The finale of Peter Capaldi's final series of Doctor Who has just finished, with only the Christmas episode to go before he hands the reigns over to the next Doctor. As is customary on such occassions, we must now peruse this past season and how it stacks up against the time lords previous escapades.
Warning: Of course there are opinions below. Oh and Spoilers.
So, series 10. There is an aweful lot to talk about here. But before we get into any specifics on new companions, series themes, villains, how Peter Capaldi will be remembered as The Doctor and how this series will affect Doctor Who going forward, I think it would be wise to do a quick episode by episode break-down of the series, starting at the top.
Episode 1: The Pilot
As an episode, there wasn't much substance. The villain was ill-explained and pretty unthreatening, the plot plodded along nicely for the first 30 minutes then bounced all over the place in the last 10 and the Daleks were thrown in for no reason at the end other than what I assume was contractual obligation (though it did give us a nice cameo from the Movellans). However, the one thing this episode did right was what it was meant to do. It was an episode to introduce Bill Potts as the new companion and give the audience a glimpse of what she would be like and in that it excelled. However, compared to most other series openers, it did feel very lightweight.
Episode 2: Smile
Bills first episode as a full companion and, again, she really shone. She gave of the same sense of having fun with the adventure that Donna and Amy had, and that is pretty high praise. Plot-wise, it was standard Who fare, humans program their robots poorly, robots kill humans. They've done it so many times now that they're just refining the formula and bending it to fit new parametres. Of course, the robots in question (the emojibots) were the most memorable new villains of the series (despite the fact that the actual robots/ villains were a black cloud of nanomachines and the emojibots were the interface). My only problems with the episode are, once again we have the stupid violent humans trope that Doctor Who falls back on all to often (insert truism here) and the deus-ex-machina ending involving a magic haddock (although it was referenced throughout the episode, it still came too quickly and too "out of nowhere" at the end).
Episode 3: Thin Ice
Another Victorian episode, al-be-it without Vastra, Strax and Jenny. They love this time period on Doctor Who, they visit it again later in the series (on Mars admittedly, but it's still got the 19th Century British in it). As much as it is getting to the point where the team need to read a different history book, the episode was very good. It felt vibrant, it was full of your Dickensian social comentary and provided a good dose of development for the Doctor and Bill's relationship. Add in a very cool monster (I'm a sucker for sea monsters) and a dispicable human antagonist and you have the best episode of the first 3.
Episode 4: Knock Knock
Unfortunately, this episode couldn't quite match Episode 3 in terms of quality. It had great atmosphere, but Bill's housemates were mostly underdeveloped, which lessened the impact of their eventual demises. Then you had the monsters, which, once revealled as alien insects, gave the house a much less scary feel. And of course, all of the housemates being revived at the end was a bit pat (but then again "Everybody lives"). But, once again as with The Pilot, one thing makes this episode feel special, and it is the chemistry between two characters. Not The Doctor and Bill (though Bill is great in this episode and the exchanges between her and The Doctor in the moving in scenes are fantastic). Nope, Peter Capaldi and David Suchet steal the show together this time. I loved seeing Suchet in Who (I grew up watching him as Poirot) and his turn as the Landlord was superbly sinister. Shame there were those few problems holding it back really.
Episode 5: Oxygen
Ten, ten, ten, ten, ten. This episode was pretty much perfect and is one of the episodes from this series that should very well be in the running for the best 10th Doctor episode. The premise was perfect, being in an airless environment with a limited supply of oxygen is already bad enough, but then anyone who dies gets reanimated by their spacesuit to kill anyone left alive, just to add that extra element of danger (also, Space Zombies). Oh and then have the companion get the faulty spacesuit so the Doctor has to do a stupid hero thing. Making the Doctor blind halfway through really added to this episode, it was another twist as the writer ratchetted up the tension, which built so well. And of course the end. The explaination was logical and a very nice satirical point (because, let's be honest, who couldn't see it happening. I certainly can, but maybe I'm just cynical). And there being actual consequences afterwards for The Doctor (as short lasting as they were) was a real shock. Oh yeah, and Nardole really endeared himself in this episode by being all kinds of quirky. Ten.
