The Twelfth Doctor
David Tennant nailed it from his first Christmas special. Matt Smith, I took a few more episodes to get used to. But Peter Capaldi took to the role of the Doctor so well that, as with Tennant, I felt perfectly comfortable with him as the lead by the end of his first episode.
This is in spite of the fact that this is quite a different Doctor from the last three incarnations, and not just in terms of being physically older. Capaldi described him as being “less user-friendly”, which is very accurate. He’s short with people, he insults them unapologetically, he’s definitely a grump – but most of the time, he’s the kind of grump that you still warm to. As a character in a TV show, at least; maybe not in real life. There are times, however, when he goes too far; we first see in Into The Dalek that he doesn’t bother to dwell on death, but in Kill The Moon and Mummy On The Orient Express, he becomes more than a little unpleasant. Fortunately, after being rightly called out on it, he starts making more of an effort and is perfectly likeable again by the series end.
The Twelfth Doctor’s unique personality is very clear from the outset – much like the Tenth’s was, which is perhaps why I didn’t need much time to get used to either of them. But it is definitely still the Doctor as well; something Capaldi demonstrates through his mannerisms, his more humourous moments, and his determination to save the day when he’s really needed. There was a feel for much of the series, however, that the Twelfth was still trying to get comfortable in his new skin, though perhaps this was mostly reflected by how the regeneration affected his relationship with Clara. By the end, at least, he did feel truly settled, enough for a fitting moment of self-discovery in the finale.
One thing, though: the Doctor notes in Deep Breath that he’s seen his own face before – in Pompeii, presumably – but this is never brought up again. Hopefully it’s being saved for a future series.
I liked Clara a lot in Series 7 – in fact, she was one of the companions in the revived series I liked the best – but I’ll admit that there wasn’t really much to define her as a character, except that she was a nice girl.
In Series 8, Clara is pushed even more out of her comfort zone and this leads to her being fleshed out more, as well as giving Jenna Coleman the opportunity for some terrific acting moments. Even though the Doctor is still her friend, we see her openly going against him without such a charming attitude as before. Her relationship with Danny adds a new complication to her life and leaves her having to constantly weigh up her priorities.
Unfortunately, in the latter stages of the series, everything that Clara goes through is definitely having a negative effect on her, as she becomes better and better at lying and more compelled to do so in any situation. I can’t call Clara unlikeable by the end of the series, but certainly less likeable. Also, for all the new complexities she exhibited, I still find it hard to fully nail Clara down as a character. In Death In Heaven, Missy calls her a control freak – but Clara’s never really stuck out to me as such.
When the finale ended, I didn’t think we’d seen the last of Clara, given it hadn’t been officially announced that Jenna Coleman was leaving the show – and sure enough, the recent Children In Need clip shows that she will be in the Christmas Special. But besides relying on what has or hasn’t been announced in the press, I do feel that there’s more that can be done with the character, so I’m perfectly happy with her still being around.
Mickey, right from the beginning, was a poor schmuck who Rose was always going to elbow aside in favour of the Doctor. Rory started out much the same but gradually grew in confidence and turned out to be a very respectable character, but I never felt very convinced by Amy’s feelings for him. With Danny, we can guess from the beginning that the three-way dynamic will be different, given that Clara is very unlikely to consider any romance with the Twelfth Doctor. Unfortunately for Danny, Clara does still love the Doctor – not in the same way as Rose, but enough to affect her loyalities and priorities.
Unlike Mickey and Rory, Danny is somebody we can respect right away. He stands up to the Doctor and, by applying his own experience as a soldier, shows that he even has some understanding of how the Doctor thinks. He’s keen to maintain as much equality as possible in his relationship with Clara, and calls her out on her more questionable behaviour. He and Clara clearly do love each other, to the point where I can believe it when Clara is prepared to melt the TARDIS keys to make the Doctor revive Danny after his unexpected death. Through the whole series, Danny goes through a good arc in regards to his own inner turmoil and his relationships with the Doctor and Clara, culminating in the finale where he says farewell to Clara and nobly sacrifices himself – twice.
It may be a basic role that we’ve seen before in Doctor Who, but the character of Danny Pink handles it very well. Rest in peace, P.E.
