DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 9 REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT
**MASSIVE SPOILERS DARLING**
If you go to the Doctor Who Facebook page or YouTube or Radio Times or other online forums, you will find a fanatical passion for the Timelord usually reserved for football teams or religions. Much of it is high praise, constructive criticism and healthy debates involving: timey-wimey stuff; various plot explanations; merits of favourite Doctors or companions; and that “the old classics are better than the new ones” exclamations etc. Moreover, there’s also a very negative faction who think they should play two up front, sack the manager, that God is a construct so people can control humanity and your mum’s a dick. Sorry, wrong forums.
Actually, the main negatives from the current Who detractor-fans are: the writing has gone downhill since Moffat took over as show-runner; Capaldi is too old as the Doctor; Clara is a rubbish companion and should die (they got their wish); Season 8 was diabolical and worse than cancer; plus other gripes. Well, I don’t subscribe to hysteria and hyperbole; after all it’s just a TV show that I enjoy very much. I do agree though that Season 8 was a bit off due to the Danny Pink/Clara romantic arc that dragged the show into Hollyoaks territory. Furthermore, Moffat was still finding Capaldi’s “voice” as the Doctor too so Season 8 was hit and miss indeed. Yet, there were still some great episodes such as: Listen, Dark Water, Flatline and the joyously dark Mummy on the Orient Express.
As a show-runner the negativity toward Moffat is boring. He has an excellent imagination and eye for a concept and has written some incredible episodes over the years, many of which I covered in my epic Doctor Who blog tribute that can be revisited here:
Plus, as captain of the Doctor Who ship it is a big responsibility to avoid sinking such a revered national treasure. Indeed, while I don’t like some of Moffat’s tricksy ret-con leaps, at least he strives for originality within a genre formula and more often than not produces moments of brilliant television.
Basically, Doctor Who is a mainstream sci-fi, family TV drama with comedy sprinkled in and as such I watch for entertainment purposes. But it so often is more than that as it offers a grand look at history, space, end of worlds, universes and existence itself. Season 8’s narrative arc involved Missy/Master (splendid Michelle Gomez) wreaking havoc on the new Doctor, who with his new face, had to decide whether he “was a good man”. Well, he decided that he was and in Season 9 he found he had a mission statement too: “I’m the Doctor and I save people”. The only problem was the Doctor’s actions created the Hybrid or did they? Well, it created the Hybrid arc which permeated a series of mainly two-parters which on the whole were just wonderful. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.
THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE/WITCH’S FAMILIAR
The episode opening was a bit of a minefield; literally a minefield of actual “hand” grenades threatening a young boy who happened to be Dalek creator Davros. We were in Genesis of the Daleks territory where imperious Tom Baker was sent back in time to kill the Daleks at birth. It was a showstopper and the episode was full of fine moments as Missy popped up again (thought she was dead) with The Doctor’s “confession dial” in hand and having nabbed Clara she went on the hunting for the Doctor. They found him playing guitar, wearing some neat, gimmicky sonic-sunglasses before he came face-to-face with a dying Davros keen on revitalising himself.
The hybrid theme popped up here with the Doctor using Timelord regenerative energy to reignite the Dalek’s and foster Davros’ wicked plan, which off course backfires on him. Plus, Clara was abused by Missy and made to inhabit an evil Dalek during their escape echoing Oswald’s first appearance from Asylum of the Daleks. Overall, it was a cracking opening and Capaldi’s little chats with Davros were full of tension and irony. I especially loved the Dalek sewers full of horrible monsters out for revenge on their Master. Michelle Gomez shone as the bullying spinster while Capaldi begins with an authority and confidence that became a feature of the season.
UNDER THE LAKE/BEFORE THE FLOOD
Toby Whithouse has created some entertaining Doctor Who episodes including: School Reunion and Vampires of Venice and this two-parter was equally so. I mean who doesn’t love a ghost story set on an Underwater Base in the future. Indeed, it’s temporally very tricky and has some wonderful moments and brilliant end-of-episode cliff-hanger where the Doctor himself must die to solve the mystery.
I’m a sucker for paradoxes and these episodes are full of them as the Doctor travels back from 2119 to 1980, crossing his own timeline in order to foil the future ghosts of which he is one. Before the flood he ultimately faces the nefarious Fisher King who is intent on an awakening and having his wicked way with the Earth. Some wonderful moments include: the scary hollow-eyed ghosts; the deaf character Cass lip-reading the ghosts; some heart-stopping cat-and-mouse chases around the base; the Doctor “cue” cards which prompt more tactful responses; plus the perplexing yet sparkling puzzle box narrative which wraps up an overall fast-paced and fun episode.
THE GIRL WHO DIED/THE WOMAN WHO LIVED
This loose double-header began with a standard Dr Who set-up as he and Clara met with the Vikings and then entered into a war with the space-race, the Mire. Cue a Seven Samurai style “defending the village” story which featured the wonderful actress Maisie Williams as young Viking storyteller, Ashildr. There were some great one-liners and humour to be had as well as some soul searching by the Doctor as he conversed with a baby. The end battle was a bit farcical as the Doctor turns the Mire’s technology against them involving, believe it or not, the Benny Hill theme tune.
The episode then went from okay to amazing when tragedy struck as the Doctor had an incredible epiphany following Ashildr’s death. Using the Mire tech he brings her back to life and there’s the rub because she is now immortal. We then get an incredible montage which finds Ashildr pass through the years unchanged by time. Indeed, the Hybrid theme rears itself again and in The Girl Who Died, the Doctor met Ashildr again and she was now known as ‘Me’. Williams was brilliant in this episode and her ‘Me’ was an entirely different character: a bitter, world-weary person ravaged by time, experience and loss. Plot wise the second-part was kind of weak but in terms of character it was very powerful. Now, the Doctor had created a new foe that like him was an ‘immortal’ time-traveller. However, ‘Me’ wasn’t necessarily on the side of good as we would discover later in the series.
