Top of the Docs: Series 9 (2015)

Peter Capaldi’s first season left something to be desired but for me, it was in the characterization that was truly off.  The stories were, by and large, good, but written for a non-Doctor.  For some strange reason, as if to try something else non-Doctor Who-y, the decision came that for season 9, there would be all 2-part episodes.  This didn’t play out exactly for every story, and there were some that felt decidedly different from their first half.  The question really was: how would this impact our enjoyment of the series?

series 9

The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar

RP: 6 – Several fundamental problems with this one: the question of whether the Doctor will allow Davros to die as a child is a rerun of the Genesis dilemma, and we know the answer as soon as the question is asked; Clara has ceased to function as a companion and is now an irritating pseudo-Doctor; Davros is returned to his 80s Dalek pet version, and that robs him of much fear factor. But at last we’re on the right track with the Doctor’s characterisation, and Missy starting to function as a companion is a fascinating development.

ML: 7 – Thankfully the second half brings this into an above average story.  The first half is a magicians trick: it shows us a strong opening then makes it vanish for the better part of episode one.  Davros just isn’t scary, the Doctor does random things just for a laugh, and Clara is willing to talk to her grade school class about Jane Austen’s sexual proclivities.  But it’s not uncommon to have a weak first half and a strong second.  That’s something we’re all familiar with.

Under the Lake / Before the Flood

RP: 8 – A fiendishly clever story with a brave fourth wall break. The ghosts are great, and it’s fundamentally a Troughton base-under-siege; I always enjoy one of those. Cass is a great character, and I love the episode’s use of sign language, to also shine a light on how the Doctor and Clara’s communication has become so instinctive. Falls apart a bit in the second episode, with the abandoned village a wasted opportunity in particular. That should have been much more creepy than it was, and nothing is done with the Fisher King legend other than basically name-checking him, and that’s a terrible waste of an idea.

ML: 6 – It has a lot of creepy bits, but just as the Doctor felt like maybe the writers knew how to write him again, he’s back to needing cue cards to speak to people as if he has never dealt with humanity before, Clara is all about “an adventure” without actually looking around at where she is, and the villain, while creepy, never amounts to anything.  For the claustrophobic atmosphere and scary ghosts, I bump this into the upper end of average but alas, it’s under the average in all other respects.

The Girl Who Died

RP: 8 – Ashildr is immediately magnificent; the importance of her storytelling abilities is key to the plot, and that’s a beautiful idea, as is the threat from a silly race of bullies being undermined by laughing at them. The twist of the Doctor forcing a happy ending out of the story by cheating is another very brave moment for the series, and challenges the nature of the Doctor’s involvement in his stories in a far more interesting way than all that “am I a good man” rubbish last season.

ML: 2 – The Doctor has a few good moments here with realizing where he got his face, and Maisie has a great start, but the episode pulls off slapstick against bobbleheads and then has the Doctor create an unnaturally long-lived creature for no good reason.  He cures death in one person and it’s the one who started the conflict.  And if the Mire managed to be the cure for dying, why don’t other races hunt them?  Logic was tossed out for this story.  This is rapidly becoming the Series that Died.  

The Woman Who Lived

RP: 4 – To a certain extent we’ve been here before with Jack, but this goes much deeper into the consequences of outliving everyone you love. This is all marred by some missteps, particularly the silliness of the name “Me”, which isn’t actually being nameless. It’s just having a very odd name. Also the use of the second medkit seems of vital importance but is just hand-waved and forgotten forever. The Doctor’s choice not to take Ashildr is really nasty and his reasoning is absurd. This is a man cruelly walking away from his responsibilities, but the episode does play well with some moral ambiguities.

ML: 3 – Sure it’s better than the previous one, but that’s due largely to Sam Swift.  Unfortunately, he too has a Mire chip allowing him to live forever but somehow he’s not going to be on Gallifrey at the end of the series, because why bother?  The aptly named Delta Leonid looks like someone got the costume from Beauty and the Beast and that feels weak.  At best, we get a comparison between the Doctor and Ashildr, who now calls herself Me, because … no, it’s just a copout for a punchline later in the penultimate episode designed to keep the audience wondering.  A very weak two part story that is just different enough that they have to be reviewed separately.  And Clara has become the woman who needed to leave.