There’s not much I can say about Missy that I haven’t already said. I loved her. The payoff for all her cryptic appearances didn’t disappoint; I absolutely loved the reveal of who she really was; and I can’t say enough good things about Michelle Gomez’s performance. What could have just been a cheap revival for the Master is made far more worthwhile. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t really explained how the Master returned to life and regenerated into a woman – so for that reason, and everything else, I very much want to see Missy again.
This wasn’t just a series of one-off adventures – it really felt like it had a cohesive arc, and not just because of the occasional appearances from Missy that were clearly building up to something in the finale, in the same fashion as Bad Wolf or Mr Saxon. The heart of this was Clara’s relationship with the Doctor post-regeneration and how she dealt with that, as well as her relationship with Danny, culminating in his death and her response to it. These were interwoven through the adventures very effectively and it was fascinating to see how they progressed.
As well as that, meanwhile, is the question that the Doctor asks Clara: “Am I a good man?” We’ve explored the Doctor’s dark side before, but it’s clear that this is an incarnation of the Doctor for whom the question particularly needs to be answered. The issue is carried throughout the series, but in a relatively subtle manner – Rusty calling the Doctor “a good Dalek”; Danny calling him an officer; the Doctor stating that “goodness has nothing to do with (being him)”.
And it comes together in a brilliant climax that brings to mind the quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Missy tries to test the Doctor by handing him control of a massive army of Cybermen. With them, he can do whatever he wants and decide what will and will not happen in the universe – the same kind of power that Davros wanted in Genesis Of The Daleks. It’s a similar situation to The Waters Of Mars where the Tenth Doctor decided he need not be bound by the laws of time, giving himself the freedom to do what he liked – except here, the Doctor decides on his own what has to be done, and who he truly is:
“I am not a good man, and I am not a bad man….I’m an idiot, with a box, and a screwdriver, just passing through!”
And by trusting in the humans he knows, as he has done so many times in the past, the day is still saved. Given that the debate about how good or bad the Doctor is will always continue, both among fans and in the show itself, it’s a good idea to answer the question – for the moment – with a statement that very few people could argue with.
How This Series Compares
Of the eight full series of the revived Doctor Who we’ve had so far, I personally feel (to emphasise, this is all just my opinion) that Series 8 sits in the upper middle. And I can prove that to myself with maths.
In the past, I’ve rated episodes of Doctor Who just for my own personal ruminations, long before I had a blog to post them on. This means I can work out the average scores for each series, and the standard deviation (which indicates how variable my scores were within each series). Here’s what I found (with the ratings converted into being out of 10 rather than 5):
01. Series 4 (7.1 – SD 0.8)
02. Series 1 (7.1 – SD 2.2)
03. Series 5 (7.0 – SD 1.4)
04. Series 8 (6.9 – SD 1.8)
05. Series 6 (6.8 – SD 2.0)
06. Series 3 (6.5 – SD 1.3)
07. Series 7 (6.5 – SD 1.6)
08. Series 2 (6.3 – SD 1.9)
Admittedly, the differences aren’t really that great: the average for my favourite, Series 4 (which is also the least variable in terms of episode quality) sits well within the standard deviation for my least favourite, Series 2. But then, you’re a bit limited as to the analysis you can do when the sample size each time is 13 episodes or thereabouts.
Best and Worst Episodes
Likewise, here’s how I rated the Series 8 episodes (this time, I’m using my personal feelings to decide between episodes that have the same score):
01. The Caretaker (9/10)
02. Dark Water (9/10)
03. Kill The Moon (8/10)
04. Time Heist (8/10)
05. Robot of Sherwood (8/10)
06. Flatline (7/10)
07. Deep Breath (7/10)
08. Death in Heaven (7/10)
09. Into The Dalek (7/10)
10. Mummy on the Orient Express (6/10)
11. In the Forest of the Night (4/10)
12. Listen (3/10)
Best episode: The Caretaker successfully combines being fun with being meaningful in terms of the series’ big picture and the character arcs. With the Doctor trying to fit into a role in human society again, it had a lot of good humour – while at the same time, it provided some key moments in the Doctor-Clara-Danny triangle.
Worst episode: Listen was just too all-over-the-place, trying to be too clever and not succeeding. A good twist at the end couldn’t save it.
And now to occupy myself with other TV shows until the usual Doctor’s appointment on Christmas Day. At least I’ll actually be in Britain to see it on schedule, unlike last Christmas.