THE ZYGON INVASION/THE ZYGON INVERSION
In this two-parter the writers showed that primetime television doesn’t have to just be whimsical as the Doctor took on Zygon extremists determined to destroy all humans. The episode, picking up the plot from Day of the Doctor, was political, allegorical and powerful, with the Doctor acting ultimately as peacekeeper in an attempt to prevent human and Zygon armies from destroying the world. With clear parallels to the current refugee crisis, rise of ISIS and the gung-ho nature of Western Governments the Doctor weaves between the factions as “President of the World” and tricksy Zygons who are body-snatching humans. There’s some great action and suspense in this two-parter with suspicion falling on friends and neighbours.
The Zygon episodes were full of memorable moments, notably the performances of Ingrid Oliver as Osgood and Jenna Coleman as Evil Clara AKA Bonnie. Both gave nuanced characterisations in their respective roles and of course both were human/Zygon hybrids. Coleman especially was excellent and she ultimately revelled in playing a bad girl. The denouement, however, belonged to Capaldi as he attempts to broker peace amidst the warmongering. He delivers an incredible speech about “Truth or Consequences” of going to war and echoes his pain of feeling following the destructive Time War.
SLEEP NO MORE
This Mark Gatiss written episode was kind of hung out to dry and thrown away following the previously brilliant two-parters. While I’m not a fan of found footage horror films this was an interesting experiment which really could have done with another part to wrap up the loose ends. Stand-out elements included: a wonderfully unhinged and unreliable narrator in Reece Shearsmith; some witty repartee between Clara and the Doctor; some lovely Macbeth quotes, plus some silly but fun Sandmen monsters which were created from the sleep in our eyes. Pilloried online by fans I enjoyed the silliness but it felt unfinished as an episode and I hope we get to see Shearsmith’s Dr Rassmussen and his Morpheus monsters again next season.
FACE THE RAVEN
In a rather interesting spoiler, prior to the start of the season, it was announced that Jenna Coleman would be leaving the show to pursue other acting challenges. Thus, the episodes were filled with the drama of wondering when Clara’s end would come. Well, this rather brilliant episode is when it occurred as Rigsy (from Season 8 episode Flatline) popped up with a weird tattoo on his neck. Now this wasn’t a Croydon tramp stamp but rather a countdown to death – Rigsy’s death! Of course, the Doctor and Clara set about tracking down the people responsible and found themselves in a secret street which housed all sorts of space migrants; like a galactic version of Casablanca. The “mayor” of the street was Ashildr/”Me” who was back doing the bidding of a hidden enemy. Jenna Coleman is brilliant as Clara. As her arrogance causes her demise she begs the Doctor NOT to seek revenge. Yet her death is so dramatic and touching and the Doctor can do nothing to save her, although you sense he will try and bring her back somehow. He won’t give up on Clara: he has a “duty of care” after all.
HEAVEN SENT/HELL BENT
Peter Capaldi is a triumph in Season 9. He owns every scene, episode, speech and every furrow of his crinkled brow and sparkle in his eye betrays an actor making the character his own. I wouldn’t have reignited my love of the Tardis had Capaldi not been cast. So, after the apparently up-and-down Season 8, which I actually enjoyed mostly, Capaldi, show-runner Steven Moffat, writers, cast and production team gave us a season full of highs, some dips but overall some stunning and brave television. This was none more so witnessed in the Heaven Sent episode where the Doctor was trapped in his own version of hell. In an Escheresque prison in which the walls and cells moved the Timelord had to face his demons and death over and over again. It was an episode full of scares and haunting images as the Doctor dies again and again to escape the “confession” trap laid by the Timelords. In fact, Moffat probably over-eggs the pudding by having the Doctor “live” for over 4 billion years within the parallel hell, but you have to admire the Doctor’s desire for retribution.
Having escaped to, of all places, Gallifrey the Doctor discovers head honcho Timelord, Rassilon, is behind his torture as they were desperate to know about the whereabouts of the “Hybrid”. Quickly dispatching him and the Gallifreyan Council off into exile the Doctor then sets about retrieving Clara from beyond the “Raven”. Here Moffat then does his favourite thing of retroactively rewriting the past by bringing her back in between heartbeats. So, technically she is dead but physically functioning. Clara and the Doctor then go on the run until the end of time and find immortal “Me” as the only person left alive. The Doctor and “Me” debate the nature of the hybrid before the Doctor decides it is wise, as he has gone “too far”, to blank his mind of Clara thus saving her and ending their partnership. Overall, it was a heady mix of emotion and science fantasy which didn’t quite gel for me, plus the Hybrid arc was ultimately and classic Macguffin device overall. But Moffat knows how to ratchet up the pace and the concepts and by the end I felt quite giddy. Clara and “Me” headed off back to Gallifrey, the long way round, and the Doctor headed off alone. Had he forgotten the “impossible girl” – I doubt it somehow!
CHRISTMAS SPECIAL AND CONCLUSION
So with a tremendous raft of episodes in the bank for Season 9 the Husbands of River Song Christmas special was a fluffy addendum to the season. It was a kind of heist/romance involving stolen heads and villainous space-ships full of mercenaries. It passed the time amusingly save for a wonderfully soppy ending when the Doctor bid fond farewell to his wife, River. But it was no more than a tasty cherry on the season as a whole, which was a big triumphant and brilliant time cake full of memorable and outstanding ingredients delivered by the awesome Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.