Monday, December 8, 2014

Through No Fault Of His Own . . . Peter Capaldi’s First Season As The Doctor Underwhelms: Doctor Who - Season 8

The Good: Decent performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Terrible internal continuity, Novelty episodes that fail to add cohesion to season, Overuse of Clara
The Basics: Peter Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor begins with one of the more erratic seasons of Doctor Who.

As one who has only recently gotten into Doctor Who, I was pretty excited when Peter Capaldi was announced as the next Doctor. Unfortunately, very soon into the eighth season of Doctor Who, it became clear that no matter how cool the next Doctor was, the season was not going to be remarkable. Given how “The Day Of The Doctor” redefined how many faces The Doctor has, had or could have, I don’t even bother calling Capaldi The Twelfth Doctor (he is, at the very least, the Thirteenth incarnation of this character). The eighth season of Doctor Who is unfortunately erratic and while Capaldi’s incarnation of The Doctor is interesting, he is not put in situations that play to Capaldi’s strengths.

Capaldi steps in after a series of increasingly younger Doctors who have been heartthrobs to his female companions in one form or another (Donna Noble being the only genuine exception to that rule) since the reboot began in 2005. Carrying over the prior companion, Clara Oswald, provides the sense of continuity that fans demand, but it also provides the essential weakness of the eighth season: too much of the season is spent focused on Clara Oswald and, sadly, this companion’s intrigue has already been played out. Since the revelation of what it meant for Clara to be the Impossible Girl at the climax of the prior season, Clara Oswald’s character no longer makes rational sense. Clara went through all time and space along The Doctor’s timeline and repeatedly saved every version of The Doctor, undoing the damage of the Great Intelligence. So, Clara beginning entirely befuddled about the Regeneration of The Doctor and her not knowing . . . everything that the Doctor would then encounter is just crappy writing and it makes for a season that is poorly conceived as a whole.

By no means the most serialized season of Doctor Who, the eighth season nevertheless includes serialized elements in each episode. Most of the continuity in the season revolves around Clara and her budding relationship with Coal Hill School teacher and former-soldier Danny Pink and the appearances of Missy, a mysterious woman who pops up to claim people who have died in proximity to The Doctor. Unlike seasons where The Doctor has a mission – prevent his own death, save the universe from the machinations of the Daleks, find Amelia Pond and save her baby, etc. – the eighth season finds The Doctor drifting aimlessly from adventure to adventure through time and space based on whatever whim he is interested in at any given moment.

The fundamental problem with Season Eight is that it is conceived with its own purpose as an afterthought. At the climax of “The Day Of The Doctor” and the seventh season of Doctor Who, the first thirteen incarnations of The Doctor (that we know of now) banded together to save Gallifrey and end the Great Time War in a different way. As a result, the eighth season of Doctor Who begins with an inherent sense of purpose that few of the other seasons have; the Doctor wants to find Gallifrey.

Unfortunately, he seems to have forgotten that by the beginning of the season.

Instead, The Doctor and Clara combat mechanical men similar to the ones from “The Girl In The Fireplace,” as they harvest organs in Victorian England. Following a similar pattern to prior seasons, Doctor Who leaps into the future where The Doctor and Clara get miniaturized and enter a Dalek who is malfunctioning. All the while, The Doctor rails against soldiers and the military while leading Clara and others. Zipping back in time to please Clara, the Doctor encounters Robin Hood . . . and alien robots. After that, the season both falls apart and leads to something that could have been cool, but falls just short of a genuine climax for the story of this version of The Doctor and his companion, Clara.

When The Doctor has a theory that there exist creatures that are Alpha Hiders, he, Clara, and a descendant of Danny Pink end up at the end of time. The implication in that episode is that Clara and Danny get together, have babies and have a life together. That guts the danger that Clara is put into for the rest of the season. After the Doctor joins Clara at the school she and Danny work at and then discover that the moon is, shudder, a giant egg, Clara and The Doctor agree to part ways. Of course, they do not just part ways and when the Doctor keeps popping up, the Earth is put into more danger. But when the Earth is rescued by trees, it creates a continuity problem that shatters any sense of what the Doctor Who Universe actually is; if the Earth is protected, none of the entities that come in, guns blazing, should ever be able to get the drop on them, regardless of what The Doctor does (“The Poison Sky,” especially, suffers as a result of the eighth season of Doctor Who). The season climaxes, as close as it does, with a death, the return of the Cybermen, and the revelation of who Missy actually is.

Unfortunately, the eighth season of Doctor Who is unfortunately a series of set-ups and then letdowns. Missy’s plan makes great sense, but her methodology is utterly ridiculous (she harvests the dead throughout time and space when Earth has plenty of dead people on it already and created every day!). So much of the season sets up for potentially great moments, but they are wrenched away from the viewer; Missy is a great villain who has the potential to be a brilliant new Companion, yet she is unceremoniously dispatched making the set-up and reveal something that left the producers unsure where to go.

Much of the eighth season of Doctor Who is basically “monster of the week” episodes and with the season opening treading where it had gone before put a lot of pressure on the show to do something different. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Instead, The Doctor and Clara somewhat witlessly flop from adventure to adventure while Clara lies about who she truly is to the man she claims to love and The Doctor despises on spec.

Peter Capaldi does fine as The Doctor. He plays to his strengths by creating a crabby rendition of The Doctor, who is unsure of his own moral character. That makes him interesting to watch and entertaining, for sure, but not as vital (and certainly not as goofy) as some of the other incarnations. In many ways, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor seems like the logical continuation to the story of the Doctor from the first season since the show restarted (reviewed here!); he is crabby, but has heart, he is intelligent, but impatient and often misses what is simplest in front of him. The season differentiates by pairing the intriguing Doctor up with one of the least interesting Companions yet.

The result is a season of television that is truly hit-or-miss; some episodes are worthwhile, some are fine for the season, others are problematic for how they tie into the rest of the series. The few cool ideas are undermined by unremarkable payoffs to the investment the viewer makes.

For a more comprehensive exam of the components of this boxed set, be sure to check out the reviews of the individual episodes at:
"Deep Breath"
"Into The Dalek"
"Robot Of Sherwood"
"Time Heist"
“The Caretaker”
“Kill The Moon”
“Mummy On The Orient Express”
“In The Forest Of The Night”
“Dark Water”
“Death In Heaven”
“Last Christmas”


For other Doctor Who episode and season reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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