Published on November 17th, 2014 | by Brad0
Crosstalk – Doctor Who Series 8
After three months of telling you how brilliant Doctor Who is, it’s probably fair to bring in a second opinion at this point. On this Crosstalk to round up Series 8, I’m joined by my partner in crime on the Multiversity guides, Michael Guest, and reviewer of seemingly every comic under the sun, Darryll Robson. With the nature of the show, particularly the changing set-ups each week, we probably need to go episode-by-episode, but we’ll see how chaotic it gets! First up though, gents, a bit of background; what have your thoughts been on Doctor Who as a whole over the first seven series, and what were you hoping for going into this new series?
Like a lot of people my age and younger, my first proper exposure to the Doctor came with the Russell T Davies reboot. I was aware of the character, obviously, but the programme had been off air when I was a child (thank you Michael Grade). Since it has come back I’ve had an odd relationship with it; every week I look forward with glee to the new episode, each week I expect I’ll find it a bit rubbish. I’m often pleasantly surprised of course – there have been plenty of corkers in the eight series since the return – but the show always teeters on the edge of the ridiculous. Plot convenience, pseudo-science, ill-defined rules, Doctor Who suffers from all of these. But it has an undeniable exuberance and sense of fun which rarely fails to come across. And most importantly I think every Doctor since the reboot has been excellent in the role, up to and including rookie Peter Capaldi. The famously prickly Christopher Eccleston was perfect in the good man but not a nice man role, though his reign was too short by far. David Tennant had wider appeal and a personal touch but was perhaps too flirty and human. Matt Smith sold the young face/old soul thing perfectly, but too often relied on half-baked, half formed sentences at the denouement of each episode. Peter Capaldi was pitched as a return to a darker Doctor, I’ll let my thoughts on how he has done come out as we pick over each episode. Finally for this introduction, I’d just like to mention Capaldi’s two debuts as the Doctor. The first, a mere cameo, came in The Day of The Doctor, the 50th anniversary which saw Doctors 10 and 11 team up with the previously unknown War Doctor (John Hurt). This was a hugely ambitious and ultimately widely successful endeavour, capped by the fleeting appearance of Capaldi’s furious brow (how great would it have been if this was the moment we all learned the identity of the new Doctor?). Unfortunately, the 50th was swiftly followed by a frankly rubbish Christmas special, Time of The Doctor in which we finally saw Smith transform into Capaldi. It was a pity that the momentum generated by the 50th was squandered so quickly – how would this affect Capaldi going into his first series?
Ha! I loved Time of the Doctor…
Well, I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was a wee nipper and, being a tad older than Mike, I remember (but only just) Peter Davison who by default is my Doctor (He is the first Doctor I go to if I’m not sure what to watch). I was very excited when Nu Who burst onto the scene and managed to avoid pretty much everything about it because I didn’t want to know what happened before hand. That first series contained surprise after surprise every week. Unfortunately, it’s got harder and harder to avoid spoilers (the announcement of Peter Capaldi became must see TV but was one of the worst programs I’ve ever watched and this marred the actual announcement) which may have affected the way I watch the show. However, I have enjoyed huge chunks of Who’s output and been able to ignore the few episodes that have really irked me (I’m looking at ‘Daleks in Manhattan’ and ‘Love and Monsters’). My favourite series so far has been Matt Smith’s introductory series: I can watch each episode in turn without the need to skip any. There was something about Matt Smith that reminded me of the classic Who that I grew up watching and I loved the fairy tale element that ran through each episode. It’s also, in my opinion, the one series that handled the ‘season arc’ in the most effective way. The scene where ‘future’ Doctor talks to Amy in the spaceship’s forest is one of my favourite Nu Who scenes . Although the stories become a bit wobbly in the last year or so I was eagerly waiting Capaldi and his harsher, maturer portrayal of the character.
Well, after the hype and anticipation, we finally got to see him in action in Deep Breath. Bit of an opinion splitter in the main, this one; I liked it, for the most part, though it’s a bit of a grower. There do seem to be two distinct categories to the regeneration episodes, the ones with a completely clean slate (Rose and The Eleventh Hour) and the ones with a pre-existing creative team and companion to supposedly ease the transition (The Christmas Invasion, Deep Breath), and I definitely prefer the former two episodes. Although, and I don’t want to damn it with faint praise, Deep Breath is WAY better than The Christmas Invasion.