Episode 6: Extremis
Ten, ten, ten, ten and ten again. Though actually not quite as good as Oxygen, it was very close. The fallout from the Doctor's blindness wasn't done quite as well as it could have been, thanks to the return of those damn sonic sunglasses basically giving him echolocation-vision, but other than that... damn. The idea of the whole world being a simulation for an alien invasion was fantastic, it made The Monks (Moffat's newest transparent attempt to create his next Weeping Angels) feel like a huge threat. And it ended on a damn fine Doctor speech as well. The mystery of the Vault was unveiled in somewhat underwhelming fashion, but it did add another layer of intrigue to the story as it left the audience wondering if Missy could be trusted and how she would help the Doctor in the coming episodes. And it gave the Doctor a pretty badass moment as well, talking a planet of executioners out of killing him. Which was nice. By the way, did I mention that the bit where the Pope crashes Bill's date was hilarious. Because it was.
Episode 7: The Pyramid At The End Of The World
Just like The Silence, The Monks saw a lovely hit of the diminishing returns as soon as more about them was revealled. The idea that The Monks would blackmail humanity into servitude by offering to prevent humanities doom in exchange for our freedom was a good one, but it all went a bit south with the whole "consent with love" thing. Plus, this episode saw a large attack of the stupids on the seasons stand-out character. Sure Bill hadn't noticed The Doctor's blindness in the previous episode, but in this episode it was devistatingly obvious and it made Bill look bad. And then they got rid of the blindness problem by Bill giving in after The Doctor had saved the day. Despite all the problems, this was still an enjoyable episode, I like the butterfly effect plot thread they went with for the cause of the cataclysmic event, but everything else was just very contrived in the most part.
Episode 8: The Lie Of The Land
The first mid-series 3 part episode Doctor Who has done since returning and it ended on a bit of a bum note. Again, the central concept of the episode is sound, it's the same thing they used for the season 3 finale. Only that episode didn't spend half its run time seeing the Doctor being unnecessarily cruel to his companion, tricking her into shooting him with a blank bullet so he could fake a regeneration. It was a really poor bait and switch attempt and showed some of the worst parts of Capaldi's Doctor. Honestly, this episode could have actually done with having a second episode (maybe dropping Extremis as an episode, despite how good it was), just so they could build the mind-control subplot a bit more. Extremis made The Monks look awesome, really smart with all their planning ahead, Pyramid made them look worse due to not having a back-up plan incase of a) nobody submitting before the catastrophy or b) someone stopping the catastrophy (and it just being blind (pun intended) luck that they did get consent), but this episode made them look pathetic. They were beaten super easily. Oh and the "love conquers all" finish. Been done too much guys, find a new one please. But still, props to Pearl Mackie for her performance yet again.
Episode 9: Empress Of Mars
Now that's a bit more like it. Again, it's a classic Doctor Who plot, humans as invaders against the indigenous aliens, but Mark Gatiss churns these out perfectly formed, so it's not an issue really. It's good to see the Ice Warriors again, always is. I enjoyed the amount of references they put into the episode, both Who (setting up Pertwee's Curse Of Peladon by introducing the Ice Warriors to the Alpha Centurians, Queen Victoria's portrait) and external (all the movie references). And I found the ending much more satisfying than the end to the previous episode. Now, why did I give it a .5? Well...
Episode 10: The Eaters Of Light
Y'see, both Episodes 9 and 10 have to have the same score because, well, they're the same episode just in different settings. Both episodes see a foreign power placed in a place alien to them, to the resentment of the locals. Both episodes see a local summon something that attacks the invading power. Both start with Bill being seperated from the Doctor and coming into contact with the invaders first whilst the Doctor first meets a local. Both end with the two sides coming together for a mutual cause. And both are fine episodes. It's a shame they ran them back to back like this, because if either had been placed earlier (and their respective Missy scenes shuffled) they'd both be 8/10, but I have to penalize both half a point for silly scheduling by the BBC. Anyway, episode. Bill/ Nardol= Good. Romans= Likeable. Picts= Not so much. Monster looked awesome. Ending- wishiwashi but acceptable, if predictable.
