episode format is doing for Doctor Who is making the series go faster. Or maybe that’s just my perception. Anyway, we are creeping towards the halfway point, and the impossible has happened.
It has almost entirely been good.
More than that, we’re working to a coherent song-sheet as to the theme running through the series, around how the Doctor shapes those who travel with him. It’s not a new theme, and worryingly it was very well done in the series four finale “Journey’s End”. Can it be improved on? I doubt we’ll really know until the series is done, but Capaldi is a very different actor to Tennant.
At this point in a series of Doctor Who, I’m usually feeling a little reticent, wavering on the hit-and-miss quality that it always seems to oscillate around. Not this time around though. Three episodes in, and all have struck the right notes for me.
I do wonder if what is essentially a family show is perhaps at risk of becoming too dark. Some of the worst episodes of new Who, in my opinion, have been those which go too absurd, too flat out silly. But given that that’s where the series has gone more often than it has gone the darker and more serious route. It feels like we’re onto new ground, and it’s rather an exciting move.
So regular readers will know that when I watched the début of Peter Capaldi’s second series in the TARDIS, I was pleasantly surprised. Having cast my eyes around the interwebs, that wasn’t universally the opinion, but I’m standing by my impressions.
It was funny, it was dark, it was bold, and as the opener to a new series it did what too often New Who has shied away from. The cliffhanger also raises an interesting format, whereby they seem to be going for a collection of two-part episodes, and giving stories two hours to run over. This feels like a little more room for stories to breathe, and a step towards the serials of old.
And given that this blogger grew up on the adventures of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor (Reruns, I have to stress -Ed), a character which more than a few times Capaldi’s iteration has harked back to.
Of course, setting up a compelling story is all well and good. New Who has always excelled in that. It‘s the resolution that Moffat et al usually fall down on, and it’s that on which “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witch’s Familiar” will be judged.
The previous season, Peter Capaldi’s first in the leading role, was a hit and miss affair, but it did rather end on a high note with Michelle Gomez’s fantastic “Missy” (The Mistress… As in, The Master, but female. Geddit? -Ed) as the perfect villainous counterpoint for Capaldi’s mad Scotsman. One of the finest climaxes, in fact, since the BBC resurrected the series.
This, though, is the difficult second album of the Twelfth Doctor. In some ways a little more hopeful that it might be a little smoother this time around, given that the episodes here have all been specifically written for the Capaldi, rather than Matt Smith’s leftovers.
And, having had a glance down the episode list, it looks to me like the episodes are actually structured as a series of two-part stories. Which, from my perspective, sounds great. What we need from this new Doctor is some exploration of the particular character of this incarnation. And Capaldi is just crying out for a darker, grittier sort of Doctor.
I have always found Doctor Who Christmas specials to be a bit hit or miss. That’s probably a description you could apply to the series in general, but the required shoehorning of Christmas paraphernalia into the storyline tends to stretch the credibility that bit further.
David Tennant’s debut in “The Christmas Invasion” is probably the pinnacle of them, whilst offerings like “The Next Doctor” were no different than ordinary. And the likes of “The Snowmen” were just pretty bad.
And, it being Christmas, the viewership figures will be higher, and opinions will be divided. So this, humbly offered below, is mine.
Here we are then. The beginning of the end of this first journey with the twelfth Doctor. Can we really be here already?
The thread of “Missy”, and “Paradise” has been running through this season from the very beginning, and it is clearly going to come to a head in this episode and its concluding part “Death in Heaven”. I have frequently boiled down to the series conclusion approaches of the series since its revival as: Russell T. Davies could set up excellent stakes, and then disappoint in the resolution; whereas Steven Moffat sets up equally gargantuan stakes, alongside a conclusion of bat-shit bonkers.
Capaldi is not Tennant or Smith, and his Doctor is more along the lines of Ecclestone’s. So I don’t think that the over-exaggerated, camp-ish style which they used. I’m hoping for something a little more measured. Insane, I’m sure, but a bit more…Capaldi.