I thought it certainly had shades of The Christmas Invasion, in that the Doctor spent half the episode being very manic, not helped by the totally superfluous inclusion of a dinosaur. Victorian London also means, God help us, the Paternoster Row crew are in tow. They’re not without their charms but they essentially one-joke characters (in case you missed it folks, Vastra and Jenny are married, Strax can’t tell human genders apart). I’m not sure what the point of getting Ben Wheately (The Kill List, A Field In England) in to direct such a goofy episode was, surely he’d be better suited to the darker material we knew was coming later?
This episode does offer up two good scenes – the meeting between Clara and the Doctor in a restaurant (hoped for a nastier Doctor once Peter Capaldi was cast, were we beginning to see it here? The main thrust of the plot ends with a suitably ambiguous scene which redeems the undercooked plot somewhat – did the half face robot jump or did the Doctor push him? After that we get one more scene. their meeting manipulated by persons unknown) and a stand-off between a terrified Clara and a robot with half his human face missing. The latter was down to the Doctor’s own manipulation – we’d all Russell T Davis’ idea of building a story arc was to spam a certain phrase constantly. Moffatt takes the marginally more sophisticated route of adding a final scene after the story is over. Neither are particularly elegant approaches but then the story arc itself generally only becomes important at the finale. The scene in question does at least introduce the magnificent Michelle Gomez as Missy, though whether she be friend or foe to the Doctor is not revealed.
One final note, while it was nice to see Matt Smith pop up unexpectedly, his cameo was little more than a barely disguised plea to the audience to give the new guy a chance. All it made clear to me was the gulf in class between his own debut, the superlative 11th Hour and the altogether more disappointing Deep Breath.
Capaldi was brilliant in this. He hit the floor running, granted not in a straight line, but he managed to bring the post regeneration Doctor under control by the end of the episode which is what the first story should be about.
I also felt that it was bogged down with too many of the previous incarnations hangers on. I could cope with Clara being there but the rest of the crew were surplus to requirements. In fact, the villains of the piece were pale imitations of their previous incarnation although there were some creepy moments in the cafe and sewer. And I’m afraid that the introduction of Missy at the end got under my skin – not that I have a problem with Missy but this episode should have been about the Doctor but, like the Christmas Invasion, it seemed to be about everybody else. As an introduction to a new Doctor this wasn’t bad but it should have been better. Although, out of all of the unnecessary links to his past, I actually liked the Matt Smith cameo. It was a little twee but I think they needed to give Clara a reason to stay, without that tiny push from the person she trusted there is no way I’d have believed that she’d get back in the TARDIS.
And where to next? Into The Dalek, that’s where. Unfortunately the Dalek stories have become something over an expected burden in recent years, ever since the fans turned against the iDalek’s there doesn’t seem to be the commitment to them. (I liked the coloured Daleks, but that’s a conversation for another time). This episode was entertaining and really started to show us what the new Doctor was all about. He made some questionable decisions and his willingness to use someone elses death to further his own needs was cold hearted at best. However, I love the old school B-Movie narrative that was behind this episode and it seems that this was a bit of a theme for the series, like the fairy tale motif from series 5.
There is, however, a very dark cloud forming in the shape of Danny Pink. We may have arguments before long about him, but I’ll save it for later.
Ah, The obligatory Dalek episode! I love the daleks but by God they are overused (due to the nature of the deal with the Nation estate). The problem is that each episode in NuWho seems to end in the definitely irrevocable this time guys honest destruction of all daleks across the entirety of time and space. And then they come back. This episode at least offers a new spin, as the Doctor, Clara and a few redshirts take a fantastic voyage into a dalek. Like you say Darryll, it’s an enjoyable, B-Movie type set-up The plot though is largely an excuse to explore the character of the new Doctor, with some soul searching regarding his hatred of the daleks. Thinking back on this episode, I like it more than I did at the time (and I enjoyed it then). I think on now and I see parallels with the finale and its central question – is the Doctor that different from his nemesis? There’s another connection that occurred reading Brad’s review of Death in Heaven – the Cyber Brigadier is similar in some respects to Rusty the Dalek – does the Doctor now count a Cyberman and a Dalek among his allies?
Danny Pink has become a bit of a divisive character this series but Into The Dalek was more about missteps with Clara for me. A lot of reviewers, Brad included, wrote about the good job done with Clara this series but I’m not so sure. Here, for instance, I found her slapping the Doctor a bit hard to take. It would have been unacceptable the other way around so why it OK for her to do it? It left a bit of a bad taste to be honest.
Ooh, I’m looking forward to the Clara and Danny arguments! I liked this episode plenty at the time, and looking back, it holds up pretty well. Always happy to have Michael Smiley in things, and I think it made better use of Ben Wheatley – the scene where they pass through the blue light on the eye-stalk is pretty bloody trippy. There’s a lot to be said for doing something different with the Daleks, and I think for the most part the Moffat era has been pretty good with them; certainly more varied and interesting than three series finales out of four about saving the world from them.