Episode 11: World Enough And Time
Oh my God this episode. So, in an attempt to see if Missy has become good, The Doctor sends her with Bill and Nardol to investigate the distress signal coming from a massive (I mean MASSIVE) ship trying to reverse out of a blackhole. Missy gets her fun lines in, we have flashbacks that really humanise the Doctor and the whole thing ends up getting Bill shot through the chest. Heart, spine- gone. And then the fun starts. I love the science of this episode. The whole, time moving faster at one end of the ship than at the other due to the gravity of the blackhole was a great plot point (and one with actual science behind it), it allowed for the real events of the episode to unfold over an appropriate length of time without the Doctor having to sit back and twiddle his thumbs. The atmosphere of the Bill half of the story was perfect. The grim, oppressive dystopia setting and the overbearing sickness and dispair of the hospital were magnificent in how horrific they felt. And the end. Oh, the end. They went and did something they've never done before (as far as I'm aware). They went and converted a main companion. I lost it at this point when I first watched the episode last week. My only complaint about this episode isn't even about this episode. They should not have given away the John Simm reveal in any of the trailers. Because it lessened the impact. My entire family realised who the Russian guy was very quickly and whilst was very nice addition to the anticipation, if we hadn't known Simm was in the episode, we might not have figured it out until the reveal, and that would have felt even better.
Episode 12: The Doctor Falls
The beginning of this episode felt very rushed. The Doctor managed to outwit 2 Masters within 3 minutes of seeing them both together? I thought The Master was meant to be the Doctor's equal. So yeah, flat start. But the Bill arc saved this episode. We've had people reject conversion before (Yvonne Hartman from Parting Of Ways and Craig from Closing Time), but they've never made an episode out of it and they've nevermade it so hearbreaking. Shooting Bill's scenes so we see her as she sees herself (human) and rarely showing the Cyberman was a very good call, because it allowed the audeince much more investment into the character and meant seeing her as a Cyberman was always still a shock. As for the handling of the 2 Masters. Well, Simm felt like he was just there, Missy's arc teetered on the edge of greatness but never really felt as complete as if she'd actually got the chance to go back to help the Doctor, but in the end the mutually assured destruction was the best way for both to go out, stabbing each other in the back (even though I'll be damned if Missy didn't regenerate). I don't know how I feel about the end, with the Pilot coming back to save Bill and The Doctor. On one hand it felt a bit cheesy, but on the other it felt right. But I still don't want to see Bill go. They kept up the traditition of "the companion must always kiss the Doctor" but it didn't feel forced, it felt pure and natural ,and they'd already made a joke out of the trope by having Bill subvert it earlier in the episode (plus they did the romantic kiss a few seconds prior between Bill and the Pilot so yay equality). Good episode, could have started better, but hey. Oh and they'd better go back and pick Nardol up in the Christmas episode or the next series.
Overall Series Rating: 8/10
So, the series overall. It was good. It's definately as good as the last series, maybe even better due to certain episodes, but had a few duffers in there that kept it from being on the level of say, Series 4 or 5. Capaldi showed a much more relateable and empathetic Doctor in this series than he did previously, though that might be because he had better chemistry with his companions, so you could see that side to his character better. Speaking of his companions, I'm sure you can all tell my opinions on Bill, she's great. I'll probably do a list at some point of the best companions since the series revival, so you can expect her to be high up on that. She was a great way to introduce the series first lesbian character, because it wasn't a defining factor for her character. She was a very different character to any other companion the Doctor has had in New Who. She wasn't really the Doctor's equal, like Amy and Clara were positioned to be (and Donna to some extent). She wasn't just someone he picked up because he was lonely (Martha) or a love interest (Rose). She wasn't even really his student, which is how the relationship originally was positioned. They put it perfectly in the finale in their last conversation. Bill was the Doctor's friend and the dynamic worked. The actors chemistry was there to make it work. And then we have Nardol. Now, I've said before, I don't care for Matt Lucas, but he actually won me over. For a character who could just have been played for laughs, he was genuinely a character you could invest in. He had his quirks and his funny moments, but the way he presented himself and the way he acted around the Doctor made him an interesting and multidimensional character. The little snippets of backstory they gave him were just right, enough to make the audience wonder about the character, but not too much because he wasn't the main focus. So gold marks for the main cast.
