Top of the Docs: Series 8 (2014)

I was in Ireland when the announcement came that The Thick of It star, Peter Capaldi, would be playing the 12th Doctor.  I had just seen him as a WHO doctor in Brad Pitt’s World War Z only to find out he’d be playing a Doctor Who in the near future.  I liked the idea; who doesn’t like Peter Capaldi?  I was excited and with that dreadful final episode of Smith’s run, it could only get better.  Right?  Let’s see what Roger and I thought about season 8…

series 8

Deep Breath

RP: 1 – After seven glorious seasons, here’s where it all starts to go wrong. We start moving away from the idea of Doctor Who as family viewing, with a dinosaur shown burning to death, and astonishingly we are repeating the mistakes of the Sixth Doctor era, with a nasty Doctor we just can’t warm to, who even steals a coat from a poor vagrant. A horrible, horrible misstep.

ML: 8 – I am very fond of this opener, but it’s not without issue.  I don’t like the potential that the Doctor killed the clockwork droid, nor do I like that he stole a jacket from a homeless man.  I do think the story is action packed and I like most of the story.  I think Clara fails here pretty badly but I think the story is definitely above average.  I really did think we could release that deep breath we had taken before the season started.  We appeared to be in good hands…

Into the Dalek

RP: 3 – There is really nothing original about this episode, which is a mash-up of ideas from previous stories, but the comparison between the Doctor and the Daleks is interesting and works very well. The Doctor is still out of character, though, acting as if The Day of the Doctor never happened. He has become the War Doctor, but meaner.

ML: 2 – I give this a below average score, but with a few caveats: there are some good lines, a fun new pseudo-companion, and a great discussion with the Dalek.  Sadly the Doctor has degenerated into a man who doesn’t care traveling with a companion that is self centered and doesn’t get the Doctor, even though she’s seen ALL of his incarnations.  What were the writers thinking?  The only thing we went into is a pit of carelessness.  

Robot of Sherwood

RP: 2 – Mark Gatiss works very hard to show us the clichéd version of Robin Hood rather than any genuine attempt at an historical episode. That’s so he can make a comparison between Robin and the Doctor, but unsubtle doesn’t even begin to describe it. Very silly from beginning to end, and the Doctor seems to be on a character arc from bully to idiot.

ML: 3 – Below average but has a brilliant comedy element to it.  Not enough to break out of the below average range, nor is it maintained long enough, but it works reasonably well.  Unfortunately the Doctor is still not being written very well and the story is a bit tedious.  If only I could steal a point from a richer episode to give to this…

Listen

RP: 9 – Suddenly Doctor Who is back. This is a pivotal episode, which uses Danny’s childhood as a parallel for the Doctor’s, and makes the Doctor relatable as somebody who has experienced childhood fears that will be familiar to many of the viewers. The monster is very scary, and the means of defeating it is a brilliant subversion of Blink – the fear must be faced, and come to terms with.

ML: 8 – Listen, this is a solid episode with lots of creepy elements that should put this episode higher, but it’s brought down heavily by a bogus story that goes nowhere and far too much of the abusive relationship that has become the Doctor/Clara trademark.  Clara is a liar and the Doctor is a puppy lapping at the feet of his master, Clara.  The barn was a shock to me too.  If the story were not so powerful otherwise, I’d have to drop this into a much lower category.  

Time Heist

RP: 3 – The concave heads are an indefensible demonisation of physical disability, and entirely inappropriate for family viewing, but the Teller is a great creation. The plot itself is a rather silly heist movie stuff, that doesn’t really hold together very well, and the Doctor’s characterisation is still dreadful.

ML: 8 – I actually really like this episode as it plays Ocean’s 11 with the Doctor Who universe.  I think you have to view Capaldi’s first season as an experiment in a what if universe: this time, what if the Doctor was just George Clooney in Space.  And when the Doctor says that a new friend died, but at least they didn’t, I makes me wonder who this Doctor is.  Fun episode but it can’t rise to classic because the Doctor is just not the Doctor… has someone stolen the character we knew?

The Caretaker

RP: 1 – Let’s be clear here: this is all about Danny’s opinion of the Doctor as an aristocratic officer, and it’s a nonsensical accusation based almost entirely on the word “lord” in Time Lord, a race of people the Doctor rejected. Instead of defending his position, the Doctor just gets childish. To make matters worse, we have a battle of wills between two men, one of whom is a Neanderthal with no concept of platonic love, and then other who is starting to behave like a mentally abusive jealous love rival. The means by which this mess is delivered to the audience is an entirely forgettable story about a robot.

ML: 1 – Claptrap.  And if you know the robot and the game series that has Claptrap in it, you might just get that it’s more than a mockery of the episode.  This alternate universe story is the Doctor playing Snyder from One Day at a Time.  He’s grumpy, rude, and not even helpful in saving the world from a low budget robot.  The writer wasn’t taking care of the franchise at all.

Kill the Moon

RP: 2 – So here’s an idea for a Doctor Who story: three female characters will decide whether to abort an unborn baby or not. Yeah, let’s have that pro-choice or pro-life debate as a Doctor Who episode! That’ll be a jolly jape! Oh, and while we’re about it, now we’ve made sure nobody likes the new Doctor, let’s make sure all the viewers can’t stand Clara either. At least the science makes sense… oh. Gains an extra point for the monsters.

ML: 6 – A lot going for this one, including some creepy moments with a really scary monster.  The alternate universe theme this week is the moon is an egg, because … no, there’s really no logic to it.  I like this one, but mostly because of atmosphere.  The Doctor is still not the Doctor we know and has so little understanding of people that it’s actually a bit painful.  Not quite above average, but mostly because of an unrecognizable hero and a weird plot device.  Kill the logic, more like.  