The chief reason I was a lot happier with Clara this series was the addition of a personality. In series seven, we spent all the time trying to figure out “what is Clara?”, to the point where effectively no attention was paid to her being a “who?”. Though she may not have always been likable in series eight, she was definitely compelling, which was the improvement I was talking about. The exception to this rule was her fangirling over Robin Hood in Robot of Sherwood, where she was reduced to Martha Jones-level of making gooey eyes at the dashing hero. I usually rather like Mark Gatiss and the historical episodes, but this one was a bit naff, sadly.
I see what you mean about Clara, in the previous series she was a puzzle to be solved, rather than a character in her own right. Now she has a personality of her own however it’s one I don’t particularly like!
Robot of Sherwood was not a popular episode when it was first shown. To my mind though it’s an episode aimed squarely at the kids and there’s no crime in that. That said the episode was at best very daft, at worst it was nonsense, the final scene with the golden arrow in particular (how can a small amount of gold on the outside of the ship significantly alter its flight path?). I did like the homage/parody of The Adventures of Robin Hood with all the incessant laughing Robin and his gang do but I thought the script could have done more to draw parallels between the Doctor and Robin Hood, after all they’re both firmly embedded in English folklore, aren’t they? I get the impression Mark Gatiss rushed this one out somewhat, he certainly didn’t bring his A game. Once again, like Deep Breath, the villains were AI carrying out their functions in a sort of forlorn hope, which seemed to be an unspoken theme of this series.
I really enjoyed Robot of Sherwood. It was pure pantomime and revealed in that. Tom Riley is excellent as Robin, playing a Legend to contrast the Doctor who is trying to understand who he is as a person. Ben Miller chews up the scenery almost stealing the show like another Sheriff of Nottingham I could mention. It’s a romp plain and simple, like Mike said, it entertains the ‘Kids’ and the show needs to do this from time to time. It’s a shame that Mark Gatiss seems to have an inability to find room for a decent female character which is why this is one of the episodes where Clara is a bit lost.
She makes up for it in the next episode, Listen, which is one of her strongest appearances. I’m not against Clara this series and she does get a a nice long character driven story arc, I’m just not convinced that it has a place in current Doctor Who. Listen sums up the series as a whole for me as it contains some of the best, unnerving and ingenious moments of any Who episode but at the same time it is the home of some of the worst, overused tropes that have plagued Moffat’s run. The scene in the bedroom with the covered ‘something’ creeping up on Clara and the young Danny is terrifyingly perfect and should be the basis for the entire episode however it gets bogged down in unnecessary fancy time jumping narrative techniques and frustrating links between every character in every time zone. Why does it have to be Danny (or some relation of Danny’s) in each time zone? It makes no difference to the episode or even the greater story arc. This should be one of the best episodes ever but suffers because of some need to link it to everything else that’s going on.
In a lot of ways Listen is a mash-up of several previous Moffat stories. The monster, as described by the Doctor as being perfectly adapted to hiding, recalls the Vashta Nerada, the Silence and even the Weeping Angels. Also, once again the day is won by someone having an emotion really hard – in this instance Clara is able to zero in on a young Danny by thinking about him. But for all its repetition, I think Listen is a truly brilliant episode. It’s the sort of stripped down, dark (although not violent) and personal adventure that Moffat excels at. It’s a tour de force from Capaldi who finally gets a story that only his Doctor could have. I like that it is the Doctor himself who instigates the story after theorising to himself in the TARDIS, rather than being flung into it inadvertently as is usually the case.
I thought the scene in the barn was superb and for me it was it was one of those brilliant moments when I worked out what was happening just before they told us. The whole episode is an exercise in restraint – the cast is tiny, the effects minimal and, as it turns out, the monster non-existent. Creativity often springs out of limitations – I don’t know if Listen only required a tiny budget on had one force upon it, either way Moffat and the cast weave something wonderful here out of very little.
This was my favourite episode of the series, and one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes, full stop. Although I was sold on Peter Capaldi from the off, this was the one where it came into focus just who his Doctor is. Though he would later come to the conclusion that he’s an idiot, I still prefer to think of him as a madman. Just to go back to Darryll’s point a minute, though, I don’t think Listen would work without the jumps to the end of the universe and the Doctor’s childhood; it’s about the Doctor coming up with a theory to explain his own fear of the dark, and the reckless lengths to which he’ll go to prove his theory. It’s a key part of one of the series’ underlying themes about how dangerous the Doctor is to be around, and how his very presence changes people. Rupert Pink probably wouldn’t have grown up to be who he was were it not the Doctor inspiring him to make his fear a superpower, as Dan Dan Soldier Man.
