TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 November 2014
Coughed up and spat out by an outrageously oversized CGI dinosaur (fortunately, while protected by the TARDIS) wasn't the most auspicious way for the latest incarnation of the Doctor to make his arrival, yet when the blue door opened all was well.
Peter Capaldi seized the attention from his first scene in `Deep Breath...' and emphatically is The Doctor, growing in his opening story from despairing fragility and memory loss back into the heroic Time Lord who has lived a dozen lives and has memories he might want to forget. He went on to a series of superb performances in every episode, mixing action with humour and the darker, truly alien side of the Doctor as displayed in many of his incarnations right back to the First. A 5* new Doctor without a doubt.
Clara provides him with an interesting companion who has her own life to lead but just can't give up on the thrill of travels in the TARDIS. Jenna Coleman plays the role excellently, at times as quite a traditional companion, then occasionally taking the lead in a reversal of roles. This was sometimes very successful, as in `Flatline', while in other episodes like `Kill the Moon' I felt the Doctor should have been given more prominence.
In her life on Earth, Clara swaps alien monsters for the duties of a teacher at Coal Hill School and romance with ex-soldier Danny Pink. Personally I thought these elements were the weaker parts of the series and lead to some of the least successful episodes, although `Listen', which involved the future and past of Clara and Danny, was extremely good. The constant antagonism, even prejudice that the Doctor displayed towards Danny and all soldiers throughout this season seemed quite out of character for our tolerant Time Lord, especially since he once spent five years living on Earth surrounded by his friends from UNIT. Danny's back-story from his time as a soldier was not revealed until the finale, but it was so obvious I guessed it in his first episode and it seemed a poor stereotype.
The season-long story arc involving `The Promised Land' and `Missy' was very intriguing and culminated in one of the best episodes of the season with 'Dark Water', but in some ways I never felt it quite paid off. I'm still not sure why the Half-Face Man and the robot knights were trying to reach `The Promised Land' or why `Missy' chose Clara specifically. The notion of Clara as `the impossible girl' connected with the Doctor throughout his timelines, as seen in series 7, was very original and I thought it would be the important reason for her specifically to be tied in with `Missy's schemes in some interesting way, but instead it seemed to have been forgotten.
The 12 episodes were very varied in theme, style and (judging by content) in target audience too. Leaving aside the finale for the moment, my favourites were Steven Moffat's `Listen' and the two superb and contrasting stories by Jamie Mathieson, `Flatline' and `Mummy on the Orient Express'; if any proof is needed that a great script is what makes great `Doctor Who', these weeks provided it. `Listen' was almost like a classic M.R. James ghost story plus time travel, with a slow pace to let the tension build; `Flatline' was an inventive horror comedy with clever ideas, relative dimensions and zombie graffiti in an urban setting while `Mummy' brought back to life (at least for a older fan like me) the splendid `Gothic' age of late 1970's `Doctor Who' with a gruesome, terrifying `monster' and a fine supporting cast - the Doctor even offered a jelly-baby in the style of his legendary Fourth incarnation. I hope the nation's sofas had plenty of room behind them for this one(!)
`Deep Breath ...', `Into the Dalek' and `Time Heist' were enjoyable episodes, the regeneration story plus a typically fun romp around London with the Paternoster gang; the required `Dalek' action story with a twist - a *good* Dalek (no, the Doctor didn't believe it either!) and a slick, stylish heist `movie' in 45 minutes with hints of `Ocean's Eleven', `Mission: Impossible' and `X-Men'. These three stories were `Doctor Who' in full entertainment mode, though `Deep Breath ...' included some interesting thoughts on our reactions to age and change within the lighter surround.
Two very different comedies were included in the season. `Robot of Sherwood' seemed to be pushing the boundary of what counts as `Doctor Who' and has divided fan opinion; personally I thought it was highly silly but great fun and enjoyed every minute for the comedy interlude it clearly was. It only just fits within the `Doctor Who' Universe, but who cares for once? As Robin tells the Doctor: "I'm just as real as you are." Touché! `The Caretaker' started as a three-handed comedy in Coal Hill School with a clunky-looking alien robot on the rampage and this part of the story worked well as action comedy, but I was much less keen on the seemingly rather forced rivalry and `class' tensions between the Doctor and Danny Pink. The Doctor isn't an "aristocrat" - `Time Lord' is a qualification from the Academy on Gallifrey and not some inherited title.
`Doctor Who' is *science* fiction - the key word is `science' and this was where I felt both `Kill the Moon' and `In the Forest of the Night' went astray, casting off science for outright fantasy, though I did like the arachnophobic opening third of the former and the initial forest concept of the latter. In my opinion these were the two weakest episodes of the season by some distance.
Finally, it was time for the season-ending two-parter and the great showdown with `Missy' in which all would be revealed. `Dark Water' was a superb episode to start the season finale, as Steven Moffat took us into very dark waters indeed with a sudden, quite shocking death and the skin-crawling `revelations' (albeit with some touches of humour) about the `afterlife'; the darkest, most appalling concepts ever raised in the lifetime of the show. Daring stuff, but as the Doctor tells us, it's all a scam, none of it was true. Three spectacular `returns' from the classic era were superb: the Matrix (it was a `Doctor Who' idea first, by legendary writer Robert Holmes in 1976), the Cybermen re-enacting iconic scenes from `The Invasion' and this time also actually coming down the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral and what I thought was the breath-taking (if controversial for some fans) reveal of the true identity of `Missy', very well played by Michelle Gomez.
For me, `Death in Heaven' didn't live up to `Dark Water'; it seemed as if an almost conscious backward step was taken into the relative safety of a big CGI spectacular. Some of the ideas from `Dark Water' were carried through but diluted, others such as Danny's cliff-hanger dilemma were simply forgotten about while some of the new additions such as UNIT seemed almost pointless in terms of their contribution to the plot. The `return' of the Cyber-Brigadier was obviously meant to be a heart-warming moment for classic-series fans but personally, in all the darkness of this story, this was the only element I found distasteful, perhaps because I'm a fan of the 1970s Third Doctor / UNIT era and my original Doctor and his human friends including the one-and-only original Brigadier. The character interaction between the Doctor and Clara was very well written and acted, the highlight of the episode for me, but for a season finale there were too many loose ends for my taste, notably all the questions raised by Danny speaking to Clara "two weeks later".
While there were parts of this season that weren't to my taste, the variety of stories was such that it would have been a surprise if everyone liked everything. No doubt the episodes I liked least will be someone else's favourites, and also the reverse - as fans of the show, we know the Doctor is all for freedom of choice!
Overall, I thought it was a very good first season for this outstanding new Doctor, with some excellent episodes; thanks for reading.