The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion

RP: 8 – The Zygons, a race of aliens looking to resettle rather than expand an empire, are perfect for this story, which functions as a very effective look at global terrorism and the futility of warfare, while acknowledging that it can take something very special to bring two sides to a table. Osgood is magnificent, and this is probably Jenna Coleman’s finest performance in Doctor Who.

ML: 9 – A very strong story.  Continuity does bring the episode down a bit by making future earth-based stories questionable (because where will all the Zygons be?) but the combination of those Zygons, Kate Stewart, Osgood, and an incredibly rousing speech that really nails Capaldi’s acting talents do manage to spike this story very high.  After a season of weak ones, they inverted my mind by giving us such a strong story.

Sleep No More

RP: 10 – I love found footage, so Doctor Who having a go at that is something I was bound to enjoy. There are problems inherent in the format, and Mark Gatiss is incredibly clever at making a virtue out of those problems by using them as a plot point. This also channels the spirit of Ghostwatch in a very brave and unforgettable way at the end. One of Doctor Who’s all-time classics.

ML: 5 – Experimental in a good way with a disturbing monster and a dark ending help this episode but it’s still very middle of the road for me.  I don’t love found footage, and the relationship between the Doctor and Clara is just pushing my patience.  It’s just not the show I wanted it to be by this point. Excite me no more.

Face the Raven

RP: 8 – So close to being an amazing episode, running though the stages of grief, and with some great ideas such as the use of the trap street which turns out to be a refugee camp. It’s an episode that gives us a lot to think about. But Doctor Who’s rejection of the family demographic at this point has become unforgivable, with the camera lingering on the clearly painful death of the companion in slow-motion. The portrait on the TARDIS at the end is a beautiful moment. That helps.

ML: 4 – This episode is below average trying to be Harry Potter and failing, showing Cybermen and other monsters hiding and behaving like people to stay hidden (because, you know, emotionless Cybermen care about that) and showing us just how self destructive Clara has become while trying to BE the Doctor.  The only reason I’m going up to a 4, low end of Average, is Clara’s death.  There is a beauty in it, and I don’t just mean Jenna herself.  And it creates a very scary Doctor in the process.  We can finally face the future… Clara-free!

Heaven Sent

RP: 9 – With Clara gone, a much-needed restatement of how amazing the Doctor is. Quite possibly Capaldi’s finest moment. Creepy, epic, brilliant, and only spoilt by the Doctor solving the problem with his fists. One rewrite away from perfection.

ML: 9 – While this episode has a slew of logic problems, Capaldi carries the entire thing on his own.  It’s creepy and fantastic in so many ways and the music is utterly beautiful; one of my favorite tracks of any era of Doctor Who.  One of the best of Capaldi’s first 2 seasons in fact.  Truly this episode was heaven sent!  

Hell Bent

RP: 7 – The Doctor goes very far out of character for this one, but it’s entirely understandable in terms of the unimaginable suffering he has just been through, and how broken he is by losing Clara. The moment where things really get out of hand is where the Doctor actually murders somebody, which I could actually accept given the circumstances, if it had been done for dramatic reasons rather than Moffat making a point about the section of fandom who didn’t want a gender or race swap (to be clear, he’s right, but it’s a very bad way to make that point). Ironically, he makes the case for the fans who never wanted a gender swap very effectively for them, because this is lazy gender stereotype stuff. But that one moment, although thoroughly nasty, doesn’t stop the rest of the episode being actually really good, especially the resolution to the Clara and Ashildr storylines.