Mummy on the Orient Express

RP: 10 – Thank you Jamie Mathieson, for lifting us out of the misery of this awful season, and setting us off on a run of three sublime episodes. This is scary, astonishingly clever, and even manages to do something interesting with the abysmal TARDIS team Mathieson inherited at this point. Frank Skinner as Perkins is the icing on the cake.

ML: 9 – Genuinely good story but that’s what happens when you pull from the classics.  This is Doctor Who meets Murder on the Orient Express with a hint of Death on the Nile.  The Doctor is actually the hero of the piece too, although there is a touch of ambiguity to the ending that makes us wonder if the Doctor really is back but for the most part it looks like someone found a clue and brought him back.

Flatline

RP: 9 – For the second episode in a row, Mathieson writes Doctor Who using horror tropes, but makes that work by balancing it with some absurd humour. It works brilliantly. Despite the slight annoyance of Clara trying to be the Doctor, this is still a great episode.

ML: 10 – Contrary to the title, this one doesn’t flatline.  In fact, it’s incredibly strong with great music (a sorely lacking element this season).  Fantastic ending too.  If I disliked one thing it’s that the Doctor is sidelined for Clara to take the lead again.  Oh, well, it couldn’t last.  Moffat seemed to want Jenna to be the Doctor more than Capaldi.  Still, the episode is very creative and scary. 

In The Forest of the Night

RP: 10 – Disliked mainly by fans who want Doctor Who to be boringly rational and scientific all the time, this is a work of genius which uses the rules of poetry and applies them to a Doctor Who episode, steeped in the magical beauty of the work of William Blake. Truly sublime.

ML: 4 – A clever idea that, like an egg-moon, disregards any sense of realism.  Not just the overnight tree bloom, but the fact that no one is outside looking for their kids.  Even the teachers miss the fact that one of their students went missing. The Doctor treats the kids like they are annoying and worst of all, he tells one child to stay off her meds.  Is this a message we want for kids who might need medication?  Maybe it’s meant to be funny: a doctor telling a patient not to take medicine.  Things are falling apart this season.

Dark Water/Death in Heaven

RP: 0 – We started the series by moving Doctor Who away from family viewing, with a nasty Doctor and a dinosaur in flames. Now we are rejecting the family audience wholesale, with a story about people dying and then experiencing the agony of cremation after death, the death of a major character in a real-world manner, and the companion hitting rock bottom and then the Doctor telling her to “go to hell”. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the Brigadier is dragged up out of his grave, and then the Doctor smashes his female, sentient, pseudo-wife TARDIS. Out and out the most revolting Doctor Who story I have ever had the misfortune to watch. Moffat should have been sacked immediately following this season. It really is that bad.

ML: 2 – Definitely below average, but there are a few redeeming moments, like when the Doctor forgives Clara for her disgusting betrayal.  I think it speaks well of him.  The scene of the Doctor catching the falling TARDIS is magnificent and the music in the second part is great.    But the list of flaws is almost too high to count.  Another unsuccessful cyber conversion is bad enough but the fact that our deceased loved ones are in constant pain might have crossed a line.  Dark waters indeed.  Barely able to hold a mid-grade below average score.

Last Christmas

RP: 9 – Any episode of any television show that explores the dream argument is almost guaranteed to be entertaining and absolutely fascinating, and this is no exception. Interestingly, the layers are not between the real world and the fictional world of the series, but between sci-fi and fantasy, with fantasy in the middle of the nested dreams. A very clever episode, which also finds time to tackle issues of escapism and loneliness.

ML: 9 – A Christmas episode that was actually a really good sci-fi adventure.  A dream within a dream that could have perfectly excused Season 9 from ever happening and a really beautiful send off to Clara.  Oh, wait, none of that happened.  Well, it was still a good episode with some really beautiful moments.  At least we end on a high note.  

Roger said to me that he felt this was a strong contender for the worst series of Doctor Who ever made, detesting most of the episodes. “…I don’t think Doctor Who has ever recovered from the damage done by Moffat at this point.”  To me, this was not the weakest season, in fact it had some really good stories.  The problem for me was that the Doctor was nearly unrecognizable and not quite the hero of the hour.  It’s like we were given an alternate version of him which fails to make sense considering how old the Doctor would be by this point of his life.  This season didn’t know how to write our hero.  Would that improve or get worse?  Only time would tell.  ML

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4 Responses to Top of the Docs: Series 8 (2014)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Going back to older Doctors after a long time, even with a very superb actor like Peter Capaldi, was a gamble for many reasons. It didn’t necessarily justify the decision for the 12th Doctor to be more on the unpleasant side. Given how the Doctor’s PTSD was reasonably cured by how he had found a way to finally save Gallifrey, we would have naturally expected and preferred a persona that was a lot more upbeat, as we now have with Jodie. Actors who have been in favor of reflecting Hartnell’s original take on the role understood how the Doctor’s negative tendencies benefited the character’s alien eccentricity. But even with Capaldi’s share of success in some areas, clearly we could only go so far.

    Like Colin Baker’s first full season, we had a female companion who was quite often at odds with the male Doctor, which Jenna as Clara could make work in certain ways. Coupled with how they brought back familiar villains with a certain amount of newer story material. Particularly a first female Master for which Michelle Gomez was marvelous. So all in all the ambition was there for Moffat and Capaldi to still make the best of Doctor Who in the wake of the 50th Anniversary.

    It wasn’t one of the best first seasons for a new Doctor. But it still encouraged Whovians enough to keep the faith. Thank you both for your Top of the Docs on S8.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ShiraDest says:

    Hmm, I’d prefer the family version of the Doctor.

    Liked by 1 person

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