The Good: Good characters, Decent performances, Some very engaging plotlines, Good writing for Peter Capaldi's Doctor
The Bad: A couple of wonky episodes that do not live up to the rest
The Basics: Doctor Who Season Ten finally finds the right voice for Peter Capaldi's incarnation of The Doctor . . . right before his tenure ends.
Whenever there is a casting announcement for Doctor Who, fans have a tendency to get very polarized. When Peter Capaldi was announced as The Doctor, though, a lot of people - who knew his other works - were very excited. Unfortunately, after two seasons of Doctor Who where Capaldi's talents were used poorly on Steven Moffat-plotted seasons where the writing did not match Capaldi's abilities, a lot of Doctor Who fans were disappointed. After almost a year without new Doctor Who episodes, Doctor Who returned for a tenth season, which was announced early on as Peter Capaldi's final season as The Doctor.
It was not long into the tenth season of Doctor Who before those who had initially been excited about Peter Capaldi being cast as The Doctor began to hope that Capaldi's impending departure was a bit of deception from the BBC on the order of the promise that Clara was leaving the series after Capaldi's first season as The Doctor. In other words, in the tenth season of Doctor Who, the writers managed to find both the right voice for Capaldi as The Doctor, a Companion who was smart and interesting enough to hold her own with The Doctor and plots that were generally engaging again. It's almost like Steven Moffat loped his way through his time as Executive Producer of Doctor Who and was determined not to leave the series completely hated by the fans, so he actually put some effort into producing the tenth season.
The tenth season of Doctor Who retained Nardole as a Companion for The Doctor and introduced Bill, a young woman who worked at the University where The Doctor has been teaching for decades. Doctor Who Season Ten begins at a very different place than the prior seasons; having loved, adventured, and lost River Song, The Doctor has returned to Earth where he teaches at a University and guards a mysterious vault in the basement below his office. Accompanied only by Nardole from the prior period in his life, The Doctor is acting as Earth's defender to fulfill a promise to River Song.
But, after meeting Bill and realizing she is not a complete moron, The Doctor starts to feel reinvigorated and he makes exceptions to his rule about not traveling off-world. Soon, he is showing Bill important places in time and space on his usual type of adventures. As a result, The Doctor, Bill, and occasionally Nardole, find themselves at distant human colonies in the future, encountering sea monsters in the past, surviving a haunted house, and visiting a space station and Mars. In the process, The Doctor is blinded and Bill sells Earth out to an alien race . . . which ultimately leads the trio to a distant colony ship where they encounter one of The Doctor's most deadly foes and he and Bill are put in mortal peril.
The Tenth Season of Doctor Who is nowhere near the best of the series, episodes like the witless trip to Mars with ancient British soldiers are still disappointing, but the writing is much better for the key characters of the series than in the prior seasons. The Doctor has leveled out in his mood; he is snarky without being mean and he has moments where he does not posture over his compassionate instincts.
In a similar vein, Nardole becomes more assertive in an interesting way and the new Companion, Bill, is instantly characterized as smarter and more capable than many of the prior Companions. Bill figures out most of the Doctor Who tropes on her own without needing The Doctor to explain them to her, which is refreshing. Bill, who also happens to be a lesbian, is fortunately granted a characterization that separates her from the prior, moon-eyed Companions who inevitably develop romantic feelings for The Doctor.
Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas break out in the tenth season of Doctor Who. The two relative newcomers play off Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez (who appears in many of the episodes in the latter half of the season) quite well. It is refreshing to see Lucas play Nardole as someone who is not simply used for comedy relief. In the tenth season of Doctor Who, Nardole acts often as The Doctor's conscience and forces him to keep his word to the departed River Song. Pearl Mackie plays Bill as a credible young woman, who has lost her mother, and is drifting along with the day to day until The Doctor arrives in her life. She is given big, emotionally-complicated moments to play - like having Bill at a point where she is forced to make an unholy deal with aliens who want to enslave humanity. For a one-season Companion, Mackie makes the most of her time as Bill and makes the character's brief arc memorable and one that pulls at the viewer's heartstrings.
More than anything else, though, the tenth season of Doctor Who unleashes the performance potential from Peter Capaldi that went terribly underused in his prior two seasons. When Capaldi is forced to play blind, Capaldi rises to the occasion and when The Doctor is cautiously optimistic about rehabilitating Missy from her psychotic tendencies, Capaldi plays his reactions to Michelle Gomez with complexity and subtlety.
Ultimately, Doctor Who Season Ten might not be perfect, but it is the best season Peter Capaldi had and it is enough to make fans wish he had more time in the role of The Doctor.
For more information on the content of this season, please check out my reviews of the episodes contained in it at:
"The Return Of Doctor Mysterio"
"The Pyramid At The End Of The World"
"The Lie Of The Land"
"The Empress Of Mars"
"The Eaters Of Light"
"World Enough And Time"
"The Doctor Falls"
"Twice Upon A Time"
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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