ML: 0 – the only episode I ever gave a zero to and 100% deserved.  Rassilon is reduced to whiney old man; after Timothy Dalton’s fantastic portrayal, this is a massive letdown for me.  The Doctor rescues Clara against all logic keeping her alive between heartbeats (huh?!).  He also spends time in that idiotic barn on the most technologically advanced world in the universe. He and Clara sit around in a cellar talking for more of the episode than it deserved.  The creepy wraiths function the same way rolling amusements do in a Disney haunted house.  Then, considering all that David Tennant angst in his final story, Capaldi claims death is little morre than “man-flu” before murdering one of his own kind; you know, that same man that stood by him earlier in the episode.  This episode doesn’t deserve a zero, it’s so low, it belongs somewhere in hell.  Best forgotten.

The Husbands of River Song

RP: 6 – Far too self-indulgent from Steven Moffat. The Christmas special is a great opportunity to bring in new viewers, but instead this is an ending. Doctor Who should never be about the writer. Despite being the wrong place to do this, it does what it does reasonably well, and has its moments of enjoyable comedy, and rounds off the River Song story arc very nicely.

ML: 6 – There’s just enough fun in this story to warrant a high end average score and the scene with the Doctor pretending not to know about the Tardis is just marvelous.  I also think the realization River has to who the Doctor is makes for a very poignant moment as this will be her last “night” before the Library.  Unfortunately, so much of the story is so weak, I was very lukewarm about the return of the series.  River was actually annoying for the better part of the episode too.  I was ready for a divorce.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio

RP: 2 – This never quite overcomes the silliness of the superhero genre, which tends to require a much greater suspension of disbelief than even Doctor Who ever asks of the viewer. There are aspects of this that are mildly entertaining, but by and large it’s a mash-up with a genre that doesn’t really complement Doctor Who, and combining the sci-fi and superhero genres somehow ends up narrowing the appeal of both. The weakest Christmas special, by quite a margin.

ML: 10 – Maybe we can erase all of season 9 and just go from Last Christmas to The Return of Doctor Mysterio.  I absolutely loved this episode.  Nardole is right: the Doctor is back.  There’s pathos and comedy, a scary looking villain and even a superhero.  Sure, this is one time that I’ll say we can suspend logic, because this episode is just so much fun.  Genuinely one of my favorite Christmas releases!  He’s back, and it was about time!

In my mind, series 9 characterized the Doctor far better than the previous season but was full of weaker stories.  Very little that came from this season impressed me and those things that did come from it were of little impact to the overall Doctor Who universe.  It seemed that Doctor Who was steadily declining… until that Christmas Special.  At least, that was how I saw it.  Roger clearly didn’t feel the same, not being a fan of the superhero genre.  But with many of my friends bailing on the show by this point, I had fewer people to talk to about it.  I really wondered if it was going to go on for another season and if it did, who would I talk to about it?  Did we dare hope for more from Capaldi’s last season as the Doctor?  Find out next week… ML

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2 Responses to Top of the Docs: Series 9 (2015)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Whatever disappointments Dr. Who had in 2015 on TV were made up for by Big Finish. Specifically Sir John Hurt’s BF debut and Colin Baker’s proper regeneration story. Coupled with a promising but sadly brief fan-based spinoff called The Soldier Stories. We still had one of Capaldi’s great speeches in The Zygon Inversion which also a very good dual role for Jenna. But even if some fans still had a subjectively fair share of things to enjoy from S9, including myself, the downhill slide for Dr. Who’s post-50th-Anniversary continuation was suddenly evident.

    Thank you both for your Top of the Docs for Series 9.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    We also for 2015 had a special fan-based contribution from the Caudwell Children’s Charity. It was a short film called Seasons Of War about the Time War era for the War Doctor and a young female Gallifreyan (the narrator). She grows up during the celebrations of the War Doctor and his battles against the Daleks. But upon growing up she finally meets him and understands the traumas that haunted and scared him to the point of that powerful quote: “No more!”. As a message to help the children of our times understand the realisms of war, it matched Capaldi’s Zygon Inversion speech and also assured that 2015 could still be a significantly successful year for the Whoniverse. ☮️

    Liked by 1 person

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