If Series 8 was about the Twelfth Doctor settling into his freshly regenerated skin and establishing who he truly was as a man, Series 9 sees him much more comfortable and just getting on with life as a wandering Time Lord. He remains consistent with what we’ve already seen of him: harsh and detached at times, but still determined to do the right thing, and with some moments of vulnerability no matter how much he tries to resist them. Peter Capaldi gets even more opportunity to show off his acting chops than he did last series, with his much-praised anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion, and getting a whole episode almost entirely to himself in Heaven Sent.
And if there’s an overarcing story to Series 9, it’s the final phase of the Doctor and Clara’s relationship. The two-parter which focusses on Ashildr/Me proves significant plot-wise, as the character plays an important role in Clara’s death. But even in the episodes which don’t directly impact the final three, there’s a lot of exploration of where the Doctor and Clara’s relationship stands following the death of Danny Pink.
Clara is now the longest serving companion of the revived series, and in this particular season, her bond with the Doctor is stronger than ever before. The writers and producers do a great job showing and not telling how close they are, aided by the excellent chemistry between Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. The two characters work together smoothly: Clara provides the Doctor with cue cards when he’s being too insensitive, and understands him so well that she acknowledges in Before The Flood that he will eventually leave her behind and travel with others. The Doctor, meanwhile, anticipates that Clara will be listening in on his conversation with Me in Hell Bent, and is willing to spend 4.5 billion years trapped in a confession dial if it gives him a chance of saving her.
Clara’s time with the Doctor as a whole plays out like a three-act story. In the first part, Series 7, the two are introduced to each other, with the Doctor being a bit unsure until the ‘Impossible Girl’ issue is resolved. Then comes Series 8, as Clara has to deal with a whole new Doctor, and also her relationship with Danny that binds her to her life on Earth. But in Series 9, Danny is gone, and we don’t see much of Clara’s terrestrial life any more: she has embraced life with the Doctor to its fullest. Back in Series 2, Jackie Tyler worried that once she was dead and Rose had no reason to come back to Earth, she would lose herself in travelling through the Universe, so much that she wouldn’t even be human anymore. Shortly after, Rose was separated from the Doctor and never got the chance to go that far – but Clara has gone further down that road.
Indeed, the series has played with the idea that Clara has become so devoted to this life, she actually wants to be the Doctor. She seeks adventure, she takes control of situations, and while she’s compassionate, she’s still willing to put others at risk if necessary. This culminates in Clara pushing her luck too far and getting herself killed in Face the Raven; despite my initial anger at the events of this episode, I’m more at peace with it now we know that wasn’t really the end of Clara’s story. It feels quite poetic that by the end, Clara has become the Doctor to an extent, travelling in her own TARDIS, seeking to see as much as she can before she finally has to face the raven again. I’m very glad that this is the last we see of her, rather than her (admittedly inevitable) death. Who knows, maybe she and Me will run into Jenny at some point – we never found out where she got to.
Clara has been at her most consistent this series, and now that her time with the Doctor is over and we can look back over her overall storyline, I really love how the character has been used since her first appearance. While she’s been questionable at times, she’s always been fascinating as a character; mostly likeable with her perky attitude and enthusiasm; and portrayed wonderfully by Jenna Coleman. Her departure, and its circumstances, has made me very sad. In fact, I’m going to say that Clara Oswald has just surpassed Donna Noble as my favourite Doctor Who companion.
And of course, a special shout-out should go to Maisie Williams for her performance as Ashildr/Me, showing off her acting range with a character who utilises a variety of personas, and demonstrating how a human made immortal might really turn out.
Best and Worst Episodes
01. Heaven Sent (10/10)
02. The Woman Who Lived (9/10)
03. The Zygon Inversion (9/10)
04. The Witch’s Familiar (9/10)
05. Before the Flood (9/10)
06. Hell Bent (8/10)
07. The Girl Who Died (8/10)
08. The Magician’s Apprentice (7/10)
09. Under the Lake (7/10)
10. Sleep No More (6/10)
11. The Zygon Invasion (6/10)
12. Face the Raven (4/10)
Best episode: Heaven Sent is one of those episodes like Blink, which does things very differently from the standard template and benefits from it. It’s got a very compelling plot, it’s got a truly scary monster, Capaldi is at his absolute best, and by the end, emotions are running very high. Not just the best episode of this series, but one of the best since the show’s revival.
Worst episode: Face the Raven – like I said, I’m not as annoyed about how Clara dies as I was before; but apart from how well acted her final moments are, it’s still a lukewarm episode that’s low on anything especially exciting or interesting for most of its runtime.
How This Series Compares
A few months ago, Screen Sage posted on their blog about which was better: the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, or the Steven Moffat era. I personally prefer Moffat’s style, but my general feeling was that Davies had higher highs and lower lows, while Moffat holds to a more consistent middle course, so it balances out.
Only that’s not the case in this series. Moffat went well above the middle ground for this one.
When I worked out the average and standard deviation for my personal episode scores in Series 9 (including the last Christmas special), and compared them to my previous rankings, this is how it came out:
01. Series 9 (7.6 – SD 1.7)
02. Series 4 (7.1 – SD 0.8)
03. Series 1 (7.1 – SD 2.2)
04. Series 5 (7.0 – SD 1.4)
05. Series 8 (6.9 – SD 1.8)
06. Series 6 (6.8 – SD 2.0)
07. Series 3 (6.5 – SD 1.3)
08. Series 7 (6.5 – SD 1.6)
09. Series 2 (6.3 – SD 1.9)
There it is at the top!
So yes, I really think that Series 9 is the best overall series so far. I scored more than half of the episodes 8 out of 10 or higher. This series has given us some terrific acting and writing, new ideas to explore, and perhaps the fact that most of the stories were two-parters played a role too. There was a tendency for the second part to be much better than the first in these: the first part sets up the situation, while the second part plays with what’s been established and brings it to a usually impressive conclusion.
I really love the fact that we’re still getting this level of quality from Doctor Who, nine series and more than ten years since its revival. Hopefully this shows that it still has plenty of momentum and will just keep going strong!
Do you have any thoughts on Series 9? Feel free to post comments below.