Now, the series arc. I can see why they did Missy's redemption arc the way they did. If they'd started it any earlier it would have detracted too much from the earlier episodes. But only starting it half way through the season left it feeling a bit rushed and hollow. The Master has been evil for as long as he/she has been alive, and even with Missy professing that she "just wants (her) friend back" in a previous series, her changing that much because she's been stuck in a box for a few hundred years doesn't ring true. Michelle Gomez is as good as she ever was in the role, but making the Master good should have been given more time if it was going to wrap up by the end of the series (which it probably won't and the Master will be back being evil again within a few series).
My big problem with this series is the lack of memorable villains. The Pilot was a damp squib (pun obvious) of a villain, with little backstory and a lacking motive in the first episode. The second and third episodes had fine villains and the human villain of the fourth episode was great, but the bugs were a let down. Then you had the fifth episode, where the villain was an unseen evil corperation aided by the environment and some spacesuits and the Eaters of the Light for the episode of the same name were cool looking but pretty forgettable. And then we have The Monks. As I've already said, the more they appeared, the less I cared and I don't want to see them back (depsite their last episode being as open ended as an upside-down funnel), sorry I just don't. Out of all the new villains, they're the only ones with any potential to return and they outstaid their welcome with their vague premise and general lack of threat. Still, the returning villains, the Ice Warriors and Cybermen, where used very well, I especially popped for the return of the Mondasian Cybermen.
Now for the big one. As this is Capaldi's final season and he has just a Christmas special before hanging up his TARDIS keys, how was he as the Doctor and what will be his legacy? Well, he struggled in his first season, he showed flashes of brilliance, but his Doctor came of as awkward and lacking in charm, not helped by the spotty writting of said series. His second season improved dramatically, as did Capaldi. His Doctor showed wit, improved on some of his more interesting new quirks (such as his musical touch or his breaking of the fourth wall) and began to show a softer side. He also developed a Doctor speech delivery up there with Tennant and Smith, his ten minute expose on the futility of war in the Zygon Inversion is a particular highlight. But this series saw a drop in veiwers (in the UK at least) only comparable to the later days of McCoy, possibly due to the lacking prior season, a hard-to-get-used-to Doctor following 2 very charming ones and the increasing over-complexity of season-long storylines. Unfortunately, that trend has not reversed with the current season. Although not all of the figures are in yet (obviously there are no veiwing figures for the latest episode and the overall consolodated figures for episode 11 aren't out yet) there still appears to be an average decline in veiwership, both over the season (as one might expect) and in episode by episode comparrison to the previous season. This is despite both previous season seeing Capaldi's Doctor improve dramatically. So, it is likely that Capaldi will be much like McCoy in terms of legacy. He'll be an underappreciated Doctor remembered by Whovians for some excellent moments and stories, but remembered by the public at large as not as good as those other guys (in McCoy's case T. Baker and Davidson, in Capaldi's case Tennant and Smith).
So, what did you guys think of the season as a whole? I know some people will be in deisagreement with me on some of the things I've said. I'd also be very interested to see what you guys think of Capaldi's time as Doctor, do you think he'll be remembered well? Let me know in the comments below.
I'll see you all for the Christmas episode (speaking of which, I got all of the chills at the end of the finale, I'm sooooo hyped for the special).
And with that.
Ok, first thing: episode 3 actually takes place in regency Britain. Just pointing it out.
Also, did anyone feel any similarities between episode 8 and Half-Life 2?