After that we wound up back in b-movie territory, this time with a bank heist episode. Time Heist was the kind of Doctor Who episode we’ve been getting since 2011 which makes me long for more two-parters. There’s a lot to like, but the ending is very rushed, due to time constraints. Which is a shame, because the Teller is a very effective monster.
I think it may be Mike’s turn but I just want to go back to Listen for a moment, Brad. It wasn’t the travelling to the future or the Doctor’s past (which is a scene I also loved) that I found frustrating about the episode, but the bit at the beginning with Clara’s dinner date. There wasn’t a need to show a part of the date and skip to her at home to show us that she was thinking about it with an over expressive face and then return to the date for a little bit more. This disjointed time affect is one of Moffat’s favourite tricks but he uses to often and most of the time without reason. I’m a fan of Moffat’s writing but sometimes he needs an editor to reign him in.
I don’t have much to say about Time Heist, it’s the first episode since Planet of the Dead that allowed me to fall asleep mid way through. I agree, The Teller was an effective monster though. Wasn’t this an attempt to create a ‘gang’ for Capaldi like the Victorian bunch was for Matt Smith?
Controversially I really liked Time Heist. Yes it wasn’t brilliant in of itself but I thought it was an excellent conceptual one-two combo with Listen. You have the dark, intimate, personal story and then you have the rollicking adventure in exotic or sophisticated places. It is this sort of contrast that the central conceits of Doctor Who allow for and it is nice to see the opportunity seized. Furthermore, I’ve long been of the opinion that time travel should be used as a central device to the plot more often, rather than just as a means of getting the Doctor and his companions to where they need to be for the plot to happen. We saw a great example of this in The Day of The Doctor with the subroutine embedded into the sonic screwdriver, allowing the problem of the door to be solved over centuries. Here it is used to mastermind a heist from after the event (my idea would have been to stage a prison break but this is close enough!). The ‘twists’ are a bit telegraphed – so few characters are introduced that it is obvious who each reveal is going to be – and even the big man behind the whole event is easy to deduce if you’ve seen any Moffat episodes previously. Still, I enjoyed it a lot.
The next episode, The Caretaker, puts the focus firmly on the relationship between Clara and Dan The Soldier Man, the relationship which is likely to make or break the series for you. Personally I think it is played quite nicely – flirty Clara and the handsome but much more introverted Danny have good chemistry. What I dislike about this episode is the entirely superfluous monster, little more than an excuse for the Doctor to hang about the school and get things wrong. Doctor Who has suffered from this before – it’s not OK just to have a nice story, there has to be an alien menace. Remember that Agatha Christie episode and the baffling inclusion of a giant wasp?
You do need some pretext to get him there, though. Nature of television. And, as flimsy pretexts go, the Skovox Blitzer has a nice design to it, and it’s simple enough to not detract from the main thrust of the episode, and the series as a whole – the relationships between the Doctor, Clara and Danny. It’s a funny, enjoyable episode. Not much more to say. Darryll, I imagine you have other thoughts?
I’m afraid I thought the robot thingy was the best thing in this episode. As Mike said, Danny Pink makes or breaks this series and I found him an utter waste of time, a plot device that was barely 2 dimensional at the best of times and the only time he manages to show any really emotion is when he shouldn’t have any emotion (all Cybermanned up at the end of the series). I found The Caretaker very difficult to watch but it was during a rewatch just before the finale (kids choice, not mine) that someone pointed out what it was that bugged me about the episode and a lot of this series as a whole – talking. Standing around having a conversation about why Clara should stay or go, who she loves, doesn’t love, in fact there was way to much of her lying to one person or another. I don’t mind a bit of chatter but at least do it on the run or while exploring a new, undiscovered planet. Don’t spend ten minutes stood in a school hall bickering unless you’re in Waterloo Road.
The whole Clara/Danny story was good entertainment but not as part of Doctor Who – have I said that already? – it’s a left over sub plot from Eastenders and I found it dragging the series back. Every time Pinky is on screen I internally wept. Some people had a similar experience with Donna (and while I’m on that subject, I love the giant wasp!) and I now understand how one character can affect so much of the action.
I like when they talk to each other. Makes a change from all the running, shouting and hand-waving!
Right, halfway mark, we’re running quite long, so I think a break is in order. Join us next Monday when we cover the second half of Doctor Who series 8. How did you like the first half? Let us know in the comments below. Say something nice!